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The other day I heard a television personality say that the “real meaning of Christmas is giving”. Those of us who know and believe the biblical account of the incarnation know that this is true.  Christmas is about giving.  Not just because the three wise men gave gifts to Jesus, but because “God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Christmas is about giving.

But not everyone has received the memo.  As we watch the world around us settling down to “keep Christmas” and as we saw the overcrowded shopping malls in the past days, it would appear that Christmas is more about getting than it is about giving. Indeed, that is how most of us were introduced to Christmas:  we learned to eagerly anticipate it because Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, depending on your tradition meant a vast assortment of brightly wrapped gifts.  At least it was so, as long as I can remember.  I also remember that some gifts were more appreciated than others, depending on how young or mature we were.  We used to “feel” the gifts before unwrapping them.  If it was soft, it was something that we needed, like pajamas or maybe a shirt or socks.  But if it was hard and rattled, then maybe – just maybe it would be something on our wish list.  And some gifts we received depending on whether we were “naughty or nice” – as if a gift could be earned! Christmas is about getting, but before we can receive, someone had to give, and we figured out soon enough that it wasn’t Santa Claus or “Christkind” as my German heritage taught.

Some people dispense with giving and receiving with gifts altogether, taking the giving and getting out of the equation.  There’s nothing wrong with that, nor is it necessarily more right. When people ask me what I want for Christmas, I always say that I have everything that I need.  I used to tell my congregations, that the best gift that they can give me is to follow the Lord and live in His ways.  That always meant so much more to me than all of the “that was a lovely sermon” comments, and certainly more than the collection of ties, pens, and bric bracs that I have collected over the years. (Although I do have to admit that I miss the tasty treats that people used to leave outside my office door).

When it comes to giving, nobody can out do God.  He gave all of Himself, so that we might receive and have everything, and become joint heirs with Jesus forever.  Certainly God does not need anything that we give Him, but in His grace He receives what we offer Him out of love and gratitude.  And he also receives us when we bring Him our life of brokenness – and even our doubts. 

May everyone experience the true meaning of Christmas this year and always!

 

 

 

16. December 2017 · Comments Off on SO WHY DO WE STAND FOR “HALLELUJA?” · Categories: General · Tags: ,

Last weekend I attended a performance of Handel’s MESSIAH. As is customary, when the orchestra began the introduction to the HALLELUJAH chorus, the audience stood.  I looked around to see if anyone was sitting, and I didn’t notice anyone. 

In checking out the question “why do people stand for the Hallelujah chorus?” I find that the opinions and feelings about this are by no means unanimous.  In fact, I came across someone’s blog entry that was entitled “why I sit through the Hallelujah chorus”.

But the most prevalent theory is that during an early London performance, King George II stood and remained standing when the “Hallelujah” was sung.  The rule of etiquette was that subjects of the realm did not remain seated while the monarch stood.  So the audience stood and remained standing until the king took his seat again.  But alas, nobody can say with absolute certainty why the king stood, because he never commented on it to anyone.  So there are all kinds of theories about that and not all of them make a lot of sense. For example, perhaps the king was tired after sitting such a long time (Messiah is a lengthy work of music) and that he therefore took a “stretch break”. Another theory is that he stood to relieve the pain of his gout, and still others believe that he fell asleep during the performance and woke up with a start by the loud music of “Hallelujah”.  Others say he was so moved that he stood out of respect for the music.

All of these are “secular” theories and none of them sounds convincing to me. King George was a Christian king, head of the English Church, and would have been knowledgeable of the Scriptures. The Hallelujah Chorus (indeed the words of the entire work MESSIAH) are Scripture verses in the King James version.  When the words of this chorus sounded, George knew, that it was referring to his Lord, to a King greater than himself.  The King of kings is the King of England’s superior. The King of England is a subject of the Greater King, the Creator and Sovereign of Heaven and Earth. As a Christian King who believed in the Divine Right of Kings, he would have acknowledged even at his own coronation that he rules England only by the grace of the Great King and no other.

But the people in the audience also stood, whether out of royal protocol that demanded standing when the king did, or perhaps out of solidarity with their fellow subject of the King of Kings, we do not really know.

But why do people stand today?  I’m sure that most stand simply out of tradition, and it is not a bad thing at all to keep good traditions.  I will tell you that I stand out of an inner conviction that the words being sung are true:  Jesus is the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. The Bible says that one day, all, including those who today do not believe it nor acknowledge the Lordship of Christ will be compelled to do so as Philippians 2:10-12 tells us, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (NIV).  Many will do so when that time comes because they will have no other alternative.   But those who know and and love Him, do so now, not out of compulsion but of our own conviction and will and conviction.  I am one of those

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

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p style=”text-align: center;”>Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

The kingdom of this world

Is become the kingdom of our Lord,

And of His Christ, and of His Christ;

And He shall reign for ever and ever,

For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,

And Lord of lords,

And He shall reign,

And He shall reign forever and ever,

King of kings, forever and ever,

And Lord of lords,

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

And He shall reign forever and ever,

King of kings! and Lord of lords!

And He shall reign forever and ever,

King of kings! and Lord of lords!

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

Revelation 19:6; 11:15; 19:16

 

22. November 2017 · Comments Off on POLITICS – KENYA STYLE · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

Politics is my favourite spectator sport.  I watch it with the same passion as others are entertained by football, hockey, baseball or whatever.  Since the beginning of September, I have had a ringside seat here in Kenya, as the country struggled with the selection of their president.  In Kenya, the President is the head of state, who is directly elected by the people. A president can serve a maximum of two five year terms.

