Sunday, September 22, 2013


22 September 2011
Mitchell Christian Fellowship

In my background we call baptism and communion the two basic ordinances (i.e., commands) of the church. Contrast ordinance (“Low Churches”) with sacrament (“High Churches”):

Sacrament = A means by which God’s grace is active in our lives. Ordinance = A symbol: “An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”
            We baptize because baptism is basic to the command to make disciples (Mt 28:18-20). In the churches around us there are different forms that we use for this baptism. You will be immersed, lain backwards into the water, symbolizing being laid into a coffin with Christ’s death. Rising from the water symbolizes your new life. Other forms: Pouring (e.g., at SMC); Immersion (three times forward in the BIC). In each case the symbolism remains.
Baptism is an “initiation rite”: Baptism marks the movement from one role and status in life to a new role and status. You are going to be baptized into the death of Christ—which means that you die to your old life outside of Christ. You are baptized also into the resurrection of Christ—which means that you have a new life, the resurrection life of Christ.

Initiation Rites
Victor Turner’s work among the Ndembu people in Zambia concerning initiation rites. From a source (Acadia University) found via Google:
“Separation: The boys have a night of feasting…. Then they receive a last meal from their mothers before being marched off to another camp. Liminality: The initiation camp is called ‘the place of dying’….  The boys remain in seclusion under the supervision of a group of male guardians. Here they are circumcised, hazed, harangued and lectured on manhood for a period of four months or so. Reintegration: Finally, daubed with white clay that signifies rebirth, the initiates are taken back to their families. After the novices are washed and given new clothes, each performs the dance of war to signify his new status as an adult.”

We have various initiation rites in our culture, although not nearly as involved as the Ndembu: high school grad; first car; marriage; and so on. In each case the person being “initiated” moves from one stage of life to a new stage—as Paul puts it, “the old has gone; the new has come!”

That’s what is happening here today. Your old identity is a Canadian. Your new identity is a child of God. You have chosen to change your orientation to life. Most people in our country live by one set of standards. We call it “the Canadian way”, or “I am Joe, and I am Canadian!” But you have chosen to live by a different set of standards. Paul describes these as “walking in the resurrection”. That is the phrase in Romans 6:4 (“live a new life) more literally. They are the standards that go with following Christ, imitating Christ, becoming Christ in the way you live: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives within me.”

Getting Baptized
I remember my baptism. I was baptized in 1964 in the Mpopoma BIC, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The whole event was called a "Love Feast". There was a Friday evening testimony and examination of the 30 some candidates (including me). On Saturday afternoon we were baptized. Sunday morning we held feetwashing and communion.

On Thursday my father (the officiating minister) and I practised, since I am deathly afraid of water, and we baptize by immersion—three times forward. On Saturday we entered the water, and I went under three times without any problem. It was the most wonderful moment of my life! We came out of the water and walked down the church past a long line of the members, who each shook our hand and welcomed us into church membership. The next morning we washed feet and took communion together, and I knew that I had entered a new life as a child of God. Conversion is basic, the fundamental step from death into life; and baptism is the way we symbolize our new life in Christ. That’s what we are here for today.

Some Added Meaning
One other fact: In baptism you join a new family. You are joining the church, not just this body that has gathered at the lake and meets normally in Mitchell. You are becoming a part of the family of God, that “great cloud of witnesses” that the writer of Hebrews refers to. Hebrews 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

We think that the church is a relatively weak entity in our world. Certainly in Canadian society it is so; the church has become marginalized, a voluntary club that a few people find helpful. But the church itself, the real church of God throughout the world—that’s a different story!

Brian Stewart
Brian Stewart was a journalist from 1964 to 2009 and foreign correspondent for the CBC. In 2004 he gave the convocation address at Knox College (part of the TST in the University of Toronto). There he spoke to his amazed discovery of the strength and influence of the church around the world. He simply did not expect to find much of significance about the church in his work, and instead discovered Christians everywhere, doing work that most people never see.
You can read an interview based on this theme here: or Google "Brian Stewart On The Front Lines" and read the full text in a PDF file from

Do You See?
You see what is happening today? This is the church you are joining. You may feel like nothing in yourself. You’re right! But you are embarking on an incredible adventure. You are being baptized into the body of Christ, living the life of Christ on behalf of the world. I don’t know what you think you were doing; but I am telling you that you are now becoming one of Christ’s ambassadors to represent God in the world today. It’s bigger than you can ever imagine.

