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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?

31. December 2016 · Comments Off on OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW! · Categories: General

bonhoeffer_portraet01Shortly before New Years Eve 1944, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned these lines that became a song known around the world:

By loving forces silently surrounded,
I feel quite soothed, secure, and filled with grace.
So I would like to live these days together,
and go with you into another year.

It had not been a good year for Bonhoeffer.  The poem or song was written from prison.  Bonhoeffer, a key leader of an underground “Confessing Church” in Hitler’s regime, had also become part of a conspiracy against Hitler. It was a combination of these two factors that resulted in his arrest and imprisonment.  He was executed in the concentration camp of Flossenburg on April 9, 1945 in the closing days of the Second World War.  While Bonhoeffer had made great contributions as a pastor, theologian, and educator, scholars to this day remain divided on whether he was truly a martyr, or simply a prisoner who faced the consequences of his actions, i.e. to resist the state.  Personally, I don’t presume to judge him, since it is difficult to do so without being in his shoes.  On this New Years Eve, I simply think back on his thoughts on what was his final New Years Eve. We know that 1944, and some of the years leading up to it were not good years for anyone in Germany, but especially not anyone who tried seriously to be a German and a Christian.  Bonhoeffer also knew what his possible fate would be as he wrote these lines to his family on that New Years Eve.

More than one person has said to me that 2016 was not a good year, and that therefore they are looking forward to 2017.  For me, while it was a difficult year, I have also had worse years than 2016.  In any case, the “new year” is almost upon us.  In but a few hours people will ring in the new in a variety of ways:  Some will be out in the freezing cold at some New Years venue, whether in New York City to watch the famous ball drop, or here on this shivering side of the border either at Toronto’s City Hall or elsewhere.  Others will be drowning their sorrows at a party where more liquor than good sense will be flowing. Some will be in a religious service. While the traditional “Watchnight Service” has all but disappeared, there are still places where one can experience a shortened version of the same.  And still others will prefer to go to bed this year and wake up next year.

Whatever external way that you choose, I have found it to be a good practice to engage in some sort of stock taking, or looking back.  This will include what progress or lack thereof we have made in the areas of health, finances, relationships, progress towards goals, and others.

Most of us will need to acknowledge a bitter-sweet mix of joy and disappointment or sorrow, progress or lack thereof.  Maybe the scale leans more in one direction than the other: perhaps there is a highlight such as a wedding, or birth of a child or grandchild; or perhaps there is the sorrow of loss and tragedy. Perhaps the present is not a good place to be, just like Bonhoeffer’s prison.  I wonder how many of us can say like he did, “I feel soothed, secure, and filled with grace.”  I remember someone from church who whenever I asked him how he was doing, would reply, “much better than I deserve.”  There were times when that seemed like  a pat answer and it would annoy me.  But in fact it is true.  Imagine where each of us would be today if the year had gone the way we “deserved it”. I think we would have to agree that God spared us from what we really deserved, and gave us more good things that we did not deserve.

 

And what about the New Year?  How shall we approach it?  Within hours, people will turn the page (literally on their calendars) and also figuratively as the approach the new year with new ambitions and yes, wait for it …. Resolutions.   Sadly, some of those will be broken by the 3d of January, and almost all of them by the middle or end of the month.  Does that mean that we should not make them?  HINT: most resolutions are too hard to manage because they are unreatlistic (lose 40 pounds in a month) or too general (lose weight, stop smoking, whatever).The key to making successful goals and resolutions is to make sure that they are realistic, attainable, and measurable. (But that is for another time).

More important, I think is the attitude with which we go into the new year.  What right do we have to assume, or even to expect that it will be a better year, or a “good” year?  For Bonhoeffer the new year after writing these lines was not good humanly speaking, unless we accept that for a Christian, death is gain.

Perhaps that is why he could write in a later stanza of that same song:

And when you pass to us the bitter chalice
of suffering, filled to the brim and more,
we take it, full of thanks and trembling not,
from this, your caring and beloved hand.

It takes more than positive thinking to be able to say or sing that. What is needed is a living faith in the One who transcends the footsteps of time measured in old and new years.  The One who is the Same, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Jesus.

And still we wish one another only the Best for the coming year. To all readers, a very happy, and healthy, New Year!

 But if you want to please us, over and again,
with our shining sun and wondrous world,
let us muse on what is past, and then we shall,
with our lives, in all belong to you.

Warm and bright be our candles’ flame today,
since into gloom you brought a gleaming light,
and lead again us, if you will, together!
We know it: you are beaming in the night.

When silence now will snow around us ev’rywhere,
so let us hear the all-embracing sound
of greater things than we can see and wider,
your world, and all your children’s soaring hail.

By loving forces wonderfully sheltered,
we are awaiting fearlessly what comes.
God is with us at dusk and in the morning
and most assuredly on ev’ry day

21. December 2016 · Comments Off on WE HAVE HEARD THE CHRISTMAS ANGEL · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

The Christmas story involves some familiar and essential characters.  Perhaps we have figures of them set up in the nativity scenes in our homes or churches.  There is the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus. There are the shepherds.  The Magi.  Although they did not come to the manger, but to a house that the Holy Family was in some time after the birth, we put the figures in the nativity scene anyway because they belong to the story, and look so nice there.