On August 8, the people went to the polls and re-elected President Uruhu Kenyatta for a second term.  Almost immediately, his opponent Raila Odinga declared that the election had been “rigged”, and he launched a court case wherein he alleged that certain “irregularities and illegalities” had occurred during the election, which according to him was not conducted in keeping with the constitution.  On September 1, the Supreme Court of Kenya agreed, and in an unprecedented move declared the August 8 election to be “null and void”, and ordered a new election to be held within 60 days.

This new election was at first scheduled for October 16, and then postponed to October 26.  About 10 days before the election, Mr. Odinga pulled out of the election, and urged his followers to boycott the election.   One day before the election, Kenyans were not at all sure that they would be going to the polls.  There was a challenge in court that it should be postponed yet again on the grounds that insufficient preparations had been made, no fresh nominations had been held etc. etc.  The Supreme Court was to hear the application the day prior to the election, but they could not, because oddly, the court failed to form a quorum: only two of the six justices showed up.  The election went ahead the next day with a voter turn out of about 35%. President Kenyatta was re-elected by an overwhelming majority.

Once again, almost immediately, there were legal challenges to the validity of the election. Once again, the Supreme Court had to decide whether to uphold the election results, or to send the people to the polls for the third time.  This past Monday, November 20 they rendered their decision. This time they unanimously dismissed the challenges and declared the election results to be valid.  The President is to be sworn in for his second term on November 28, the day that I return to Canada.

Sadly, that is not the end of the story.  Opponent Odinga has stated publically that he and his followers do not recognize the President. Sound familiar?  “He’s not MY president”. Just like after Donald Trump’s election, there are demonstrations.  Only these have been violent – already two people are dead.  The defeated candidate said that he will announce next week what his next steps will be.

Of course it is impossible not to look at this through the lens of our own Canadian politics.  There are some parallels, and some sharp differences.  One parallel was stated best by the taxi driver who takes me into town and back about once a week.  He said that not only are Kenyans tired of all this electioneering, but “the people no longer believe anything that a politician says”.  Certainly that is true of many Canadians, but for very different reasons.  In Canada we are cynical about anything that politicians say because they promise us one thing while they are campaigning for office, but once in office they become intoxicated with power and ignore what they promised, and sometimes do exactly the opposite.  Here in Kenya, in many cases both sides promised exactly the same thing, and many fear that these promised will be forgotten, no matter who is in power.

In the multi-party system that we have in Canada, we are used to seeing each party put forward a platform of policies that they hope will appeal to the voters.  The reality is that voters tend decide their vote on the popularity of the party leader, and sometimes whom we vote for is determined by how much we hate another leader whom we want to throw out.

But here in Africa, and in Kenya particularly, there is a factor that is not so prevalent in Canada, and that is TRIBALISM.  Tribal politics plays a huge role.  Like the “blood is thicker than water” concept, it overrules policy, reason, and many other things.  President Kenyatta and his opponent are from very different tribes, and each tribe feels that they are better served if “their” candidate is in power.  Moreover, the fathers of both of these men were also politicians, and arch-rivals at that.  (President Kenyatta’s father was Kenya’s first President and the airport in Nairobi is named after him).

But tribalism is not the only problem.  Another one is corruption, which apparently is a way of life here. I heard it said in chapel one day that “Kenya is 80% Christian (nominally) but 90% corrupt.  I don’t know how fair that is, but I do know that corruption is present in all segments of society, including law enforcement.   A big bone of contention in the last two elections is the so-called IEBC (The “Independent Election and Boundaries Commission”) which is the Kenyan equivalent of our Elections Canada body that is responsible for carrying out, and reporting the results of the election in accordance with the country’s laws and constitution.  This body (the IEBC) has come under fire for all kinds of offenses relating to the way election materials and ballots were handled, results supposedly manipulated and many more alleged offenses.  How far that corruption really extends – the opposition claims it extends to the judiciary – is very hard to tell. Not that our Canadian elections have been 100% free of that – think “Robo-calls”.

But one thing that is very different from Canada in Kenyan elections, is the violence and bloodshed. It is one thing to express one’s views, political or otherwise.  But it is another thing to maim, vandalize, and kill because someone else thinks differently. In the 2007 presidential election, shown here in pictures, more than 1,100 people were killed after the election, and another 600,000 forced from their homes. In the 2013 election the violence began already in 2012 with 447 lives claimed in inter-communal clashes, and another 118,000 people were displaced.

the numbers are not yet in.  There have again been casualties and deaths, since before August, and it continued throughout the repeat election.  People were prevented from voting by bonfires and other obstructions blocking the way to many polling places.  Let us hope and pray that this type of electioneering does not find its way into other democratic countries.  A hallmark of democracy is that everyone has the right to his or her own opinion, and everyone has the right to peacefully express that opinion.  If you resort to violence to make your point, then your point gets lost in the process, and violence becomes the message. God help us if that is ever accepted as legitimate.

09. November 2017 · Comments Off on WIRELESS RUDENESS · Categories: CHURCH, Funerals, Internet · Tags: ,

 It is not often that I quote the words of The Pope, but an article in today’s newspaper (THE STANDARD) in Kenya caught my eye. During his weekly general audience in St. Peters Square he chastised people on their use of smart phones, saying “At a certain point in the ceremony the priest says ‘lift up your hearts’.  He doesn’t say, ‘lift up your mobile phones to take photographs.”  He went on to say, “its so sad when I’m celebrating mass here or inside the basilica and I see lots of phones held up – not just by the faithful, but also by priests and bishops! Please!”

