Sunday, December 23, 2007


Better Days

And you ask me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days
Cuz I don't need boxes wrapped in strings
And desire and love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again

And it's someplace simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And thats faith and trust and peace while we're alive
And the one poor child that saved this world
And there's 10 million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we'll find better days

So take these words
And sing out loud
Cuz everyone is forgiven now
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again
Cuz tonight's the night the world begins again

- Lyrics by the Goo Goo Dolls

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hillary Clinton at the Saddleback AIDS Conference

This afternoon Hillary Clinton spoke to the Global AIDS Conference at Saddleback Community church in Orange County. The audience of about 1,000 people from across the USA and 18 other nations greeted her very warmly (with a standing ovation). In fact, the greeting was much warmer than I had personally expected.

Rick and Kay Warren had invited ALL of the Republican and Democratic candidates for president to come to the conference. ONLY Hillary responded by appearing live. John Edwards, Barak O'Bama, John McCain, Mike Hukabee and Mitt Romney appeared via video.

Hillary was articulate and at times, passionate. She delineated a very clear plan about how she would deal with HIV/AIDS both in the USA and around the world. She obviously knew her audience, quoted Scripture with familiarity and impressed me and several of my friends who are not friends of Hillary.

Being a bit of a cynic, I wonder if she can be trusted. Hillary has reinvented herself several times over the years, and it makes me wonder if she just communicated what we wanted to hear (Bill was very good at that). BUT, if she really believes what she said, then I am on her side.

In would rate the video presentations in the following order (from best to worst):

John Edwards
John McCain (though he appeared extremely tired)
Barak O'Bama
Mike Hukabee and Mitt Romney tied for last

It was rather interesting to see what kind of background the candidates chose to make their video comments. Mitt Romney was dressed in a very expensive suit, sitting on a bench with an expensive painting in the background. He looked like an old style, highly sophisticated, aristocrat. Barak O'Bama had a background covered with his website address. His face filled the entire screen -- you could almost count his nose hairs. Mike Hukabee was video taped in what appeared to be his campaign office. People were moving around in the background. Came across like a nice, ordinary guy. He and Rick Warren went to seminary together, and Mike told us the best move Rick ever made was marrying Kay. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy.

I think that the candidates who didn't show up (that's all of them but Hillary) probably made a tactical error if they wanted to get a bit more of the evangelical vote. Lots of evangelical leaders at this conference -- would have been a good place to get support.

Other than this bit of excitement, the conference has been good -- just too many talking-heads, and not enough time to network or interact with others involved in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

Personally, it's been a good conference for me. God has been speaking to me about a number of things and is confirming some of what I have thought about in my heart - but more of that later.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Somethings Happenin Here, What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear

Over the past couple of months I have had numerous conversations -- in Africa, Canada, Indonesia, and in the USA -- with people ranging in age from their early 20's to their mid 70's -- and the conversations have all had a number of things in common. These conversations have had me thinking, and here I am, it is 1:00 am in the morning, the day after American Thanksgiving, and I can't sleep.

I am still seeing, "as in a mirror darkly", but I feel like some things are becoming clearer. Let me "freely associate" some about what I have been hearing in conversations and sensing in my heart. Some of you who read this will probably say "duh", others may think I had too much turkey, and perhaps for some of you these thoughts may spark further ideas.

1. I think there is almost universal agreement that we are either at the end of "modernism" or in the final stages of "modern" thought in North America and much of the western world. What there isn't agreement about is where we are going and what we are transitioning into. The changes in western thought and culture have come relatively quickly, affecting every part of society -- including the church. Lots of people are thinking, blogging, writing and talking about what the future may hold. It is becoming clear to me that in the evangelical world two streams are emerging in response to the changes in our culture, and that these two streams are moving side-by-side, but not necessarily intersecting. In fact, the sense I get is that these two streams are moving further apart.

2. I think there is growing disillusionment with the evangelical/charismatic church as it is exists in North America. This disillusionment is not just among those in their 20's and 30's -- but is increasingly widespread among all age groups. As a result, more and more people are either dropping out of church, and/or are becoming less and less engaged in their churches. Many of these people are desiring a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Jesus, are wanting their lives to make a difference in their communities and/or around the world, but are finding that the church is either in the way, or not helpful in their spiritual journey.

In the last week I have spent time with two small groups of believers who have a significant desire to impact the world -- one group was focused primarily on the community they lived in, the other on Africa. Both saw the church as a possible ally, but were focusing their efforts on creating other mechanisms to fulfill their God-given dreams because they realized that if they were going to accomplish what they believe God was calling them to, the church would probably make their lives much more complicated, and hinder their calling -- not help them fulfill it. Since I work in a church, this made me rather sad -- but I couldn't help but agree with their perspective. I know how they feel.

3. There is a growing "Jesus Movement". Christians want to know Jesus and be like Him. They are forming small groups, missional communities, loose associations, networks and all kinds of structures and mechanisms that they sense will help them become more like Christ, grow closer to Him, and enable them to fulfill God's calling on their lives. These alternative structures are usually being created outside of the structures of existing churches or religious institutions. They are informal and viral, committed to creating community with a purpose. Some are focused around local issues and causes. Others focus on global issues. BUT ALL of them are focused on Christ, and are relational within the context of a greater missional purpose. My sense is that these alternative structures and mechanisms will grow in number and influence. I wonder whether existing churches will embrace them unconditionally -- or only embrace them if they become part of the existing church structures and all that comes with that.