Then there are the angels. They also did not come to the stable where the manger was, but folks have found  a way to put them there.  Of course we know that it was the shepherds to whom the angels came: first one, and then the “multitude of the heavenly host” as Luke tells us.

But who or what are angels?  Do they exist, and why? There is of course a lot of misinformation out there, like for example this  picture.  That angel is so cute, and because of this he/she/it has crept into our Christmas christmas-angelcelebration. In the Bible we read a lot about angels.  They appear in the narratives of both the Old and the New Testaments, and the latter has a few things to say about the nature of these beings and their role.

But one thing the Bible absolutely does NOT say, is that angels are spirits of deceased humans.  We need to emphasize that, because more and more obituaries begin with saying that someone had been “fitted for her wings” or “received his wings” or that he or she is now “our little angel in heaven”.  Despite all the folklore about these so called angels “looking down on us” or “watching over us” there is absolutely no biblical basis for the notion that people turn into angels when they die. And if you read to the end of this piece, you will find out why that is a good thing.

In the language of the New Testament, the word that is translated as “angel” simply means a messenger.  The messenger is sent by God, and the message that the angel proclaims is tied to the One who sent the angel, which is why we often see the term, “The Angel of the Lord” in the various biblical accounts.  In that narrow meaning of the word, your pastor is also an angel, though few people think of us in those terms.

When the Bible talks about angels, it often refers to a supernatural being that interacts with one or more human beings.  Angels “appear” to people.  Hebrews 1:14 tells us that angels are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation”.

Here are some things that angels do, according to statements in the Bible that refer to “The angel of the Lord”:

  • Calls and speaks
  • Has physical contact with people
  • Appears sometime in human likeness
  • Appears sometimes in supernatural form, often evoking fear
  • Appears sometimes in dreams and visions
  • Reveals information about the future (in the Christmas story the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus)
  • Gives guidance and instruction
  • Comforts those in need
  • Affirms promises and gives blessing
  • Rebuked sinful Israel
  • Rolled back the tombstone at Jesus’ resurrection.
  • Rescued people from prison (Act 5:19; 12:8-9)

In the Christmas story the angel comes to the shepherds who were watching the flocks by night. As was so often the case, the appearance of the angel initially resulted in terror. But the angel (the Bible says it was “an angel” – Luke 2:9) comforted them by telling them not to be afraid, because he has “Good News which shall be to all people”. What then follows is the Christmas Story it its simplest and most beautiful form: I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12)

What about Guardian Angels? In Matthew 18:10 Jesus was speaking about little children. In the course of what he said there, He referred to the angel that seems to minister especially to children and that they “see the face of God”.  Does this refer only to children having one or more guardian angels, or is it safe to infer that we all do?  Scholars seem divided on that point, but I believe the verse from Hebrews that we quoted above gives reason to believe that at least “those who will inherit salvation” have an angel assigned for personal duty to them.

Another thing we must note, is that if angels serve us, or protect us from harm etc. they must be incredibly powerful beings, i.e. they have a super-human power.  That is probably why almost all human encounters with an angel recorded in the Bible speak of the human having great fear, and the angel saying, “Fear Not”.  The cute angels that appear in Christmas pageants these days hardly evoke fear, but the real ones do!

Finally, lets consider for a moment the place of angels and humans in God’s scheme of things. In Psalm 8:4-5 we read, Of what importance is mankind, that you should pay attention to them, and make them a little less than the heavenly beings? The writer of Hebrews, who quotes this psalm says that in his humanity Jesus was for a little while lower in status than angels, but now crowned with glory and honour.

The Scriptures also tell us that not all angels are good; some are evil, and they are not “the angel of the Lord” but rather emissaries of Satan.  The creation story tells us that everything that God created, was created good.  That would include the angels. And if there are fallen or evil angels, it would mean that they at some point became that way through sin.  It should be noted that there is no promise anywhere in the Bible that a fallen angel can be saved.  The vicarious death of Jesus on the cross, was not for angels, but for you and for me.  That is why it is a good thing that we are not turned to angels when we die, but rather are promoted to glory, something that is of course promised only to those who have received the gift of Christmas that the angels brought to the shepherds.

I wish all readers a joyful Christmas and a fresh encounter with the message that is behind the celebration.

19. December 2016 · Comments Off on WHAT WILL THEY SAY ABOUT US WHEN WE ARE GONE? · Categories: General

Actually I had planned to post something “Christmas” like today, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to comment on two deaths that are reported today in our local newspaper The Waterloo Region RECORD.  Let me start with the name that most readers will recognize: Zsa Zsa Gabor, the Hungarian actress died at the age of 99.  Unlike her late sister Eva, Zsa Zsa (whose real name is Sari) was not a prominent actress, but she managed somehow to keep her image and her name in peoples’ view most of her life.  The American Press begins the article about her life and death with this description, “the jet-setting actress who made a career out of multiple marriages, conspicuous wealth and jaded wisdom about the glamorous life.”

