Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Wilderness Walking




Our pastor spoke this Sunday about John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness, a place where all the usual rules are thrown into confusion. The mores of the day were set by priests and rulers. Everyone operated under their combined orders. Priests set the rules, according to their perceptions of obedience to God, and people followed them, or they didn’t, with consequences.

And then people heard about a man named John the Baptist who was preaching in the wilderness [Luke 3]. Word spread and more went out to see and hear him. John, it seemed, was out to turn everything upside down, smashing old rules, calling the religious leaders of the day to task, even going to the length of calling them white sepulchres. He told people of the army to be satisfied with their wages, warned the religious leaders about the practices they followed. Called others to share a coat if they had two, and for the tax collectors, to collect no more than what they were due.

The priests weren’t liking that, I’m sure. And neither were some members at the king’s palace. What’s more, John announced that he was a forerunner, that someone else was coming, and that he was only preparing the way. It didn’t bode well for John. Though many were willing to change, there were others who felt more comfortable following the rules they knew. A wilderness indeed.

Waiting this Advent season may seem like wandering in the wilderness, considering history leading up to that day. We wander around (or rush around), getting ready for the next big season and wonder what to do with ourselves. It feels that way in grief too — like a place where people feel unfocused for a period of time before finding their way.

I, too, feel like I’m there, after the death of my mother. It’s hard to focus on some of the tasks I’m used to doing. Goals don’t seem as sharp at the moment, though some have been set in motion. Even when we know something’s going to change, we’re never ready for it, not even after having Mom for this long. Thus we take the time we need to grieve and slowly move ahead, one foot in front of the other. Maybe not always totally focused, but doing something.
 
Mom at a family wedding in 2012

No one needs to rush through Advent, though the shopping malls might prove otherwise. I’m glad to have a lighter gift buying load this year and am trying to take the season at a slower pace, doing what I can and letting other things go. Being more contemplative. As our minister’s wife said to me on Sunday, we often put more expectations on ourselves than we need to. Preparing the way to Christmas takes time.

Mom won't be rushing anymore. She's probably dancing with Dad in Heaven. I'll try to keep that image of them being together again as I prepare for a season without them.


https://www.carolynwilker.ca/
Carolyn Wilker is an author, editor and storyteller from southwestern Ontario.


Sunday, December 09, 2018

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas- HIRD

By Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird



2018 has been a year of great change.  Our eldest son James and Alicia are expecting their first baby in May 2019, our middle son Mark has moved and started a new job at Safeway, and our youngest son Andrew and Ruth and children also moved.  Andrew is enjoying his new leadership position at a White Spot, and Ruth is thrilled to be back working at her newly renovated Starbucks in Coquitlam.  Aaron at 5 is now in Kindergarten which he really enjoys and Kelsea at 3 is now in Preschool. 

June 2018 was challenging as we went through so many changes.  The Bible tells us that those who sow in tears reap with songs of joy.  Saying goodbye is never easy when you have developed so many good friendships, and taken so many weddings, funerals and baptisms.  After 38 years so far of ordained ministry, Ed at age 64 has moved from 31 years of serving at St Simon’s North Vancouver to this new chapter of working full-time writing books and doing marriage seminars with Janice.  We really enjoyed both the Farewell Party and the New Chapters Party.  We particularly appreciated the many prophecies and words of encouragement that we received from so many good friends.  Ed wrote a farewell article that you can read online for the Deep Cove Crier where he wrote monthly for 30 years.

As Janice’s parents and Ed’s dad are all in their ninety’s now, we are very pleased to be closer to them in South Surrey/White Rock.  Janice’s sister Alva and Ed’s sister Wendy and family also live in the White Rock area.  So now we are 3 blocks away from Ted Hird and 5 blocks away from David Cline and Una.

Janice has found it an adjustment to not be standing or sitting at the front of the church and leading the music but hopefully will get to do some music at Christmas time.  She does not miss having to arrange new and exciting music for every Sunday like in other years when she was the choir director.  Ed has enjoyed learning more about book writing through the Word Guild, and Janice has enjoyed doing lots of babysitting of our two grandchildren.  Ed is continuing to write articles for magazines like the Light Magazine covering BC and Southern Alberta and often Janice co-writes them.  We have now started to write a new novel called Blue Sky based in Spokane, Washington.