4. As is often the case in times of transition, the status quo, the existing power structures, when feeling threatened, have a tendency to strike out against those without power, who are on the edges of a movement, and who question the way things have been done. If you read history, Christian or secular, you quickly discover that change doesn't come from the centers of power or wealth -- it always comes from the edges. I sense this is happening today in the church on a variety of fronts. Those who have asked theological questions or have suggested new ways of "doing church" have at times been called heretics and/or had their character or relationship with God called into question. Sometimes the response from those on the edge has been in the same un-Christ-like spirit -- and so, instead of talking in meaningful ways that might provide some new insights into the Gospel and living like Jesus, only further division has resulted.

5. There is a movement toward a wholistic Gospel -- a Gospel, that like Jesus, is primarily about service -- about "power under" rather than "power over". This gives me hope for the church. I see this movement globally -- and now finally coming to North America.

6. The attractional model of church in North America is struggling and becoming increasingly ineffective. While some churches are trying hard to mix an attractional model of doing church with a semi-incarnational model (for example by becoming multi-site churches), I am not sure this will work. The church growth/seeker-sensitive model of the 70' - 90's will work less and less effectively in the years to come. But churches that have been built on the attractional model have buildings to pay for, and lots of emotional, psychological and physical investment in this approach. Change will be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, without enormous challenges and lots of risk.

The attractional model will most-likely make church increasingly irrelevant to the existing culture. Research indicates that in the USA this model of church is only interesting, at most, to about 33-40% of non-church-going people. That leaves at least 60% of unchurched America uninterested in church. I am beginning to become convinced -- more and more -- that churches need to become part of the "warp and woof" (using an old Francis Schaeffer term) of a community. In other words, churches need to truly be incarnational -- they need to be part of the life of a community -- not just located in a community. Only if we plant communities of Gods people that are committed to genuine community transformation will we see God's kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

7. More and more people are realizing that you cannot consume your way into a deeper relationship with God, and into deeper discipleship. This is a challenge for churches that have largely become dispensers of religious goods and services. Hot worship bands, multitudes of often excellent programs, etc. do not make disciples. Service in the context of Biblical community does -- and that is what people are looking for more and more. It is in service in the community and the world that we will find Jesus.

8. I am becoming convinced that everything must change. We need to question much. We need to read the Scriptures with an open mind and heart. We need to try and unlearn much of what we have been taught. We need to ask Jesus to take the blinders from our eyes and see His heart, His way of being and doing, and ask Him "how then shall we live"? If we continue the way we are we will die.

I want my life to count. God wants my life to count. While I am very grateful for those who have taught me much over the years I have followed Christ, I have a growing sense I need to relearn and sometimes unlearn what it means to follow Jesus. That will take faith and courage, lots of God's grace and friends who will encourage me to question, who will listen to me, who will agree with me, disagree with me, argue with me, challenge me and love me.

Well, it is 2:00 am, and I am running out of steam. As I read this post over, I realize that I have not said everything I want to say, and much of what I have said I have said poorly. I will probably come back to these ideas several times over the next few months. As my Facebook profile says, my views on religion are emerging, changing, developing and growing. I trust that is a good thing.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Las Vegas Democratic Debate on November 15, 2007

Last night I watched about 30 minutes of the Las Vegas Democratic Debate on CNN on my computer (since we don't have cable TV). I have really been rather disinterested in the race for president so far, and outside of Barak Obama and John McCain, there hasn't been anyone remotely interesting to me. On the Republican side I don't think John McCain has any potential for winning the primaries. He has alienated the Republican establishment so much, there is no way they would let him win. And, since I am registered as an "Independent", I'm not sure I can vote in any of the primaries anyway.

Last night one of the questions asked of the candidates was -- which was more important -- human rights or protecting American national security? Now, I may be quite naive -- but I was very disappointed that all the major candidates said "American national security". Some like Obama seemed to indicate that there was no conflict between the two. That simply is false.

Perhaps these candidates have not really thought about this very much, but it would seem to me that human rights are a fundamental value. If you say that protecting American national security is fundamental, then the protection of human rights becomes secondary and all kinds of things are possible -- eavesdropping on your own citizens without cause, torturing prisoners of war to get information that will protect our security, indiscriminate killing of innocent people; and the list goes on and on and on. If American national security is #1, then almost anything can be done and explained away in those terms. Kind of reminds me of some of the things have crept into our politics and philosophy here in the USA since 2001.

If I had to vote today for president, I don't know what I would do. Today the front-runners are Clinton and
Giuliani. I wouldn't vote for Clinton. I don't trust her as far as I can throw her. Unlike her husband who is simply a people-pleaser, Hillary has principles but unfortunately it appears to me that her bottom-line principle is power. People who lust after power are dangerous people. I wouldn't vote for Giuliani. There just seems to be a bit of a smell around him. If he is the candidate, Republicans certainly can't claim any kind of family values banner. Hillary could actually claim that banner because she stood by her man while he behaved like Giuliani. If Rudy's only value is that he might beat Hillary -- that isn't good enough for me.

Perhaps the solution is to move back to Canada. Universal healthcare, budget surpluses for the past 10 years, falling taxes, and a currency that is worth more than the US$!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reflections from Malawi

Over the past 24 months I have been in Malawi five times. Whenever I come back, Katie my co-worker tells me I am cranky for a couple of weeks. That's probably because I am processing all the stuff that has happened. Some of it is simply the shock of leaving a country where the per-capita income is US$180 a YEAR, life expectancy is 37, and in some communities people are so poor that there is no garbage. You know you are poor when there is nothing to throw away.