Wow. It goes downhill from there – Hillel Italie, who wrote the article can hardly conceal the scorn with comments like, “She was like popcorn for the public and, for sociologists, the seeming fulfilment of the mindless future imagined in Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’”.

Italie goes on to pick out some of the juicy tidbits  of Gabor’s life such as slapping a police officer when the officer pulled over her Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible on a Beverly Hills street for a traffic violation.  She was convicted of a misdemeanor battery on a police officer driving without a licence, and having an open container of alcohol in the car.  She served three days in jail, performed community service at a woman’s shelter and paid $13,000. USD in fines.  Gabor (I refuse to type that silly first name again) had one child, Francesca Hilton from her marriage to hotelier Conrad Hilton. She alleged at one time that the child was conceived after Hilton raped her).  She also left a legacy of some literary efforts, a tome entitled “How to Catch a man, How to keep a man, how to get rid of a man” and her memoir “One Life Is Not Enough” published in 1991. I haven’t had the time to read it yet.

But on the front page of the paper was a different death of one closer to Waterloo Region community: Walter Hachborn, the co-founder of Home Hardware, died at 95.  You may not recognize Walter’s name, but if you live in Canada chances are pretty good that you’ve been in a Home Hardware store.  There are 1,100 of them across Canada with annual sales of $5.6 billion.  Born in the small village of Conestogo,  Walter spent most of his life in the  village of St. Jacobs, just outside of Waterloo.  In 1938 he started work as a stock-boy in the Hollinger Hardware Store in St. Jacobs. With two other partners he bought the business in 1950.  The store became the first Home Hardware, when the Hollinger Hardware owners convinced 122 other independent hardware store owners to form a dealer-owned co-operative that they named Home Hardware. The organization continued not only to survive, but to thrive in the times of “big-box” retail merchandising.  A present spokesman for the company says that it was the values that were committee to “community” that exists for the common good of participating merchants that “that attracted good people”.  To be honest, I didn’t know much of this nor the other interesting things in the article, even though I’ve been in Home Hardware stores many times, including the convenient location near the cottage.

Later in the paper is Walter  Hachborn’s  obituary.  It says that he will have a church funeral on Saturday, which indicates that he was a person of faith.  And Ms. Gabor? Her write-up says nothing about a funeral, although if there is one it is sure to be as glitzy as her life. It does say that she was “a spiritual matriarch to the Kardashians and other tabloid favourites, the original hall-of-mirrors celebrity, famous for being famous.

Two different people who die at roughly the same age.  Two very different accounts of their life. What will they say about you and about me when it it our turn? Perhaps we might think the less they say about us the better.  But they will say something.  We have little control over what exactly that will be.  Unless we leave footprints behind that others will want to follow.

05. December 2016 · Comments Off on ARE CHRISTIANS CHEAP ? · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE · Tags: ,

Are Christians Cheap?  Its one of those dangerous generalization questions.  Of course for precision’s sake it would need to be argued that while some Christians are cheap, not all of them are.  But I would like to suggest, that many people who call themselves Christians are beginning to get a reputation for being cheap, and that gives all of us a bad name. There are three categories of people (including Christians) that I would describe as CHEAP.

