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.

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/

Bruce Cockburn’s new album

Bruce Cockburn’s new album

As I’ve said elsewhere on several occasions, Canadian singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn is one of my favourite musicians. I appreciate his lyrics, which reflect contemporary social justice issues, his faith, and creative musical experimentation. Give a listen and watch this new video, from his latest album, the upcoming “Crowing Ignites.” Recently he was interviewed by CBC’s Tom Allen, and on that program Bruce shares some of the background leading up to the title of this latest album.

In the video you will notice—among other things—Martin Luther King Jr., and a biblical quote from Amos 5:24: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Book Review: Basic Christianity 50th Anniversary Edition

Basic Christianity: 50th Anniversary Edition

Author: John Stott

Publisher: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

174 pages, paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Rev. John Stott died in 2011, at 90 years of age. He was a prolific writer of some 50 books. He was rector emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London; the founding president of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity; and served as chaplain to Queen Elizabeth. Stott was well known in Christendom as a conservative evangelical, and his best-selling Basic Christianity reflects this version of theology.

The book originally seems to have its roots in a series of talks that Stott gave at Cambridge University, appealing to students there. Eventually, Stott became a popular circuit public speaker at other universities around the globe. He had a mission-evangelism spirit which focussed on reaching out to students.

The format of this volume is as follows: Foreword, Preface to the 50th Anniversary Edition, Preface, The Right Approach, Part One: Who Christ Is, Part Two: What We Need, Part Three: What Christ Has Done, Part Four: How To Respond, and Study Questions.

In this 50th Anniversary Edition, Stott was somewhat sensitive to updating the language of the original volume to be more gender-inclusive. However, he did not rely on more up-to-date scholars in the body of his text, so his sources, other than the Bible are dated, and, to his credit, he admits this work is dated. Having admitted that, nonetheless the work is easy to read and quite accessible to readers-both Christian and non-Christian.

As for the content, Stott emphasises the orthodox view that God takes the initiative to reach humankind and the two natures of Jesus—fully human and fully divine and cites biblical references to make his case. Although he acknowledges Christ as sinless and the perfect exemplar view of atonement; he also emphasises the importance of a substitutionary view of atonement. His view of humankind also reflects the orthodox one that we are created in the image of God, and we are also fallen sinners who need a Saviour and are unable to save themselves. However, I thought in his discussion on humankind that he could have been more explicitly lucid in making the important distinction between lower case sin and upper case Sin. I also thought that he did not devote adequate treatment to upper case Sin as a state of being in rebellion against God and wanting to be god in God’s place. I was also disappointed in his rather degrading, misogynistic reference to Mary Magdalene in relation to Christ’s resurrection: “Again, we would have chosen someone with a better reputation than Mary Magdalene as the first witness.” (p. 67) In his discussion on the Ten Commandments, he would have been wise to mention that not all Christian denominations agree on their numbering. Instead, he presents the Reformed family of Christians version of the Decalogue, leaving the reader the impression that it is the only way to read, interpret and understand the Commandments. He is quite adamant on the familiar evangelical-fundamentalist language of making a personal commitment to Christ and the all or nothing approach to discipleship.

Stott cautions those Christians who are tempted to place too much importance on their feelings. He states that feelings come and go; and that trusting in God’s promises in the Bible are ultimately more reliable than feelings.

He also laments over some Christians who may describe themselves as “born again” never growing up in their faith. Stott states: “Others even suffer from spiritual infantile regression.” (p. 162) In response to God’s grace in Christ Christians, with the help of the Holy Spirit can grow in their understanding and in the sanctification process.

Stott also emphasises an active devotional life that balances prayer with Bible reading and study—again however his conservative, evangelical preference surfaces as he recommends reading the NIV translation rather than the NRSV.

In addition to an active devotional life Stott advocates membership and regular church attendance; involvement in social justice issues to serve the poor and neglected people in the world; as well as to evangelize the world by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This volume will likely appeal to conservative, evangelical Christians more than anyone else. The Study Questions may be helpful in facilitating small group discussions for adult church groups and students.

A Brief Book Review: A Rare Benedictine

A Rare Benedictine: The Advent Of Brother Cadfael

Author: Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter)

Publisher: Headline Book Publishing PLC

156 pages, paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Edith Pargeter, writing under the name of Ellis Peters, became a popular historical fiction and crime author with her Mediaeval super-sleuth Cadfael series.

The setting is the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul, at Shrewsbury, along the Wales and England border. Readers are taken on a journey with super-sleuth Cadfael as he solves the kidnapping of a prominent abbey resident; leaves behind his worldly life to become a Benedictine monk at Shrewsbury Abbey; keeps secrets surrounding a pair of engraved silver candlesticks; and tracks down a would-be murderer and robber of the abbey treasury.

As in her other Cadfael novels, Ellis Peters has created in this her first in the Cadfael series an engaging page-turner, which many may choose to read in one sitting.

Cadfael, once again—with the assistance of divine providence—is the protagonist who methodically applies his observatory powers and deep insights into the complexities of the human condition to enhance the unfolding of justice and mercy.

Highly recommended summer reading for all historical fiction and crime novel buffs. I would give it 4.5 stars out of 5.