At Canada Day each year, we can praise God for such a wonderful country. It's ranked at the top of the list of the most desirable places to live on earth. So at this 138th anniversary of confederation, we patriotically launch fireworks, wave our maple leaf flag, and sing our national anthem. This is where it starts to get sticky. We call it the "true north, strong and free" - yet our moral compass is increasingly off, we're less disciplined than some of our international competitors, and our democratic freedoms are being eroded. We sing asking God to keep our land "glorious and free" as we "stand on guard" for Canada, but our behaviours are shameful and we open the door to wanton pleasure and perversion. From a Biblical point of view, those entitled to seek God's protection are those who obey Him, keep His laws, and commit themselves to trust the Lord and follow His ways in all of life.
This past month has seen several warning signs that we are getting stuck in moral goo rather than standing on guard to keep our country strong and free. Last week, southwestern Ontario was shocked by the stabbing deaths of a mother and two young children on a quiet street in London. When I was young, homicides were something that happened in Detroit, not "Toronto the Good". Then murders became more common in Toronto, but the Forest City was still a safe place for kids to visit Storybook Gardens. Now the violence has reached even London. What's happening to our communities?
In my teen years, alcohol was still the intoxicant of choice amongst my peers. Now drug dealers stroll our village's streets and the Greenway Trail with their suspicious back-packs. The May/June issue of Reality magazine reviews a talk by Detective Doug McCutcheon from the Toronto drug squad. Marijuana grow-ops are spreading across our nation like a weed. They're economically attractive: a typical one can provide a return of about $1.6 million. But there are many negative spin-offs, including homicides, robberies, home invasions, money laundering; destruction of beautiful homes - the high humidity fosters mould which is so pervasive the house becomes uninhabitable, and the mould can sometimes travel to adjoining buildings. There are severe electrical hazards; electrical theft and insurance claims raise costs for all the rest of us.
More and more, educational and political authorities are ignoring evil, even rewarding it. June 16, Canada's foremost abortion proponent, Henry Morgentaler, was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by the University of Western Ontario. This went ahead as announced, despite thousands of protests, and cancellation of donations and bequests up to $50 million. London's Catholic bishop in an open letter to the university president called the move to honour Morgentaler "inconceivable and appalling".
Just a week ago, Toronto hosted its annual Gay Pride Parade, with attendance estimates of 125,000. The mayor attended, and the city's chief of police actually participated in an event which featured nudity. Then Tuesday night our federal members of parliament passed Bill C38, allowing recognition of homosexual 'marriages'.
What IS our country coming to? Scenes from the parade remind me of Psalm 12:8, "The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honoured among men."
Shocking as some of this is, sin and its effects upon nations goes way back, as far as the book of Genesis. We had begun looking at the story of Abraham: God's call of him to leave his father's people and become a blessing to many nations; God's support for Abraham's raid to rescue Lot from warring kings. In Genesis 15 the Lord confirms His covenant with Abraham, promising countless descendants, and that they would take possession of the land of Canaan. (Please open your Bibles to Genesis 15, there's a significant detail I want to point out to you.) In v9 God tells Abraham to prepare a serious ritual as a form of guarantee. At sunset, v12, Abraham fell into a deep sleep and the Lord told him his descendants would be strangers in another country and slaves for 400 years. Now note especially v16: "In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure."
Ponder the significance of that. The timetable for the entrance of the nation of Israel into the Promised Land was affected by the measure of sin of the current inhabitants. It was the moral bankruptcy of the Amorites that God gives as a primary factor in the loss of their land, and His transfer of it to Abraham's descendants. The implication is that the "sin of the Amorites" was the justification for God to turn their country over to other inhabitants.
We see this again before the Israelites enter the land. In Leviticus 18(3) God commands, "You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you...(v24) Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled." (And again vv26f) "The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled." What's meant by "all these things"? Most of the chapter lists aspects of sex outside marriage between a man and a woman, including homosexuality and bestiality (perhaps today that category would include sex with machines, like videos and computers). Also the sacrifice of children to Molech is mentioned.
Moses recaps the law in the book of Deuteronomy, again warning about imitating the practices of the nations that were there before. Chapter 12(29ff) says, "The LORD your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, "How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same." You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods." Chapter 18(9-13) lists more details of what Amorite practices actually were: "When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God."
