Monday, July 21, 2014

Let's Rock it for The Man!

As we drove into the parking lot lo and behold what a nice surprise to see that there were reserved spaces for seniors.  We were warmly greeted at the church doors and found a seat in the auditorium near the back should we desire to make a quick exit.  We were early enough to take in the surroundings: a room that would seat a thousand people easily, a huge screen up front with a welcome together with the announcements.  There was no cross to be seen anywhere in the building, no organ, and no grand piano, and we discovered that the communion table with its “This do in remembrance of me” had been pushed to the back of the church on one of the side aisles, forgotten until the next time it was needed!

The people started to pour in and soon the building was packed.  It was then we were treated to an excellent woman musician playing the alto saxophone.  She played an arrangement of gospel songs and hymns with variations reaching both the high and low notes of the instrument.  It was masterful and one sat back thinking this can’t get any better.  She appeared later during the offertory and delighted us again, this time to a glorious interpretation of Fairest Lord Jesus and This is my Father’s World!

Then all of a sudden the whole battery of lights illuminated the stage and on walked the Praise Team!  Oh goody more religious nursery rhymes and Buddhist musical oms.  All the musicians were teen-age boys and they could play the electric guitars for sure and the percussionist was a black youngster enclosed in a wall of glass.  All hell broke loose as the drums let out a terrific roar and the show was on the track.  

Everybody to their feet, hands clapping, bums swinging, all eyes fixed on the screen, the words repeating themselves again and again:  “God’s love never runs out, never runs out, never runs out, never runs out, never runs.  It never runs out!”  One young fellow near the front was standing on tip toe, thrusting his index finger in the air as far as it would go,
and swaying to the right and left like the pendulum on a grandfather’s clock.
One of the young staff members came forward to pray and pray he did with passion gesturing all the while as he informed God that last week there were six hundred children in the VBS program and one hundred of them gave their hearts to Jesus, as if God didn’t already know.  Give him credit though there was a stream of consciousness in the words that could rival a James Joyce novel.  Prayer was offered for both sides of the conflict in Israel, for after all there are more Christians in Palestine, but God still favours the Jews and Canada stands behind Israel, and our PM is a good “Bible believing Christian”!

Next the preacher arrived on the stage wearing a “slim” in black suit handkerchief in pocket, a coloured shirt, tieless, with brown patent shoes. A young couple was having their baby dedicated.  We were informed that the dedication was not a baptism, and a little sermonette was delivered that salvation was something to be pursued by the parents as time went on with the child attending Sunday school etc. Then a short liturgy from a prescribed book was read which involved the parent’s promises and those of the congregation, with all the while a picture of the baby being shown on the screen.

The text for the day was 1 Peter and one thing we noticed right off is that both the liberal Baptist of last Sunday together with the fundamentalist of this, like to use the conjunctions “Um” “and-a”.  To give the man credit though one could tell from the screen that we were going to be blessed with an expository message, a good introduction, and four points.  People were all equipped with their Bibles, some were taking notes on the sheet provided in the bulletin, and others were texting on their I-pads or notebooks.  He spoke clearly so even those of us who were deaf could hear every word, the gestures were always appropriate, he had freedom to move around; there was just one irritating point about the delivery: he kept on taking off his glasses and putting them on or swinging them in his hand at least one hundred times with no exaggeration during the forty five minute spiel.  There was no doubt about the theology – those attuned to Calvinism and Dispensationalism could find comfort in assurances of God’s sovereignty even though the world was in a terrible state.  Indicative of that, according to a recent poll only 14% of Canadian born again believers read their Bibles, which meant that 86 per cent did not!!!

The sermon was over, the drummer started pounding the drums, the praise team hurried to the stage, the people got to their feet, and as soon as the guitars started to strum and the people started to sing we made a bee line to the door following many others who were anxious to get to their cars before being caught in a traffic jam.  Mary Lee’s response, “twice to the Baptists, enough is enough” or something that meant the same thing.  Apparently we are not going to become Anglicans, and not Baptists, we will see what the Pentecostals have to offer next Sunday at the Embassy.