BUT, despite the grinding poverty, the spiritual warfare, the injustice, the feeling of being overwhelmed by all the challeng
es, I always meet God in Malawi. In fact, I often see Jesus more clearly than I see Him in my comfortable home and pleasant surroundings.

There are 3 people in particular in whom I saw Jesus this time around. Let me tell you a bit about them.

Harriet the GoGo

Harriet is a GoGo -- a grandmother who takes care of 16 grandchildren. Harriet has one remaining child -- the rest have all died, so she is left taking care of her grandchildren. She lives in a mud house with a dirt floor. She has no running water, no electricity and the closest borehole/well is over a kilometre away from her humble home. The first time I met Harriet she came running across the field to our van. She greeted us with great excitement and started speaking of the goodness of God in her life. A few days later we stopped by Harriet's home again. This time we prayed for her sick daughter. As we walked back to our van she told us that until she saw us that morning she was sad, tired and depressed. Who wouldn't be at the age of 72, taking care of 16 grandchildren, and having to work in the garden all day to simply get some food. She cannot read or write, yet that day she quoted Psalm 27:13:

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong, and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.

She told us that when she saw us, she saw the goodness of God -- and she worshiped Him. The reality is that when
we saw her, and her response to God working in our life -- we saw Jesus in the land of the living.

I intend to visit Harriet every time I am in Malawi.

Two other people made an impression on me this time. Lucious is a "Zone Leader" with Somebody Cares Malawi. As a Zone Leader and a pastor Lucious works with volunteers who visit widows, orphans and vulnerable children and those suffering from HIV/AIDS in their communities. Lucious ov
ersees 15 volunteers who together have 75 patients in their community. In addition Lucious also organizes and supervises a feeding program in his community for over 250 orphans and vulnerable children. He does all of this as a volunteer -- and while he farms his two acres of land and takes care of his wife and 8 children.

Lucious and his Wife in their Cornfield

Lucious is also a pastor and helps to lead the pastors association in his community. Recently there was an opportunity to get some leadership training near Lilongwe. So, every morning Lucious got up at 5:00 am and rode his bicycle for 3 hours to the "pick-up point" where a flatbed truck came by to pick him up. Then after another 30-45 minutes on the back of the truck he reached his destination. After four hours of training, Lucious got back on the truck and then rode his bicycle for another 3 hours home. He did this every day for 6 days! I think Lucious could be my hero.

Lucious is a fortunate man in rural Malawi -- he can read and write, he speaks some English and he owns something very precious -- a Bible. I have seen him carefully unwrap his Bible, read it during church, and the gently and lovingly wrap it back up to keep it safe. He is a precious man, filled with Jesus.

Finally, I want to tell you about another man -- similar to Lucious. I don't remember his name, but I first heard about him about a year ago. This man lives in a rural community called Chikudzulire. A year ago he rode his bicycle more than 4 hours into town so he could ask Theresa Malila of Somebody Cares if they could help their community develop. They knew they needed help, they
just didn't know what to do. So after 4 hours on his bike, and then a brief conversation with Theresa, he rode another 4 hours home -- with the hope that someday help would come.

The Man from Chikudzulire

God has honored this man's faith. In the year since he took the 4 hour bike ride to ask for help his community has been "adopted" by a church in Arizona, a new borehole/well has been dug, a feeding center for the more than 900 orphans and vulnerable children is under construction and the community has come together to work towards their own transformation.

I see Jesus in these 3 people -- Harriet the GoGo, Lucious the Pastor and the Man from Chikudzulire. Each of them is living under what we would consider difficult or impossible circumstances. We would look at their lives as hopeless -- yet God has given them hope, has answered their prayer, and they are seeing Jesus alive in their communities.

God is at work in Malawi. I look forward to going back and seeing Jesus there.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Global Leaders Forum -- October 11-12, 2007

On October 11-12, 2007 I had the privilege of participating in the Global Leaders Forum that was sponsored by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the Micah Challenge and the United Nations. About 220 evangelical leaders from the USA and around the world met for one-and-a-half days. The meetings began with a reception and dinner where the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon was the guest speaker. This was the first time a UN Secretary General had ever spoken to a group of evangelical leaders.

Much of the focus of the time was devoted to seeing how evangelicals can work together to see the fulfillment of the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). If you are not aware of what the MDG's are, here is a brief description. The MDG's are 8 goals that the 192 member states of the United Nations agreed to achieve by 2015. The goals are as follows:

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by reducing by half the proportion of people living on less than US$1 a day, and by reducing by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger around the world.

2. Achieve universal primary education for all children through at least primary school.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women at all levels by 2015.

4. Reduce child mortality among children under the age of five by two thirds.

5. Improve maternal health by reducing by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases by beginning to halt and reverse the spread of AIDS, malaria and other major diseases.

7. Ensure environmental sustainability by focusing on sustainable development, reversing the loss of environmental resources, reducing by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, and achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million urban slum dwellers by 2020.

8. Develop a global partnership for development.

On the 2nd day of the Global Leaders Forum attendees participated in small groups that focused on strategic issues related to evangelicals in the Global North and Global South working together with government, the UN, business and NGO's on achieving these goals -- many of which are fully in-line with "Kingdom" goals.

The 36 hours I spent at this forum were very encouraging to me for a number of reasons. I saw well known people from both the political left and the political right discussing the issues -- wondering how they can work together. I saw well- known evangelical leaders interacting with people from the United Nations, the Peace Corps and from various NGO's both Christian and secular -- talking about how to work together.