  1. THOSE WHO ARE RELUCTANT TO PAY THEIR OWN WAY. Since stories are often an effective way to make a point, here’s a very fresh one for you. This past weekend, the church that I attend put on a Christmas festival for the 19th year in a row.  It is a wonderful musical program that has been performed 4 times a weekend for 19 years in a row, and in years gone by packed out the church each time.  In most years, there was no admission charged.  Free tickets were distributed for crowd control purposes.  This year, they brought in Christian music artist STEVE GREEN and sold tickets @ $25 in advance or $30 at the door.  While the concerts were well attended this year, the crowds weren’t as large – there were empty seats available in each of the 4 performances. What has this to do with Christians being cheap? We know that some who attended in the past did not this time because they balked at paying for a ticket. We also know that many of these belong to other churches, and have enjoyed hearing quality music for free all these years, and they wondered (out loud) why all of a sudden they need tickets.  I wonder whether these people realize that to put on an event such as this costs money.  Who do they think should pay these expenses, to bring in an artist like Steve Green, and the host of other bills that arise to put on a production like this?  In previous years a free will offering was taken with the aim of recovering expenses.  I am told that the church rarely, if ever broke even. If the majority of attendees were Christians, then I suggest that many of them were “cheap”.
  1. THOSE WHO REFUSE TO TIP OR WHO CAN’T SEEM TO TIP GENEROUSLY. I once had a conversation with a restaurant waiter. She told me that she (and others who work at that popular restaurant that is frequented by the church crowd) dread having to work on Sundays.  Here are her very words, “I can’t stand hearing how these people who just came from church gossip about their churches and their pastors, and then leave a gospel tract instead of a tip.” Now, like it or not, tipping is built into the way restaurant staff are paid.  They depend on tips to make a decent wage.  I believe that tips should be earned:  there is a suggested guideline for acceptable service, and the figure can be adjusted downward for rude or inefficient service, or upward for superior service.  But many restaurant patrons send a message of entitlement by their stingy non-tipping habits, and sadly church folk have a reputation of doing this. My advice is, if you fall into that category, then save yourself the trouble of leaving a gospel tract.  It will land in the garbage if you are one of those who give us all a bad name.
  1. THOSE WHO GO TO CHURCH AND DON’T SUPPORT THEIR CHURCHES. Statistics Canada says that among charitable donors, those who are “religiously active make annual donations averaging $1,004. If you think that is good, think again.  If that is an “average” then it means there are a whole lot of people who give either more, or less than that.  The high-end givers account for about $83% of a charity’s annual income. That means that there are a lot of people in our churches who do not carry their share of the load. The prophet Malachi, who lived some 400 years before Christ, wrote: “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.” (Malachi 3:8-9 NIV) Now it may surprise you that I am not necessarily advocating tithing.  Tithing means giving 10% of one’s increase to God.  Those who do not do this because “we are living under the new covenant” overlook the fact that the standards of the new covenant are never lower than the old, but always higher.  The tithe is the bare minimum of the old covenant.  In the new covenant, the apostles never teach people to tithe.  When they urge people to give, they advocate generous and sacrificial giving.  If you are currently giving nothing, then I urge you to begin tithing for the simple sake of discipline.  If you give the tithe right off the top, and treat it like any other bill that you must pay, whether gas or hydro or groceries, you will be amazed by how much farther the remaining 90% goes! And before you know it, you will, as God leads you, be able to dig deeper into your pockets to help advance the cause of the gospel.  It is always sad to read about churches that close because the dwindling number of attendees can no longer keep up with the expenses. (There have been several churches in that cateogory in the Kitchener area recently).  It is sad when churches cut, rather than increase their missions budget to help the cause of Christ move forward.

Christmas will soon be upon us, and one of the lessons it teaches us is the lesson of giving. We celebrate Christmas because in Jesus, God who is love, gave all that He had.  He who was rich became poor, so that we might become rich.  Come on, don’t be a cheapskate!

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01. December 2016 · Comments Off on ‘TIS THE SEASON TO …. · Categories: General · Tags: ,

‘Tis  the Season To be Jolly, or so the popular Christmas song tells us.  Nobody really knows when this season begins. Is it on Black Friday, the day after the American Thanksgiving, which is often referred to as the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season?  It seems that this day has found its way into Canada as well, and has become something of a moveable feast.  Long before the actual day, we have been reading about Black Friday sales. Today, almost a week since Black Friday, I saw a television commercial about a Black Friday week sale, and another about Cyber Monday, which also is already a few days past.  Or is the First Sunday of Advent the official start of the season?  Nobody really knows except it starts sometime just before or after Halloween.

What I am about to write could make me look like a cynic, but trust me, I am no Scrooge when it comes to Christmas.  But from observation, this is the season to:

  1. holiday-music-playlistENJOY (0R ENDURE) CHRISTMAS MUSIC. We hear it almost everywhere we go: the mall, the grocery store, the elevator, the radio, oh yes even church. Some sources have played it like I said for over a month.  It used to be that out of respect for Remembrance Day, the music wouldn’t start until after November 11.  But this year I noticed it already right after Halloween.  It seems that the holiday season is determined not by the liturgical calendar but the agenda of retailers.

Now I need to emphasize that I love Christmas music.  I was fortunate to grow up in a German tradition, and therefore I have access to songs and carols that are unique to that culture, along with the carols like Silent Night, which is German in origin but shared with the rest of the world.  But when you hear the same songs for almost 2 months, one is exhausted come Dec 25.   To combat that, I have made it my practice to listen to special music that you don’t hear in these other sources, including the classics.  Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (preferably in the original German!) and many more.christmas-shopping-crowd-12678837

  1. SHOP TILL YOU DROP. Economists tell us that the Christmas season is essential to the retail industry. Without the sales that are made between now and Boxing Day, many retailers could not end the year in the black.  That is why they need you to buy, buy, and buy some more, and many shoppers will oblige them.  While I love giving gifts, I absolutely hate shopping.  I’m the kind of person who likes to know in advance what I’m going to buy, and then get in there and buy it and get out as fast as I can.  But not everybody is like that.  Some actually thrive on the experience of running from store to store, looking for bargains, fighting for a parking spot, and some people even get a buzz from doing this on Dec 23 or 24.  I did that once, and never again!
  1. unknownATTEND CHRISTMAS PAGEANTS. These come in two varieties: the ones at school and the ones at church, if you attend one. I remember when I was in elementary school and we gathered in the school auditorium and on stage the Christmas story would be presented in word, in song, and some attempt at drama. Those days are by and large gone, and if there is a program at all, it is likely to be a Winter Festival.  And if you expect this preacher to criticize that, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.  If you send your children to a public school that is funded by taxpayers’ money, why do you expect that the Christian version of Christmas to be presented in a place where students (and teachers) come from every imaginable religion?  If you want your religion to be shared there, then be prepared to have the others who wish to promote Hanukkah, or the Diwali festival of lights to have equal time. Some schools actually do that, but it doesn’t seem really satisfactory to anybody.
  1. ATTEND CHURCH CHRISTMAS PROGRAMS. Now these come in all shapes and sizes. Years ago the “Singing Christmas Tree” was the fad. Almost every town that had a mid to large size church had one.  You know, scaffolding reaching from the floor to ceiling, which choristers had to climb up into and then sing behind the evergreen branches and lights.  The church that I presently attend has done a Christmas Festival for 18 years. It is a quality musical production where the church choir is augmented by student choristers from a nearby college, professional orchestra musicians and soloists.  This year they are bringing Steve Green.  There are 4 performances on a weekend, and the church is usually packed out for each of them.unknown