We are witnessing a great spiritual hunger in Canada today; unfortunately many people are not finding answers to their questions in the Christian church. Bookstores abound with volumes on spirituality of many flavours. Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code is now the top-selling adult fiction novel of all time, selling more than 25 million copies. Even though it's clearly fiction, people have gobbled up its tale of how a secret society preserved the 'hidden truth' about Jesus, including the fact that he was married to Mary Magdalene and that they had borne children. Ouija boards and magical cards are popular items, yet they're clearly associated with witchcraft. Fortune-tellers and astrologers with their horoscopes are now accepted members of Canadian society.
When in 722 BC the northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed some 700 years after the conquest of Canaan, the Biblical historians linked this catastrophe directly to the country's adoption of Canaanite ways. See 2Kings 17(7-23), especially v15: "They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, "Do not do as they do," and they did the things the LORD had forbidden them to do." These are recapped in the next verses. "They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshipped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practised divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger."
Psalm 106(38) also refers to child sacrifice and its poisoning effect: "They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood."
In these ancient areas, they actually had bronze statues that doubled as ovens. They placed the child on the arms of the statue and the infant would roll down into the flames. Horrific! We don't do that in Canada today, you say. But the innocents are still being slaughtered. Since 1970 the number of abortions has steadily risen. In 2002, the most recent year for which stats are available, Canada had an average of 32 abortions for every 100 live births. In Quebec the rate is 43 abortions for every 100 live births. This is having a dramatic effect on our population. If there were no immigration to Quebec and births and deaths were the only factor in population change, Quebec's population figures would be in a free fall. Over the past 10 years, our nation has averaged over 100,000 abortions every year. That's a million potential citizens - wiped out. That certainly doesn't help you keep a country strong. As Michael Card's song puts it, "Innocent and helpless little babies - offerings to the spirit of the age."
As for perverted sex - we've already referred to Bill C38 and the Gay Pride Parade. Newspapers say that over the past 25 years the parade has turned from a protest into a sort of 'celebration'. But homes with homosexuals as parents can be damaging to the next generation. In Reality magazine, accountant Dawn Stefanowicz shares her story of growing up in a homosexual household. When she was in her 30s, her mother confirmed that Dawn had been sexually molested, beginning as an infant, by her father. "Studies have found that 29% of adult children of homosexual parents were subjected to sexual molestation by one of the homosexual parents, compared to only 0.6% of adult children of heterosexual parents." The article mentions many of the forms of deviant sexuality Dawn was exposed to (which I won't name here). She saw the hidden side of the homosexual lifestyle. "Long-term, the gay lifestyle was lonely, dark and unfulfilling for her father because of the rejection by so many partners, the diseases, the suicides, the drugs and alcohol, and the deaths. As a result of this confusing upbringing, Dawn struggled with a poor body image, low expectations of others and a feeling of being unlovable, as her father was unable to affirm her womanhood and femininity. This long-term exposure to her father's behaviour and lifestyle caused her a great deal of insecurity, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, low self esteem, sleeplessness, and sexuality confusion." Not much to celebrate! God be praised - through therapy, faith, forgiveness, thankfulness, self-care, journaling, and reading good books, Dawn has been able to overcome her past.
Over on the heterosexual side, morality isn't faring a whole lot better. In 2001 there were 1.2 million couples living common-law compared to 6.4 million married couples in Canada. In 2002, the number of couples divorced was (get this!) 70,155; currently some 38% of marriages are expected to end in divorce by the time of their 30th wedding anniversary. And adultery is undoubtedly a factor in many of those cases.
O, Canada! How can we ask or expect God to "keep" a country that's in such a moral mess? Genesis 13(13) describes the men of Sodom as "wicked" and "sinning greatly against the Lord"; in ch.18(20) the Lord confides in Abraham that their sin is "so grievous" He has to take action. Lot and his family were spared, but the rest of the city was destroyed. And we are now officially approving 'sodomy'?
Sin isn't just an act 'out there': it has an effect on the sinner, its deteriorating effect clings to you like glue, unless there's repentance. Note some of the terms Scripture uses to describe these things. Deut 12(31) calls the sins of the Amorites "all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates". Detestable means literally "abomination, disgusting". Think of the most disgusting thing you can imagine...that's how God views the effect sin has on us. Lev 18(24) says sinners "defile" themselves, literally "unclean, polluted". Sin turns your pure, bubbling fountain of life into a cesspool. 1Kings 21(26) says of one of the worst kings in Israel's history that Ahab "behaved in the vilest manner (literally, abominably) by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel." It (v25) says he "sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord"; as did all the people of Israel in 2Kings 17(17), they "sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking Him to anger."