Finally, I saw hope for the words "evangelical" and "Christian". I saw hope, because I believe that if we as evangelicals and Christians work together and serve together to reach these goals -- many of which are Kingdom goals -- the name of Christ will be honored and the words "Christian" and "Evangelical" may no longer be dirty words.

Perhaps the story that impacted me the most in this regard was that of Geoff Tunnicliffe the International Director of the World Evangelical Alliance. He was recently in Germany speaking with Chancellor Merkel. He offered her help on behalf of the German Church and the global evangelical church in helping Germany do its part towards achieving the MDG's. Chancellor Merkel said something like the following to Geoff Tunnicliffe -- "Everyday I have people coming into my office telling me what I am doing wrong. Rarely, if ever, do I have someone coming to me offering me their help and assistance. Thank you so very much. You have an open door to my office."

This is the power of servanthood! This is the power of the Kingdom. This is what Greg Boyd talks about when he says that Christians should be characterized by "power under" not "power over".

I am encouraged that perhaps the day is coming when Evangelical Churches will be the "Mother Theresa's" of our time and the Church will be the greatest threat to injustice the world has ever seen.

"To plead the cause of the poor, afflicated and needy; . . .
Is that not what it means to know Me?" says the Lord.
- Jeremiah 22:16

GIVING -- How Each of Us Can Change the World -- Bill Clinton

I purchased this book not because I am a big fan of Bill Clinton, but because I wanted to hear what he had to say about giving.

Frankly, I was quite disappointed. The book has a good introduction, excellent first and second chapters and a decent last chapter -- but most everything in-between is rather uninteresting; unless you want to hear about what Bill did (while president) and is doing -- and what his famous and wealthy friends have done and are doing.

While I would not recommend spending the money on this book, there were several things in the book that made me think or were fairly interesting. Let me mention a few.

1. Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.
- Martin Luther King

Great statement by a great man.

2. In every corner of America and all over the world, intelligence and energy are evenly distributed, but opportunity, investment and effective organizations aren't. As a result, billions of people are denied the chance to live their lives to the fullest, and millions die needlessly every year.

Because we live in an interdependent world, we cannot escape each other's problems.

Clinton identifies the three major reasons why people give to charities. I think these are quite interesting and should give those working to fund charitable organizations some food for thought.
  1. About 1/3 of all giving is directed towards places of worship and their affiliated activities.
  2. Another 1/3 is given towards local, national or global needs that are publicized in the media. Katrina, the Indonesian Tsunami and children in a local community needing medical help are examples.
  3. The final third of all giving is in response to local fund-raising activities by a group in which the donor is involved, or to which the donor is asked to give by a friend or family member.
4. Perhaps the most profound statements in the book are taken from a speech made by Bill Gates at Harvard University in June of 2007. Let me quote some of that speech here.

If you believe that every life has equal value, it's revolting to learn that some lives are seen as worth saving and others are not. . . . How can we let children die? The answer is simple, and harsh. The market did not reward saving the lives of these children, and governments did not subsidize it. So the children died because their mothers and fathers had no power in the market and no voice in the system. . . . If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world.

It is this last sentence that I find particularly sad. I think it is true -- but it is really very sad. What Bill Gates is saying is simply this -- the only way we can get the job done is if we can convince businesses that they can make more money by appearing to be concerned for the poor, and if we can convince politicians that being on the side of the poor will help them get elected.

I read this statement and I realized this is an indictment of the western world. If we can cater to the greed of corporations and politicians, then we can help the poor.

Perhaps this is what Bono has realized and why he started the "red" campaign. He convinced corporations to give a small percentage of their profits on some "red" items. It looked like this was good for business -- so corporations did this. No altruism here -- simply another way to make money.

Sad -- but unfortunately true.

Now I know that there are a small minority of business people who have a genuine concern for the poor (I've actually met some), and I know that there are some politicians who have a good heart and at least start out wanting to do what is right and just for everyone in our society. But, I think one would be hard-pressed to say that what Bill Gates said is not true. The good businesses and politicians out there are definitely in the minority.

5. Ideas are what change the world.
- Chris Stamos

6. We live in an interdependent world in which our survival depends upon an understanding that our common humanity is more important than our interesting and inevitable differences and that everyone matters.
- Bill Clinton

Monday, August 06, 2007

Some Thoughts after the Heritage Festival in Edmonton

So, today we spent 5 hours walking around Hawrelak Park in Edmonton at the annual Heritage Festival. It was a wonderful afternoon for a number of reasons.

1. 75 ethnic groups had displays including crafts and artifacts, food booths and cultural performances. Living in the Phoenix area where 70% of the people are white, 25% Hispanic and 5% "other", it was wonderful to see so many people with different colors, music, languages, traditions and experiences. Our family misses that kind of cultural diversity.

2. There was virtually no commercialism at the event. There were only a couple of businesses that had booths (in out of the way places). So unlike a festival we attended in Colorado Springs in June that was essentially businesses trying to sell you stuff -- even though the event was billed as a city wide celebration. This was an event celebrating the cultural heritages of the people of Edmonton. Wonderful!

3. There was virtually no garbage around. People used the garbage cans. They recycled drink containers. Each booth had people volunteering to pick up garbage that may have dropped. The park was clean -- and there were over 50,000 people there!

4. No cars were allowed. The city provided transportation to the park. The only mode of transportation other than city buses or walking to the festival were bicycles -- and there was a bike park available that was supervised.

5. There were only a few police officers around. Apparently you don't need police when 50,000 people come to celebrate each other's heritage!