I think we all have experienced it – a special moment ruined either by the sound of a mobile phone ringing, or some person snapping a picture with their smartphone at the wrong time.  Not just in church either. Family dinner time.  Concerts.  Special celebrations like weddings, anniversaries or birthdays – even a special date with a special someone.  Really – you need to remain accessible for the rest of the world to call you – even then? I have even heard of people taking their smartphone to bed with them, so that that they might see who is texting them or emailing them throughout the night.

At one time, being available, and able to be reached anywhere and anytime was a sign of importance.  Doctors (and others) would have little beepers attached to their belt and then suddenly in the middle of something have to get up and go to the nearest telephone to call the paging company.  Then the little pager became a little more sophisticated…the number calling you would be displayed on the pager.  I remember having one of those when I was in sales during a career break.  But now we live in the age of the smartphone.  No longer just a mobile phone or “cell phone” as we used to call it.  The smartphone keeps us “wired” and in touch all the time with all the world.  We can be reachable by phone, or by social media or email, or even surf the web anywhere, anytime. And … anybody can have one.  I can remember when mobile phone was part of science fiction.  Remember the agent who talked into a fountain pen?  Then came the first mobile phones – big bulky things.  Car phones that had to be wired into your car to work.  And now? The most sophisticated devices accessible to anyone, not just those who need to be accessible.

Now I am not against those things.  I have one myself.  Nor is the pope against social media.  I am told that he has 14 million followers on his English language Twitter account alone.  He has even gone so far as to say that the internet, social media, and texting can be “a gift of God” if used wisely (though he also said that young people should exchange their smartphones for pocket Bibles.  Perhaps he doesn’t know that you can read the Bible with your smartphone.  As a pastor, when I made visits to the hospital, I always took my smartphone along because I had access to various versions, and various languages of the Bible (German or English) and I used the one that suited the patient.

Like all the other electronic tools and toys before it, the smartphone in and of itself is amoral – neither good or evil.  But the person using it can be either, or at the very least rude.  Rude? You ask me?  Well let me explain.  If you and I were having a face to face conversation, and somebody else came and began to talk to me, would you not think it rude if I suddenly ignored you and carried on a conversation with that other person?  How then, is it polite to do the same thing using a smartphone?  But I have had it done to me many many times.  “Excuse me”, says my partner “but I really need to take this call”.  Then the phone conversation goes on an on while I twiddle my thumbs.  Actually, I usually pull out my smartphone and check my email at such a point.

And then there are the thoughtless people who allow their cell phones or whatever to ring at the most inappropriate moments, such as worship services, weddings, and funerals.  In the last church that I served, we had to every Sunday put a note in the bulletin and on the overhead screen, asking worshippers to please silence their electronic gadgets.  I thought it was sad that we had actually do that.  And still I would observe people texting or whatever throughout the service, thinking the people on the platform don’t notice.  During a funeral that I was conducting in my last church, a phone rang on two occasions.  From the sound of the funky ring tone it was the same phone both times.  The first time I said nothing and just went on with the service while others around the offender glared at him.  When it happened again during a very solemn moment in the service, and it wouldn’t stop, I had enough.  I stopped what I was doing and looked over in the direction of the offender and asked him to please silence his phone.  (I later found out that he was so flustered because he couldn’t get it to stop).  I was criticized for that move because he told others after the service that I had hurt his feelings by singling him out.  I reminded the critics that this person (who did not belong to our congregation) rudely interrupted a very important service in the life of that grieving family.  Secondly the service wasn’t about him, so I didn’t care about him being offended or not.  He should have known better.  Whether you know how to operate your smart phone or not, turn it off before going to a special event.  Or if you must remain reachable, then put the thing on vibrate so it doesn’t disturb others.

One last bit of irony.  Smartphones and other electronic toys supposedly enhance communication between humans.  But sadly, with all this accessibility and availability, studies have shown that we have become less effective communicators when face to face with others.  Just watch next time you go out to dinner, or even look at your own dinner table.  How is the conversation going?  Do you actually talk to the person or persons you are with?  Do you let others horn in on that conversation with an MSN text or an email, or a phone call?  And, seriously were these interrupters and those interruptions really so important that they couldn’t wait until after dinner?  Or church?  Or the movie?  Or whatever?

 

 

04. October 2017 · Comments Off on DOES GOD WANT YOU TO BE RICH AND ALWAYS HEALTHY? · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

One of the benefits of being involved in ministry for a long period of time is that you see a lot of religious fads come and go.  In my time I have seen a lot of things appear “hot” on the religious scene, only to fizzle and fade away.  However, one aberration that does not seem to want to go away is what is known as the “health and wealth gospel” or the “Prosperity Gospel”.  The main thrust of this “gospel” which really is no gospel at all is, “God wants you to be healthy and rich” and if you are not, then there is something deficient with your faith or your beliefs in general.  The prescription for this malady, according to the proponents of this “gospel” is to follow the teaching of this or that televangelist, or better still send them “seed money” so that your wealth may be multiplied.

Now I don’t have the space here to do a full theological treatment, as I was invited to do during my 2015 visit to Kenya, where I spent an entire morning with a group of about 25 pastors at the Kapsabet Bible College discussing a “theological response to the Prosperity Gospel”.

