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There is a story about a man who felt that he had the call to preach.  Only nobody wanted to listen to him.  So he approached the elders of the church that he attended, and told them that while looking into the sky, he saw the clouds in a formation that looked like G.P.C. He felt a strong urge that this means “Go Preach Christ”. The elders were not convinced, but making allowance for the fact that God sometimes works in mysterious ways, they gave him an opportunity to preach once.  After the service one of the elders took him aside and said that he should reconsider if the G.P.C. didn’t mean “Go Plant Corn”.

Some bad humour  that shows that some people miss their true calling in life.  All of us have a true calling – God has a purpose and a place that belongs uniquely to us.  While for some that may include full time ministry or foreign missions, for others it may mean being the very best in some other vocation, profession, or trade.  But I want to discuss today the matter of a “call” to ministry, to preach, to be a chaplain, a counsellor or a youth pastor, or whatever.  How does God call people to such special tasks?

Our catholic friends call this process “receiving a vocation”, and they have a unique process in place to help men who are called to the priesthood or diaconate, or women who might be called to a life of religious vocation such as nun  discern if they have both the gifting, and the call of God on their life for that task.

As protestants, we also desire that people who enter our seminaries and Bible colleges in order to prepare for full time ministry have a sense of God’s calling in their life.  Often this requires that a prospective student submit reports from those who know them spiritually.  As a pastor, I have often been asked to fill out detailed questionnaires about applicants to various schools.  In fact, I have even filled some out for students who wished to enter police college or medical school.

In the Bible we have various examples of the kind of person whom God calls for a special holy task:

  1. Sometimes God calls those the Reluctant. A good example of that would be Moses.  Although Moses heard God speaking to him from within the burning bush, he had a litany of excuses of why he was not suited for doing what God was calling him to do, namely to lead God’s people out of Egypt’s slavery to the Promised Land. “Who me? (Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh); “Suppose they ask me something I don’t know?” (Paraphrased); “what if they do not believe or listen to me?”; “what if they don’t pay attention to the miraculous signs?”; “I have never been eloquent…I am of slow speech and tongue”.  After God had given a gracious response and promise of provision for each of Moses’ shortcomings, Moses pushed the envelope and finally said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”  While every church has a “someone else”, I wonder what would happen if God responded to everyone who asked him to send someone else in the same way as he did to Moses: “Then the Lord’s anger burned towards Moses”. (Exodus 3 and 4).  As we know, Moses turned out to be a great leader with God’s help, and his leadership techniques are the subject of study today in both the religious and the secular realms.  Other reluctant leaders in the Bible are Jeremiah, who thought he was too young (Jer.1:6-7).  And of course who can forget Jonah, who learned to listen to God in the belly of a fish?
  1. Sometimes God calls the Unlikely. When Samuel received the task of finding a successor to King Saul, he was sent to Jesse, who paraded 7 of his sons before Samuel. To Samuel, some of these seemed likely candidates, but in each case God said that this is not the one whom He had chosen, or more emphatically, “I have rejected this one.” Finally, when asked if these were all the sons, Jesse replied, “there is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.”  In other words, Jesse didn’t even bother presenting his youngest.  But that is precisely whom God wanted.  His name was David, and he became king in place of Saul.  We know that David also became an adulterer and a murderer, and yet still was known as “a man after God’s own heart.”  We get an explanation in 1. Samuel 16 as to why David was chosen, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1.Sam 16:7)
  1. Sometimes God calls the Unworthy. Here I am thinking of the New Testament Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle. Think about it.  If you had to choose a man who was to lead the expansion of the early Christian church into non-Jewish territory, in other words be a church planter, and on top of it author a large portion of what would become the New Testament portion of God’s Word, would you choose a man like Saul?  Someone who was instrumental in the persecution of the church?  But that is precisely whom God chose to call, to transform, and to empower with His grace for that task. Paul never lost sight of the unworthiness with which he came to God. To the end of his life he refers to himself as the “chief among sinners.”  When we think of who Saul had been, and who he had become, it becomes clear that God can call and use anyone whom He chooses.
  1. Sometimes God calls the Volunteer. In Isaiah 6, is an account of Isaiah’s vision of God, “seated on a throne, high and exalted” ; his awareness of being cleansed after one of the seraphim flew to him and touched his lips with the live coal from the altar, saying “See this has touched your lips and your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

When Isaiah heard the voice of God saying, “whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” he gave a response that changed his life, “Here am I! Send me!”.  Those words have been on the lips of countless people through the ages.  This story in Isaiah 6, has always been one of my favaourites in the Bible.  It was read on the occasion of my ordination to the Gospel ministry, and last year in Kenya, it was the text of my address to the graduates of the Missionary College in Eldoret.   I challenged the graduates that the prerequisites of anyone who wants to serve God in ministry are that they must have an encounter with God that includes being cleansed from sin, they must have an awareness that God is calling them, and they must have a willingness to be sent by Him anywhere.  I shared with the 1,000 or so people there that I had once said to God that He could send me anywhere but Africa!  (I can’t stand the heat or humidity or strange animals).  But there I was, preaching my first of several sermons on African soil.