Conclude by reading Romans 6: 1-14
6 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Taking It to the Next Level

So my friends and I discussed global warming. The end of the discussion revealed an interesting (and perhaps predictable) divide: The two who take the threat more seriously would support some kind of government action to help us live with less dependence on fossil fuels; the two who think the threat is overblown support the ability of individuals and business to find better ways of doing things—and mistrust the government having any significant role in finding a better way. That’s oversimplified, but I think accurate. It does not mean that the sceptics are not environmentalists; but it does mean that they don’t want the government to regulate how we treat the environment.

I have some sympathy for the libertarian impulse behind their position. I have both a Canadian and an American identity—having lived and worked in both countries. I have seen the tendency of those in power to think that they have the answer to the world’s problems, and I have seen how those answers get turned on their heads and produce the opposite of what the policy makers intended.

The problem is that I don’t see who else one can turn to in such a big arena. My own level of trust for business per se is not great. I know many good business people, and them I trust. But then I hear a story about a gas drilling company that starts fracking to re-open an unused well in the middle of a residential district—without consulting with the people who live there, or even notifying them of the event! (Hear the story at The residents respond by pressing for laws that compel the company to at least keep them informed. Who must pass the laws? Who will enforce them? Not business.

But these deeper disagreements as to the place of government aside, I want a sense of how Christians should live their lives with respect to the environment. Here are some simple statements that move towards an answer.
·        Don’t call nature “the environment”. Call it “God’s Creation”. It’s good to remember who gave us this earth. One effect of this change is to take away some of the fear that Al Gore and company use to try to motivate us for change. God is in control of the universe. We don’t need to fear, “though the earth tremble and the mountains fall into the sea”! Another effect is to replace fear of the future with the fear of God—used in the sense that the writer of Proverbs says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Fear in the sense of awe and awareness of our own finitude, our own smallness in the presence of the Creator.
·        Remember that God gave us the earth in trust. Some Christians grab the command, “Subdue the earth and multiply.” But the Genesis account is clear: God’s command to rule the earth is “rule in his stead”—that is, we are trustees, and God will hold us to account for how we handle our trustee-ship.
·        Work out what it means to be trustees (or stewards) of God’s Creation in the small places we control: Our vehicles, the trash we generate, the space we call home, the roads where we drive and walk and ride our bicycles, the fields we farm. Our small piece of God’s Creation. My guess is that if we learn not to drop a paper (or plastic) cup on the sidewalk because we remember that we are caring for that piece of the earth, we will not sit by idly when larger groups of people begin to tear up the Alberta Tar Sands, or blow off the tops of mountains to extract coal, or dump so much plastic in the ocean that it forms dead zones where nothing can live.

If I tell the truth, I don’t care nearly as much about whether the world is heating up or not as I do that we remember God’s Creation mandate. I am a conservative at heart, and a conservative Christian to boot. I believe in God’s judgment at the end of time. I recite the Apostle’s Creed regularly because I believe it to be true: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son…He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.”

I know that referring to judgment brings in many stereotypes that people have about Christians. We have, I regret to say, lived (or down) to many of those stereotypes. I don’t want to do that. My primary motivation here is not God’s judgment, but God’s incredible love and grace in entrusting this great creation to us. I want to live up to that responsibility and show that God’s trust in us is not misplaced. I want to treat God’s Creation well, really well! I see many examples of mistreating the earth all around me, and I want to help change that. I hope that those who disagree with me on the likelihood of global warming can agree at least on this point: We will take care of the piece of God’s Creation given to us.

P.S.: There are many other issues. For example, should one trust scientists (just out for the money), or business (polluted by the bottom line), or government (corrupted by power)? That is worth discussing at length. The streak of distrust in our society that writes off what “experts” say just because they are experts is distressing—and evaporates just about the time one has to go into cataract surgery (as I did this past month). But that really is another discussion.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Too Socialist to Speak?

Recently I had a Facebook conversation with some friends. I quote the conversation (more extensive than most in that forum) below, with names removed, since I did not ask their permission. I will post to them that this is going up, so if I take it down, it will be because they prefer not to have this discussion posted on my blog.

I found it interesting that the conversation moved from global warming (the presenting topic) to the implication that we should not listen to Obama (implying also thus to others who advocate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) because he is a Socialist.

