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Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Spirit of Fear

I was very entertained recently to come across a newspaper picture and article from 1956. My mother collected and scrap booked long before it was the modern rage. There we were, six children lined up like steps of stairs from the eldest on the left to the youngest on the right. A smiling Mark is second from the right. The picture was taken in our school grounds…I would assume with the permission of our principal. Each of us held, with some confidence I might add, a baseball bat or large carved club over our right shoulder. The caption under the six inch by eight inch black and white picture reads, “Kids Carry Clubs in Rabies Scare”. The article goes on to describe how we have been armed and are ready to fend off the attack of rabid foxes on the way to and from school. The dangers to children in rural areas are emphasized and indeed all children are warned to stay away from all wild animals which may be acting strangely or are indeed already dead. Even as an eight year old, I recall being somewhat perplexed and confused by the adults present disarming us by collecting the clubs and sending us on our way home. The picture had been staged as a warning to others. There would be no club carrying kids in our rural, soon to become suburban, neighbourhood. The idea of course was to incite fear in the readers and thus respect for wild animals and their diseases.

Rabies was and still can be a fearful disease. It is a disease spread by mammals, including humans, that attacks the nervous system and until the advent of a vaccine resulted in most certain death resulting from extreme confusion, seizures and eventually fatal breathing problems. The disease has been all but eradicated in humans in North America through concerted efforts of public education and the use of an effective vaccine for those at risk. All domestic pets in North America are inoculated yearly in order to avoid the spread to dogs and cats from wild animals such as foxes, racoons and skunks. In some third world countries, the disease is still spread by livestock as well. In the middle of the last century it was still a well known and much feared disease.

As I looked at this picture of smiling children who are now or are soon to become senior citizens, I realized how often we are motivated by fear. There are times of course, especially in the face of imminent danger, that being afraid is necessary, but so often it is not. Jesus used the words “fear not” on multiple occasions in the New Testament. The quote that immediately came into my mind, however, was from 2Timothy 1:7.

7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

When I find myself fearful, I remind myself of Paul’s advice to Timothy. Jesus also gives us very good advice regarding what we should properly fear in Matthew 10:28.

28 "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

If we are to fear at all, we should not fear things that can kill just the body, like rabies, but we should reserve our concern for the God of the universe who holds our entire lives, body and soul, in His hands now and for all eternity.

Finally in the Book of Revelation, John tells us what Jesus said to him regarding why he should not be afraid. (Rev. 1:17)

17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.
18 "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

Indeed he is the Alpha and the Omega. He has always been, is now and He will always be. Because He was dead and is now alive forevermore, we can choose to be alive forevermore with Him in heaven by our belief and faith, not our fear.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Twelve Smooth Stones

Last evening I had the privilege of delivering a Bible study message from the pulpit of our chapel. I have been unable in the past year with the exception of one other time to deliver a similar message. I felt good and it felt good to be able to have the strength to open God’s word in a chapel setting. We studied Chapter 4 of the Book of Joshua. Joshua was both a respected soldier and a man of great faith who lived about 1350 B.C. The Old Testament story in Chapter 4 describes Joshua leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land of Canaan. After forty years minus five days, the LORD stops the flow of the Jordan River so that the people can cross over the riverbed into their new home. The water was held back as long as a group of priests stood in the river holding the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD. We pick up the story at verse 1 of Chapter 4. (Joshua 4: 1-3)

1 ¶ And it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over the Jordan, that the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying:
2 "Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe,
3 "and command them, saying, ‘Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm. You shall carry them over with you and leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight.’"

Just as the LORD commanded, Joshua ordered that twelve smooth and rounded stones from the riverbed be placed on the western side of the River Jordan. These stones were to be used to build a monument to the LORD’s crossing of the river at Gilgal which is near the City of Jericho. The monument was to be a memorial to remind even coming generations of the day their God stopped the water and allowed them to be led into the Promised Land. Each stone was of a size and weight that a strong young man, one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, could carry it. We resume reading at verse 9. (Joshua 4:9)

9 Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day.

Joshua then replaces the twelve stones removed from the riverbed with stones most probably taken from the west side of the river bank. We don’t know if they were small or large, but it is likely they were rough field stone. A second monument is then built at the place where the priests stood holding the Ark of the Lord. This memorial would of course also commemorate the LORD’s stopping of the waters in order for the people to pass. It is likely that this monument would be submerged most of the time and not clearly visible.

