260 Million Christians persecuted

Christians, from the beginning, have been persecuted. Jesus did not promise a persecution-free life either for all of his would-be followers. Rather, he let everyone know what they are getting into: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) If that isn’t enough, Jesus goes further in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:44, he teaches us: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

According to the Open Doors organisation, who monitor the persecution of Christians and compile a world wide list every year of those nations that persecute Christians; in 2019 there were about 260 million Christians highly or severely persecuted, up from 245 million the previous year. Jihadism spreading in African nations; a movement towards Hindu theocracy in India; and a growing lack of religious tolerance towards Christians in China are all contributing factors in the increase of persecuted Christians last year.

Truth to tell, most Christians likely do not want to be persecuted; nor do they find it easy to love enemies and pray for persecutors. However, that is our calling, and only by the grace of God, with the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to follow our calling in this regard.

Perhaps one’s most important prayer would be for enemies and persecutors to have the same destiny as the apostle Paul—who by an encounter with Jesus on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus was given a new calling and orientation in life to become a follower of Jesus; a zealous missionary to the Gentile world; and one of the most accomplished theologians of all time.

For more details on the 260 million persecuted Christians, read the following article in Christianity Today here.

Stephen Deacon and Martyr

Image credit: bibleencyclopedia.com

Centuries before Boxing Day ever existed, and the shop-til-you-drop, three-ring-circus, mass hysteria consumerism dominated humankind; Christians remembered—and some still remember—Stephen on December 26.

You can read about him and his martyrdom in The Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7:60. Long story short, he was stoned to death based on false charges of blasphemy. His final words were similar to those of Jesus on the cross; words of forgiveness and love for his executioners spoken as a prayer: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60)

Today as I remember Stephen and his martyrdom, I’m also mindful of my sisters and brothers in Christ particularly in Muslim-majority and communist nations. They are far too often persecuted and falsely charged of blasphemy and imprisoned or worse, wrongfully executed for their faith.

So, in solidarity with these persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ, I invite you to pray with me today the following prayers in remembrance of Stephen and those imprisoned or on death-row solely because they are faithful Christians.

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of Stephen the first martyr, who looked to heaven and prayed for his persecutors. Grant that we also may pray for our enemies and seek forgiveness for those who hurt us, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 54)

Lord Jesus, you experienced in person torture and death as a prisoner of conscience. You were beaten and flogged and sentenced to an agonizing death though you had done no wrong. Be now with prisoners of conscience throughout the world. Be with them in their fear and loneliness, in the agony of physical and mental torture, and in the face of execution and death. Stretch out your hands in power to break their chains. Be merciful to the oppressor and the torturer, and place a new heart within them. Forgive all injustice in our lives, and transform us to be instruments of your peace, for by your wounds we are healed. Amen.

(Amnesty International, Prayer for Prisoners, Prayers for Peace)

Sing Gloria Concerts at Augustana Campus

This fall I decided to join Mannskor, a community choir organized by Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta. Our very gifted conductor is Dr. John Wiebe, who teaches in the music faculty. Mannskor is a combination of men from the community and university students.

Our Sing Gloria concerts were last weekend—December 7 and 8—in the Faith and Life Chapel, Augustana Campus. In addition to Mannskor, there were two other choirs Sangkor Women’s Ensemble and the Augustana (students’) Choir.

Our choirs were accompanied by Dr. Roger Admiral on organ; Carolyn Olson and Tova Olson on piano; with special guests the Capital Brass Ensemble; Ann Salmon on piccolo flute; Tova Olson and David Salmon on percussion.

The major repertoire was English composer James Whitbourn’s Missa Carolae. Listeners may recognise some of the Christmas carol melodies employed in this composition.

I considered it a challenge, privilege and pleasure to have been blessed by singing in these concerts.

Although this is not our recording of the Missa Carolae, here is a sample of the composition, sung in Latin by the Elysian Singers of London.