My location in Canada makes this conclusion ironic: We have a “Conservative” government that is more socialist than the “Socialist” government south of us. Obama is more “conservative” than Harper! In any case, I present the long discussion below without further comment.

Page owner (PO): “We … know that the climate is warming faster than anybody anticipated five or ten years ago.” - Barack Hussein Obama, May 29, 2013. Actual temperature change since “ten years ago” (May 2003 - May 2013): 0.09 degrees Farenheit of COOLING.

Reader 1: Once again, my friend . . .

PO: Once again I present scientific data.

Reader 2 (Me): Working on the assumption that not all climatologists are crooks, why do you think they do not read the data the same way as you do? I have watched non-specialists interpret data in my area of training (faith and culture) and they usually get it wrong, even when what they say is plausible. You may have seen the same in your own area of specialization. So why do you think they don’t simply abandon the models of “climate change” or “global warming”. Conspiracy theories are usually wrong. I need something more in tune with reality. (Just as you want explanations of temperature readings that are in tune with reality.)

Reader 3: Just because most so called scientists have bought the schpeel, does not make them right either. Both sides are allowed to make mistakes, but why is it that ONLY the skeptic side of the argument is poo pooed, put down, defamed, ridiculed.... ? Isn’t it passable that the majority of scientists could be wrong?

R2: It happens that since PO is my friend, I hear the majority view held up for scrutiny. I accept that the scientific community can be wrong. Scientists do too. That’s how science works—present a theory, examine it, keep it if the data fits; discard it and try another if the data doesn’t fit. So why haven’t they discarded it? I’m quite sure they have looked at it. Perhaps it fits the model better than we think. So I’m back with my question: Why do you think they have “bought the schpeel”?

PO: Many of the best climatologists do indeed read the data much as I do and reject aspects of CAGW. Notable among these are the two men credited with the first successful development of a satellite temperature record. (Dr. Roy Spencer and Dr. John R. Christy). I'll give you a list of others if you are interested. The oft-quoted 97% consensus simply does not exist. Here's a good discussion of that point: Few scientists have abandoned the climate models because few ever gave them any credence in the first place—other than those whose employment or grants were derived from the models. Some conspiracy theories represent actual conspiracies (e.g. Watergate and the 9/11 attack). Having read much of the Climategate papers, I believe that a CAGW conspiracy is entirely plausible, especially since there is political gain to be had.

R2: 1) I accept (readily) that a hard consensus does not exist. (I note that you say “aspects of”, which weakens your point significantly.) For example, I agree that solar activity and other long-term factors may account for much of the change that we experience. That makes sense—and has made sense for a long time. 2) I haven’t taken note of a supposed 97% consensus. What I have observed is that many scientists hold that human activity has shaped the physical health of the planet negatively. I suspect that there is a strong consensus on that point. The question is “how negatively?” 3) There is, I think, a political and social orthodoxy that wants to shape all policy as if we already understood what is happening—perhaps that is the “conspiracy” that you refer to. I applaud your continued efforts to shake up that orthodoxy. 4) I do not believe that the scientific community as a whole is engaged in such a conspiracy. Money talks, but only for so long. Sooner or later the data speaks louder. It bothers me not at all if the scientific community abandons what most people think they are saying now in favour of a better theory. It bothers me significantly when most people decide they don’t trust scientists ... just because.

Here’s my own viewpoint. I am not a scientist. I am a Christian. God’s command in Genesis 1 and 2 is to take care of the garden that he has given us. We haven’t done that. We have destroyed more than we have taken care of. I believe in the judgment. And I believe that God will judge each of us—especially those who call themselves Christians—for how we treat his good creation. The oil pits of Nigeria (formed by the action of Big Oil) and the tar sands of Alberta are just two examples. Fracking may or may not be—the evidence is not in, but it’s troubling enough to hesitate before doing it.

And finally, I hear your evidence against a simplistic Global Warming. I agree that the evidence requires scientists to work with their theories and either refine them or come up with new ones. I hear you also implying that conservationists in general are crackpots and that we should dismiss their efforts as a waste of time. That implication is deeply troubling. Whether you meant that or not, presenting only one side of evidence over a long period of time makes that implication. I am equally guilty (especially in forums like this) of implying a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t actually intend to. That’s why I have made this extended reply—to try and find out what’s behind the repeated presentations of one line of evidence only.