Today all I can do is briefly show you how to recognize this error, and what is at the root of it. There are two main Scripture references that the prosperity preachers use to peddle their wares. One is 3. John 2 which says, Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”  (KJV). Note that the King James Version actually uses the word “prosper”.  But other more accurate translations say, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” (NIV) or “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” (ESV)

The problem with most prosperity preachers, including the most popular ones on TV, is that they lack any kind of theological training, let alone any knowledge of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting Scripture).  This means they can take a Bible verse (and yes, these verses are in the Bible!) and make them say what the inspired author of the verse never intended to say.  Did John, who penned these verses really intend to say that Christians everywhere and in all times should be healthy and wealthy?  Or was he passing along a greeting that is as common as something that we would say, “friend, I hope that you are doing well”?  These preachers don’t know, but they ought to know, that you can’t fashion a doctrinal truth that applies to everyone  and everywhere on the basis of one single Bible verse, a Bible verse that is open to interpretation!

A second favourite Scripture of the health and wealth preachers is found in 2. Corinthians 9:10-11 which says, Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (NIV)

The apostle Paul, who quotes an Old Testament Scripture before this statement is using the sowing principle that a little seed produces a great harvest, and then applies that to the virtue of generosity.  The context of these verses is that Paul is encouraging generosity. But the “spin” that these preachers put on this is “send your money to me, and God will increase your wealth”. The preacher will usually aim high, “make a vow of $1,000 even if you can’t afford it, just believe and then pay on it, pay on it till the vow is complete.” (Robert Tilton uses this line in almost every program). No worries that there is no mention of any sort of vow in this passage, he will use the passage and say, “God gives seed to the sower”. And if you really can’t afford the $1,000 why then just send me what you have.  And people do just that. During the audit of one televangelist who was investigated for fraud, the bulk of the millions of dollars that he raised did not come from wealthy people who sent in a thousand dollars.  It came from the many donations of financially desperate people who were promised that by giving up what little they had, God would make them rich.  This included widows and orphans who sent in portions or all of their pension to help that preacher pay for his 4 houses and cars, his $5000.00 suits, and his private airplane.

The true Christian gospel, the good news of salvation in Christ does not include a promise of health and wealth and prosperity.  Jesus never promised his followers anything remotely resembling what these preachers proclaim.  Jesus promised his disciples that they would suffer hardship, persecution, perhaps even death. But he also promised that He would be there with them through all of this.

So why, in our day do we see churches emptying, and at the same time stadiums filled by people listening to Joyce Meyers or Ken Copeland, people who have no ministerial credentials? There are several reasons.  One is that these preachers are excellent communicators, and another that they understand marketing (most invest in effective public relations professionals). But another, more insidious reason is that they have a message which resonates with what people want to hear.   In the case of illness or disease many are desperate because everything they have tried has been unsuccessful.  Why wouldn’t you go and listen to someone who offers you the possibility of healing? And then there is greed, one of the most base of human vices.  Why not pursue that “financial miracle”, especially if someone tells you that you have a right to it by virtue of nothing more than faith?  And if you don’t see the financial wealth, well sorry, I guess you don’t have the faith that it takes.  Said one televangelist who had a BMW, a Bentley, and a Cadillac in his garage, “I can’t help it if your faith only reaches to a Chevy or VW!”

Sadly, many of these religious hucksters and frauds are supported by Christians who are as unknowledgeable and as gullible as these preachers.  I’m not afraid to say that Benny Hinn has been exposed as a fraud in both the United States and Canada. The American network ABC revealed how he knows where the people who need healing are seated in the audience.  He receives transmissions to an electronic device in his ear from co-workers who interviewed people coming in about why they came, and then noted where they sat.  Hinn then tells the audience that the Holy Spirit has revealed to him that in “Section XYZ someone is seated in seat ABC who has cancer” or whatever.  The CBC has done an extensive investigation on him and the IRS in the United States has looked into his financial dealings.  And yet I know that people from Bible believing churches everywhere send him money, even when their own churches are suffering financially. And when Benny Hinn appeared at the Air Canada Center in Toronto some years ago, people spent thousands of dollars to fly to Toronto from all over Canada to fill the stadium (and leave some of their money there as well). Ken Copeland, when asked by reporters why he needs a private jet to “do the Lord’s work”, pointedly replied, “that’s none of your business.”  With his characteristic smile he turned his back and left.

Here in Africa, from where I am writing these lines, the Prosperity Gospel is doing very well. When I mentioned this in class the other day, one of my students reminded me, “but you know where that comes from, don’t you sir?  It comes from the West.”  Sad but true.  While this North American style Christianity has been imported here, Africa now has its own Prosperity Preachers. When one of the most famous ones comes to Nairobi for a shopping trip, the police cordon off streets so that his limousine can make it through.

The prosperity gospel will be around, not only in Africa and North America, but wherever there are opportunists, and wherever there are people who are either desperate or greedy. But I am confident that God, who has the last word over everyone’s ministry, including my own, will deal with them in His own time. For now how may we protect ourselves?  Read your Bible, study it, get with a church that teaches sound doctrine and that teaches you how to understand Scripture. May God give us open ears so that we may discern truth from error.

 

 

 

09. September 2017 · Comments Off on VOICES FROM BEYOND? · Categories: General · Tags:

Recently I read the biography of Canada’s longest serving prime minister.  William Lyon Mackenzie King was born in the city that I now live in: Kitchener Ontario, but it was known as BERLIN when Mr. King was born in 1874.  He served Canada as Prime Minister in the years 1921–1926, 1926–1930 and 1935–1948. Despite his many leadership qualities, especially during Canada’s involvement in the second World War, he was also a man of various oddities, even in his day.