Some lessons I learned over my life and career are these.  NEVER say “NO” to God.  If God is calling you to go, then you must go.  And if he is calling someone you know or love, don’t get in the way.  Don’t try to discourage or dissuade that person from following God lest you get in trouble with God.

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23. July 2016 · Comments Off on THE MESSAGE IS THE MEDIUM ? · Categories: General · Tags:

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It was Marshall McLuhan,  the erstwhile Canadian communications guru, who coined the phrase, “the medium is the message”.  McLuhan died before the internet became as pervasive and as accessible to all of us as it is now.  If he were alive today he would no doubt have much to say about how the internet is changing our every day life, and that not always to the better.  Most academics agree, that what McLuhan meant by his famous  the medium is the message phrase, is that the message imbeds itself into the medium that is used to transmit that message.  If that is so, then the internet, and all the electronic toys that go with it are used not only in order to communicate with one another, but some of what we communicate is in that message.  And what exactly is that message that is imbedded in a tweet, or a text message, or an email?

Allow me to come back to that after I digress for a moment to a fascinating book that I am currently reading. It bears the simple title THE AMISH and it is written by three researchers (Donald Kraybill, Karen Johnson, and Steven Nolt) who carefully trace their Anabaptist  origins in 16th century Europe,  their migration to the United States and Canada, and finally their lifestyle here.  I say that the book is fascinating, because I grew up (and now again live in) a part of Ontario surrounded by some Amish settlements.  My contact with them has so far been only visual.  That means that before reading this book, I knew very little about them except that they do not accept Daylight Savings Time, they ride around in horse drawn carriages, and they are dressed very plainly.  The Amish eschew the modern way of life, along with its many gadgets.  In other words, they would not have access to the the internet, cell phones, and the lightening speed communication which many of us deem as essential in order to “keep in touch with all the people in my life” as many of us would say.  Yet here is the fascinating thing.  The Amish are in no way communication-challenged.  While they live in their own communities, those settlements are closely knit.  While a person living in a high-rise often doesn’t know the name of the neighbor next door, an Amish family would know what their closest neighbour 2 miles down the road had for breakfast. And despite the predictions that this isolation from the rest of the world would lead to their eventual extinction, the Amish are in fact flourishing.  From a mere 6,000 of them in 1900, their population has grown to some 275,000 across thirty states and the province of Ontario, about half of them living in the State of Pennsylvania.

Now fast forward to 2016, to an experience that I had only last week.  While travelling by car, I stopped in at a roadside diner.  A very popular place it was rather crowded.  Almost every one of the closely spaced tables was occupied, but I managed to get a table for one.  The table next to me was less than 2 feet away and it was occupied by an elderly couple.  Directly across from me was another table for 2 with a somewhat younger couple.  I could see that couple, and I could hear the couple next to me.  I tried very hard NOT to listen, but it was unavoidable.  The couple was absorbed in a lively conversation about nothing that they wouldn’t mind someone overhearing.  They minded their own business and I minded mine.

The couple across from me immediately pulled out their smart phone after sitting down.  Each was busy either facebook checking, texting, or whatever.  So absorbed were they in this that the waitress actually had to interrupt them to take their order.  When his wife excused herself to powder her nose, the man checked voice mails on his phone and began making calls to answer them.  He was still talking when the meal arrived.  Surely, I thought, they would put their phones down in order to eat. Well sort of.  Between mouthfuls, the couple exchanged a few sentences.  But soon one of the cellphones rang, and the wife took the call.  I guess it was important or maybe she doesn’t have voice mail.  When she was done with the call, time for a few more mouthfuls while the husband picked up his smart phone either to text or tweet or whatever.

Now the couple next to me was definitely communicating with one another.  The couple across from me was also communicating in their own way, but not with each other.  Or were they?  What does it say to you, when you are having a face to face conversation with someone or enjoying their company , and they reach for their cell phone or smartphone?  I have had this happen to me so often that I know that it means: “you are not as important as this message that I am getting on Facebook, on Twitter, or on my phone.”  I know some smartphone4ofmy friends who have done this would argue: “that’s not what I’m communicating to you at all!”  And I would reply, “maybe not. But that IS the message that I pick up”. The medium is the message.

When I was still in pastoral ministry, I often observed people texting while I was preaching. You would be amazed what you see while you are up there. Sometimes people would even text someone else who was right in the room.  People think that we don’t notice these things, but hey, when you turn around and make goo goo eyes at someone in the balcony after receiving a text, how obvious is that?  And by the way, we preachers can also tell if you are using your smartphone to follow along in the Bible (which is totally OK), or doing something else.  What message does that send?  I don’t mean to judge, but I wonder whether that person is really focused on God and what HE has to say at that moment.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against technology.  I like to think that I am up to date with all of it.  In fact, during a sleepless night in Kenya, I reached for my iPhone to check whats happening on Facebook.  I noticed a friend who was online, and we went into a private chat.  Amazing that we could communicate in real time 8 time zones away.

But seriously there is a difference between a smart phone that is tool or a toy. There also is such a thing as an addiction to technology, and yes i know that they said that first about the radio, then the television.  But it is not without reason that health care professionals and others talk about children having too much “screen time” (that covers both the big and the small screens) and not enough fresh air, exercise, and real time social interaction with others.