Even in the Old Testament, we can find many references to the work to be finished on our behalf by the Lord Jesus Christ. These two monuments are no exception. Some believe that the rough field stone submerged in the river represents our sin being completely invisible and forgotten by a forgiving Jesus while the monument of smooth stones in Gilgal is a testament to the rebirth that is available through a belief in Jesus. William MacDonald, a much respected Bible commentary writer, has another explanation that I find most comforting. He writes in his Bible Believers Commentary that, “The stones in the riverbed speak of identification with Christ in death.” and that, “Those on the west bank speak of identification with Christ in resurrection”.

What beautiful thoughts! The submerged monument represents Jesus buried in the tomb. The very good news is that He was only there for three days. The monument at Gilgal celebrates that He is risen. Because Jesus is resurrected, I shall follow Him into heaven for all of eternity. I am so thankful that these monuments are recorded in the Bible for my and your benefit.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sower of the Seed

I have realized on this very early morning that I am about to write blog number 59. Almost three months of messages are posted to this my blog site. My aim has been simple. I have tried to scatter the word of God into the virtual wind with each message. My first objective in doing so has been to bring reminders, confirmations and comfort to the Christians who may read my work. My second objective and the one that I pray about the most is to provide the Word of God to those who may be searching for spiritual truth and an eventual relationship with their Saviour and their God. Jesus referred to the Word of God as seed. In three of the gospels, he tells the parable of the sower of the seed. It is my hope and prayer that I have become just that…a sower of the seed. I have no idea where the seed will land, but I must keep scattering it abroad.

Jesus tells us the parable of the sower of the seed in Mark 4: 3- 8.

3 "Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.
4 "And it happened, as he sowed, that some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds of the air came and devoured it.
5 "Some fell on stony ground, where it did not have much earth; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of earth.
6 "But when the sun was up it was scorched, and because it had no root it withered away.
7 "And some seed fell among thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.
8 "But other seed fell on good ground and yielded a crop that sprang up, increased and produced: some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred."

This is one of the few of the many parables told by Jesus that He later explains to his disciples. We have the privilege of understanding this parable through Jesus Himself.

The sower goes out to spread the Word of God. Some of that seed falls by the wayside. Those who are on the wayside are those who don’t really wish to hear the Word. Because they have already refused to hear it, the devil comes and immediately takes away any retention or understanding that may lead to them being saved. Those on the wayside are of course in the majority. Most simply reject the Word of God and don’t even seem to be the least bit concerned about that rejection. The seed falling on stony ground represents those who hear the Word and receive it initially with joy, but their belief takes no root. They may believe for a short while, but soon a time of temptation or trial will draw them away. The seed falling on thorny ground speaks to those who have heard the word and embraced it, but the cares, temptations and pleasures of life prevent the seed from growing to maturity. The seed that falls on good ground is that which is embraced by those who truly want it and accept it. With patience they grow in faith and indeed spread the seed to others so that they may grow in their belief and be saved.

As I cast forth seed this morning, I pray that receptive hearts are reading my message. I pray that my seed cast into the wind will indeed land on good ground. I was one of those on the wayside for nearly half a century. My receptive heart actually grew from a willingness to hear, study and test the Word for a period that extended over three years. I pray that others will do the same.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Cattle On A Thousand Hills

Last week I was driving to town in order to go to the pharmacy and the hardware store. On the way, I drove by a beef farm that I have admired on passing many times before. There are usually many very healthy looking cows in the fields by the road. For the first time, the large herd was spread out on an expansive hill to the south just as the late morning sun was reaching the top of the hill. The bright sunlight accentuated the gold of the fading autumn grass. The scene caused me to slow down on the deserted highway and to actually bask in its pastoral beauty. The cattle were spread out evenly over the whole hill. Some were grazing while some were lying down and simply enjoying the warmth of the sun. The words of verse 10 in Psalm 50 came to me: “…the cattle on a thousand hills”. God is speaking directly to us in this revealing section of scripture. (Psalm 50: 10-15)

10 For every beast of the forest is Mine, And the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the mountains, And the wild beasts of the field are Mine.
12 "If I were hungry, I would not tell you; For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.
13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God thanksgiving, And pay your vows to the Most High.
15 Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."

God is telling us that sacrifices of animals in times past and sacrifices like good works or gifts of money now in the present are not what primarily pleases the Lord. It is a very simple concept. God already owns it all. All of the resources that each of us has collected over the years are simply on loan from Him. He allows us to make use of His resources until such time as we no longer need them. He does expect us to share some of what He lends to us in order to support His church, His workers and those most in need.