I’m going to discuss just one of these and that is his propensity to communicate with the dead. He did so with the help of mediums, of which there were several in his social circle of friends, and apparently he later developed the so-called ability to engage in this activity himself.  One of the chief conversation partners was his deceased mother.  King, who had never married, was devoted to his mother in life, and missed her almost to obsession after she had died.  It is said that a huge portrait of her hung in his study, and that Mr. King would sit under that portrait for hours and meditate, think, and talk to her.  He would seek his mother’s advice when trying to figure out political problems.  We know this from the diaries that have now been made public in which King made copious entries about all manner of subjects.

Now Mackenzie King also considered himself to be a Christian.  He read his Bible, loved to sing hymns, and attended church regularly. And seemingly, he saw no contradiction between those two areas of his life.  Nor do many other modern people today

Another public figure who regularly engaged in spiritism (or spiritualism) which is the name of this activity, was Nancy Reagan, the wife of one of the former US presidents.  Mrs. Reagan is known to have had an enormous influence on her husband, and Ronald Reagan freely admits in his autobiography the he openly discussed various political issues with her on a regular basis. Is it possible that decisions were made based on advice that depended on communication from the “beyond” ?

I raise this issue, and I cite these two examples because we often hear contemporary wisdom which says that politicians should keep their personal beliefs, religious and otherwise to themselves, and not mix them in with their job of running a country with diverse religious beliefs and cultural norms.  Indeed most Canadian prime ministers in the modern era have done just that. Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien were all Roman Catholic, but you would never know it from many of the things that they said and did.  And we remember Paul Martin, who was called out by the Archbishop of Toronto of his day for not “being a good Catholic” when his government legalized same sex marriage.  Mr. Martin was not troubled by that at all, replying that he “gets along fine with the man upstairs.”  In other words, one’s faith and ones life can be neatly compartmentalized and kept as far away from the other as possible.

So what should we make of this business of contacting the dead?  Firstly let me say that it goes on a lot more than we think.  The new age movement, which is no longer new, has given the whole thing a less spooky and more respectable name.  Its called “channeling”.  It involves making contact with an “avatar”, a spiritual entity, sometimes referred to as a “spirit guide” from whom one extracts wisdom, advice on a particular matter, or clarification of past events or contact with a departed loved one.  An  “avatar” (I place the word in quotation marks to distance myself from the term) is supposed to consist of any number of possible different beings: a powerful or knowing person who has lived in the past such as an artist, scientist, or other great thinker or celebrity.

 Basically, an incarnation or reincarnation of someone who lived on earth in another life and now lives on in another world. Making contact with avatars is something people do by “channeling” them…it can occur with or without the help of a human medium or a “spirit guide”. At Nancy Reagan’s funeral, her daughter stated that her mother had “channeled” her late husband’s spirit on an almost daily basis since his death.  And yes, Nancy received a Christian funeral presided over by an Episcopalian clergyman. There were Bible readings, hymns, prayers, a very nice sermon, and the the traditional burial service of the dead.  “Chanelling” – doesn’t that sound so much more “with it” than what William Lyon Mackenzie King did? – it has become a very mainstream activity.  But is it a hoax? Or is there something to it? In the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, we read an interesting story of channeling done by King Saul. You can read the whole story here, but here is the summary:

Saul was facing a major battle, and was terrified.  The story says that inquired of the LORD, but God was no longer communicating with him because he had fallen away from following God’s guidance.  So he commands that people find him a medium. Interestingly, the Bible says that Saul had previously expelled all the spiritists from the land (while he was still following God).  But there was one left in Endor, and Saul goes to her and asks for her to “bring up” the spirit of the decease Samuel the prophet. The story describes this “channeling” séance this way:

 Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

“I am in great distress,” Saul said. “The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do.” Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. 18 Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today. The Lord will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines.” (1.Samuel 28:15-19 NIV)

Now what happened here?  Did Samuel really appear and speak these words (which turned out to be true!) ?  And when William Lyon MacKenzie King channeled his mother, did she really appear and speak to him?  If not, who did? 

First, let me say very briefly, that while I have never been to a séance, I have counselled people who have, and who report that that their beloved departed did in fact say things that only they could have known, sometimes in a voice that was identical to the departed, in order to make the channeler believe that it was their loved one. 

Secondly, empirical evidence exists of séances that have been recorded both in audio and video that show that something indeed happens, “someone” indeed “speaks” and sometimes even “appears”. But who is it? 

Because of the space limitations here let me say based on my research, the irrefutable data above, and my understanding of Scripture it is a spirit who indeed appears and speaks.  We live in the natural world of time and space, where we can see, hear, touch, smell, and feel.  But there is another spirit world that is just as real as our world, that we ordinarily do not have access to but which we shall enter at our death.  God, in His Word has set boundaries that forbid us to try and communicate with that other world.  But if someone does, what happens?

Sometimes nothing. (There is a lot of fraudulent spiritism going on).  But sometimes a spirit does communicate with the living.  But those spirits are not Samuel, and not Mackenzie King’s mother, and not Ronald Reagan but imposter spirits that have access to knowledge of these people –remember the spirit world has different levels of knowledge than our world.  These spirits, that appear during séances are deceptive spirits.  They are subject to the Great Deceiver of the universe, and people who seek out these spirits, consult them, and perhaps heed their voice eventually become enslaved to them. It is better, I think, to heed God’s Word which says:

When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? (Isaiah 8:19)

 

 

 

 

 

27. July 2017 · Comments Off on THE FINE ART OF THE OBITUARY · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

I noticed this title on a sign while going into the public library recently.  Apparently someone was going to lecture on that subject.  I missed the lecture, but the title made me think about  the many obituaries that I have read over the years and decades.  I have been reading obituaries as long as I can remember reading newspapers. I remember sitting in a restaurant reading a paper that I had open to the obituaries page.  The waitress asked if there was anything interesting in the paper.  When I pointed to the page and said that I was checking to see if my name was on it, she almost dropped the coffee pot and asked, “why would you be reading THAT part of the newspaper?”

