Sunday, May 29, 2011

“Dear Harold Camping…”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a few weeks, no doubt you’re all
aware that the rapture was supposed to take place last Saturday, May 21st at
6 PM, rolling through the different time zones. This was according to Harold
Camping, the 89 year old President of Family Radio. He and his followers spent months and millions of dollars advertising the coming apocalypse on billboards, radio, flyers and signs on vehicles around the world. Well, today is May 29th and we’re still here.

He’s not the first to make such bold pronouncements. In fact, it’s not the first time that he has done so: he predicted previously that the world would end in 1994. I remember that someone predicted the world would end in 1976. A man by the name of Edgar Whisenant predicted the end of the world in 1988. Many predicted that it would end at the turn of the 21st century.

So, what are we to make of Mr. Camping and people like him? From what I can tell, those who know him would say that he’s a nice man. In fact, someone who interviewed him in 1994 said that about him. It also appears that he sincerely believed what he said. I can’t get inside his head, but I don’t see any malicious intent.

But regardless of his intent, the predictions that he made had major consequences. A California woman named Lyn Benedetto was one of millions who heard Camping’s message, and became concerned that her daughters would suffer terribly in the coming apocalypse. She allegedly tried to kill them with box cutters. She then tried to kill herself, though police arrested Benedetto and all three survived.

Others were not so lucky. An elderly man in Taiwan reportedly killed himself on May 5ahead of the Rapture by jumping out of a building. He had heard that doomsday was imminent, and had taken recent earthquakes and tsunamis as early warning signs. Reportedly, a 14 year old girl in Russia was so frightened by the prediction that she committed suicide.

Others reactions were maybe not so dramatic, but many people were impacted by Mr. Camping. Some of his followers were spending all their money in the days leading up to May 21. I had quite a few people, Christian and non asking me for my opinion about his predictions. So what I wanted to do with this piece is to see what we can learn from this fiasco. What are the lessons that we can take away from the events, or lack of events, over the past couple of weeks.

When you hear something serious, consider the source.
Who is Harold Camping anyway? Mr. Camping was raised in a Christian Reformed Church and has a Civil Engineering Degree. He started his own construction company after World War 2 and has been quite successful. In 1958 he and some friends purchased a radio station in California and began Family Radio. Since that time he has become the President, General Manager and chief teacher on an expanding network of stations. There is no indication in any of the station’s published material that Mr. Camping has any formal theological training.

At some point the station determined that “God has shifted the final task of world evangelism to individual Christians who are outside of a local congregation. In obedience to these Biblical teachings, Family Radio, which is completely outside of any church institution, and which is supported and administered by individual believers, does teach that today, as we are heading for the end of this world’s existence, we should not be a part of a local church.”

Why was Harold Camping wrong?
• He was wrong because he refused to be accountable.
At various times over the years I’ve had people I’ve never met come into my office and tell me that they have a message from God that I must share with my congregation. The first question that I ask them is “who is your pastor?” Almost without fail they will tell me that they don’t attend any particular church because all churches are wrong and will not listen to the message that God has given them. In other words, they are accountable to no-one but God. That is a dangerous place to be. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 11:14 that “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”

There is such a thing as the gift of prophecy which is spoken of in Scripture. God will give insight to individuals about events or people that they would not know naturally. I remember an encounter I had about 12 years ago after I’d been in my current pastorate for about a year. I didn’t want to leave my previous church and was very disappointed that things didn’t go differently. As we were pulling out of the driveway of the parsonage to move to my current church, I turned to my wife and said: “Well, the dream just died.” Even though I loved my new church and we were having success over that first year, I had this nagging feeling that I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do in my previous church; that I had failed. I was discouraged.

About that time, I was attending a meeting of pastors in in a nearby town, listening to a guest speaker by the name of Paul Schoch, an elderly preacher with a good reputation. As he was speaking, I had a quirky thought that I wrote down, unrelated to his topic. I thought it might make a good message title some day. It said simply, “Get in the jet stream of the Holy Spirit.” After his talk he asked if he could pray for us. Then he came and stood right in front of me. He began to speak, “You said, ‘the dream has died,’ but God says to you, ‘I am doing a new thing. Get in the jet stream of the Holy Spirit.’” I was dumbfounded. I felt that God was speaking directly to me, and it felt right. That experience helped to confirm that God had been leading me the whole time. While I didn’t understand why things had happened the way they had, He was still in control. I really needed to hear that.