What God wants most is our gratitude for the use of His resources. He wants more than anything our fulfilled vows of worship. Finally, He is most pleased by our prayers even in our day of trouble. He promises to deliver us so that we can glorify Him.

Here we find a formula for devotion and prayer. We all should start our prayers with thanks for all that He has allowed us to use for our and His benefit. We should acknowledge that He created it all and indeed He owns it all. We then can express our love and devotion as part of those thanks. We are only then able to express our anxieties, difficulties and troubles as well as our desires for others and ourselves. We have an assurance in this Psalm that He will deliver us from trouble and indeed He does. The timing is not always according to our estimate or desires, but indeed He does deliver us time after time.

Our greatest gratitude should be for His free gift of redemption through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross of Calvary. For this we can thank Him for all eternity.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bread of Life

This morning we awoke to several inches of snow on the ground. Since most of the outside winter preparation work is complete, I decided it was time to start baking bread. I learned to bake bread from my father in the summer of 1994. Lozanne and I were visiting my parents in Victoria, British Columbia as we so often did when my parents were still alive. I know this from the laminated instructions and recipe that I wrote down in my daytimer on Thursday, August 4, 1994. My father was seventy-six years old that summer and his day long lesson is one of my most vivid memories of his senior years. In his retirement, my father had taken to baking bread according the recipe used by his mother, my grandmother.

Bread is not a very complex food. It consists of flour ground from grain, water, oil, salt, sugar and perhaps yeast. I know very well what is in a loaf of bread because I bake bread on a regular basis during the winter months. I enjoy baking it. We enjoy eating it. There is a very special aroma that fills the house when bread is in the oven. I believe that home made bread satisfies an emotional need within us and has for many centuries. Reading and following a recipe for baking bread is usually not sufficient to bake good bread. Some training is required. Actions like deciding what is lukewarm, proper kneading of the dough and recognizing when the dough is ready at several stages in the process are just as important as the mixing of the amounts of ingredients.

This morning, as I was doing the heavy work of mixing and kneading the dough, I thought of the words of Jesus in John 6: 35.

35 And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.

What did Jesus mean when He said he was the bread of Life? As often happens in the word of God, the simplest of things offer the most profound of truths. To understand the significance of what Jesus said, we have to try to think like we are in the first century. Bread, in modern western society, although a prized commodity, is often thought of as something to complement a meal. During the ministry of Jesus, bread was more often than not the main course of a meal. In the first century, grain was the storable miracle food that could sustain life from day to day. It was harvested in the summer and stored for use over the winter months. It required no refrigeration and no preservatives. It simply had to be kept dry in grain or flour form and freezing would not even harm it. Without bread to sustain you in history, your life was over. The Lord’s Prayer, probably the most famous prayer in the western world, includes the petition, “Give us our daily bread”.

When He said, “I am the bread of life”, Jesus was speaking to a first century Jewish audience. How I wish I could have been there to hear just how he stated that very clear sentence. Verbal language is always so much more revealing than the written word. When Jesus referred to bread, all present knew He was talking about the most significant and important aspect of their very survival. Bread would have been so very important to this audience. Indeed it was an absolute necessity to their way of life. When we read that Jesus is bread, we know that He is making a comparison of Himself to something that is quite simply life sustaining. It couldn’t be any more important with lasting significance to all of us. We simply can’t do without it.

We simply can’t do without Him. Jesus follows verse 35 with another simple verse. If we desire everlasting life, we simply cannot do without Him.

40 "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Everyone Who Thirsts

The news coverage about James Arthur Ray has been difficult to avoid. James Arthur Ray is the New Age spiritual leader who once appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. As it turns out, the term cult leader would fit better than the term spiritual leader. Last week 50 people entered a sweat lodge at a resort in Arizona. Two hours later three persons were dead and over a dozen were rushed to hospital. The attendees had paid $10,000 each in order to attend a five day “spiritual warrior” conference. It would appear that hallucinations caused by heat stroke were masqueraded as a spiritual experience on the “warrior” level. Those who died were only 38, 40 and 49 years of age. The extreme heat resulted in dehydration, kidney failure and multiple organ shut down. A homicide investigation is now underway.

There can be no doubt. We all, as God’s children, seek spiritual truths…so much so that a whole fledgling New Age industry thrives. Billions of dollars are spent on seeking out the spiritual in our lives. Books are written, documentaries are filmed, interviews are given and conferences are booked all in the name of seeking our spiritual origins. All are seeking out a god of some description in order to find peace and order in this chaotic world. Some are also willing to pay many dollars for the pleasure. The great irony, of course, is that the prophet Isaiah addressed this very issue about 2700 years ago. In Isaiah 55: 1-2 we read.