In May we went to Uganda and Rwanda.  It was a privilege to speak to 30,000 people at once for 5 days in Uganda.  When we gave altar calls for people to come forward wanting to work on their marriages, thousands responded each time.  We were blessed in Uganda that it only rained a few times as the conference was outside but we did have tents to sit under to help protect us from the hot sun.  Ed and Janice carefully wore their hats everywhere and were amazed that the Africans never wore hats or sunglasses either.  Rwanda was delightful and we were impressed how eager the people were to learn how to improve their marriages and family relationships.  Thanks to Archbishop Kolini for arranging it.  At both events we had translators as our Luganda and Kinrwanda are very limited!  Then in August we were invited back to Rwanda and travelled around with Archbishop Kolini and Rev. Dr. Tim Smith for another 10 days and taught new people there about the marriage concepts.

In July we had our annual BC Christian Ashram with wonderful speakers Russell & Gerrie Chadwick and Shannon Stange.  Because our main speaker Gordon Ross fell ill, Ed and Janice were able to show a slide show of our conferences in Africa from May.  You are invited to join us in 2019 July 14th to 16th at TWU for our 2019 BC Christian Ashram with returning speakers Russell & Gerrie Chadwick and Shannon Stange.  In July, we also went to two weddings and Ed took part in both of them.  One for Mark’s good friend Jean Paul and now wife Stephanie where Mark was the best man. The other wedding was a huge event in Calgary for Ed’s oldest nephew Sam and his new wife Beth where we all learned how to Swing Dance.


Not only in Africa but also in the Lower Mainland, we have been able to do our marriage workshops and sell our new book ‘For Better, for Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship.’ (available on Amazon and at Pilgrim, House of James, & Regent College bookstores.)  This one lady from Nanaimo has bought 12 of our books at one go!  Janice has enjoyed getting up and telling stories about our marriage and how you can improve your own marriage or family relationships.  In November Ed was blessed to preach a sermon on healing at our new local church All Saints Community where we worship now with Bishop Peter & Jenny Klenner of the Anglican Mission in Canada.  Janice was able to pray with Ed and we pray that many people were healed that Sunday in body, mind and spirit.

We had a great time in October when we went down to Spokane Washington and spoke at a Marriage Seminar, went to a Healing Rooms conference, went to an Open House for the Spokane House of Prayer and were blessed to speak at New Covenant Fellowship church on Sunday morning and pray for people for rejection or to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  There is definitely many days of sunshine and blue sky there.  Thanks to Daniel and Robbie Grether for hosting us and Angel WIlson and Pastor Jim & Marsha Leuschen for giving us chances to minister.  It was really fun to hang out with our Spokane FB friend Angel Wilson who has really an amazing book Over The Rainbow.

In November Ed and his good friend Jim Wilson ran a Word Guild Writer’s Conference here in South Surrey.  It was a very enjoyable event.  Janice learned some good concepts how to improve the novel we are working on at the moment.

God has been reminding us that we can trust him as we step forward into the new adventures that he has prepared for us.  Imagine the courage of Mary and Joseph with all the challenges that they faced on the first Christmas.  Imagine the joy that they experienced in receiving the gift of Jesus in that unlikely manger setting.  We invite you to join us this Advent and Christmas in welcoming the birthday gift of Jesus.  He loves you so much.

Love in Christ,

Ed and Janice Hird

Friday, December 07, 2018

Really smart people sometimes get the Big Questions very wrong - Denyse O'Leary


 In a recent review of physicist Stephen Hawking’s last book, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, British science writer Michael Brooks draws attention to a certain flatness in his discussion of artificial intelligence and culturally related areas. For example, will computers really take over the world and run us out of it?

The observations he makes about artificial intelligence are curiously prosaic: “AI can augment our existing intelligence to open up advances in every area of science and society. However, it will also bring dangers,” he says. He offers odd truisms such as, “If we can connect a human brain to the internet it will have all of Wikipedia as its resource.” And when it comes to answering the question of the future of humanity, he is strangely timid. Will we have genetic engineering of humans? Probably. “Of course, many people will say that genetic engineering on humans should be banned. But I rather doubt that they will be able to prevent it…” Does he think it’s a bad idea? Not exactly. “In a way, the human race needs to improve its mental and physical qualities if it is to deal with the increasingly complex world around it and meet new challenges such as space travel.” Michael Brooks, "The hawking of Stephen: is Brief Answers to the Big Questions more spin than science?" at New Statesman
Along with Sir Martin Rees, Elon Musk, and Henry Kissinger, among many lesser knowns, the late Stephen Hawking worried about an AI apocalypse (the “worst event in the history of our civilization”).