Former on the beat!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Grim Reaper Makes House Calls in the Netherlands

In 2001 The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia and, along with it, assisted suicide. Various government ‘safeguards’ were put in place to show who should qualify, and perhaps more importantly, doctors acting in accordance with these ‘safeguards’ would not be prosecuted.

For the five years immediately following the law’s enactment physician-induced deaths remained level - and even fell in some years.

In 2007 Theo Boer, a European assisted suicide watchdog wrote that ‘there doesn’t need to be a slippery slope when it comes to euthanasia. A good euthanasia law, in combination with the euthanasia review procedure, provides the warrants for a stable and relatively low number of euthanasia.’ Most of his colleagues drew the same conclusion.

But, says Theo Boer, today; “We were wrong - terribly wrong, in fact. In hindsight, the stabilisation in the numbers was just a temporary pause. Six years ago, the numbers of these deaths show an increase of 15% annually, year after year.” And since then the number has doubled with the 6,000 line to be crossed this year. Euthanasia is on the way to become a ‘default’ mode of dying for cancer patients.

As the assisted suicide bill goes to Lords in the UK, the Dutch watchdog who once backed euthanasia warns UK of 'slippery slope' to mass deaths. Boer’s intervention comes as peers prepare to debate the Assisted Dying Bill, promoted by Lord Falconer, a Labour former Lord Chancellor.
The bill, which has its second reading, would allow doctors to prescribe poison to terminally ill and mentally alert people who wish to kill themselves.

Professor Boer, speaking in a personal capacity last week, said he now believed that the very existence of a euthanasia law turns assisted suicide from a last resort into a normal procedure. Anti-euthanasia campaigners and disability activists called on politicians to listen to the professor’s warning.

He said he was concerned at the extension of killing to new classes of people, including the demented and the depressed, and the establishment of mobile death units of ‘travelling euthanizing doctors’. Professor Boer said campaigners for doctor-administered death ‘will not rest’ until a lethal pill is made available to anyone over 70 who wishes to die. ‘Some slopes truly are slippery,’ he added. Professor Boer admitted he was ‘wrong – terribly wrong, in fact’ to have believed regulated euthanasia would work. ‘I used to be a supporter of the Dutch law. But now, with 12 years of experience, I take a very different view.
Doctors in neighbouring Belgium are collectively killing an average of five people every day by euthanasia – with a 27 per cent surge in one year.
And last February the government approved euthanasia for children. Consent by minors?

The latest euthanasia figures for the Netherlands show that nearly one in seven deaths are at the hands of doctors. In 2012, there were 4,188 deaths by direct euthanasia – 3 per cent of all deaths – and 3,695 deaths by direct euthanasia in 2011. The figures do not include deaths by terminal sedation, where patients are rendered unconscious before they are dehydrated and starved to death, an act often referred to as ‘euthanasia by omission’.

Under Lord Falconer’s bill, a terminally-ill patient would be able to ask for drugs to kill him or herself. Two doctors would need to approve, and to be satisfied the patient was of sound mind and settled view, and had not been influenced by others.

Sven Ljungholm
PhD Ethics and the Development of Human Values
Liverpool, UK

Thursday, July 17, 2014

FSAOF SWEDEN ANNUAL CONFERENCE -7- The Swedish Church of the Non-Believers

Seven years ago this week the Rev. Dr. John Stott concluded his final public engagement. Stott, whom, Billy Graham named as “the most respected clergyman in the world today,” concluded his public ministry at the age of 87, asking evangelical Christians in England, "What is God's purpose for his people? God wants His people to become like Christ…. Christ-likeness is the will of God for the people of God.”

Building his sermon on three texts – Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18 and 1 John 3:2 – Stott affirmed that “if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christ-like.” Stott warned his audience that being Christ-like in “patient endurance...may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures.”