But then there are the productions led by the children’s department of the church, in which the kids usually perform under duress, and I say that because I was terrified as a ten year old having to get up in front of the whole church to give my four memorized lines, or sing a song with my all-boys class.

As a pastor I have enjoyed and endured (more the latter) scores of these productions over the years.  Most were funny and cute. Which parent doesn’t like to see their offspring or grandchild at the front of the church in a bathrobe or a sheepskin?  I would always smile at how the parents would come early and stake out the best seats for their camera angle, or video equipment in later years.  But sadly, some of these programs were horrible. Either it was a canned production that some teacher had bought from a Christian publisher, and which was staged in an unimaginative way, or a program hastily thrown together featuring a grade 1 piano pupil plunking out Jingle Bells on the piano, or a class of teenagers barely moving their lips.

Why am I so critical?  Because I’m concerned about what kind of a message this sends to the kids.  By the time they are in school, most are exposed to all manner of technology. They know the difference between a good production and one that is either mediocre or Mickey Mouse. And when the latter is “good enough” for the greatest message ever sent to earth, that is a problem.

  1. ATTEND THE OFFICE PARTY. Depending on where you work, this event is obligatory in the season to be jolly. When I worked for a time in the sales office of a cemetery company, the annual Christmas party was a company-wide event held in a swank Toronto hotel. There was free food, and free liquid cheer. The latter got many employees into trouble. One colleague was proud to have vomited on the new suit that he had bought for the occasion. Another was summoned to Head Office the following week because he had made improper advances to a co-worker in his drunken stupor. I did not witness any of this, because I chose not to attend.  That brought me criticism from management.  If you are unfortunate enough to belong to a company that puts on an office Christmas party, then remember that although it is a party, you are still on the job if you go, and possibly out of a job if you consistently don’t go.  And we thought parties are supposed to be fun!
  1. SPEND TIME WITH THE FAMILY. For most of us, this will involve both our immediate family and our extended family, including the in-laws, the cousins, nieces and nephews etc. I grew up in a relatively small family. Neither my Mom or Dad had siblings or parents living in this country, so we only had each other.  Our Christmases were private and intimate, and between Christmas and New Years there would sometimes be socializing with friends. Our immigrant church had families such as ours, but also large families that had intermarried, and so there were huge family Christmases. From what friends tell me, these did not always go well.  For one thing, they would rotate the hosting amongst themselves, and whoever’s turn it was would be near a nervous breakdown by the time it was over.  And even though these families consisted mainly of Christians, there was the inevitable conflict, or the black sheep in the family who chose these occasions to behave badly.

tNow there are other things that I could have mentioned like writing Christmas cards, Christmas baking etc. but these things suffice to show us that this may not always be a season to be jolly.  There probably will be stress.  I know that when I was in ministry, by the time New Years was over, I was ready for a vacation (when you are a pastor there are many things that you simply have to attend, if not plan, organize and lead). And looking back on it all, few people recognized that pastors have families also, or that they might be far away from their families in order to serve you. But that’s for another time.  So be forewarned, and try to make your holidays as stress free as possible!

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22. November 2016 · Comments Off on NOT MY PRESIDENT? REALLY? · Categories: General · Tags:

presidentWell it has been two weeks since the US presidential election, and still we hear about it almost every day in the news and the social media.  President-elect Trump has not yet taken office, but already the airwaves are flooded with comments about either the impending disaster, or the remake of the United States and the world, depending on your political views.

I have expressed my views about the candidates elsewhere, so  I don’t  want to comment on the election so much as the aftermath.  Hillary Clinton said it best in her concession speech that “the nation is more divided than we believed.”  That also answers well the question “how could this happen”?   It happened because many of the things that Donald Trump said resonated with many Americans.  We really don’t know what it is that motivated each voter, whether it was his  economic policy, his immigration policy, or whether many just held their noses and voted for him despite the outrageous and bigotous things that he has said on the campaign trail. I for one cannot believe that half of American voters think like Donald Trump.

Overall, the post election feeling seems one of angst, and that is not limited to this continent.  To help keep up my German, I follow German politics by watching some German TV, as well as read the popular magazine DER SPIEGEL.  Their editorial position is one of shock and disbelief, for they were counting on  the outcome to produce “the lessor of two evils” and that wasn’t  Donald Trump in their view. The German government is  also trying figure out how it will work and deal with President Donald Trump on the international stage, since  on the campaign trail he he referred to German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a “mentally ill”.