What makes the views of otherwise very bright people seem so "prosaic"?

One factor is that they don't seem to grasp the underlying situation with respect to artificial intelligence. Here are two areas seldom considered:

1. What would we need to make machines “intelligent”? We don’t even understand animal intelligence clearly. Are seals really smarter than dogs? What about the fact that plants can communicate to adjust to their circumstances, without a mind or brain? Where does that place plants with respect to intelligence? How are we to understand the importance of the brain they lack?

Incidentally, humans with seriously compromised brains can have consciousness. Needless to say, no one has the slightest idea what human consciousness is. Even sober discussions in science magazines include propositions such as the one that your coffee mug may be conscious too. In which case, our laptops are already conscious; no need for high-tech tweaks. But somehow, that doesn’t really work
as a solution…

2. Analysts who work in the artificial intelligence industry try to explain that machines don’t do meaning, that we cannot by definition design intelligences greater than ourselves, and that no combination of random and deterministic processing can increase mutual information (Levin’s Law).

Doomsday prophets do not dispute these problems so much as they don’t consider them seriously. Research, we are told, will find a way around anything. But is that a reasonable basis for forecasting?

One thing a celebrity pundit can usually count on is an audience of media professionals who haven’t considered the problems carefully either and don’t want to. It is much easier and more profitable to market Doomsday than Levin’s Law. As always, the fact that laws governing the universe will eventually triumph is true but not news.

Note: Stephen Hawking (1942–2018) himself owed a good deal to high tech, of course. Diagnosed with ALS in his late twenties, he also lost the ability to speak due to a pneumonia episode in 1985 but regained it via a voice synthesizer:
Hawking is very attached to his voice: in 1988, when Speech Plus gave him the new synthesizer, the voice was different so he asked them to replace it with the original. His voice had been created in the early '80s by MIT engineer Dennis Klatt, a pioneer of text-to-speech algorithms. He invented the DECtalk, one of the first devices to translate text into speech. He initially made three voices, from recordings of his wife, daughter and himself. The female's voice was called "Beautiful Betty", the child's "Kit the Kid", and the male voice, based on his own, "Perfect Paul." "Perfect Paul" is Hawking's voice. Joao Medeiros, "How Intel Gave Stephen Hawking A Voice" at Wired (2015)
A large number of skilled technicians worked both hard, patiently, creatively to make that possible. Doubtless, others have benefitted from the research too.

See also: Noted astronomer envisions cyborg on Mars

AI machines taking over the world? It’s a cool apocalypse but does that make it more likely?

Software pioneer says general superhuman artificial intelligence is very unlikely The concept, he argues, shows a lack of understanding of the nature of intelligence

Monday, December 03, 2018

Revival in Korea by Rose McCormick Brandon


The first signs of revival in Korea appeared in 1903 when medical missionary, Dr. Robert Hardie, began a series of talks on prayer at conferences and churches. Within a year, ten thousand had turned to Christ. In 1906, at Ping Yang (Pyongyang) several believers met for noon-hour prayer asking God for an out-pouring of His Spirit. By the time Christians gathered for the universal week of prayer in January 1907 they expected a first century blast of blessing. Instead, their meetings were dull and weak and their prayers earth-bound.

On the last day of prayer week, a highly-respected man stood and tearfully confessed before a congregation of 1500 that he had stolen from a widow in the church. "God can't bless because of me," he said and promised to make restitution. This man's shocking admission set off a flood of confessions. One after another confessed their sins. The meeting lasted until two o-clock in the morning. In the months following this mass confession thousands came to Christ. Missionary to China, Jonathan Goforth, visited the revival and concluded that hidden sin had hindered God but uncovered sin glorified Him. (When the Spirit’s Fire Swept Korea by Jonathan Goforth)

       By mid-1907, 30,000 converts attended the Pyongyang church. People attended services in shifts. Churches sprang up all over Korea. Confession remained a primary factor in this revival. Many repented of racial bias, including Dr. Hardie. Koreans repented of hatred toward the Japanese, their occupiers. Love from Christ filled their hearts and erased their biases. (John 13:34,35).