In 1 Corinthians 12:27, 28 the Bible tells us that God gave us gifts to help us; pastors, teachers, gifts of discernment, healing, teaching, all kinds of things. But it says that He placed them within the church. Each is to use their gift to help build up the whole church, which is called “The Body of Christ.” Part of the problem with Mr. Camping is that he removed himself from all of those parts of the body that could have served to keep him from making those errors.

If I had made the kind of claims that Mr. Camping did, I, first of all, would have some of my congregation challenge me at the door to defend my position from Scripture, and that’s a good thing. Secondly, one of my associate pastors would have challenged me. Thirdly, the church board would have taken me to task, and, if that didn’t work, my denominational leaders would have stepped in to force me to defend my
position Biblically or acknowledge my error. This is a good reason to belong to a good church.

• He was wrong because he didn’t properly interpret Scripture.
When the Apostle Paul was writing to a young pastor, named Timothy, who he had mentored, he said this: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15) There’s a right way and a wrong way to interpret Scripture.

Camping and his followers went to great lengths to say that the Bible “guaranteed” that the end of the world would come on May 21st. How did he arrive at his conclusions? He takes a number of Scriptures; rips them out of their context and makes them say what he wants them to say. (Daniel 8:14; 2 Peter 3:8; and Revelation 9:5 for example) He also ignores other Scriptures that make it very clear that what he’s saying cannot be true.

In Matthew 24:36 Jesus says this: “But about that day or hour no one knows,
not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
In verse 44
He said, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” It doesn’t sound like it’s an event that can be announced on billboards, does it?

When we’re studying the Bible we have to understand that God is not trying to confuse us. There are a lot of people who have spent a large part of their lives looking for the hidden messages in the Bible. Their time would be better spent living up to the clear principles and teachings laid out in Scripture.

One of the principles of Biblical interpretation is that God does not contradict Himself. So if we find verses in one part of the Bible which seem to contradict others in another part of the Bible, we need to question our interpretation and be sure we’re looking at it in the right context. This is particularly important in the area of Biblical prophecy. As Paul said in Romans 3:4, “Let God be true, and every human being a liar.” What he’s saying is this: if you can rely on anything, it is the Word of God. People make mistakes, sometimes people may lie. But God is true.

There are parts of the Bible which speak of things which are still to come. For example, there are hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament about Jesus, written hundreds of years before He was born. Jesus fulfilled all of them that referred to Him through His ascension. Yet, Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand them until after His death; until after they had been fulfilled. Luke 24:13-35 gives an account of a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus as He explained to two disciples about the Old Testament prophecies concerning Him.

The writers of the Bible were sometimes relating visions which God had given them, which they themselves didn’t understand. They were writing them as they experienced them. For anyone to say, as Harold Camping did, that the Bible "guarantees" that a
prophetic event will occur in a particular way in certainty, is basically to claim that they are speaking inerrantly for God. They understand better than everyone else does. The problem is that Harold Camping is human, he is not God. Harold Camping has also been wrong many times before. So…

• Harold Camping was wrong because he presumed he was infallible.
When people make bold claims they invite scrutiny; they put themselves under the microscope. What also happens, though, is that people like Camping, who has said that he will not be under any church authority, give non-believers a great excuse to dismiss Christianity as a whole. For that, Mr. Camping will have to carry some heavy responsibility.

I remember when Y2K was rolling around, and books were being written and a number of people, inside the church and out, were predicting the end of civilization as we know it. There was one woman in this area who was saying that God had told her that major events would occur on that date, and she had a number of people who believed her. I heard one of them say that “If it didn’t happen, then God isn’t God.” That’s the kind of crazy statement that paints people into corners and makes God look bad.

God never said that. Someone thought that God said that. There is a big difference. If you honestly feel like God is trying to say something through you, than at least be humble enough to say, “I have a sense that this is what God is saying.” That leaves room for you to be mistaken – and you may be. It’s too bad Harold Camping didn’t do that. It could have saved he and his followers from a world of hurt.