6. The event was FREE! The only "admission" was a suggested donation to the city food bank.

7. The weather was just right -- about +25 (mid-70's for Americans).

All around a great day at a great event.

Random Thoughts from Edmonton, Canada

Well, I haven't posted for a long time even though LOTS of stuff has been going through my head. But now, I am on holidays in Edmonton, Canada visiting my parents and I have a bit of time. So who knows, there may be a few posts coming -- some may even be interesting!

So yesterday morning we attended Central Baptist Church in Edmonton. Central was founded around 1900 by immigrants from Europe. It has a rich history -- at times quite innovative -- at times very conservative. The last few years have been innovative ones. I spent many years at Central when I was growing up. Even as late as 1972 the German language service had 450 people in it, while the English service barely hit 100.

So, yesterday morning I am sitting in the 9:15 service with about 200 people. The average age of those attending that that service was probably 70. The "satellite" service in the gymn had an average age of about 30. So here I am, singing hymns and listening to quite a boring sermon, yet I am in the middle of innovation. Here is why I say that.

The sermon portion of this service was being broadcast to the "satellite" service in the gymn. Not only that, it was also being broadcast live on the internet. In addition, another church, about 20 minutes away was also watching the sermon live via the internet. Really quite good -- considering that the "live" service had only about 25 people in it under the age of 60 and probably 100 people in it over the age of 70.

This may not sound revolutionary to you, but knowing the history of this church, and the people who are the primary financial supporters, this is all quite amazing.

Sometimes those of us who think we are innovative aren't -- and some of those who we think are boring, dull and anything but progressive -- are much more interested in trying new things in new ways. God is at work in lots of ways -- some we agree with, and some we don't.

Good thing I (or anyone of you reading this) are not God.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Observations from 6 hours in Heidelberg, Germany on May 19, 2007

I am writing this from the Diner's Club lounge in Terminal 2 at the Frankfurt airport. Since I am about 25 hours into a 44 hour trip to Malawi, Africa is -- GOD BLESS Diner's Club. This lounge is air-conditioned, has free wireless internet and an abundance of food and drink. Not only that, there are very few people here, and it is all VERY pleasant.

After walking over 10 kilometres today all over Heidelberg, I have a few observations to make. These are not intended to astound anyone. These are just things that stood out to me.

1. Everything in clean.

2. Everything seems to run on time, and it is important that it is on time -- not late, not early, on-time. This morning when I asked about a Lufthansa bus from Frankfurt to Heidelberg I was informed that it left at 8:00 -- EXACTLY at 8:00 am -- and it did. This afternoon, in Heidelberg they loaded up the bus. It was full -- no room for any more passengers -- but it was 2:53 pm and it was scheduled to leave at 3:00 pm. Well, we all waited in our seats, and at exactly 3:00 pm the bus driver started the bus and we left.

3. Very few American tourists -- lots of Germans, French, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Koreans, and Japanese. Maybe it's because the tourist season hasn't started in the USA.

4. Young women in the USA dress much less modestly than young German women. Whether dress has anything to do with the following, I'm not sure. But a couple of days ago I was waiting in an office briefly and I read a Time magazine article indicating that American pregnancy rates, abortion rates, pre-marital sex rates, etc. are all higher than in Europe. Rather ironic since North American Christians tend to think Europeans are immoral.. I suspect that murder rates are much lower here as well. I have always wondered why American Christians tolerate high levels of violence on TV, and low levels of sexual activity. Perhaps it is more Christian to make war than to make love. My suspicion is that Christians should be against both sex and violence on TV.

5. Older (+40) German women dress much less modestly than older American women. I wonder why this is. But this trend could also partially account for the low birthrate in Europe among non-immigrants. I remember being in Turkey at a resort a couple of years ago and seeing a lot of 50-70 year old European men in "speedos" and 50-70 year old European women in bikini or "mono-kini" bathing suits. It struck me that seeing all that skin on people at that age would naturally reduce the birthrate. I think when you are 70, and you insist on wearing a speedo or "mono-kini" you should only be allowed to do that at night or during solar eclipses.

6. There are bicycles EVERYWHERE and people walk A LOT. Seemingly thousands of bicycles, driven by people of all ages and economic levels. People walk here -- it is kind of like a religion. (I have German relatives who are obsessed about taking a daily walk even when the weather is absolutely horrible). Perhaps this is also why you see far fewer obese people here than in the USA -- where we think walking is a mortal sin. We'll drive around in a parking lot for 10 minutes finding a parking space close to the entrance of the store we want to go to.

7. Cars are a lot smaller. Not only are there SmartCars, but Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Peugot, Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Volkswagen, etc. are all producing cars that appear to be about the same size as a SmartCar -- and people appear to be buying them.

8. Not having a speed limit on the Autobahn is a good thing. On the way to Heidelberg I sat behind our bus driver and we were generally traveling around 165 kilometres an hour (thats' about 100 miles an hour). And, even at this speed, she drove in the right hand lane because people were passing us.

9.Gasoline is expensive. In Heidelberg is was right around US$7.00 for a US gallon. No wonder everyone drives small cars.

10. Recycling and being "green" is valued.

11. The loudest tourists are Americans and Italians.

Like I said -- nothing brilliant or remarkable or perhaps anything you are the least bit interested in.

Well, that's what happens when you are tired and jet-lagged and facing another 19 hours of travel.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Back to Africa Again

On May 18 I am returning to Malawi for the 4th time in the last 18 months, and to Africa for the 5th time. This time I am leading a "Vision Trip" for pastors and church leaders. There will be 15 of us on the trip from 4 churches in Arizona, Wisconsin and Maryland.