1 ¶ "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.

The need to find our spiritual roots is termed by Isaiah as a thirst and indeed it is. Each and every one of us has this thirst and we have had it from childhood. The water, wine and milk represent the joy of knowing God the Father and having the Holy Spirit within us. The greatest revelation of all is that it is free. There is no monetary price involved. Indeed, Isaiah very appropriately, even for the modern reader, warns against giving our wages for what does not satisfy. Each and every one of us is invited to seek out the true God and revel in His abundance. (Isaiah 55: 6)

6 ¶ Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near.

These words are often seen on signs posted along the highway by fervent believers. With so many thousands of people off searching in the wrong direction, they are even more urgently meaningful.

The Lord is very available. All we need to do is to acknowledge Him and call upon Him while he is near. There is no charge. There is no danger. There is only joyful reconciliation with the loving God of the universe.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

He Is Risen

Yesterday, I wrote about the deity of Jesus Christ and today I would like to focus on His resurrection from the dead. Both blogs are in response to the New Age idea that Jesus was an actual historical teacher and philosopher who, in their opinion, was not the Son of God, nor did He rise from the dead after three days in the grave.

Those who deny the resurrection of Jesus have two main schools of thought.

The first is that Jesus was not really dead when He was removed from the cross and that He was later revived to appear to have risen from the dead. If this were the case, how could He possibly revive himself or be revived by others, roll a huge stone away from the entrance to the tomb and stroll unnoticed past the Roman guards outside the tomb. A short study of the effects on the human body of crucifixion as practiced by the Romans makes the idea of survival almost in the realm of fantasy. We are also reminded that Roman soldiers were commissioned to make very sure that all executed criminals were indeed dead. A Roman soldier ensured that Jesus was dead by driving a spear through His side and no doubt through His heart. (John 19: 34) Failure to do this properly would result in the soldier’s own death for dereliction of duty.

The second argument used to deny the resurrection is the claim that someone or a group removed the body from the tomb so that it would appear that Jesus rose from the dead. If the disciples could possibly get by the Roman guards posted outside the tomb to stop just such an attempt, is it reasonable to believe that they would then fearlessly go forth to evangelize the world for the sake of a dead fraud? Those that taught the gospel had to be willing to die for its sake. Many of them did die. Would they be willing to die for a fraud? The apostles after seeing and hearing the risen Jesus turned from cowards hiding behind locked doors to fearless teachers of the gospel moving openly across the then known world. If the enemies of Jesus stole the body, an argument that is nonsensical itself, why would they not produce the corpse in order to stop the evangelical work of the apostles? The Roman guards on duty would have taken their obligation to keep the body in the tomb very seriously. Failure to stop the removal of the body by any group or individual would have been punishable by their own deaths.

Jesus was seen and heard by the apostles and many others over a period of forty days in at least ten sightings in His resurrected body. On one occasion five hundred people were witness to His presence. (1Co. 15: 6) Jesus appeared to the Apostle Paul in order to convert him from a murderous Pharisee into a veritable unstoppable force for the spread of Christianity. (Acts 9: 4)

It is interesting to note that Jesus appeared to women before men. In the last chapter of the Book of Matthew we are told that Jesus appears and speaks to “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary”. (Matthew 28:1) Given the cultural attitude toward women at the time, it is difficult to believe that the resurrection story is a fabrication. If it was a made up story, you can be very sure that the first resurrection sighting of Jesus would have been enjoyed by a man or men. (“Top Ten Reasons To Believe in the Resurrection, #5, Sarah A. Keith, 2002)

The resurrection of Jesus is absolutely central to the Christian faith. It is impossible to be a Christian without believing that Jesus rose from the dead three days following His execution. After years of study, I know what I believe and I thank God every day for the privilege of knowing the truth and the hope that my faith brings. He is indeed risen.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Great Moral Teacher

Recently I have been confronted with an argument that is so prevalent in so-called New Age literature. These self-help or self-actualization books just about always quote Jesus directly from the Bible. These self-appointed gurus often also place Jesus in the category of a great moral teacher who actually lived. They deny, of course, that He is the Son of God and indeed that He rose from the dead. I have spoken with individuals who believe this modern theory. This morning I would like to deal with this mistaken idea that Jesus was a great but very mortal teacher philosopher. After my last conversation on this matter, the words of C.S. Lewis, the greatest Christian writer of the 20th Century, came too late into my mind. He was a much respected scholar and an avowed atheist who was converted to Christianity after much study and soul searching. C.S. Lewis writes a very solid argument in his book “Mere Christianity”