General Principles Learned
Don’t try to make the Bible say more than it does.
I have many volumes of books on my shelves called commentaries. They are written by different people about the same subject. On some issues, like prophecies about the end of the world for example, there are different views on the same verses. That’s okay. They recognize that, as 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, “Now we see through a glass darkly…”

Major on the majors.
I’m often asked to preach series' on the end times. I hesitate to do that because much of it is speculative; and often it leads to more questions than answers. There is value to it, but it must be handled correctly. But there are some things that we know for sure.

Jesus promised that He would return – and He doesn’t lie. (John 14:3)

No-one but God knows the day or the hour that Jesus will return.(Matthew 24:36, 44)

Jesus said that we ought to live our lives in such a way that, no matter when He comes, we’ll be ready. (Luke 12)

When Jesus comes for His people, it will be a good day – if you’re ready.
“Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who
sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Bottom line. Study your Bible.

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Why I Believe In Marriage

Tomorrow afternoon I get to perform the marriage ceremony for my niece and her fiance. I do a few weddings a year, and every time I do I am acutely aware that there is a lot of disagreement about the very institution of marriage. I've met - and heard - a lot of people who have a very dim view indeed of matrimony.

There are varying reasons for this, some valid, some not so much. The rise in feminism and the resulting cries for sexual "liberation" from marriage resulted, at least for a time, in a great many young women rejecting marriage altogether. This cry for freedom came as the result of the historic patriarchal nature of marriage.

Another obvious reason is the dysfunction of many marriages. When children grow up seeing their parents constantly fighting and maybe even divorcing, their logical conclusion is that all marriage is like this, so why bother? One reason that's not spoken of often is the increase in sexual promiscuity. In other eras, men married in order to have sex; that is no longer necessary, and men are quite happy to take advantage of the situation. This change in behaviour has resulted in the rapid growth of co-habitation, a couple living together with no formal commitment. In today's social climate it is very rare to see a couple come to the marriage altar with their virginity.

The main question coming out of the changes we've seen is this: are we better off now that marriage has fallen out of favour? I, for one, would respond forcefully in the negative. Here are some of the reasons why:

We are not happier! According to a recent study, "researchers have concluded that although (Westerners) are rich compared with most other countries, many suffer from an emotional poverty caused by consumerism and the breakdown of family life. 'We are being seduced by an economic juggernaut and our personal needs are not being met,' said Nic Marks, a social sciences researcher at Surrey University who also worked on the report."

Non-traditional arrangements are less stable than marriages. (See article.) "A recent General Social Survey performed by Statistics Canada reported that in Canada, couples who choose a common-law relationship as their first conjugal union have a greater probability of this first union ending in separation, regardless of whether the common-law partners eventually married... Common-law unions are generally less stable than marriages: more than 60% of people who choose common-law unions as their first conjugal relationship are expected to separate."

Children are generally safer and happier when raised in a married home with both mother and father. (See study.) This is a particularly important issue because it points to what I believe is one of the underlying reasons that many have rejected marriage - selfishness.

We live in a culture that is incredibly narcissistic, and we've been convinced somehow that life revolves around us. This has resulted in the breakdown of community and a growing isolation. People who live like this see others as simply a means to their own happiness, but, as studies show, it's not working. We're not happier as a culture, that's why anti-depressant meds are a multi-billion dollar industry.

Here's what I've learned about happiness: it is not an end in itself, but is the product of consistently doing the right thing. It is not met by external things, but is realized by an inner fulfilment, a realization of a greater purpose.

All that being said, finding happiness in marriage is not an easy thing, it is difficult, as with almost anything worthwhile. I believe that part of the reason for the high failure rate in marriage is completely unrealistic expectations. As Sidney Harris writes: "Almost no-one is foolish enough to imagine that he automatically deserves great success in any field of activity, yet almost everyone believes that he automatically deserves success in marriage."

Marriage is first a covenant, then it is a commitment. This was how God, who created us for each other, designed marriage. Counselor Gary Chapman tells us that "Something in our nature cries out to be loved by another. Isolation is devastating to the human psyche." We need each other, and we need to know that we can rely on each other. So God made marriage to last for a lifetime. One man, one woman, until death.