During my stay in Sweden earlier this month, participating in the FSAOF retreat and later, attending the SA’s annual Congress in Stockholm in Salvation Army uniform, I, along with hundreds of assembled Salvationists, was met not so much by persecution as indifference. Sweden’s is the largest Lutheran church in the world, yet some call it the church of the non-believers because it’s also the most secular and religiously apathetic country in the world. Swedes choose to belong to the church because it provides a convenient and historically important meeting place for family occasions including infant baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Ninety percent of all Swedes are still buried with a church service, according to the Church of Sweden. It also serves as a refuge in times of national crisis such as the sinking of the ferry Estonia in 1994, in which 800 people died, most of them Swedes. The SA played a significant role in providing emergency assistance and grief counselling.

A recent survey by the Church of Sweden found that about two-thirds of the country’s 9.4 million people belong to the church. Yet, only 15 percent of church members say they believe in Jesus Christ. An equal percentage of Swedes call themselves atheists.

The survey, conducted by Jonas Bromander, chief analyst of the Church of Sweden, also found that membership continues to decline (at an accelerating pace), from about 95 percent of the population 40 years ago to the historically low 68.8 percent today.

Sven Björkborg, a pastor who serves several parishes southwest of Stockholm says he believes in Jesus Christ, which is not a requirement for Church of Sweden clergyA December poll by the Swedish opinion research organization Sifo found that 83 percent of Swedes believe that Christmas should be about family, and only 10% said it was about celebrating the birth of Jesus.

H.B. Hammar, former dean of Skara Cathedral, said that of the 3,384 churches in Sweden only 500 (16%) or so are used at most once a month. 


The former Bishop of Stockholm, Krister Stendahl caused consternation in the 1990s in espousing ecumenicalism above salvation. And in his analysis of Matthew 1-2 he states that historical evidence neither affirms or denies the claim or the claim of Jesus' divinity. And, he believed that the Christian call is to go into the world and listen to others with humility, willing to learn and to help where we can. He once commented: “When God comes into the Oval Office in the morning, he doesn’t ask for Christian growth statistics but ‘What have my Christians done for the Kingdom?’”

And the newly elected German born, Arcbishop Antje Jackelen, known in Sweden for her statements questioning the Virgin birth and endorsing the theory of evolution has done little in reaffirming the Swedish religious traditions.
The archbishop recently said in the newspaper DI Weekend that the position and responsibility she sees that the Swedish Church has: “to nourish people's zest for life and create opportunities for the future among young people, to engage in an open and equal society, a more equitable and sustainable distribution of world resources and to contribute to peace and reconciliation between people and states.”

How ought the 6 million members in the Swedish church who have historically been taught that the way to salvation rests alone in Jesus Christ translate Jackelen's belief that Jesus is not the only way to God, nor does she believe in the virgin birth or heaven and hell.

Is it not the role, the duty, of the leader of the Swedish church to advance the understanding of the 400 year established religion and to educate the 6,000,000 church members in a religiously complex world?
Tomorrow: Marcus Birro, perhaps Sweden’s most famous and vocal Christian who now has more than 20% of the country’s adults reading his chronicles in Expressen and blog every week. And, while many Christians throw their hands up in despair, Marcus is taking a further step and will start his own video blog ‘on the world today’. The format will touch on those matters of everyday life where Swedes live; the world of sports, leisure and recreation with faith as a necessary element in being truly fulfilled.

Sven Ljungholm

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

FSAOF SWEDEN ANNUAL CONFERENCE -6- Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile

Commissioner Sven Nilsson’s theme for the FSAOF, Sweden retreat was: “A Light on Our Path – A Life of Holiness”

I have a handful of former Salvationist friends who’ve moved from their earlier strong Salvation Army biblical beliefs to more closely align with those of the Seventh-day Adventist Theology and biblical teachings undergirding the Adventist movement. I’m impressed by their commitment to the SDA movement and the rather simplistic life style discipline they’ve adopted. Enough so, in fact, that I read the SDA Ministry journal delivered anonymously from the USA to my UK address faithfully; a gift from someone seeking to recruit another SA convert perhaps? Thank you – good stuff!  