An obituary serves two purposes. It is of course an announcement of a death if we notice it in time. But after that it continues to have value as an historical record not only of a death that occurred but a life that has been lived.

Obituaries can be accessed online nowadays from almost anywhere in the world.  As such they are of great interest to people doing research on family trees and other genealogical studies.

An obituary should not be confused with a eulogy.  The word eulogy actually means “to speak well” and as such these are the kinds of tributes that are often given at funerals or memorial services, usually by someone close to the deceased, and sometimes by a family member.  An obituary is the formal death notice that is usually published in a newspaper.  To protect themselves from pranksters, most city newspapers accept obituary placements only from funeral homes, though you certainly can submit a self-written obituary through your funeral director, which is what I did for both my Mom and Dad.

So what should be in a well-written obituary?

 

  1. The vital facts: Full legal name (with nicknames in brackets if desired), especially if the person was better known by such a name.
  2. The date of birth and the date of death, and optionally the place of death (at home, or name of hospital etc) but at the very least the name of the city where death occurred. I can’t stress enough that the date of birth is as important as the date of death and it is missing in many obituaries. Perhaps one didn’t want to disclose the age of the deceased. While such vanity might have its place in life, what does it matter in death? To the genealogical researcher, the date and place of birth might avoid confusion with another person with a similar name.
  3. The deceased’s marital status: whether single, married, widowed etc. at death, and the names of any spouses to which they were married. Again, for historical purposes this is significant. If the deceased was widowed, the date of the spouse’s death is usually put in brackets.  Some people who divorce, consider themselves “single” again and prefer to wipe out any memory of the former spouse.  In some jurisdictions (Ontario for example), “single” means never married, and the Registration of Death form requires that the current or last spouse be listed, even if divorced or widowed. This information does not need to be in the obituary however, and usually a tactful way can be found to deal with former spouses.
  4. The names of the surviving family: Protocol suggests the order in which these should be listed: spouse (if living), children (and spouses if applicable), grand-children and great-grandchildren, then the surviving siblings and other relatives. Often these are grouped together as “many cousins, uncles, aunts) etc.
  5. Information about the life of the deceased: their occupation, significant career accomplishments etc. Here is where some discretion and creativity are in order. It is not possible, nor necessary to cover an entire life in the obituary.  Keep in mind, that newspapers charge for the space that is used, usually by the line.  I recall once seeing an obituary that was three columns wide, and almost half the page deep.  My first thought was, “wow, that must have been an incredibly important person”.   But when I read it, I was dismayed to find that every activity from grade school on was listed, along with every track and field ribbon, every bake sale contest, every place of employment and many other things were listed.  These details might have been important to the deceased and their family, but of little if any interest to the public.  But certainly if the deceased was outstanding in any field or had some notable accomplishment, that might add interest to the obituary and could be listed.
  6. A picture is optional, but is becoming more and more common. The picture should be a head and shoulder shot, and can be a current picture, or an older one that shows how the deceased looked in younger and happier days. As mentioned the picture is optional, and it will add to the cost that the newspaper charges. However – sad but true – it will increase the likelihood of the obituary being read.  When skimming over a page of death notices, I find that my eye falls on those that have a picture. (However, I do check all the names in case there is someone there that I knew).
  7. Finally, the obituary should have information about the funeral arrangements: whether there will be a viewing and when and where this will take place, the date and time of the service, and the place of burial. Also if the family has any preference about memorial donations in lieu of flowers, that should be mentioned.
  8. Creativity makes for a more interesting read. Most funeral homes have a bare-bones “just the facts” template where information can simply be dropped in.  If cost is a factor, then this minimalist approach is fine.  But if you want to put some creativity into it, then you also need to balance that with good taste and avoid vanity, cheesy humour, or empty sentimentality.

Should one write one’s own obituary?  That seems to be more common than it used to be.  I would say that there is no rule about that, but it is challenging to do it well.  I’ve read some very interesting self written obituaries, but I’ve also read some “cheesy” ones too.  As a last statement, you want to leave a good impression and not one that makes the reader cringe. I would say the same thing about videos that people record ahead of time to be played in the funeral or memorial service.  I haven’t decided yet whether I will write my own, but I have left instructions of what should and should not be in my obituary.  But ultimately, it will be someone else’s call.

 

11. July 2017 · Comments Off on DINNER WITH THE PRIME MINISTER · Categories: Africa, General · Tags: , ,

Philemon Yang
Prime Minister of Cameroon


Today I want to write about one of those “I still can’t believe this really happened” experiences.  And yet it did.  The Prime Minister in question was Phileman Yang and the country was Cameroon.  The occasion was in December of 2015.  How does a North American Pastor get to have dinner with the Prime Minister?  They say that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and this story still seems that way to me. So I’ll tell it just like it happened.

November 2015 I was privileged to be part of a Mission Trip with 7 men from Mission Baptist Church in Hamilton where I was pastor at the time.   At the end of that mission, on the day that most of the team flew back to Canada, three of us flew to Cameroon.  I had two more speaking engagements, one at a church, and another a graduation address at the Cameroon Baptist Theological Seminary in Ndu.  We were guests of the North American Baptist Mission station in Bamenda, Cameroon, specifically we were guests of missionaries Walter and Florence Grob.  Walter grew up and was a member of the church in Hamilton, and he had spent his entire career in Cameroon. I had fellowshipped with him every 3 or 4 years when he was on “home assignment” and spoke at our church.  His parents had visited him in Cameroon on the occasion of his wedding to Florence, but as he told me several times, “none of my pastors has ever come here to visit me!”