The challenge in marriage is working out the commitment. It's putting the same energy into preserving the relationship as we did in its establishment. I heard a wonderful lady say something in a talk years ago that has always stuck with me. She said that there may not always be red-hot passion in a marriage, but there should always be red-hot commitment. So how does this work? What are the keys? As someone who's done his share of pre-marital counseling over the years, here are some of the keys that I've learned.

Get pre-marital counseling before marriage. It's amazing how many people don't feel like this is necessary. They would agree that deciding to marry is likely one of the most life-changing points in their lives yet not feel it is necessary to prepare. When faced with this mentality I usually ask if they have a driver's license. If so, did they study for the test? Is marriage more or less important than a driver's license. That's usually the end of the conversation.

Deal with your personal baggage. Everyone carries emotional baggage. There are incidents and issues in our lives that we carry with us that can affect our relationships. They're easily overlooked when a couple is dating and each is trying to put their best foot forward. But unresolved issues, like low self-esteem, an abusive background, anger issues, etc., will almost certainly jump up and bite you in the relationship later. Deal with them beforehand, and be honest. If your relationship can't handle the pressure of premarital counseling, you are not ready to marry!

Learn how to communicate effectively. In many surveys, the number one complaint of wives is that their husband will not communicate. In my experience, it's often because they don't really know how. Communication is complicated, and men and women obviously think very differently. We need to understand that communication is "a meeting of meanings" and not a battle we must win. We need to learn how to lay down our weapons of self-defense and get to know what makes our spouse tick. For a message on this, go here.

Be sure you're on the same page. This speaks to the question of worldview. I've had couples come to me, one an atheist and one a Christian, who wanted to be married. They didn't see that this was a problem. So I began to ask questions like, are you planning children? Will you raise the children in church or not? The more we talked, the more the potential problems became apparent, and the wedding was soon cancelled, and that was a good thing. For an article on worldview, go here.

Get a handle on your finances. Disagreement here is one of the top reasons for marriage breakup. Even if you think you've got it all together, I highly recommend that every couple take a course such as Dave Ramsey's "Financial Peace University." You'll be thankful later. Every married couple, like it or not, become financial partners in a new enterprise.

Talk about roles. Many marriages fail because of unmet expectations. Just because your mother was a stay-at-home Mom and loved it, doesn't mean your bride-to-be will be the same. Talk about division of labour. Who will clean the house, mow the lawn, do small repairs, wash the dishes, cook the meals, do the laundry, pick up the kids, etc... Trust me, it matters.

Share your dreams. In my Christian worldview, I firmly believe that God has a plan for each of us, and therefore a plan for each couple. God implants visions and dreams in our hearts as we follow Him. Why did God bring you together as a couple? How can you help one another to be the people that God called you to be? Where do you envision yourselves in 5, 10, 20 years? Are your dreams compatible?

Build on a solid foundation. Many couples will invite God to the wedding but not the marriage. They want the church wedding with all the props but are more than happy to leave God behind to clean up the confetti. The problem is, marriage was God's idea and was only designed to work with Him in the middle. As we love God He enables us to love each other.

The picture painted for us in the New Testament is one that is often missed and misinterpreted. Jesus used the analogy of marriage when He talked about His supreme sacrifice. He loved the church, His Bride, so much that He willingly laid down His life for her redemption. Paul tells us in Ephesians that men ought to love their wives in this way. A deep emotional need in every woman is to be treasured in such a way. Wives are taught to respect their husbands. This is probably the greatest emotional need for men, to be believed in and to be respected .

As we love each other, we give each other what we need, and we create a healthy environment in which to raise children. The Bible teaches us that love is not a feeling, but a choice and an action. As a husband, I can choose to love even when I might not be feeling like it's getting me anywhere. When I consistently serve my wife and sincerely try to meet her needs it makes her want to do the same.

Most of the above lessons I've learned the hard way, after almost 29 years of marriage. Are there lousy marriages? Absolutely. And marriage isn't for everyone, but it is a very good thing. I believe in marriage and family because it is the glue that holds society together. It's all wrapped up in the very large concept of "home." Home may be a place, but it is primarily about the people, people you love and with whom you can build a life. I'm thankful that God has allowed me to experience the joys and the pain of family life; they have made me what I am.