In the August 2009 issue the Editorial: Running on empty by Willie E. Hucks II quotes Ellen G. White, a key figure among the SDA’s founders:  “It is not wise to be always under the strain of work and excitement, even in ministering to men's spiritual needs; for in this way personal piety is neglected, and the powers of mind and soul and body are overtaxed. Self-denial is required of the Disciples of Christ, and sacrifices must be made; but care must also be exercised lest through their overzeal Satan takes advantage of the weakness of humanity, and the work of God be marred.”
In the chapter titled, “Come Rest Awhile,” Chapter 38 in Ellen G. White’s The Desire of Ages, she wrote; - “On returning from their missionary tour, "the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told Him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught. And He said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat…. He saw that they needed much instruction. He saw, too, that they had become weary in their labors, and that they needed to rest…. But now Christ (too) longed for retirement, that He might be with His disciples; for He had much to say to them. In their work they had passed through the test of conflict, and had encountered opposition in various forms. Hitherto they had consulted Christ in everything; but for some time they had been alone, and at times they had been much troubled to know what to do…. they needed now to feed on the Bread of Life. They needed to go to a place of retirement, where they could hold communion with Jesus and receive instruction for future work.”

The Swedish FSAOF is comprised of many chapters throughout the country with a total membership exceeding three hundred. Each local chapter meets regularly with the annual summer conference meetings being the high point of the year.

Most Swedish FSAOF members have remained active and serve in various ministry and Pastoral roles, many in SA roles, and are no less committed or actively engaged than during their SA officership years.

"And He said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile."

In the first session Commission Sven Nilsson opened the scriptures to; Isaiah 35 (NIV) 

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.

And Psalm 137:1  ‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.’

Throughout the 4 days the Commissioner dug deep and reconnected us with old SA songs and choruses. He demonstrated a remarkable knowledge and familiarity with Salvation Army songs and choruses, their genesis and the composers’ spirit, mindset and intent; a keen intellect paying tribute to the wealth of resources they’d represented during his more than 70 years as a disciple serving as a SA officer. He reminded those assembled that “…. The Salvationist’s path is a holiness path…. And those less learned will watch as we walk…. Never forget to marvel. It’s healthy for both body and soul, and take good care of the path that you trod.”

Before we minister to others, we must allow God to minister to us.

The well is deep and I require
  A draught of the water of life,
But none can quench my soul’s desire,
  For a draught of the water of life;
Till one draws near who the cry will heed,
Helper of men in their time of need.
And I, believing, find indeed,
  That Christ is the water of life.

1.    “Christians have largely neglected what it means to be a disciple of Christ. The best majority of Christians are Church members, to fillers, in singers, sermon tasters, Bible readers, even born-again believers or spirit filled charismatics – but that true disciples of Jesus.” David Watson

No Bible teacher has gained my respect in understanding how to approach the text of God’s Word like John Stott. Seven years ago this week he gave his last public address, at Keswick, a beautiful area in the lake district not far from our quarters in Liverpool, and where I’ll have the privilege to bring the message to a corps in that areain a few weeks. – Stott spoke on; ‘The model – becoming more like Christ.’

Stott had summed up the condition of the world Christian scene in three words: 'growth without depth'.

2.    “Holiness is not just about us and our inwardness.  It’s not just about our not sinning or what we have given up for God.  It’s not just a strategy for church renewal.  AT SOME POINT AUTHENTIC HOLINESS MUST ISSUE IN ACTION- It is about what we are willing to do for him.  ‘Take up your cross and follow me’, is a personal call to action, not contemplation.”

We met a Disciple of Christ whose Spirit issued in authentic action.  Major Helena Andersson or ‘Helena of Nacksta’, as she was affectionately known in greater Sundsvall, with a population of more than 150,000. Helena and her family moved in to an area known for its longtime racial and religious conflicts to share God’s Word, love and message of peace and harmony.

Sven Ljungholm
Liverpool, Penny Lane area