Sin isn't fun in the long run, as if you could keep on doing one forbidden pleasure after another without consequences. Sin is a sell-out. When we give in to Satan's temptation, we sell ourselves, we give ground to the enemy, he gets a hold on us and we're no longer free. To keep Canada "strong and free" or "glorious and free" (in the words of the anthem) we absolutely have to guard against sin. To mortgage our soul by a moral sell-out is disastrous. In the case of the Amorites, their sin desecrated their land so much that God says in Lev 18(25), "so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants." (How's that for a memorable metaphor!) Likewise God warns Abraham's descendants three verses later, "And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you."
(Are we getting to the feel-good part of the sermon yet?! I'm sorry this message is so gloomy - but I'm truly distressed as I see the direction our country's headed. God's Word is warning us. If all this message does is produce some heartfelt soul-searching, alarm, and repentance, that's a start.)
So what are we to do, if the country is in danger of, as some might say, "going to hell in a hand-basket"? Move to a desert island? Become a hermit? Not at all! We're already citizens of another country, ambassadors of heaven's King (Heb 11:16; Eph 2:19; 2Cor 5:20). We have a better Kingdom already started within us - let it out! (Rom 14:17) Be salt and light, God's cultural change agents.
Although things weren't much better in Paul's day, his first letter to Timothy does offer some positive steps Christians can take to fight increasing lawlessness and immorality. For context, note 1:9-10: Paul refers to "lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious... those who kill their fathers or mothers...murderers...adulterers and perverts...slave traders and liars and perjurers" - yup, there's yesterday's news!
First, lest we're just down on OTHER'S sin, the Lord wants us to begin by ACKNOWLEDGING OUR OWN NEED OF CHRIST'S GRACE. V15, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the worst." Whether we've had an abortion, committed adultery, or merely harboured anger or lied on our income tax, all sin is sin - not an excuse to be judgmental, but an occasion to feel godly remorse and receive Christ's grace and forgiveness. Paul offers a worst-case scenario in vv13-14, "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy...The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." There's hope for us all, no matter what we've done.
Second, having repented and turned from sin to the Saviour, we can with His help SET AN EXAMPLE. 1Tim 4:7 tells us to "train yourself to be godly"; v12, "set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." The revolution starts HERE - within. Allow Jesus to change you, then you'll see His influence start to flow out through you to change those you meet. V16 says, "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers." Kind of echoes Lev 18:5, "Keep My decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will LIVE by them" i.e.God's instructions will benefit you, help you become fully alive. Paul says in 6:11 we're to "pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness." Even if it costs you your cabinet post (like it did for Joe Comuzzi)!
Finally, because our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, against spiritual forces of evil (Eph 6:12), we are to PRAY. Paul wants "men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer." (1Tim 2:8) At the beginning of chapter 2(1f) he tells what for: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." Keep on knocking, boldly like the friend in need at the middle of the night, persistently like the widow at the door of the unjust judge that Jesus talked about (Lk 11:5-8; 18:1-5). Pray unceasingly - especially for government, because it's something God's especially concerned about (Prov 21:1).
Egerton Ryerson was a Methodist circuit rider who engineered the education system for Ontario, or Canada West, as it was known in 1844. He believed his primary task in life was "to make men Christians - Christians in heart and life, temper, word and work." His inaugural address as the first principal of Victoria College stressed that "youth should be furnished with right principles, as well as with right knowledge... the first requisite is the religious and moral knowledge of right and wrong; the next is an acquaintance with the history of mankind." Students in the grammar schools used textbooks which included Christian values and loyalty to the constitution. The Canada West school system became a model for most of English-speaking Canada.
Like Ryerson, there are still politicians and civil servants today who combine their Christian convictions with service to the state; who try throughout life to serve God, "however imperfectly". The Lord Jesus can use each of us to change society and flavour it with His righteousness, starting where we are, starting with our own moral compass. The Holy Spirit will help keep us on "true north" - so we can stand on guard, not get stuck in the goo. Let's pray.