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04. October 2017 · Write a comment · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

So what should be in a well-written obituary?

 

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

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

 

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

Philemon Yang
Prime Minister of Cameroon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Prediger 3Luther Bibel 1545 (LUTH1545)

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

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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