PO: 1) I also approach issues as more Christian than scientist. I regard honesty and truth as central Christian values, so when I hear a false statement coming out of Washington, I feel that it is appropriate to point it out. Although I am not a scientist, I do have a BA in mathematics, which gives me some minimal credentials to evaluate scientific data. I am painfully aware that a vigorous debate, not a bad thing in itself, easily begins to sound unchristian in its tone. I often make my comments very brief in the hope of avoiding this unchristian tone; but I am not always successful. I apologize if this has happened.
2) There probably is a consensus that human activity has had some negative effects on the planet. There is not a consensus that fossil fuel use has been a NET negative. The nations that use the most fossil fuels generally have longer life spans, less disease, higher standard of living, and so on.
3) When two groups of well-credentialed scientists present two opposite views, it is wise to not fully trust both groups (unless you want your head to explode). That’s why I present data, not the opinions of scientists (or, worse, the opinions of political types).
4) I can’t imagine what I might have said that implies that conservationists are crackpots. I am a conservationist. I might be persuaded that politicians in conservationist clothing are generally crackpots; but even then, most of them are just listening to advisors who have their own agendas.
5) I don’t present both sides of the argument because the one side has been presented so extensively already. A good debater does not try to make his opponent’s case for him.
6) If you want to know more about what I believe about CAGW, you can request my book “Anthropogenic Global Warming Skeptic's Guide”.
7) Here are some good web sites/articles that have influenced my thinking:

R2: Under #2, the use of fossil fuels has helped human life; it has not necessarily taken care of the garden, which God gave us in trust, and for which God will take an accounting. To use an example that I know better from experience, in Zimbabwe there has been large-scale deforestation as people try to get fuel to cook. Replacing wood with coal (mined in western Zimbabwe) doesn’t help. Re-forestation does. But we (as a species) are better at mountain-top removal for coal and de-foresting for wood than we are at restoring anything. God has placed wonderful recuperative powers in creation; we should regularly promote the use of those powers. I don’t hear that case being made by most who speak against global warming. I hear rather, “Don’t mess with my standard of living.”

Under #5, what persuades me most is listening over a long period of time and hearing balance. I understand your effort to promote balance in what you see as a forum dominated by one side. But we’re not in a debate. We’re in a search for truth, and if we do not acknowledge truth in what our “opponent” says, you can be sure that we will not find truth even in ourselves. Most (not all) of the people on both sides of the “debate” are people of good will. Accusations (whether made by Al Gore et al or by conservatives of various stripes) don't usually help us find truth. (That, btw, is why I give less credit to Al Gore and Michael Moore than some people I know.)

#6: My book list is already immense. I teach for a living! If I get a chance I will check this out. For my part, I am satisfied that we do affect the environment around us; that is I think incontrovertible. And God's judgment on his people is sure.

Blessings, PO!

R1: Here are some links about scientific consensus.
And here is a brief (and chilling - if things getting all of a sudden significantly hotter chills you) of why the year after year air temps have been flattening.

R3: R1, that is one side of the argument/theory, I want you to hear and investigate the other side of the consensus. Then tell me what you think is good/correct about what you have not believed in the past.

R1: R3, I don’t understand your second question. As to the first, about 5 years ago a fellow in the congregation challenged me on the climate change thing. So I decided to dig in and prove him right. Life would be a lot easier if he were right and we didn't have to worry about this stuff. And, so I was trying to prove myself wrong. That is science and the scientific view point, scientists are always trying to poke holes into each other’s theories. It is an academic rivalry that has worked to move science forward. If you read the two pieces I posted above, you will see that there is an overwhelming majority of scientists who are very concerned about climate change. And after all my work looking at this, well, you see what I came up with. I devote a good portion of my life to attempting to move our world away from the disaster we are creating/have already created. I’m unpaid, by the way. (I know a lot of people, now, who are working on this, including some casual interaction with actual climate scientists. No one is making any money off of this except Exxon and the other corporations you and PO support.)

When PO posts data, I take time trying to see what he's saying. I look at his data and where it comes from. He is not good at giving me context for his data so I have to figure it out. (Actually, I’ve really benefited from doing all the research in response to Keith.) I’ve been to web sites where he’s taken a page of data, yet there are many other pages which give context to his page, these other pages he’s ignored, and the very site he sent me too had clear conclusions which sync with what I am saying about climate change. I do look at other sites which deny climate change. I find lots of things like “Al Gore” this or that. But no real proof that Gore is wrong on the essential problem. Ad Hominem attacks are not scientific proof, but they can sway many people politically.