Are we perhaps raising a generation that will be lacking in communication skills despite the most modern gadgets?  Is the medium the message?

15. July 2016 · Comments Off on THE PERIL OF SOAPBOXES · Categories: General · Tags: ,

roguetenor2By now you would have seen the clip about the Canadian tenor who brought embarrassment to Canadians earlier this week when he changed the words to the Canadian national anthem during the opening exercises of the Major League Baseball all-star game in San Diego.

The Tenors – once known as the “Canadian Tenors” were about 25 seconds into a harmonized a capella arrangement of “O Canada”, the point where Remigio Pereira drops down an octave to his solo of the line “With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the True North strong and free.”  Instead he sang, “We’re all brothers and sisters, all lives matter to the great.”  Today, the news tell us that he apologized and says that he “meant no disrespect to the national anthem”.  It may have been too little too late, for at last word, his future with the Tenors is uncertain. He is suspended “indefinitely” according to the other three Tenors, who immediately distanced themselves from Pereira’s gaffe.

What makes this so offensive of course, goes deeper than the liberties that he took with the words of the national anthem, whose lyrics have been hotly debated of late.  The national anthem is not particularly sacred, despite being referred to as an anthem.  But it does belong to all Canadians, and no individual, no matter what their artistic ability has the right to arbitrarily alter it during a performance.  No, the brouhaha, according to Vinny Menson’s front page article in Thursday’s Toronto Star is that “the rogue tenor misses what really matters R-E-S-P-E-C-T (sic)”.  He didn’t get the “respect memo” on a number of fronts:  first of all that he was singing a Canadian national anthem on foreign soil, and secondly that he was involving himself in a volatile debate that he had no business to participate in, certainly not in a public ball park and on international TV.  The “all lives matter” phrase is a response to the “Black lives matter” watchword of the recent racial conflicts in the United States.  Certainly a free country guarantees us to the right to think what we will about this and for that matter any cause, but there are appropriate and inappropriate venues to participate in debate and express one’s opinion.  As Menson reminds us, it has become fashionable for entertainers, actors, sports personalities to steal a moment or more during their exposure to force their views on the rest of us.  “It is no longer enough for singers to sing or for actors to act or dancers to dance.  Now they must also take sides and make political statements, even while performing.

And while I’m at it, I would like to point out another place where I have observed this happening: in church.  During a recent worship service that I took part in, the mixture of contemporary worship music included an ancient pre-reformation hymn that I recognized from my childhood.  But I did not recognize all of the words on the screen.  Someone had “monkeyed” with them to make them fit their own politically correct view that certain words should not be sung if they appear to be gender-specific, even when the context clearly says that they are not.  To illustrate: “man” or “Mankind” clearly does not refer to males in a song that people have sung for longer than the “editor” of this song has been alive.  There is no clarity issue here, but yet the worshippers were being compelled to sing the views of a musician with a soapbox that did not belong in worship.  Ironically, the very words that were intended to be so “correct” were a barrier to worship, and not the ancient words that they replaced.

And if there should be any preachers reading this:  stop turning your sacred pulpit into a soapbox for politics, and other assorted opinions that really are a matter of personal view, and not doctrinal truth.  Just because you stand six feet above contradiction does not give you the right to force your views and hobby horses on your audience.  When it comes to politics, you probably have many political views represented in your pews, and all of those people have a right to hear the gospel.  But they won’t if you anger them by abusing your privilege and your duty to address them.  I have repented of those times when I have been guilty of that when I was in pastoral ministry.

I agree with the many editorials and writers this week who got it right.  Its all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

08. July 2016 · Comments Off on “RETIRED” · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE · Tags:

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It seems like everyone who speaks to me  these days is asking about how I am enjoying retirement.  One reader of this blog was fishing for a “retirement musing” [you know who you are!]  To be perfectly honest:  I really have no idea.  Its only been 2 weeks – much too soon for any “insights”.    I don’t think that retirement has really “hit” me yet.  Right now I feel the way I always do at the beginning of a vacation: trying to decompress from a stressful ministry that hasn’t become any easier with time and experience.  Retirement as such, will no doubt hit me when it is time to go back to work, and there will be no job to return to.  Nevertheless, I do have some convictions and thoughts about retirement, and only time will tell if these convictions become reality.