On page 52 he writes, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God”. Lewis goes on to say that anyone who said the things that Jesus said as a mortal teacher would have to be (his word) a lunatic “on the level of man who says he is a poached egg” or alternatively he would have to be the devil. If we stop here and consider just three of the myriad things that Jesus said, we realize that Lewis is correct. Jesus told us that He was the Son of God, that He could forgive sins because he was God and that he would die and rise from the grave in three days time. Just try making those statements in this modern day. You won’t be crucified, but if you persist, you may well be hospitalized. Jesus said many other things that would lead us to believe that he was a demon or mentally ill provided we see Him as a mortal man who simply lived on this earth two thousand years ago.

Lewis tells us that we must make a choice. Either Jesus was, and is, as He claimed to be, the Son of God, or indeed He was a madman or something worse. He tells us “You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God”. He calls any attempt to call Jesus a great human teacher, in view of this very convincing argument, “patronizing nonsense”.

One of the things that personally bothers me about any attempt to categorize Jesus as a great teacher, who indeed was mortal and is now dead in the grave and has been for most of two thousand years, is the fame and notoriety that he garnered in thirty-three short years in a society that didn’t even have a printing press. There are countless historical figures who indeed we know about to some extent. Can anyone deny that Jesus Christ is the name that is best known world-wide? Why is His name the one that is spoken daily by so very many, usually as part of an oath or swearing? Do we hear Plato’s or Socrates’ names take in vain? How did a poverty stricken uneducated man who lived only in the first thirty-three years of the first century become the most quoted, sometimes hated and famous man in history? He did so because He was who he said He was, the Son of God who came to this earth to die for our sins.

I have made my choice. It took me forty-eight years to carefully and even reluctantly come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Son of God and I am at His feet now and for all eternity. There can be no other conclusion.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Yes Means Yes and No Means No

This morning, while reading through Chapter 5 of the Book of James, I was reminded by the words “…let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No”, “No”,…” of a minor car accident that occurred in the eighties. Lozanne and I were alone in the car and parking in front of restaurant. As Lozanne opened her door on the passenger side of the vehicle, a car pulled very quickly into the parking spot beside us and hit the open door. As you can imagine the considerable damage to the door was far less important than the fact that she hadn’t yet started to exit the car as well as the fact that her right hand or arm was not hit in this very strange accident. The driver of the other car was beside himself with guilt and remorse. He too was most thankful that he had only hit an inanimate car door and not a person. He immediately accepted the blame for the incident and agreed to pay for the repair or replacement of the door. We exchanged phone numbers and names pending an estimate of the damage.

During the next afternoon, I received a phone call from this man. He stated that he had spoken to his lawyer and indeed he had been hasty in offering to pay for the damage. He now had no intention of accepting blame, nor did he have any inclination to pay for the damage done to our car. Evidently in this case his “Yes” was not a “Yes” but was indeed a “No”. Sadly, this kind of flip flop is something that I as well have been guilty of in the past. I suspect most of us have had trouble at times keeping our word after reconsideration of the consequences. This concept of speaking the truth and sticking to it is actually only part of the whole verse in James 5: 12

12 ¶ But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your "Yes," be "Yes," and your "No," "No," lest you fall into judgment.

As Christians we are expected to not have to swear by anything in order to emphasize the truthfulness or the importance of our testimony. Most especially, we should not be using the name of God or His Son in order to swear an oath or make an exclamation. Lately I have begun to cringe at the number of times the expression, “Oh my God”, is used on television makeover shows. What the person is really saying is, “this is terrific, fantastic even”. James’s caution also extends to expressions like, “gee, golly, jeez and gosh which are simply slang for God or Jesus. We are expected to simply tell the unembellished truth without the emphasis of an oath, swearing or taking the name of the Lord in vain. Our “Yes” should mean “Yes” and our “No” should mean “No”.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Strategic Plans

In my most recent blog, I disclosed my personal propensity for organization and planning. During my tenure as a school principal, I was asked to lead a city wide strategic planning exercise for the board of education. A consultant had been hired to travel to our jurisdiction in order to recommend various ways of getting stakeholders involved in the process. I was to coordinate these sessions and attempt to boil down the results into executable objectives and goals. Strategic planning has become very popular in the corporate and public sector in the last decade or so. My first experience at strategic planning was very early in the wave of popularity. Initially all of the stakeholders, who of course included parents, students, teachers, administrators and trustees, were very enthusiastic and attended so-called brain storming sessions usually held, especially for staff members and trustees, in retreat like settings. The amount of collected information was daunting. Processing the mountains of suggestions and directives was a very time consuming and expensive proposition. As the rising costs became evident to the board, the political will to continue faltered and the project was ended. One of the positive results of the aborted exercise was a now defunct slogan that was used on board letterhead and business cards for years. “Building Tomorrows Today” was a good attempt in my opinion to sum up just what education should do for the student.