Let me remind you, my friend, I do this out of my faith in Jesus as my Lord. If I am wrong, please show me. Until I can see real scientific proof that CO2 does not act as a green house gas, or when we have several summers in a row that the Arctic does not continue to melt at frightening speeds, I will do what I can to save the world for my grandchildren.
PO: Online surveys represent the opinions of the subset of scientists who happen to stumble upon the survey and who care enough to bother filling it out. There are hundreds of prominent skeptical scientists, including two Noble prize winning physicists. They may not be a majority (yet), but they are no fringe group of crackpots either.

R3: There is data, I am told, that shows that climate change is cyclical and not completely man made. That is all I expect any climate change fanatic to accept...

R2: What I hope for all to accept is that we are responsible for the piece of creation given into our care. If that is accepted, it has implications for industrial farming, fracking, mountain top removal in coal mining, extraction of oil from the tar sands of Alberta, the size of houses we build today, the tendency to throw our trash out of the window as we drive, and on and on.

R3: We must have trees for homes, mining for brick and cement and iron and .... , something that will produce ENOUGH electricity for both homes and industry, methods for producing chemicals for drugs and more. There are lots of things that are necessary that environmentalists criticize that they do not realize the long term implications on life and productivity....

R2: I live in Manitoba, which means that I know the value of a good heating system. Europe has adopted a model of encouraging small family farms--that has one kind of impact on the Creation and on society. North America has adopted a model of industrial farming--which has another kind of impact. I don't know which is better. I do know that the usual American (and Canadian) response is purely monetary. That is wrong. The bottom line is not financial, but the judgment at the end of time (I am a conservative Christian, and I do believe in judgment!), in which God will ask: How did you use the Creation I gave you in trust for today? If I am honest, I will squirm when he asks me that question. I'm not better here; just raising the issues.

R3: What will God say to those who rely on the government (live off the government)?

R2: Not sure where your question is going—especially when discussing climate change. Sorry PO for hi-jacking your f/b comments section! If you’re noting that our welfare system is broken, that is I think true. If you're saying that we should not rely on government; well, I’m not a libertarian—Jesus did say at least, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” alongside the capstone: “Give to God what belongs to God.” And Paul says that government is to be obeyed because it is there to bring justice on those who do evil. But this discussion carries us far from PO’s original post.

R3: I question everything this government is doing. If they are involved in climate change, I will question them. Since they are involved in welfare and dependency of the poor, I will question them. It is not for liberty nor freedom that our government is involved in many things, it is control. When our government controls the air, water, soil, production and consumption, I will question them....

R2: Question away! I have lived under a true dictatorship (in Zimbabwe, under Robert Mugabe), and I know what a truly oppressive government is like. The American government is not oppressive or corrupt, in comparison to some that I have direct personal knowledge of. In the 1980s I used to say that Ronald Reagan was dangerous (because of things like the Iran Contra stuff). I have changed my mind. I disagree with much that he did, but he was a good man seeking to his best for his country. Bush (Sr and Jr) took us into Iraq—both times I believe wrongly. But I believe that they also sought to do what was best for their country. Obama is in the same mould—seeking to do what is best, but (I think, especially in his foreign policy) making some bad choices in the process. Tea Party folk (vilified by many Democrats) are (I believe) trying to save their country. Democrats (hated by the Tea Party and by many Republicans) are also trying to do what is best for their country. There are bad people out there, but most of the real crooks are not those we say they are.

The only line I don’t listen to anymore is the one that tells me to hate those with whom I disagree (a line that I haven’t heard anyone here say. That’s bad politics, and bad governance, and for me as a Christian not one of the options. I’ll stop now. This is PO’s page, and I’ll let him have it back! Thanks for your (R1’s and R3’s and PO’s) input on these issues, helping me to understand more of what is happening in our world.

R3: R2, that is a good commentary of this topic. I do not believe Obama has the People’s best interests in his mind. He is more concerned with maintaining power through gifts to the people so they will continue to vote his direction. He is a SOCIALIST through ant through, and that is what is wrong with this president. Comparing a controlling government to a despot like Hitler would not gain any credibility. I do believe this country has better opportunities, but this government is messing that up, big time.