  1. I do not plan to be busier than I was when I was working. I don’t know many times retirees have said that to me over the years and decades. When I replied that it was their own fault if they could not say the mono-syllabic word “NO”, they usually retorted, “just wait until you get there.  You’ll see.”  Well, I guess I am “there” but I still feel the same.  Now it is true that I do not have children nor grand-children who typically take up a lot of retirees’ time.  I’m not saying that is a bad thing.  Young people do need role models and other things that grand-parents can provide better than anyone else.  But too much of a good thing stops being a good thing.  I believe retirement should be a time to decide what activities will fill our time; a luxury that we didn’t always have in our working life.
  1. I do not plan to be Inactive. I am not yet ready for a rocking chair, nor a retirement community. And while our family cottage is close to a wonderful beach, I can’t imagine spending ALL of my time on the beach, not a northern nor a southern one. I have other things that I would like to do, and I won’t disclose all of them here.  But I plan to live up to the advice that I have given many retirees over the years, and that is to do the things that you want to do while you still can.  I cherish the ability to make decisions about where to go and what to do, but realize that to all of us will come the words that Peter heard from our Lord:     Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)  Watching my parents in the sunset years of their life has taught me that this can happen very quickly and sometimes without warning.  Time should never be wasted or frittered away, and certainly not in this stage of life.
  1. I would like my life to continue to count for God’s Kingdom. Being the full time pastor of a church is not the only way for that to happen.  As they say, “Been there, done that” and I would add, have the scars to prove it.  But ordination is a lifelong commitment to minister God’s Word, and I will do that wherever opportunities present themselves.  Not everyone has that calling, of course, but if we are a Christian, we do have a calling to contribute our abilities as best we can to the Lord’s work, whether we are paid to do so or not.  It has always troubled me to observe many retirees “wasting” their retirement by coasting along from one golf course and tennis court to the next and contributing nothing to the work of the Lord’s body.  Maybe the work in your life’s vocation in business or some profession is done, but your spiritual life needs to grow deeper.  When God calls us home, either by death or by Christ’s return, He does not want to find us in an arm chair waiting for Him (unless we are disabled of course!) He wants to find us doing what He asked the church to do, and that is to make disciples. And yes, even when you are retired, there is something that we can do to help others grow in the Lord. But the attitude of so many seniors in our churches is, “I’ve done my time, paid my dues, now let others do their share”.
  1. Answers to Some Questions I am being asked. No, I don’t have a “bucket list” but there are some things I still want to accomplish. Stay tuned. No, I am not planning to run for political office.  Yes, I will continue this blog.  Now that I am no longer employed by a church, I can be a little more outspoken about my views, including my political ones.  Yes, I also plan to write other stuff, perhaps even a book, but no, I’m not ready to tell you about what! (No, it won’t be a “memoir” for almost 4 decades of ministries has produced some memories that ought never to be repeated).
  1. I am open to advice from other retirees who know more about this than I do. Feel free to leave your comments.
01. July 2016 · Comments Off on HAPPY CANADA – MY CANADA · Categories: CIVIC LIFE · Tags: ,

As I always do on July 1, I watched today’s live CBC coverage of the National Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill.  Much of it was the way it always was: crowds, VIP’s, 21 gun salutes, fly-pasts of the Snow Birds.  The Governor General inspecting the Guard of Honour.  Red and White were the theme colours on peoples’ clothing, and even on some painted faces.

I am proud to be a Canadian, and as I have written elsewhere, I am that by choice.  I was not born in this country, but chose to become a Canadian Citizen.  I remember the process well: having to learn various facts about Canada, and appearing before a Citizenship Judge in a one on one interview to demonstrate that I had done so.  (It was not an onerous test, but I dare to believe that many people who were born in Canada couldn’t pass it). Then there was the Citizenship Ceremony with its solemn pledge of loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen and “Her heirs and successors” and the handshake with the judge and the presentation of a certificate that I still have.  But that did not happen until after we listened to a speech about the “Duties and Privileges of Citizenship”. I have fulfilled at least one of each:  I have voted and served jury duty.

What struck me about today’s ceremony was not the pomp and pageantry, neither were the speeches of any particular brilliance.  The Prime Minister said what prime ministers say on such occasions.    What I listened to with more interest than anything else were the sound-bites of various Canadians who were invited to speak to “My Canada is….”.  Most of these comments hit all of the right “buttons”:  freedom, diversity, bilingualism, inclusiveness” to name a few.

That’s great.  Sort of like saying that mothers are wonderful on Mother’s Day.  Who would say anything else? So I had to think how I would answer that. Without meaning to be unpatriotic, what stands in the foreground for me, is somewhat different from these  “motherhood and apple pie” statements that everyone makes on this day.  I would have to say, “My Canada … is a very troubled country.”

For one thing, it is a divided country.  The question of Quebec independence is a long standing one. Twice – in 1980 and 1995 – that province held a referendum for its citizens to decide whether or not to remain part of Canada, and on both occasions they voted to stay, but only by a narrow margin.  Now, just days after the BREXIT – The decision of the people of the United Kingdom to exit the European Common Market – there are again open talks about a “Quebexit”.

But it is not only a “Francophone /Anglophone” problem.  Now and then voices are heard in other parts of our confederation about whether life would be better as an independent entity (I hesitate to use the word “nation” that lives in some sort of relationship with Canada). Anyone who has travelled throughout Canada knows that every region has a unique flavor, that sometimes even expresses itself even in accents of speech. Worse than that, there are hostile feelings among some Canadians.  I will never forget how some years ago, I was invited to preach in a church in western Canada in order to candidate for a position.  At the door after my sermon I was asked by a worshipper whether I was a member of the the Liberal Party.  I asked whether anything I had said in my sermon gave any indication of that.  The answer was, “no, but you are wearing a red tie”. Yes, I was wearing a red tie and a navy suit, only because that was fashionable in that day.  But the person who asked the question was reminded of the government of the day that was so despised in western Canada. After living in that western city only a short while, it didn’t take me long to figure out how deep the resentment was to the central government that resided in central Canada, and from which came such things as the National Energy Policy.