Sermon for 23 Pentecost Yr C

Read my sermon for November 17, 2019:23 Pentecost Yr C

My New Book: Praying The Lectionary Cycle A

Please check out my new book Praying The Lectionary: Prayers Of The Church Cycle A, available for purchase from the CSS Publishing Company. This resource is for pastors and those responsible for preparing the Prayers of the Church for Sunday Worship. The lectionary readings are also listed for each Sunday of the church year. The prayers may be used as is, or edited to meet the needs and context of the worshipping community.

PLEASE NOTE, my correct bio is as follows: Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson attended and received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan and his M. Div. degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatchewan, Canada. He recently retired as the chaplain at Bethany Meadows in Camrose, Alberta, Canada. He enjoys hiking, bicycling, traveling, reading and amateur photography. He is married to Julianna who is also a Lutheran pastor. 

Click on the image to view further information and purchase.

Book Review: When The English Fall

When The English Fall

Author: David Williams

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

257 pages, including Acknowledgments, An essay-The Root Of Apocalypse, and Questions For Discussion, paperback

David Williams is an American Presbyterian pastor, and this is his debut novel. As a first novel, it has gained considerable acclaim by various reviewers, and rightly so. Williams writes in a brilliant way, simple yet profound.

He describes this work as “Postapocalyptic Amish fiction,” (p. 247), and “an epistolary novel,” (p. 255). It is written as a journal by an Amish farmer, husband and father of two children. The daughter is afflicted with seizures, yet is given what some believe to be divine visions or insights.

Williams tells readers that the novel was inspired by at least three things: i) his study and curiosity of the Amish as a university student; ii) reading about the solar storm called the Carrington Event, which occurred in 1859; iii) and his personal daydreams and creative imagination about the Amish.

The novel is set in rural Pennsylvania, in an Amish community. All is going reasonably well among the Amish, until an apocalyptic-like event occurs, which knocks out almost all of modern technology—everything from household appliances, to vehicles, machinery, etc. Banks are impractical since all the financial records were kept on computers. Martial law is imposed, travel is limited, the military does its best to keep law and order and oversee the distribution of goods and services. The weather wreaks havoc with high winds and heavy rains and flooding—damaging and destroying property.

More and more people are carrying guns and turning to violence. In one scene, Jacob the writer of the journal, thinks about his gun, which he uses only for slaughtering animals on the farm. These thoughts lead him to others concerning “the English,” a term the Amish use to describe all non-Amish people. He thinks the English keep many guns for very different reasons than the Amish. “It seems to me that it is all based on a feeling of fear. To keep a gun because you are afraid of dying, and because you want to be ready to kill another human being, it just feels like such a strange thing. So filled with pride, and so dead to God. I do not understand it. Why would I fear dying, when we all die?” (pp. 136-137)

As the violence of the many English moving into the Amish community becomes more threatening; Jacob agonizes over whether he and his family should continue to stay in the community or leave for what some Amish hoped would be a safer place to live in Ohio. Jacob consults with his daughter Sadie about it. “Which is God’s will? Both. Neither. And the many ways between. There are so many ways in between.” (p. 232)

I hope this spiritual-ethical dilemma serves to spark enough interest in those reading this review to find out for themselves what happens in the end.

I was impressed with the thoughtful way in which Williams emphasised the complex relationship between the Amish and the English. It was not a black and white one for certain—both were influenced for ill and for good by one another. One lesson to be learned from this novel is that we are our neighbour’s keeper, whether we are Amish or English. We all need one another as members of the human race, and we all have things to learn from one another.

Thanksgiving 2019

Thanksgiving 2019

Today, October 14, is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and a statutory holiday. We Canadians have much to be thankful for as one of the, if not “the” best place(s) to live in the world. God has richly blessed us as a nation—may we never take this for granted. Thanks be to God! May our gratitude to God be expressed daily. May we also express it in our relationships at home, work and school every day. Happy Thanksgiving to all of my fellow Canadian readers!

Over the years, I’ve blogged about Thanksgiving, you might want to have a look at the following links:

Thanksgiving 2007: https://dimlamp.wordpress.com/2007/10/05/43/

Thanksgiving 2010: https://dimlamp.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/thanksgiving-2010/