Now Florence has a dental practice and one of her patients is guess who?  Prime Minister Yang.  She has his private cell phone number, and when she spoke with him, she enthusiastically told him the news that “Walter’s pastor is here all the way from Canada visiting us, and speaking at such and such a place.”  The Prime Minister spontaneously said, “I’d like to meet him.  Bring him by my office.”  We were about 5 hours away from Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, but since our return flight to Canada would start in that city, it was feasible to stop there on the way to the airport.  Only thing was, that particular day happened to be a very busy day for the Prime Minister, so he could not guarantee us a place on his schedule. We understood perfectly.  So we left Bamenda for Yaounde on our last day, knowing that we would possibly be meeting the Prime Minister, but perhaps not.  Midway through the trip, Florence’s cell phone rang.  It was the PM, and she addressed him as “Papa”. Yes, he had time on his calendar to see us and we were told when to appear at his official office.

The Prime Minister’s office is located on the top floor of this government building.  As we approached it, there predictably were guards everywhere.  When one of them approached the driver’s window, our hostess simply said “we have an appointment with the Prime Minister”.  He waved us through and motioned where we should park.  Just like that. No request for ID, no call to verify who we were.  We rode up the elevator and were shown into a large waiting room, where others waited their turn to see the PM.  It was a rather quiet group, until our hostess discovered someone in the room that she knew – Canada’s Ambassador to Cameroon.   He was glad to see her, and apparently remembered her cooking from a function in Bamenda.  After a very pleasant chat with her friend, she introduced us to him.  What a small world. We travel around the world and whom do we meet? Another Canadian, and that the Canadian ambassador. The room slowly emptied, and soon it was our turn to be ushered in to see the Prime Minister.  i expected to see him behind a desk, but it wasn’t an office, but some type of reception or meeting room.

Prime Minister Philemon Yang sat on a sofa a the end of the room under an enormous portrait of the President of Cameroon.  We were motioned to sit on another couch at right angles to him. When you meet as a private citizen with a national leader or the leader of a foreign country, protocol demands that you don’t divulge details of what was talked about.  I will never forget reading the story of Billy Graham, who after a meeting with President Truman in the oval office, re-enacted the meeting for the media, complete with kneeling for prayer on the White House lawn.  The President was not amused. In fact Billy Graham never got a meeting with him again, although he met and played golf with several  subsequent presidents.  I will say however, that Prime Minister Yang was very easy to talk to – maybe the fact that we were talking to a fellow Baptist made a difference.

L to R Daniel Hildebrandt, Prime Minister Philemon Yang (Cameroon) Dieter Reda

As our allotted time was winding up, the Prime Minister casually asked when we would be returning to Canada.  When he found out that our flight would be leaving just before midnight that evening, he said that we  would need a place to rest until then and that he would provide a ride to the airport! He called in an assistant and ordered him to arrange a car to take us to the official residence, and provide “whatever they need”. When we arrived at the prime minister’s official residence, we were shown into a room where liquid refreshments were waiting.

The staff member gave us a device that resembled a little TV remote control and instructed us to press it “if you need anything at all.” Well we did not press the button, but eventually we were shown to a private bungalow on the grounds, where each of us had a room to rest, change clothes, re-pack our luggage etc.  We were told that when the Prime Minister arrived home from work, we would be summoned to the main house for dinner.

At the appointed time we sat down around a large round table.  My friend and I were seated to the Prime Minister’s left, and to his right were other distinguished guests, including  a family from the United States who had been in Cameroon to attend their father’s funeral.  (It turned out to be the same funeral that delayed our welcome dinner with the the pastors of Bamenda after our arrival in Cameroon). The table was sumptuously laden with Cameroonian and North American food.  Uniformed waiters unobtrusively and professionally served everyone, and at one point the Prime Minister arose from his seat to refill peoples’ wine glasses. The conversation was cordial and informal.  Among other things, we  talked about Canada (he had been Ambassador to Canada for 20 years and lived in Ottawa from 1984-2004). When Cameroon joined the commonwealth of nations in 1995 his title changed to High Commissioner.  He has been the Prime Minister of Cameroon since 2009.

The evening seemed to fly by quickly, and soon it was time for us to leave for the airport.  As promised, two body guards of the Prime Minister took us to the airport in one of his cars.  They escorted us up to the security check, and they wanted to escort us to the gate, but were told that they were not permitted beyond the security.  They explained who they were and who had sent them, but to no avail, they had to follow the rules like everyone else. They didn’t have a boarding pass, so that is as far as they were allowed to go.

What a sendoff this was!  Why do I write this?  Because I can’t imagine being asked to dinner by my own prime minister, though if I were, there would be some things I would want to say to him. Confidentially of course. ♦

03. March 2017 · Comments Off on LIGHT OR HEAT? · Categories: General · Tags: ,

The theologian Karl Barth tells the story about hosting a colleague at his home in Basel for a few days.  One evening, the guest wanted to go for a late evening walk, while Barth was ready to got to bed. So before turning in, he showed his guest how to work the porch light switch.  In Europe, many houses have an exterior switch for the porch light so that people can switch it on to find the keyhole when coming home late at night. This uses less energy than simply leaving the porch light on.

So the two parted company – one for a late night walk, the other one off to bed. When Barth’s visitor returned, he had forgotten which button was which and so he randomly pushed the doorbell button resulting in a shrill noise all through the house.  Barth greeted his friend with the words, “that’s just like us theologians.  We aim to bring light and all we can manage is noise.”