But aside from disunity, there is another disturbing thing about “my Canada” and that is its moral decay.  In this regard Canada is not a global trend setter or leader as it likes to posture itself.  From abortion to legalized assisted suicide, Canada is a follower that does what other nations have done first. Western society has lost its moral compass, and Canada is no different. Here is a reality check: How many of the ten commandments are still enforced by our legal system?  Maybe two of them, and that only if you are caught.  If you steal, you might be prosecuted for theft, but it depends whom you have stolen from, and whether or not you are actually convicted is still not certain.  If you “bear false witness against your neighbor”  you might be charged with perjury.  You say, “what about murder”?  Again, I would say, it depends whom you kill and under what circumstances.  Abortion has been legal for a long time, and not everyone agrees that it is murder.  Euthanasia has been carried out for the longest time, and not everyone agrees that it is murder.  And what about assisted suicide?  Well, who is to say?

We have not learned from human history that the destruction of a civilization is rarely accomplished by outside force.  It begins from within. And when the slide down the slippery slope has reached its full speed, it is usually too late. That is “my Canada”.

11. June 2016 · Comments Off on WAS MUHAMMAD ALI REALLY “THE GREATEST”? · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

greatestIn the interest of transparency, I have to admit that I never liked Muhammad Ali.  No, it has nothing to do with his religion, and nothing to do with boxing.  I am old enough to remember when Cassius Clay, (a former Baptist) changed his name and his religion.  Muhammad Ali firmly disavowed his former name Cassius Clay, calling it his “slave name”; a curious statement since he was born in 1942, well after the times of slavery.  Perhaps there was slavery in his ancestral heritage.

No, my dislike for “The Greatest” had more to do with the arrogance that became apparent in the public statements sprinkled throughout his professional career and well into his retirement from boxing.  Something that has always bothered me, is the fact that many professional athletes who are exceptional in their sport (and Ali was a boxer of Olympic proportions) ruin their “greatness” when they open their mouth in front of a camera and microphone.  And the idol worshiping society that we are, it seems that we love to give these people the platform that they crave in order to pontificate whatever they want to, whether or not they know anything about what they are talking about at any given time. In Ali’s case, confusing Baptists with slavery (just like some like to equate Islam with terrorism) is just one example. Biographer’s have suggested that after Ali’s retirement from boxing in 1982, he devoted the remainder of his life to religion and charity.  Indeed many people are involved in charitable works without showcasing that fact for all the world to see.  And being a good boxer does not entitle you to a world platform from which to advance your religion, or your political views, or a scrambled hodge-podge of the two.

The most offensive statement that I have ever heard is Muhammad Ali statement “I am the Greatest.”  Sadly, regardless of the context of the statement it seemed to “stick”.  By the end of his life millions of people were labelling him as “The Greatest”.  Not the greatest boxer mind you, which may or may not have been the case. Just the Greatest.  Not great mind you, not greater, but greatest.  The superlative of course excludes anyone being equal to anyone else. Nobody can hold a candle to you.  Was Muhammad Ali or is anyone for that matter, worthy of that description?

Yes, it does depend on how you define “great, greater, greatest”. The world knows many standards by which greatness is measured.  Money, power, popularity are just a few. But Jesus had a different way to define greatness.  While he acknowledges knowing what the world’s standards of greatness are, he said, “but you are not to be like that” (Luke 22:26). Jesus had 12 students who were constantly preoccupied, like many of us are, with the question of “who is the greatest”.  In all of the synoptic gospels, Jesus makes that point that his standard of greatness is different.  While the world recognizes and honours the ones who manage to climb to the top of the heap, mostly at the expense of others, Jesus says that servanthood, is the sign of greatness. “It is the one who is least among you who is greatest” (Luke 9:48) and “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22:26). That is so contradictory to the wisdom of this world, truly a novel concept. Instead of becoming great and important by making others look small, you are great if you make others important by meeting their needs.  Such greatness does not come at the expense of others, but at the expense of oneself. Why is that great?  Because it assures us of the recognition by God.  That’s what really matters.  That’s ALL that really matters – not if you think you are great, nor who others think are great, but who God thinks is great: Children.  The poor. The marginalized. The outcast.  And all those who make it a point to serve these.

Predictably, Muhammad Ali’s departure from this life triggered the outpouring of attention and adulation that is customary on the death of a celebrity: huge crowds, famous pall bearers, eulogies by even more famous celebrities including a former president of the United States. One speaker, his widow Lonnie (who I suppose knew him better than anyone)  summed up Muhammad Ali’s life this way when she told the crowd: “If Muhammad didn’t like the rules, he rewrote them. His religion, his beliefs, his name were his to fashion, no matter what the cost”.

Perhaps some readers think my words are too judgmental.  Actually, I prefer to leave judgment up to the One who is truly “The Greatest”.  And that isn’t Mohammed Ali.

 

04. June 2016 · Comments Off on DON’T BE THE “CUSTOMER FROM HELL” · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE · Tags:

Today I feel led to write a few lines in support of cashiers and retail sales people, after I recently saw one of them abused by an inconsiderate customer.  But first let me say that having myself worked in retail years ago, and knowing from first hand experience how unreasonable some customers can be, I feel a great sense of empathy for people who work in retail sales.  Many readers may not know that these people do not earn a lot of money.  Large retail stores, particularly the chain stores that we like shop  for bargains, will pay people as little as they can get away with, often only on a part time basis to avoid having to pay them benefits.  In turn, many of these sales people struggle to make ends meet, and some hold down more than one job to do so.  Like everyone else, they have bills to pay!