       One man, after learning about Jesus in the city, returned to his village with a New Testament which he read to his neighbours. When believers numbered fifty, they decided it was time to form a church, but they had no idea how to do it. Thinking it must have something to do with water baptism they each went home, took a bath, reassembled and declared they were now a church.

       Many Korean Christians suffered imprisonment. They became known for turning their confinement into an opportunity to read and memorize scripture. One man read the entire Bible seven times. Prisoners committed whole books to memory.

Pyongyang became known as “Jerusalem of the East.”

In this land where many experienced an amazing outpouring of God's Spirit, Christians today are cut off from the world, deprived of their Bibles and divided from their countrymen. They need our prayers. When North Korea's iron curtain lifts – may it be soon – we’ll see its remnant church and discover that those revival fires of long ago haven’t been extinguished.  
***
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of four books: Promises of Home - Stories of Canada's British Home Children, One Good Word Makes all the Difference, He Loves Me Not - He Loves Me and Vanished. She blogs at Listening to my Hair Grow and Promises of Home. 

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Once in a While . . . A Gaze-Raiser by Peter A. Black

My wife and I hadn’t seen her since our son and daughter-in-law’s wedding
Yours Truly & Son no. 2 and His Bride 18 1/2 years ago.
My . . . How time flies! 
Brent and his wife were guests.
eighteen years before.
And so, we eagerly looked forward to the brief visit of this young mother and her mom. 
We welcomed the two ladies into our home and the conversation rolled along, as we recalled people we knew from many years before and revived fading memories, with smiles, interjections and occasional laughter.
Once in a while, but likely more often than we realize, we encounter people who, although thrust into intense difficulty and swept into a maelstrom of tragedy, grief and loss, demonstrate a remarkable degree of resilience and grace.


People such as these trigger the arching of eyebrows, they raise our gaze – at least they do mine – and set our hearts warmly aglow!
Our visiting young mom is one of them. Her mother, who faces challenges of her own, sheds a similar light. 

The younger woman is the wife of Brent Austin, whom I wrote about earlier this fall (“The Difference – a Tiny Moment” – Oct. 2/18). He was killed when he and his fellow motorcyclist friend collided with an SUV that cut across them without warning, in August. Brent’s biking buddy survived and is now out of hospital and thoroughly engaged in extensive therapy, on a lengthy rehabilitative road towards recovery.

It wouldn’t be prudent of me to share names and personal details of this intrepid lady and her two school-age sons and the intricacies of the frustrations and uncertainties that crowd her life as she navigates insurance and legal complexities. 

However, I have the liberty to share these thoughts and observations with you, in hope that they may inspire and encourage you.
Brent’s wife now shoulders the responsibility of being a single mom in the workforce, while raising a young family and caring for her senior mother – enough to overwhelm many of us. How does she do it? 
Our friend continues to push through her personal sorrow and generously opens up to trusted friends, while teaching her boys by example to take the high road in praying for the driver of the vehicle that initiated the accident. 
Photo Credit: kuusamo | ruka.fi
In demonstrating understanding, gratitude and grace, 


she leans into the grieving process, without being incapacitated by it.

It’s as though, with paddle firmly grasped and leaning into the pain, she shoots the rapids and steers through the swirling currents.
The words Faith, Hope, and Love didn’t surface in our conversation. And yet, this great trio of enduring spiritual virtues and grace are in action in this family. The apostle Paul said that the greatest of these three is Love (Cp. 1 Corinthians 13:13)
Brent’s wife understands that the loss of her husband is not only hers, but her sons’ loss, too . . . a loss to the couple’s longstanding friends also. Love enables her to be others-centred, making room for them to be themselves and not pushing them away. 
First Christmas without husband and daddy?
I don’t know just how Brent’s wife and sons will celebrate this first Christmas without his engaging, cheerful presence and warm-hearted hugs. He will be sorely missed. 
And yet, I am sure that they will celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus and also exchange stories of good times, of Christmases past with Brent. And, in those moments they may even feel as though he’s there with them. We do know that the Lord is close to those who have a broken heart and who honour Him (Ref. Psalm 34:18, 19).
How do you and I deal with our disappointments and sorrows? How do we push through our times of sorrow while continuing to be open and accessible to others?  
A blessed and joyful Christmas to you and your loved ones 
and a safe arrival into the New Year.
~~+~~