What I did not realize at the time is that men and women alone cannot build tomorrows today. Without considering what I would term “the divine factor”, it is useless to attempt to plan for the future. The Bible tells us this in many ways and places. In Proverbs 16:1 this “divine factor” is stated very clearly.

1 ¶ The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.

We can make all the plans we want, but the final word will come from God. He is in control and until we acknowledge that very fact our plans will go nowhere.

This thought is continued in the same chapter of Proverbs in verse 9. (Proverbs 16:9)

9 ¶ A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.

We can plan all we want as mere mortals, but in the end God will direct our steps.

Finally in Proverbs 20: 24 we read:

24 ¶ A man’s steps are of the LORD; How then can a man understand his own way?

Each and every step we take comes from God. Until we understand that fact, we are incapable of understanding where we were and where we are going.

Should we continue to plan for the future as individuals or corporate bodies? Of course we should, but only with the proper consultant. We need to consider the “divine factor” and seek Him out as our consultant. He works in return for our faith and the results are so much better!

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Best Laid Plans

I have an admission to make. I am a planner. I am an organizer. Some might think obsessively so. Behind me on a long lower shelf is every daybook that I ever kept daily as a teacher and every daytimer that I carried daily as an administrator. There are thirty-three volumes each representing one year in that collection. The last ten years of my career are also preserved in an electronic form. Every once in a while, I do actually use them to verify what was completed on a certain date. They can make interesting and nostalgic reading. Even in retirement, I continue to plan daily and indeed every day starts with the review of my “schedule” in Office Outlook. I continue to preserve my daily plans and actions electronically and on paper. I plan each day as well as long term plans reaching about a year into the future.

Since the start of my apparently successful battle with cancer, I have realized that each and every day that Lozanne and I have together is a gift from the Lord. He is sovereign and I will live exactly the number of days that he has prescribed from the beginning of time. Despite this realization, I still continue to plan like life on this earth will go on forever. Every once in a while the words of my mother-in-law ring in my ears. When asked mid-week about dinner plans for the weekend, she would often respond with, “We could all be dead by then”. She was not the planner that I am.

This morning I was browsing through the Book of Revelation and realized that, as a believer, I have often been remiss in thinking only in terms of my natural life this side of heaven. There is another wonderful possibility that I don’t think about often enough. Indeed I don’t consider it in my plans nearly enough. In Revelation 22: 20, which is the second last verse in the Bible, we read the following.

20 ¶ He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming quickly." Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Jesus has promised us that He is returning to take believers to heaven. We don’t know when. Scholars tell us that the word “quickly” in verse 20 can also be translated as “suddenly”. Jesus also tells us in the gospels that we will not know when he is returning despite certain signs that would suggest that His return is near. His coming is also described in 1Thessalonians 4: 16-17.

16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

I often forget that my best laid plans, so carefully transcribed and preserved, could be interrupted not only by my death, but by the return of the Lord. One thing is very plain to me; either way, my plans will be of very little use in heaven.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Darkness for Light

I continue to be amazed with the current nature of the Bible, specifically the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. It is like nothing ever really changes. Isaiah listed a series of woes as a warning to the downward spiralling Jewish population about 750 years before the birth of Jesus. They opted not to listen and ended up as slaves in exile in Babylon. One of these woes keeps jumping out at me every time I watch entertainment news on television.

Last week David Letterman, the late night talk show host, in the face of a blackmail attempt, openly confessed to having affairs in the past with women who work on his show. He was acknowledging his breaking of one of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. In fairness to him, the tapes of that confession show him outlining the facts in a very serious and straight faced manner. The audience, I suspect, was not sure if he was serious or not, and opted to laugh which seemed to disconcert him a bit that night. I believe that he was truly trying to confess what he did and that it was wrong.