In America, we know that people have taken to the streets to vent their outrage, disappointment, anger and who knows what other things.  Free speech is a wonderful thing, but now that voters have spoken,  to protest in the streets seems counter productive, and to use violence to make your point is surely wrong.  Someone has said that those who supposedly were against anger, fear, and hatred, now seem to be showing the most anger, fear, and hatred.

But one placard or sign that has appeared frequently has really amused me, and that is the one that says, “not my President”.   That is of course wishful thinking, because come January 20, Donald Trump will in fact be the President of all Americans, both those who voted for him, and those who did not.  He would do well to remember that.  In a democracy, we get to make choices, and if the winner is not the person whom we chose, we don’t get to simply dismiss him or her (something that we are painfully aware of in our country as well).

But the “not my president” syndrome has some things to teach us.  One of them is that democracy is not our inalienable right.  Now I am glad to live in a democracy, and that is the only form of government that I have ever lived under.  But we know it is not the only form of government that is in use in the world.  And where is it written, that democracy is the best form of government, and that it is our right instead of a privilege to live in it?  Certainly not in the Bible.  While the origins of democracy go back to the days of classical antiquity, it was unknown to most people living in biblical lands and times.  The people of the Old Testament lived under an array of monarchs because they wanted to be like all the other nations around them. And while God granted their request, many lived to regret it, because the collection of kings was colourful to say the least.  In the time of Jesus, the Hebrew people were in their Promised land, but it was ruled by the Roman emperor. There was nothing democratic about life in those times.  The emperors were autocrats, and many of them were cruel.  Human rights?  Women’s rights? Rights of the marginalized and the poor?  Few people cared about such things – Jesus did – but the government did not.  Yet in all of his teachings, Jesus never advocated protesting.  He was in favour of change, but he advocated different ways of introducing it. And there is no suggestion by Jesus, or his apostles who led the early church, that there should be an insurrection to overthrow the government. In fact, Jesus not only advocated that one should “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but he submitted to the capital punishment of that regime, as did Paul, and some others of the apostles. Paul, spent years in Roman imprisonment before being executed in Rome, wrote to Christians that they should pray for their government, and submit to its rule.

In a democracy, we have the freedom of speech. Those who disagree with Donald Trump are free to express their views, and even fight for them with lawful means.  If we lose the freedom of speech, we can still speak out against the government if we are prepared to pay the price for it, as many do in lands where there is oppression today.  And back in the years of the second world war, there were many, including Christians, who spoke out against the tyranny of the Nazis. One of them was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a leader in what was called the “Confessing Church” in Germany.  I admire many of the things that he did, including running an underground seminary to train Christian leaders.  But as much as I admire him, I wonder if he went too far by participating actively in the plot to assassinate Hitler.  I know that many colleagues disagree with me on this, but note, I said I “wonder”.

And for those of you who go to church, you will know that there are many ways to govern a church, whether it be an international body, or a regional one or a local assembly of believers.  I grew up in and ministered in a tradition that has always given a lot of power to the local body.  The congregation elects the pastor, and many others in leadership (some churches vote on every postage stamp!).  People were always shocked when I tried to tell them that this too is a very cultural and North American phenomenon.  In Bible days, churches were governed first by the apostles, and then a plurality of elders.  But now we live in a time, where even in churches, people think that they are free to ignore the pastor “because I didn’t vote for him”, or simply because we disagree

Not My President?  Mr. Trump will be the president of all Americans, and it is conceivable that many of his actions and policies will wash across the border to Canada.  Interesting times are ahead.  At the very least, it will be a time where Christians everywhere should pray. The following words, penned by a man on death row under an oppressive regime may take on new relevance in our day:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1. Timothy 2:1-4 NIV)

 

 

17. November 2016 · Comments Off on 19 Things I Learned by Age 19 · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

Today’s guest post is written by my niece, Elizabeth Reda, who turns 20 today!

elezabethYikes. Today I am twenty. I’m no longer be a teenager and I’m not quite sure how emotionally prepared I am for this… Ahem, let’s put my emotions away into that dusty box in the corner where they usually reside. In honor of the momentous occasion of becoming two decades old (almost), here are nineteen lessons I’ve learned thus far in my life.
1. The number of friends you had in high school meant nothing.

I had two consistent friends all throughout high school and I was so afraid that that was foreshadowing of friendships for the rest of my life. Thankfully I was mistaken; I am so blessed by the crazy amount of friends I have now. (Hi friends who are reading this! I love you {because you’re reading this}).
2. Don’t think you have to (or can) get through life alone.

I’m someone who struggles to ask others for help when I’m having a hard time dealing with a situation, or simply having a rough day. But I’ve been learning over the past few years that there is so much to be gained – comfort, truth, understanding – from being honest and vulnerable, and allowing people that you trust to journey alongside you.
3. Stop worrying about everything!