Peter is a retired pastor  well, sort of retired and lives in Southwestern Ontario with his wife, May. He writes a weekly inspirational newspaper column and occasional magazine articles. Peter is author of  two books: "Parables from the Pond," and "Raise Your Gaze . . . Mindful Musings of a Grateful Heart." –He and May are engaged in leading nursing home / residential chapel services and music.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

THE WIDENESS OF GOD’S CHRISTMAS LOVE by Eleanor Shepherd

            
I am now in my third year of practicing the Ignatian daily Examen of Consciousness I must confess that every time that I begin with the awareness of being in His presence, I still am blown away by the reality that I express.
            
            “God, I believe that at this moment I am in Your presence and You are loving me.” I know that it is true and yet it seems so impossible as, being in His presence and aware of who He is, I am so acutely aware of my unworthiness to be the object of His love. Yet I am. 
            
            Perhaps I grasp a little of what it means when I see the face of my youngest grandchild light up with a huge smile as I open the door to admit her to “Gamma’s house”. My heart swells with love for her and for her older sister who, impatiently waiting behind her, reigns in her glee as she prepares to discover what new things await her at Grandma’s place. She knows there will be love offerings of some kind for these two treasures of mine. They know the joy I find in giving gifts to them to express my love. 
            
            At this time of year, as we think of gifts that we will give to each other I again realize that my daily examen permits me to examine and meditate on the love gifts that I am constantly receiving. This morning as I enjoyed my special time of prayer, my mind went back to a hymn written in the nineteenth century that puts into perspective to me some of the measure of that love that blows me away. 
            
            Written by Frederick William Faber, I found a modernized version of it online at: https://www.jubilate.co.uk/songs/theres_a_wideness_in_gods_mercy
    
            Let me share a few of my reflections on this with you as my love gift to you for this advent season: 
                       1 There's a wideness in God's mercy, 
                       like the wideness of the sea;
                       there's a kindness in his justice
                       which is more than liberty.


            For me, one of the greatest expressions of love is kindness. When someone shows kindness to me I sense their love. Justice with kindness seems to me to be the hallmark of God’s kingdom. We desire a just world, but not one in which we will have to pay the price exacted by justice and that is not what God requires of us. The cross shows us that He is Himself ready to pay the price demanded by justice because of His love. When offered in love, we give not the legalistic response to a demand but rather a carefully considered priceless gift. 

                        2 There is no place where earth's sorrows
                        are more keenly felt than heaven:
                        there is no place where earth's failings
                        have such gracious judgement given.

            We can only fathom the extent of that love when we are able to gain something of an eternal perspective. Our sorrows and our failings are often misunderstood in spite of our best efforts to support one another. Yet in Heaven is one who knows the extent of the sorrows we feel and who has seen with physical eyes the consequences of our failings and instead of His condemnation, we hear Him whisper to His Father, “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing.” And He does. That is love.


                        3 There is plentiful redemption
                        through the blood that Christ has shed;
                        there is joy for all the members
                        in the sorrows of the head.

                        4 For the love of God is broader
                        than the measure of our mind;
                        and the heart of the eternal
                        is most wonderfully kind.

            In the irony of love, we discover that the sorrows He bore in taking upon Himself the weight of our sin, release to us the gift of joy as His love flows into our lives. Of course it is beyond our capacity to understand. It is not an intellectual exercise. Only the heart can truly grasp the faith spawned by love. Our minds are too small to hold the mystery of grace. 

                        5 If our love were but more simple,
                        we should take him at his word;
                        and our lives would be illumined,
                        by the glory of the Lord

           
     
         In all of the activities and joys of this season may our lives be illumined by the love that is beyond our understanding yet at the same time is at work transforming us into those who are kind as He is kind in all that we say and do.  May that kindness be reflected back to you in all of your    celebrations this Christmas.

Word Guild Award
2018

Eleanor Shepherd, an award-winning writer is a retired Salvation Army officer and has published over 100 articles internationally. A speaker at conferences, in Canada, the USA, France, Belgium, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, Haiti and Jamaica, her stories appeared in Hot Apple Cider and Christmas with Hot Apple Cider.  Her book More Questions than Answers, explains her style of evangelism by listening.
Word Guild Award
2009
Word Guild Award
2011
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