What has ensued since that time is indeed disconcerting to me. One would expect the other late night hosts to have a hay day and thank David Letterman personally for giving them so much fodder for their opening monologues. I did not expect Letterman himself to find so much humour in the situation. Indeed, it is hard not to chuckle when he quips things like “even the car navigation lady won’t speak to me”. What started as a damaging scandal is turning into a prime opportunity for his writers to create as many self-deprecating gags as they possibly can. Letterman’s serious face is now replaced with a grin. I suspect, if they are not already up, that his show ratings will rise. He and his producers are reaping a probably unexpected harvest of attention and opportunity. Scandal in the modern world may or may not cause damage to reputations and at times it can produce even an increase in the celebrity’s popularity. Clearly he stands to benefit at least in his career development from his confession.

The prophet Isaiah, who was speaking on behalf of God, must have been familiar with just this type of situation minus the sophisticated technology and the huge numbers of people being involved as the participating audience. In Isaiah 5:20 we read:

20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

This is exactly what is happening in this twenty-first century scenario. In a turn of events that confuses me very much, that which is clearly wrong has become that which is okay, acceptable and even amusing. Darkness is misrepresenting itself as light. The bitterness to the victims of this situation, his wife and son being at least two of them, is now sweet enough to cause amusement and laughter for those who just don’t get it. It is plain to me that we should return to the first word of verse 20 and note, without much humour at all, that the word is “Woe”.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


It is strange how a scent can instantly remind you of past events. Oddly, as I recently entered a hospital blood testing laboratory, I was taken back to 1954. I was six years old and standing in a long queue in my school hallway in order to receive an injection. The older children were in front and the youngest got to watch the scene in front for what seemed like hours. I don’t know if the smell was caused by an antiseptic or by the vaccine itself. I was about to receive the Salk vaccine for poliomyelitis. Jonas Salk had developed the much heralded vaccine in 1952. I still vividly remember the smell in that hallway that day. No doubt the memory is made more intense because of my nervousness on that day. Terror may be a better word than nervousness. I was new to school and unannounced needles had not been part of the school day until that moment. I felt as if a sacred covenant assuring my well-being and safety had been broken. The opposite was of course true.

Polio was the one of the most feared childhood diseases of the first half of the twentieth century. It attacked the central nervous system in 1 in 200 cases and caused death and paralysis. Polio has existed for thousands of years in an endemic or constant state. It was not until the 1880’s that it became epidemic world wide. The effects in North America were devastating. Parents feared even the mention of the word. The introduction of the Salk vaccine reduced the numbers of global occurrences from hundreds of thousands per year to the present 1000 per year. The disease is now virtually unknown in Canada and the United States. Many young people may not even recognize the dreaded name of poliomyelitis or polio for short. There is a very good chance that Jesus cured many who are termed lame, sick with the palsy or paralytic in the Bible of the after effects of the disease polio. One such miracle is told to us in Mark 2: 3-11.

Early in His ministry, Jesus was preaching in a house in Capernaum. The room was so crowded that four men of faith lowered a paralytic man on a bed through a hole in the roof that they had created. Recognizing their and the crippled man’s great faith, Jesus was moved and said “Son, your sins are forgiven you”. Jesus quickly realized that the scribes were muttering about His perceived blasphemy because they believed that only God could forgive sins. His answer is in verses 9 to 11.

9 "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?
10 "But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins" ––He said to the paralytic,
11 "I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house."

Clearly both forgiving sins and miraculously curing paralysis are equally impossible to man. Only God can do either. The scribes could not see that the man’s sins had been forgiven so Jesus gave them something that they could see and that was the paralytic taking up his bed and going home. Jesus did not do this for the benefit of the scribes, who still refused to believe, but for the benefit of all those who observed, were amazed and glorified God.

I believe that Jesus also teaches us another very important lesson with this confrontation. Healing physical disease is important, but not nearly as important as having your sins forgiven. The healing, as miraculous and very welcome as it is, is as temporary as our life on earth. Forgiveness of sins leads to an eternity in heaven. Jesus showed this clearly by forgiving sins first and curing the paralytic second. The real miracle here is the opportunity that we have to believe, to confess and to allow Him to take our sins upon Himself. He finished that work for us on the cross at Calvary.

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Monday, October 5, 2009

His Eye Is On The Sparrow

Regular readers may be aware that I have missed a two day cycle in blog writing. For the first time since July 1st, illness kept me from being able to think clearly enough to create. As my condition improved and the pain subsided, I decided that a little self-pity was in order. I was indulging in that self-pity until my enjoyment was interrupted.