Oh man, I still struggle with this one. But it’s an important lesson. In Matthew 6:(25-)34, the Bible says:
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

4. Be grateful.

Start your day by thinking of three things that you’re grateful for. Be thankful for simple things like pizza and iced coffee. End your day by writing a list of ten things that you’re grateful for that happened that day. Thank people for something as simple as holding the door open. Be grateful for important things like the gift of salvation, grace, and unconditional love from our heavenly Father.
5. Stop looking at everyone as a “potential”!

Now, I’m not saying to stop thinking that people have potential; I’m saying stop thinking that every guy (or every girl) is someone that you could maaaaybe date and possibly see yourself marrying. Yes, that’s something that’s important, but don’t force it. Remember that platonic friendships are totally okay!!
6. Seek joy in the smaller things in life.

Laugh at a joke longer than you “should”. Be happy that you got a 58% on a test you were convinced you failed. Smile when you see your favourite chocolate bar on sale in the grocery store on exactly the day you were craving it.
7. People don’t think about you as much as you think they do.

Harsh reality, I know. But it’s helpful, especially when you think that everyone’s going to remember that seemingly suuuuuper embarrassing thing that you did last week. Spoiler: no one remembers. Okay, well someone does, but at least it’s not everyone, right!?
8. Say sorry.

Apologizing can suck, especially when you feel justified in staying mad at someone. But saying “I’m sorry” is so important! And personally, I’d prefer to lose an argument over losing a valuable relationship with someone.
9. It’s all about balance.

Some days you’ll wake up at 7:00AM and work out, and then you’ll eat salads and drink lots of water all day. Other days you’ll eat three cupcakes, half of a pizza, and you’ll drink two iced capps. Both are fine, as long as you don’t do the latter every day…!
10. Remember that your identity is found in Christ.

Especially on days when you’re feeling completely unsatisfied with yourself, you can be reminded that your worth isn’t found in how much you weigh, whether your clothes are from WalMart or American Eagle, whether you have a boyfriend (or girlfriend) or not. Your identity is solely, completely, one hundred percent found in who Jesus Christ says you are.
11. Make new friends, but keep the old…

…One is silver and the other gold. Growing up and going to college has shown me that meeting new people is awesome, but it’s vital to remember to keep in touch with my friends who’ve grown up alongside me and supported me through everything. (I’m especially thankful for the ones who supported me even through those awkward early teenage years… yikes. Y’all are the real MVPs.)
12. Don’t let fear hold you back!

If I let fear hold me back, I wouldn’t be here in my third year of Bible college, studying to become a worship leader. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I struggle with social anxiety; as much as I really want to become a worship leader, it’s one of the things that scares me the most! But I’ve been learning that it’s important to face my fears.
13. Sit with your emotions.

This is something that I’m still not good at. But I’m trying. It’s important to learn how to process your emotions, otherwise you’ll find yourself getting super overwhelmed but you won’t understand why you’re feeling that way. There will be times when you’re overwhelmed and there’s no explanation for it. Keep that in mind.
14. You still need your parents.

It’s true that you become more independent as you get older but heck, I’m turning twenty tomorrow, and I still get my mom to call the doctor’s office when I’m sick to book an appointment for me. And sure, I feel super accomplished when I call a 1-800 number to talk about my credit card, but I also know that I’ll still be calling my parents when I’m married and have kids.
15. Remember where you came from.

This ties in with the last one. Even when you’re all grown up and moved out of the house, remember that your parents (and likely your siblings, too) were your first and biggest supporters in life. Don’t let that slip your mind. Make sure you don’t just talk to your family when you need money, or you’re sad. Talk to them about the exciting things that are happening!
16. Try not to be dramatic.

This one speaks to my soul, so don’t get offended. Someone who’s close enough to me to say something like this recently told me that I used to be (slash still am) someone who can blow a situation out of proportion when it’s really not that big of a deal. I’m glad that that point was made to me, because now whenever I find myself getting frustrated with a situation, I ask myself ‘how big of a deal is this, really?’
17. Honesty wins every time.

Lying to someone (even just a little white lie) may mask the pain for a short time, but the other individual will be more hurt when the lie gets huge and the truth finally comes out. It sounds cliché, but it’s better just to rip the band-aid off right at the get go. The other person will thank you (it may take them awhile though), and you’ll thank yourself too.
18. Take your time with relationships.

I’m not just talking about romantic relationships, but take this in whatever way you want. I’ve learned from experience that it’s so much better to take things slow. You don’t have to jump right in and learn everything about someone right away; if the friendship lasts, you’ll learn a whole lot about that person in the end. Take time and enjoy each moment of the relationship (be it platonic or romantic).
19. Even a brief amount of time with the Lord each morning makes the whole day drastically different.

Oh man, this one is so important! The older we get, the busier our lives (and our days) seem to be. It’s vital to take time with the Lord in the morning in order to orient your day and remind yourself where your focus truly lies. I can end up finding myself insanely overwhelmed in the middle of the day and then it dawns on me that I didn’t dedicate the day and everything in it to God that morning. You may not believe it but trust me, your day can change dramatically if you choose to spend time with the Father in the morning, and dedicate the day to Him.
So there ya have it. Nineteen things that I’ve learned up to this point in my life. Here’s to getting one year older!