I hope you love this video below as much as I do. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

An Open Letter To Stephen Harper

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada

Dear Sir:

The people of Canada have just given you the majority government for which you asked. Congratulations on your accomplishment! Looking back over the events of the past eight years, it is hard to believe that the Parties representing the right have moved from being fractured and largely ineffective to a majority in the House of Commons. Please don't forget from whence you came.

With power comes great responsibility. Canada is a wonderful country, and deserves the very best of its civil servants - there is a reason our elected representatives are called ministers. The previous House was known for its rancour and disrespect. I urge you, now that you have a majority, to lead the way in modelling decorum and cooperation. While there may be a part of you that wants to gloat over your adversaries, please rise above the pettiness and set a new standard for civility.

Many of us have watched your rise to power, accomplished partly by keeping a tight rein on your caucus and by limiting discussion to those issues not deemed offensive by the political center. While this has helped you to succeed in gaining power, I am not certain that it has served democracy well. There are a large number of Canadians on the right who feel disenfranchised. I am one of them. Many voted for you because your party was the least offensive of the electable options. But where do we go from here?

I know, for example, that you have promised not to bring forward a bill to limit abortion, and you have even pledged that your government would defeat any private members bill attempting to do this. This is in spite of the fact that Canada is the only country in the developed world with no abortion law. Political expediency is not a valid excuse to not do the right thing.

We elect people to parliament to represent us. Now that your party has succeeded in breaking the back of those who accused you of having a "secret agenda," can we please have a return to serious debate? Sometimes democracy is messy. Sometimes party members will say and do the wrong thing - regardless of party affiliation. But let us, at least, take the muzzles off and let all of the voices be heard and let the arguments be decided on merit.

You have just run an effective campaign and been granted a majority. You have clearly laid out your platform and now have the mandate to accomplish it. As you do so, remember that you are not given power merely to hold power. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.” I truly hope that your character can withstand the rigours of power. Please sir, let your time in parliament be known for its commitment to democratic process and a commitment to do the right thing.

I truly wish you all the best, and my prayers are with you.

Yours respectfully,

Tony denBok

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Monday, May 02, 2011

Pakistan and Osama Bin Laden

It will be interesting watching the fallout from the death of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan after a ten year search. Of particular interest will be the ongoing relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan. Pakistan has consistently denied that
Bin Laden was hiding out in their country or that they knew where he was. Yet he was found in Abbottabad, near Islamabad, in a compound with re-enforced structures surrounded by barbed wire. This was obviously suspicious, particularly for a country naturally wary of foreigners. Even more telling, his hideout was almost across the road from a Pakistani military training base.

So, here's the question: were the Pakistanis lying or are they completely incompetent? My bet is that they are lying. The truth is that the U.S. has never trusted the Pakistani government and, even now, is only playing nice to help them save face. They didn't inform them until the operation, apparently by Navy seals, was complete precisely because they were afraid that someone would tip off Bin Laden and he would disappear again.

There are some elements within the Pakistani government who are pro-Western, but there are many who also would favour the Taliban and even Al Qaida. Many areas of Pakistan are beyond government control, but this was "civilization." Someone knew, but who, and how does the U.S. government proceed from here?

It seems, to this point, that the Americans approach is to play nice and pretend that all is well. The Pakistanis are doing the only thing they can - claiming that this was a good thing and that they're okay with the fact an American president ordered his soldiers to launch a military operation on their soil without informing them. We must assume there are some very animated conversations going on behind closed doors in Pakistan. It is this instability that is particularly unsettling, especially since Pakistan has nuclear capability.

It will be interesting to see what happens in Pakistan over the next few months and years. If they "officially" become an enemy it will make the war in Afghanistan even more complicated than it is already. At minimum it adds to the instability of an increasingly volatile Muslim world. Nothing is easy in this day and age of massive change and cultural clashes, but President Obama did what he had to do when he had the opportunity. Let's hope the short-term elation doesn't give way to more long-term problems. Time will tell.

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Think For Yourself! Don't Get Stuck in a "Filter Bubble"

Here's an interesting presentation about "filter bubbles," the tendency of technology to only feed us information with which we already agree. Each of us need to be well informed in order to make good decisions. I hope you enjoy this video.

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