Now I have in my day heard more than one sermon that was more noise than light, and I probably preached one or two myself!  But I would like to give this a wider application and say that there is a lot of noise these days in editorials, TV talk shows, and on the streets.  I am talking about the noise resulting from the US presidential election.  The debates during the election were all about noise from all sides.  The election and subsequent inauguration of President Donald Trump has resulted in more noise – in the streets from the “Not My President” people and everywhere. I’m tired of it, and I will not participate in these vitriolic discussions.

What is surprising to me, is how much “noise” seems to be coming from the liberal left side: the folks that are all about freedom of opinion and speech.  Their demonization of their opponents makes it look like freedom of speech is wonderful if it is their point of view being expressed, but not any other position that they disagree with.

It seems that everyone feels free to weigh in on any political topic, regardless of whether they actually understand the issue. Read a good sample of the FACEBOOK comments – an astounding number of people demonstrate that they have no knowledge whatsoever of foreign policy, economics, sociology. And yet they blast away at anyone who dares to take a position that is not in line with their special interest. Lots of heat.  Little or no light. It gets really tiring after a while. So while I read some of this stuff, I “hide” the profiles of the most annoying offenders.  You say, “why don’t you share all your good knowledge about these things, Dieter?”  Frankly I enjoy a good political discussion.  But not in a forum where you get shot down without being even listened to.  And also, frankly, because some of the issues facing North American Society are so complex that a layman such as I do not full understand them. Therefore I keep my mouth shut and have people wonder whether I am stupid, rather than opening it and removing all doubt.

Its really been a long time since we have seen or heard a decent political debate on either side of the border (and yes, by that I also include the present leadership race for the Conservative party in Canada). In a healthy debate, there are opposing viewpoints.  In a healthy debate one questions, and if possible refutes the opposing viewpoint.  But one does not attack the person who disagrees with us, for that is called an ad hominum argument (I’m not sure what the gender-nonspecific term for that is).

So if someone on the left, or on the right has some good arguments that are enlightening – lets hear that. But if all you want to do is make noise and call people names,keep it to yourself.  Its boring.

05. February 2017 · Comments Off on A TIME FOR EVERYTHING · Categories: General · Tags:

Everything Has Its Time
3 To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
2 A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
3 A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
4 A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
7 A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
8 A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.
The God-Given Task
9 What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? 10 I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

12 I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, 13 and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.

14 I know that whatever God does,
It shall be forever.
Nothing can be added to it,
And nothing taken from it.
God does it, that men should fear before Him.
15 That which is has already been,
And what is to be has already been;
And God requires an account of what is past

 

Prediger 3Luther Bibel 1545 (LUTH1545)

3 Ein jegliches hat seine Zeit, und alles Vornehmen unter dem Himmel hat seine Stunde.
2 Geboren werden und sterben, pflanzen und ausrotten, was gepflanzt ist,
3 würgen und heilen, brechen und bauen,
4 weinen und lachen, klagen und tanzen,
5 Stein zerstreuen und Steine sammeln, herzen und ferne sein von Herzen,
6 suchen und verlieren, behalten und wegwerfen,
7 zerreißen und zunähen, schweigen und reden,
8 lieben und hassen, Streit und Friede hat seine Zeit.
9 Man arbeite, wie man will, so hat man doch keinen Gewinn davon.
10 Ich sah die Mühe, die Gott den Menschen gegeben hat, daß sie darin geplagt werden.
11 Er aber tut alles fein zu seiner Zeit und läßt ihr Herz sich ängsten, wie es gehen solle in der Welt; denn der Mensch kann doch nicht treffen das Werk, das Gott tut, weder Anfang noch Ende.
12 Darum merkte ich, daß nichts Besseres darin ist denn fröhlich sein und sich gütlich tun in seinem Leben.
13 Denn ein jeglicher Mensch, der da ißt und trinkt und hat guten Mut in aller seiner Arbeit, das ist eine Gabe Gottes.
14 Ich merkte, daß alles, was Gott tut, das besteht immer: man kann nichts dazutun noch abtun; und solches tut Gott, daß man sich vor ihm fürchten soll.
15 Was geschieht, das ist zuvor geschehen, und was geschehen wird, ist auch zuvor geschehen; und Gott sucht wieder auf, was vergangen ist.
16 Weiter sah ich unter der Sonne Stätten des Gerichts, da war ein gottlos Wesen, und Stätten der Gerechtigkeit, da waren Gottlose.
17 Da dachte ich in meinem Herzen: Gott muß richten den Gerechten und den Gottlosen; denn es hat alles Vornehmen seine Zeit und alle Werke.
18 Ich sprach in meinem Herzen: Es geschieht wegen der Menschenkinder, auf daß Gott sie prüfe und sie sehen, daß sie an sich selbst sind wie das Vieh.
19 Denn es geht dem Menschen wie dem Vieh: wie dies stirbt, so stirbt er auch, und haben alle einerlei Odem, und der Mensch hat nichts mehr als das Vieh; denn es ist alles eitel.
20 Es fährt alles an einen Ort; es ist alles von Staub gemacht und wird wieder zu Staub.
21 Wer weiß, ob der Odem der Menschen aufwärts fahre und der Odem des Viehes abwärts unter die Erde fahre?
22 So sah ich denn, daß nichts Besseres ist, als daß ein Mensch fröhlich sei in seiner Arbeit; denn das ist sein Teil. Denn wer will ihn dahin bringen, daß er sehe, was nach ihm geschehen wird?

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