Elizabeth Reda is a third year student at Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge Ontario.  This post originally appeared on her blog Brokenness Aside.

 

31. October 2016 · Comments Off on HERE I STAND…I CANNOT DO OTHERWISE · Categories: CHURCH, LITURGICAL CALENDAR, MINISTRY, THEOLOGY · Tags:

6124216_orig“Here I stand”. These are words that Martin Luther uttered with great conviction almost 500 years ago. These words helped set in motion something that has been known as the Protestant Reformation.  Today, October 31, marks the day when Luther in 1517 nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg.  Such a practice might seem strange to us, but in those days that was the way to make something public – the bulletin board as it were.  The 95 theses were a list of propositions intended for academic discussion.  They were triggered among other things by practices in the Catholic church of the day such as selling, for monetary gain, so called “indulgences” or remittance of time off in purgatory.  Luther regarded purgatory itself as a questionable concept that is not supported in Scripture, and the crass commercialization of divine forgiveness as deplorable.  There even was a marketing slogan, long before the concept of marketing became a science: “When the money in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” 

As Luther’s challenges to papal teaching became widespread, it led to personal danger.  Luther still lived in the time before separation of church and state, and so it was not only the cage of the church hierarchy that he had rattled, but also the civil authorities who demanded that he recant, and go back to the accepted teachings of the church.  The “here I stand” quote was uttered at the Imperial Diet of Worms, to which he had been summoned to answer to charges of heresy. There his books and writings were placed on a table. He was asked whether they were his works, and whether he would recant any of the things taught in the books.  Luther supposedly requested time to think over his reply, and next day returned to make the famous speech which contained these words, “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen!”

With these words, Luther placed a line in the sand so to speak. A milestone that marked his convictions that he could never be persuaded to abandon.  I asked myself how often I had heard these words repeated by people who wanted to make a point, or “take a stand” as the saying goes, and I find a broad spectrum in today’s Christianity that has two extreme positions.  On the one side, we have those who don’t stand for anything, and they hide behind a pseudo academic cloak wherein everything has to be “contextualized” and “relevant”.  In other words, our beliefs are shaped from wherever the winds of current life are blowing at the time. Nothing is absolutely true, in fact something can be “true for you”, but not for me. Because there is no absolute truth,  there also are no moral or doctrinal absolutes.  These are the churches that preach about nothing in particular, or whatever hobby horse the minister is currently on: the environment, social justice, or whatever.

The other extreme however, is equally dangerous, for it takes an immovable stand on the wrong things.  One confuses human made preferences and likes and dislikes with unchangeable divine truth.  I remember Billy Graham got into a lot of hot water years ago when he said that the Sadducees of Jesus’ day were the liberal theologians of that time, and the Pharisees with their many man-made rules and regulations were the fundamentalists of that day.  There may be liberals and fundamentalists who don’t like that analogy, but I believe there is some truth to it. 

Of the two, I believe that the right-wing ultra-conservative wing of Christianity is the greater threat to the church today. While I proudly declare myself to be an evangelical in the historical sense of the word (but not necessarily in the sense that the word is used today), I also distance myself from  that part of the church that wants to take us in a direction that borders on if not meets the criteria of legalism.

Some time ago, I visited the website of a church.  Like many church websites it had a “resources” tab. As I scrolled down it, I found a link to the church’s position or “stand” on a variety of subjects.  There was a “position paper” of the pastor and or elders about subjects like the King James Bible (they said it is the only valid English speaking Bible – “the preserved Word of God for the English speaking world”.)  There was a position on rock music (they were against it and said it comes from the devil and will lead people to hell).  There was a position on the charismatic movement (they were against that too, and said that their church does not believe in the validity of the “sign gifts”). And on and on it went, a position on the role of women in the church, contemporary Christian music, etc. etc.)  I looked in vain for a positive statement about their theology, though I’m sure they regarded all of the aforementioned as theology.

The secret, I think is a proper understanding of Scripture, that enables us to discern between eternal truths that are valid for all people in all times, and those things that were said to a given culture in a specific setting.  That’s why taking a verse of Scripture out of its setting, and waving a Bible in the air hollering, “the Bible says” just doesn’t cut it.  Luther understood those differences.  That is why he summarized his position around the so-called Five Solas which in Latin means “alone”.  The Scriptures alone are the authority for salvation and life; Salvation is by Grace alone through Faith alone in Christ Alone and for God’s Glory Alone. Now that is worth dying for.  Any modification either by addition or subtraction is not worth dying for let alone living for.

On this date, some churches especially those of the Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinistic) tradition will celebrate the Reformation.  The Five solas will be rehearsed in their original Latin, and in the vernacular.  Luther’s Reformation Hymn “A Mighty Fortress” will be sung. May those churches, and indeed all of us remember that the great reformers also taught “semper reformanda” – the church should always be in reformation.

 

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