The purpose of the trip is threefold:
  • Enable these leaders to see firsthand the impact of HIV/AIDS on the ground in Malawi and South Africa.
  • To enable these American leaders to meet and interact with African leaders, pastors, churches and organizations who are on the frontlines of the battle against AIDS and for community transformation.
  • To see if any of these four churches are willing to to walk alongside African churches as they build hope, generate faith and minister in neighbourhoods and communities devastated by the AIDS pandemic.
This trip will focus on learning rather than serving. Our purpose is to understand, learn and build relationships.

I think that one of my biggest challenges as I lead this team of leaders will be to help them understand that the American "can do" attitude is the one we need to lay down. As Americans we DO, we plan, we attack problems, we try to solve them, and often without meaning to, we run over those we are "ministering to". But the challenge is to help them understand that if anything is going to happen positively in the battle against AIDS, it will take a "mission with" attitude, not a "mission to" attitude. We need to be humble, be willing for our African brothers and sisters to take the lead, and be willing to follow. That is very hard for us.

So pray for our team of leaders -- that we would become followers and learners.

We'll talk to you again in June -- hopefully with some pictures and good stories and reports.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Sad End to the Hockey Season in Phoenix

Back on October 8, 2006 I posted a little something about sports in Phoenix. Well, unfortunately some of my hopes were dashed. But, here are the highlights of this years' sporting season.

1. As I predicted, the Arizona Cardinals were terrible. They did bring me some joy though. I watched most of the games that were on TV -- primarily for the joy of seeing them discover new ways of losing. I noticed that at times, my faith in them losing wained, BUT, if I kept hope alive long enough, and was patient, they eventually found a way to lose. So, all-in-all, I was satisfied with the NFL season as it pertained to Arizona.

2. The Phoenix Coyotes were a major disappointment. I looked at their off-season signings and had hope they would at least turn the corner and make the playoffs. But alas, they essentially stunk. We went to a couple of games -- one was actually quite good -- but as the season progressed, and they continued to play poorly, my desire to spend money to see bad hockey decreased. I am beginning to have my doubts about Wayne Gretzky as coach and judge of talent. I'm willing to give him another year, but if the end is result is the same as this season, I will join the growing chorus of people who would like to see new leadership. So, now I am left cheering for the Canadian teams to win Lord Stanley's Cup. Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa. I'll cheer for Western Canadian teams first. But if it ends up being a Canadian team (even the Ottawa Senators) versus a US team, there is no doubt where my loyalties lie. The Cup belongs in Canada.

3. The Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash are wonderful. He should be MVP again -- but I suspect he won't get the award. Nash is not only a brilliant player, but he is team man, makes everyone around him better, and has humility rarely seen in NBA players. The truly great players know how to stay humble and work hard. The fakes don't. The Suns have a shot at winning it all. I'll be watching and cheering for them. I'll cheer for anyone but the Lakers and Pistons.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks? Who cares! I certainly don't.

5. I'll watch the Toronto Blue Jays. And, I'll cheer for anyone who plays against the Yankees, any team Barry Bonds is on, and the Red Sox. Baseball really doesn't get interesting until October and the run to the World Series.

6. Can you believe that more than 184,000 people paid to watch the World Curling Championships in Edmonton, Canada this year! Curling is actually fun to play and can get interesting to watch if you know what is happening. Give me curling over baseball or golf any day of the week (and twice on Sundays).

Well, that's all for now folks.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


Christ has risen!

He has risen indeed!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

When This War is Over

When this war is over it will be a better day
When this war is over it will be a better day
But it won't bring back those poor boys in the grave

When this war is over, it will be a better day
When this war is over, it will be a better day
But it won't bring back those poor boys in the grave

Lyrics by J J Cale
from the CD entitled Escondido by JJ Cale and Eric Clapton

Latest numbers from Iraq:
  • Iraqis killed 139,000+
  • American soldiers injured and back in the USA 73,000+
  • American soldiers killed 3,240+
When this war is over, it will be a better day
When this war is over, it will be a better day
But it won't bring back those poor men, women and children in the grave.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The AIDS Crises: What We Can Do -- Deborah Dortzbach and W. Meredith Long

This book is an excellent introduction to the AIDS pandemic. If you need AIDS 101 -- this is one of the books for you. If you already have basic knowledge the AIDS epidemic, this book is an excellent refresher.

The authors do a good job of talking about the broader issues related to HIV/AIDS, outlining the history of the AIDS pandemic and providing some basic statistics.

An old friend of mine (Winkie Pratney) once told me that a book was worth it if you came away with at least one good idea, concept, or new piece of information for every $1 you spend. That was a number of years ago, and with inflation, it is now probably one good idea for every $3 you spend.

Based on that, I would recommend this book for the following reasons:

1. The excellent retelling of Biblical stories that illustrated the response Christians and the Church should have towards AIDS. In particular I thought the retelling of Christ's encounter with the woman caught in adultery was very effective.

2. I thought Chapter 6 entitled Avoiding the Violence of AIDS was excellent -- perhaps worth the price of the book alone. The chapter starts out talking about David and Bathsheba and Amnon and Tamar and the long-term implications of bad choices. But the real focus of the chapter is the lack of rights that the majority of women have in the developing world. Women in most of the world have little choice in relation to marriage, sex, and almost everything else in everyday life. The way that Dortzbach and Long talk about this major issue related to the spread of HIV/AIDS is simply outstanding.