Now back to something I witnessed in the check out line while grocery shopping.  Someone ahead of me was trying to pay with a bank card that was declined.  He then began to argue with the cashier that “there must be some mistake” because he had just sent in a payment to his credit card company last week etc. etc.  When the sales clerk (who behaved very professionally) politely told the man that there was nothing that she could do, the customer became more irate and raised his voice at the unfortunate woman.  Finally, when she was close to tears, people in the lineup began to speak up and told the man to “knock it off”. He demanded to speak to the manager who promptly appeared (another cashier at the next register had alerted him).  As the manager quietly took the man aside to deal with him, the line began to move, and it seems everyone in the line made a point of saying something to encourage the distraught clerk.

I had to reflect on how many customers like that the clerk might have faced in one day, and that nobody should have to put up with that nonsense. I also had to ask myself how often I had not treated sales clerks particularly well (though I’ve never done what this customer did).  So here are a few things to remember when dealing with clerks and sales people in a retail setting.

  1. If you can’t find what you are looking for, by all means ask for help. But if the store doesn’t carry what you are looking for, don’t take it out on the clerk.  S/he does not decide what the store carries and what it doesn’t.
  2. If your credit or debit card is not honoured for whatever reason, don’t take it out on the clerk. You need to take up the issue with your bank or credit card company.  If you think that the electronic equipment of the store is at fault, then politely ask if you can try the transaction again, perhaps at another register.
  3. When being denied an exchange or refund, remember that the clerk you are dealing with does not make store policy, but s/he is obliged to administer that policy. That’s their job.  If you don’t like the policy, politely ask to speak to someone in management.
  4. Sales people are human. You have no idea what the person you are yelling at is going through in his/her personal life, nor is that your business.  But it could have an effect on how that person is doing their job.  Cut them some slack.  After all, you have bad days too.  Why should anyone else have to suffer for that?
  5. True, sales people are sometimes inattentive and perhaps even not as knowledgeable about the products they are selling. Sometimes they are outright rude.  No, you don’t have to take that. As a customer you deserve to be treated with respect.  If you are not, you have the right to walk away, or ask to speak to another sales person, or ask to speak to a manager.  But you don’t have the right to be abusive.  Nobody does.
  1. Most workplaces nowadays have anti-abuse policies in place to protect people, both customers and staff from all kinds of harassment, be it verbal, sexual, or violent. Don’t be the “customer from hell”.

Something to think about: How many Christians “lose their testimony” at the supermarket, the gas bar, the bank ?  Hint:  it doesn’t help if you wear a tee shirt with a pious slogan on it while behaving like an idiot.

 

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21. May 2016 · Comments Off on WE ARE NOT AMUSED · Categories: General · Tags:

 

web-queen-victoria-rexWell it is the first long weekend of the yet to arrive summer.  For our American Friends it is the Memorial Day weekend, and for us here in Canada it is VICTORIA DAY. Originally the day was to honour the Queen who ruled the United Kingdom for 63 years from 1837 to 1901.  From 1876 she had the additional title of Empress of India. Today, the holiday does double duty to honour not only Victoria, but also the present reigning monarch, regardless of the actual date of her birthday (April 21).

But today I want to write some thoughts, amusing and otherwise about Victoria. While her life was literally in another century (or two to be exact), she continues to be remembered as a dour and formidable woman to whom the phrase is attributed “We are not amused.”  While the context of that is not absolutely certain, it is said that she uttered these words when a messenger brought her the news of a scandal in some place of her realm.

Many believed that her long years of widowhood helped to shape her dour image. Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840. Although royal marriages were often arranged affairs, the marriage between Victoria and Albert seemed to be one of great love. Albert’s death in 1861 devastated the queen.  Apparently she did not appear in public for three years, and did not open parliament again until 1866.

Much has been written about her grief: how the room in which Albert had died was left undisturbed for the rest of her life, and how she continued to wear dark clothing for the rest of her life and reign. Part of that stemmed from the customs of mourning generally in those days. People kept the “stiff upper lip”, and grieving was done in private.

Sixty-three years is a long time to be queen, and of course is surpassed by the reign of our present queen.  Her time on the British throne became known as “the Victorian era”. Depending on whom you ask, it was an era of repression and restraint, or it was a time of morality and progress.

All of that is beyond the scope of this blog.   I would rather touch on a personal or local connection to Victoria.  In the city that I live in there is a park named after Victoria.  It played a part in my childhood.  When I was four years old (I remember it was 4 because I was not yet in Kindergarten and my younger brother had not yet been born) our family lived on a street adjacent to Victoria Park.  It was a convenient place for mother to take my sister and I to play, and the site where we did that looks much the way it did then.  So does the pond in which ducks and geese would swim, and where people would scate in the winter.  In the hot summers there was a wading pool in which we as kids would cool off under Mom’s watchful eye.  When Mom died, the funeral director routed her procession to the church on the road that leads through the park, and that somehow seemed appropriate.