Early this morning, as Lozanne walked by the living room windows, she was startled by a bird flying into the glass. She called my attention to it as she felt so sorry for the poor thing. I came to the window as did our dog Marley to see a sparrow that appeared to be dead lying on its back on the deck. A closer look revealed a quickly moving chest. I thought it would be expired in a few seconds. I contemplated how I could help put it out of its misery, not a prospect I looked forward to, and said a short prayer. I prayed for the bird, but really I was praying that I would not have to intervene in this situation. I did what can be very wise at times…nothing. In a few minutes, I noticed that it had rolled over onto its stomach. In another twenty minutes, our friend was standing weakly on its feet and very nervous about observing the tail wagging but strangely quiet Marley on the other side of the glass. My next trip by the window revealed that the bird was evidently asleep on its feet. I thought that perhaps the end was near. On my next walk by the window the sparrow was gone. It had recovered on the safety of the gated deck and left of its own accord.

Later this morning the words and the melody of the hymn “His Eye is on the Sparrow” started to run through my mind. The 1905 lyrics were written by Civilla Martin in response to a woman, who had been bedridden for twenty years, describing her obvious joy and happiness despite a very difficult life. The woman was the inspiration for the words in the refrain that are “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me”. Indeed the words are a direct quote of a very simple answer to the question, “How do you cope with so much suffering?” The answer is also a reference to the words of Jesus in Matthew 10: 29-31.

29 "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.
30 "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
31 "Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Like everyone who believes, there are times that I feel abandoned by God. There are also times when I feel His hand directly upon me with crystal clear communication. I watched a sparrow actually fallen “to the ground” this morning and then watched the hand of God revive the poor unfortunate. If God can keep His eye upon that sparrow, how carefully He must be watching out for you and me!

The last verse of the hymn tells it all.

"Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me."

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Greatest Teacher

A few days ago I received the designation of OCT which stands for Ontario Certified Teacher. The Ontario College of Teachers is encouraging all professional teachers to follow their name with the designation just as nurses use RN for registered nurse or social workers use RSW for registered social worker. Professional engineers and accountants have similar designations. The designation comes a little late in my career. It did cause me to pause and remember some of the teachers who influenced me so much when I attended school. Most were excellent professionals, but a few stand out in other ways.

There is the gentleman whose name I can thankfully no longer remember who taught grade 10 mathematics. He tested the class every two weeks and then made up a new seating plan from the lowest mark in the back left of the class moving up to the front right of the class. Every moment spent in that class was a not so gentle reminder of your progress or lack thereof. Those in the front right of the class may remember him fondly. That can’t be said of all of us. There is the middle aged woman who taught grade nine typing who actually hit our knuckles with a heavy ruler if we looked at the keyboard or made too many errors in the nonsensical sentences we had to type a high speed for 35 minutes. There was the guidance counsellor who routinely informed parents that their son or daughter was not university material and money should not be wasted on such an endeavour. A good number of those students went on to be university graduates, some of whom earned graduate and professional degrees.

Much of my career in education involved teacher evaluation in the classroom. I was always sorry that I could not pay those three teachers from my past an official visit. There a few bad teachers and there are many more good teachers. Great teachers are rare. There is only one who can carry the designation as the greatest teacher who ever was. Even unbelievers will acknowledge that Jesus Christ was and is the greatest teacher who ever lived and indeed continues to live. Steven Scott in his book, The Greatest Words Ever Spoken, lists over 1900 statements of Jesus organized in over 200 topics. Jesus was only “in the classroom” for three years. What an impact He made at a time in history when it was hard to be noticed or remembered.

Jesus taught about life and eternity. Jesus used a varied teaching style. Sometimes like in the Sermon on the Mount he made direct statements. At other times, he spoke in parables or stories with a lesson within. The student is forced to work out the parable and becomes actively involved in his or her own learning. We all must be engaged in our own learning in order to learn and retain anything. Jesus also used actual examples and persons to bring forth important points. He glorified God through many miracles that caused countless numbers to take notice of his teachings. Above all, He taught with love and encouragement in most instances. He could be very direct with the Pharisees when necessary. Students learn best in a positive and encouraging learning environment.

Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is God. Is it any wonder that he should be the greatest teacher who ever lived and indeed continues to live? Please consider carefully the following words from Jesus found in Matthew 7: 24-27.

24 "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:
25 "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
26 "But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand:
27 "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."

(Comments, corrections, suggestions or rebuttals are welcome. My email link is contained in “About me: view my complete profile” to the right of this page or use the comment section below which requires that you have a Google account.)