3. Chapter 9 on AIDS, Sex, Sin and Forgiveness. Simply an excellent discussion of the issues.

Bottom line -- if you want to get a good introduction to the AIDS Pandemic and how the Church should respond -- this is one of the books to get.

Friday, March 02, 2007

I'm Off to South Africa

Tomorrow morning bright and early, I head to the airport for a brief visit to South Africa. I, along with 2 colleagues will be joining others from Canada, the UK, Australia, and South Africa in the annual meeting of Hands@Work. Hands@Work is a South African NGO working with more than 10,000 orphans in South Africa, Swaziland, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Congo and Nigeria.

We'll be spending our time meeting with African leaders of Hands@Work and with others, who like ourselves, are attempting to walk alongside African Christians and churches working in communities devastated by the AIDS pandemic.

In the next 3 years Hands@Work will be taking care of 100,000 orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa -- so there is a lot of work to do.

I'll be back in about a week - jet-lagged and tired, but hopefully feeling like our trip was significant and accomplished the purposes of God.

Pray for us as we go. I especially need prayer for my health, as I am battling a bad cold/flu like thing.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Blankets for Malawi

We are in the process of raising $20,000 to purchase 2,000 blankets for a village in Malawi. We will be purchasing the blankets in Malawi and working together with Hands@Work Malawi to distribute them to a village that they are working with -- and that needs them for the coming Malawian winter.

If you are interested in donating to this project, click on the link below. Thanks so much.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

When God Stood Up -- James Cantelon

When God Stood Up is subtitled A Christian Response to AIDS in Africa. In reality it is a prophetic call to Christians in the Western World and in Africa to "to arise" and "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God."

The book is a combination of stories and the examination of Scriptures -- primarily from the Old Testament. Having lived and pastored in Jerusalem, Cantelon is obviously quite at home in the OT and very familiar with Jewish teachings and customs. As a result he provides a significant amount of insight into OT texts relating to the character of God and His desire for His people to reflect His character.

I struggled with a couple of chapters in the book -- primarily the one on suffering (which I felt was very weak), and the chapter on the wrath of God.

However, overall, the book was excellent, and I would recommend that you read it -- IF you are ready to respond to the message of the book.

What is the message?

Cantelon begins the book by stating the following (pages 21 and 22)

The core concerns of most prophetic messages, generally refer to one of four "sins": idolatry (a low view of God), adultery (a low view of neighbor), neglect of the poor (again, a low view of neighbor), and the shedding of innocent blood (once more, a low view of neighbor).

The call of Scripture is that Israel (or the people of God) return to a high view of God (righteousness) and a high view of neighbor (justice). The focus of righteousness is love for God. The focus of justice is love for neighbor. . . . in Old Testament times, if someone was to ask the question, 'Who is my neighbor?', the answer would be, "start with the alien, the orphan and the widow".

As I read through this, my thoughts immediately went to those of us in North America who call ourselves Christians.
  • Are we idolatrous? Do we worship fame, church attendance, offerings and buildings, materialism, religious experience, celebrity, etc. more than God?
  • How are we on the adultery scale, when the divorce rate of evangelicals in the USA is as high or higher than that of the general population?
  • Are we neglecting the poor? What about immigrants -- even undocumented aliens? What is the Biblical response to this issue? Should we be standing up for the rights of aliens, or should we build a wall to keep all the aliens out? What about single mothers and fatherless children in North America?
  • The shedding of innocent blood -- most often used by evangelicals to talk about abortion -- one of our favorite subjects. I believe abortion is the shedding of innocent blood. But what about the evangelical support for a war, most likely built on false pretenses (at least the justification for the invasion of Iraq has changed numerous times) that has resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the last 3 years in Iraq?
Cantelon ends the book with a powerful chapter on what the Old Testament prophets said about righteousness and justice. He talks about Jeremiah stressing the fact that knowing God is more than religious services, solemn assemblies and praise and worship, which in the absence of righteousness and justice is essentially hollow and hateful. Those who know the name of God, must know the names of the poor.

Jeremiah has a word of the Lord in Chapter 22:3

Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not she innocent blood in this place.

From Jeremiah, Cantelon moves on to Isaiah. The famous passage on fasting and prayer in Isaiah 58 becomes the focus. Through the prophet Isaiah God speaks to the His people and tells us that when we loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share our food with the hungry, provide the poor wanderer with shelter and clothe the naked, then the glory of the Lord will be our rear guard, our righteousness will go before us, and the Lord will answer our prayers.

In case Israel (and those of us living in 2007) didn't get it, a few verses later this is repeated. If you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, THEN your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

My question is -- are we listening? God is telling us that when we take care of widows, orphans, the fatherless, the poor and the hungry -- and we rise with Him against individual and structural injustice -- when we are concerned about ALL the shedding of innocent blood -- THEN, He will hear our prayer, and we as His people will bring glory to His name -- and His name will be honored among all the peoples. As long as we fail to reflect righteousness (His character) and justice (especially for widows, orphans, the fatherless, aliens and the innocent) in how we live, God's name will not be glorified.

How does this relate to the AIDS pandemic?
  • 15 million AIDS orphans in Africa. That number is growing by more than 2,000 a day.
  • 25 million AIDS orphans around the world.
  • Billions of people around the world live on less than $1 a day. Think about it -- a special coffee at Starbucks is 5 days of salary for more than a billion people.
  • Millions of women in Africa and around the world becoming widows due to AIDS.
  • Millions of women and girls being raped, sexually abused and thrown on the rubbish heap (more often than not -- literally) because they have contracted AIDS due to what was done to them by men -- or because of poverty or war, or a number of other reasons.
  • 1 million HIV+ people in North America. While this is a very small percentage of the population, what has the church done to minister to those with AIDS right on our doorstep?
God is standing up -- ready to do something. He has sent his prophets -- Bono, Stephen Lewis, Jim Cantelon, Rick Warren, and numerous others. Will the church in the West and the church in Africa listen?