That road leads past Victoria’s statue, which was there in our childhood, but it had not always been there.  Previously that spot had been occupied by a bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany.  It had been placed there in 1897, in the city then known as Berlin.  In 1914, at the beginning of World I the statue was unceremoniously torn down and dumped into the lake in the park.  From there it was  retrieved and stored in the Concordia Club in Kitchener from where it was “captured” and paraded through the streets of Berlin with derision. Somehow it disappeared within the drunken mob and it wasn’t seen again.wilhelm

There are various theories about what happened to Wilhelm’s statue.  One is that it was taken to London Ontario.  In 1956 and in 1966 the Kitchener-Waterloo Record published stories that the statue was melted down and fashioned into napkin holders.  One of these can be seen in the Doon Pioneer Village.  However, it has never been conclusively proven that the brass actually comes from the statue.  In any case Queen Victoria now reigns over Victoria Park.

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15. May 2016 · Comments Off on · Categories: CHURCH, LITURGICAL CALENDAR

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Today is the Feast of PENTECOST.  Unless your church observes this feast, you may drift by this holy day, for it is unlikely that you received a “Happy Pentecost” card, and probably you aren’t having a big family get together today either.  Pentecost is one of the few spiritual holidays that has not been commercialized, and I suspect that is because those without faith would not know what to do with such a festival.  If there were a way to make money off it, I’m sure that people would.

Some have suggested that “Pentecost is the birthday of the Christian church”.  In fact some years ago I visited a church to find the sanctuary decorated with balloons and ribbons.  On the communion table was a huge birthday cake, and we were obliged to sing “Happy Birthday”.  I found the experience somewhat shallow, to say it charitably.

Actually, the biblical roots of Pentecost go much deeper and much farther back than the Christian church. For Jews of the Old Covenant, it was a harvest festival, the festival of “first fruits”.  It was a pilgrim festival, to which people would travel to the holy city of Jerusalem.  It was a holiday in that no servile work was permitted, and there were certain celebrations and offerings that were prescribed to be offered to the Lord on that day.

In Acts chapter 2, Luke tells us that it was on this day, when people from all of the region would be in Jerusalem, that the disciples of Jesus were gathered  in one place. What happened then, is best told in the words of the historian Luke: “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues  as the Spirit enabled them”. (Acts 2:2-4 NIV)

Luke goes on to say that the considerable commotion attracted onlookers from among the pilgrims in the city.  Unlike the glossolalia (tongues speaking) that is often practised today, these people heard the disciples speaking languages that they did not know, or had not learned.  It was the miracle of God’s Spirit that brought this to pass. The narrative of Acts 2 goes on to record the main points of Peter’s powerful sermon, a sermon drenched in Old Testament Scripture, and replete with accusations for those responsible for Jesus’s death.  It certainly was not what we would call a “seeker sensitive” message in today’s parlance.  But the Spirit brought about conviction of sin resulting in the repentance and baptism of three thousand people. And thus the Christian church launched what it has been doing for the past two thousand years, and that is calling people to repent of their sin and follow Jesus.

Many people who read Acts chapter two are particularly drawn to the mention of the hugs crowds, the powerful and fearless preaching of Peter, who just weeks earlier was afraid to confess Christ.  The thousands of baptisms and the huge growth of the church in that one day are truly remarkable.

But as for me, I tend to think these days more about the opening lines of the story.  The part about what “seems like rushing wind”, or “tongues of fire” on peoples’ head obviously without harming them.  The communication miracle that allowed people from various backgrounds to comprehend the same message.  Its all rather exciting, but perhaps also a little disturbing?  How would we react today, if our worship were interrupted in this way, even if it were God Himself by His Spirit.  I asked my congregation once if they would have liked to have been present on that first Pentecost Sunday.  I dare say that most Christians and sadly most churches would NOT want to have their decorum, their tradition disturbed in that way.  And yet some of those same people bemoan and decry the fact that things don’t seem to be moving forward in most churches.  In my native Germany, churches are being closed and sold to people who turn them into mosques, something that seems to outrage the people who found no reason to worship in those churches before.  Here in our own country we are beginning to face the same thing in many of our cities: huge church buildings, designed to accommodate hundreds, even thousands of worshippers are being sold because the dwindling congregation can no longer  care for them. Several churches that I know in Hamilton and in Kitchener, with a seating capacity of a thousand people contain less than 100 worshippers on a Sunday morning.

Many have suggested that a “Holy Ghost Revival” similar to what happened on Pentecost is what we need.  Now Pentecost, as it is recorded in Acts 2 was an historical event that will not be repeated, just like the nativity, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of our Lord will not be repeated.  Peter said that day was a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy.  Pentecost remains in the past tense.  But wait.  There is good news.  What this means is that the Holy Spirt who came that day, is with us still.  He still is like the wind that “blows, wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.” (John 3:8) . It is this same Spirit that opens your heart and mine to be able to understand the good news that Jesus came to save sinners.  It is this same Spirit that gives us power to live in a way that honours God and to serve Him.  The trouble is, that many people want the Spirit to help them, lead them, comfort them, yes even fill them … but only if He does it in a way that allows us to stay in our comfort zone, or if He works in ways that fit our theology.