Will we stand with God?

Will I stand with God?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

You Tube

has got to be one of the


on the web.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Frost and My Flowers and Bushes

So my friend Andrea tells me that my posts have all become to serious -- dealing with global issues, slavery, AIDS, etc. So here is a post that is fairly meaningless to everyone but me.

Having moved to the Arizona desert from British Columbia and Kansas, and growing up where things are naturally green, I try my hardest to keep a green lawn in the Phoenix summers and have flowers and bushes around as much as possible.

Due to global warming, in January we experienced the coldest two days since 1978 here in Phoenix -- it was -2C or +28F o
vernight. I know those of you from my home and native land are all laughing. I remember the good old days when -2C was when we took our jackets off and were tempted to go swimming. Well, since having moved to Phoenix I have become a wimp.

The other things that are wimps are the flowers and bushes around here. So, this weekend I have literally spent about 10 hours cutting away all the dead stuff from our Lantanas and Honeysuckles. What follows below are before and after pictures -- so you can appreciate my work and be sad with me. I think everything will recover -- it will just take a couple of years.

By the way -- all letters and cards of sympathy will be greatly appreciated -- especially if they include large sums of cash.

Anyway, here are the before and after photos.

My Honeysuckles BEFORE the Frost

My Honeysuckles AFTER the the Frost

My Lantanas BEFORE the Frost

My Lantanas AFTER the Frost

I trust that now you can cry for me and understand why my guitar gently weeps.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Boston Legal, Jay Leno, Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith and the Perception of Christians

A couple of nights ago I watched Boston Legal and Jay Leno. Boston Legal was especially interesting. As you may know, at the end of each episode James Spader and William Shatner have a conversation on a balcony. These conversations are often philosophical in nature.

The conversation on Tuesday night was particularly interesting because it provided a very clear picture of the perception that those outside of the evangelical church have of Christians. James Spader asks William Shatner who the role models are for those who would be the moral police of our culture. Here was Shatner's answer.

On marriage and fidelity -- Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggert
On heterosexuality -- Ted Haggard
On gun control -- Dick Cheney

Now Boston Legal is not a show that anyone would say portrays Christian values. Some would even say it is a propaganda tool of the "liberal media". All that may be true -- but the reality is that this is actually what people think about the leadership of the evangelical/charismatic movement. While there are millions of decent, honest, Christ-like followers of Jesus in the USA, their lives are often discounted because of the "witness" of those who have led us. I asked myself where are the Mother Theresas and the William Wilberforces of the 21st Century? Where are the Christian leaders who live lives that are so Christ-like that they can say the "hard things" and be listened to?

Later that night Jay Leno talked about Ted Haggard. Earlier that day a news story broke that after 3 weeks of intensive counseling Haggard announced that he is totally heterosexual -- despite the fact that in his confession he said he had struggled with homosexual leanings all of his life. Haggard also said that he was going to take an online masters degree in psychology and then perhaps become a counselor. Leno laughed, everyone laughed -- because it seemed rather ludicrous to everyone.
I asked myself where are the Mother Theresas and the William Wilberforces of the 21st Century? Where are the Christian leaders who live lives that are so Christ-like that they can say the "hard things" and be listened to?

I also remembered what I heard and read on radio and online and in the newspapers about two other men -- Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith. Both men were coaching their teams in the Super Bowl. What I heard and read was so good -- both men, followers of Jesus -- whose lives matched what they believed. I heard respect. I heard admiration for their character. I heard respect for their faith. Again I thought to myself -- wouldn't it be wonderful to have more high profile Christians who actually lived like Jesus? Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were more people like Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith?

It brought me back to the conclusion that I am coming to more and more. If those who claim to follow Jesus, lived like Jesus, wouldn't we then have the opportunity to see transformation in our world. But as long as we focus on being the moral police, on being against people and against agendas and against . . . and fail to live like Jesus, fail to love, fail to do justly, to love mercy and to walk HUMBLY with our God, we will continue to be the laughing stock, we will continue to be considered hypocrites, we will continue to have little or no respect and continue to have little or no voice on those issues that God cares about.

May God bring to us more followers of Jesus that lead like Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith, Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, and William Wilberforce.

Amazing Grace -- The Movie

Last night I went to a preview of the movie called Amazing Grace -- the story of William Wilberforce. If you click on the link below, you can go to the website.

  • Amazing Grace

  • Excellent movie. I would recommend it to one and all. A great story that stays fairly close to the facts. It is well done. Also gets you thinking about the current situation in the USA in terms of the war with Iraq (when a nation is at war ethics, integrity and morals tend to be forgotten), immigration issues, and how easily our consumerism and desire to be wealthy and comfortable perverts our sense of justice and what is right (the fight against the abolition of slavery was largely a fight about economics, standard of living and comfort).

    I am so glad that I can call William Wilberforce a brother.

    The movie also gave me hope that people who are wealthy and have political power can, if they choose to, make a significant difference in the world. William Wilberforce, because of his Christian convictions changed the lives of millions of people -- without violence and war. Perhaps we can too!

    Go see the movie. Encourage your friends to watch it as well. You won't be disappointed.