Maybe … just maybe….if we were as receptive to the Spirit as people were in those days, things might be different in our lives, and in our churches. Maybe that is worth praying for.

08. May 2016 · Comments Off on MOTHERS DAY MUSINGS · Categories: LIFE AND DEATH, Mother · Tags: , ,

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Yesterday’s local newspaper featured a column entitled, “10 Reasons Mom Deserves Her Own Special Day.”  No space here to go into or even mention them all, but I liked this one:  “She Made You Into the Person You are Today.”

This year I have decided to lay aside all cynicism about the commercialization of Mothers Day. It is the seventh Mother’s Day in a row without my mother, who passed away in January of 2010.  Yes, I still miss her, and now that I live in the house in which she and Dad raised us 3 kids, the memories are ever present, even after the makeover that I gave the place. These lines are being written in my home office, which is in the boys’ bedroom that I shared with my younger brother.  The view out the back window is still the same except the maple tree that was once a seed now dominates the back yard.  Behind that tree and next to the back fence was a vegetable garden that mother tended, and in which we as kids also had our first try at gardening.  That garden has been covered over with lawn, but mother’s gardening shoes are still here as I found out the other day.

Mother’s Day is not a religious holiday, but many churches will observe it this Sunday, though some politically correct churches have renamed it to something ridiculous that I won’t even repeat here. As most readers know, Mother’s Day as we know it, dates back to1908, when a woman named Anna Jarvis  held a memorial service for her mother at St Andrew’s Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.   Actually, there are some more ancient roots that are unrelated to our Mother’s Day, such as the honouring of the Greek mother goddess Cybel. The American Congress denied a request to make Mother’s Day an official holiday, citing the reason that it would open the floodgates to similar holidays like “Mother-in-Law-Day”.  But President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation in 1914 designating the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day.  Many countries, including Canada have taken up the practice.

While Mother’s Day as such is not biblical, the practice of honouring mothers certainly is.  The fifth commandment enjoins us to  “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you”. (Exodus 20:12). Although in Catholic counting it is the fourth commandment, St. Paul refers to it as the “first commandment with a promise.” (Ephesians 6:2).

Certainly it  is not a commandment that should be obeyed only once a year. But there certainly is no reason why moms should not receive the attention that will no doubt be showered on her this day, such as breakfast in bed, being taken out to dinner, receiving cards and gifts, and perhaps special recognition in church.  However I know that many moms would want it to be said that she would appreciate signs of gratitude sprinkled throughout the year.

But what about those moms that are no longer with us?  Surely we continue to feel thankful for who they were and what they meant to us in life, but how do we express that?  Should honouring our mothers stop after they die or should it continue?  Having worked in the funeral and cemetery business years ago, I know that most people do want to express their feelings for deceased mom in some way.  Often a mother got a very lavish and expensive funeral, but I suspect that was motivated more by guilt than by love and gratitude.  At the cemetery that I worked at, all staff members had to work on either Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.  We took shifts standing at the gate, and handed a flower to each car  containing someone coming to visit their mother’s grave.  Now that my mom is gone, I too have placed flowers on her grave, even though I know that she really does not benefit from those flowers, despite the fact that in life she loved flowers a lot.  The flowers are more for my own expression, and there is nothing wrong with that I think.

Some people go even a step farther than that. They try to communicate with their dead mother (or some other relative). For Bible believing and Christ following Christians that certainly is not an option.  The Bible forbids this practice in the strongest terms. (see Deuteronomy 18:11; Isaiah 8:9; 19:3 and Leviticus 19:31 and 20:6 to name just a few).

In visiting the cemetery I often come across people at gravesides speaking to their deceased loved ones.  This is usually not the same thing as what these Scriptures forbid, namely consulting a spirit by way of a medium. But apparently, the practice referred to as channeling (making contact with a spirit purporting to be a dead relative)  is extremely prevalent in today’s society.  Recently I viewed the funeral of Nancy Reagan, who died earlier this year. One of the speakers there mentioned that Mrs. Reagan often “channeled” her deceased husband.

When I stand at my mother’s grave, I often think of things that I wish that I had said to here when she was alive.  But I can’t say that I’ve ever spoken to her since she died. But two men of God have helped me in this regard.  In his video series One Minute After You Die, Erwin Lutzer deals with the question of whether we can send messages to our deceased loved ones through Jesus, or through God.  Would God relay such messages to our loved one?  Erwin Lutzer’s answer was insightful. He said that while an omnipotent God can do anything that He wills, and therefore he could do such a thing, the Bible gives us no reason to believe that He would do so.

That is similar to what Helmut Thielicke says in one of his books in a chapter that deals with the afterlife.  He says that as believers we know and trust our departed loved one’s to be in God’s hands, in the very presence of Christ.  That must be enough for us.  We cannot go beyond that, i.e. we cannot connect with our loved one in any way.  Anything that we feel we might have wanted to say to them, but now cannot, we can say to God. This is not the same thing as channeling because it does not attempt to make contact with the deceased.  It is enough that God sees and hears my heart.  What He does with that information is His business.

So this Mother’s Day, if your mom is still alive, make sure you do something to express your love and gratitude to her, for there will come a day when you want to do so and cannot.  If that is the case, you can honour your mother by giving thanks to God for her.

 

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