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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Absent from the Body

In January of 2005, Lozanne and I travelled to Victoria, British Columbia to help arrange and attend the funeral of my 84 year old mother. She had mercifully died in her sleep after a blessed and very active life. Several years before her passing, she had requested that I “take” the funeral when either of my parents should die. I had been delivering messages from the pulpit for about five years at the time. Without a lot of forethought, I agreed to conduct the funeral services. I would caution anyone to have another more objective and capable person look after the funeral service of close and beloved relatives. Indeed, when my father passed away just thirty-four days later, the minister of a local Bible believing church was asked to “take” the funeral. Of course I took responsibility for the eulogy for my father, but the rest of the service was handled by an objective and capable preacher.

By the time I had completed the eulogy for my mother, I was emotionally incapable, or so I thought, of delivering a coherent and inspiring salvation message to those present at the memorial service. I remember feeling absolutely exhausted and blank as I stood up to deliver the message. I had planned on speaking on John 11 which is the story of the resurrection from the dead of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha. The main theme of my message was to be found in verses 25 and 26 of Chapter 11 of the Book of John.

25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.

26 "And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. John 11: 21-26

I started haltingly and wondered if I could finish what I had agreed to do. About five sentences into my message, it was if I gave up. Strangely, I didn’t sit down, but began to speak effortlessly. The only way I can explain the phenomenon is that the Holy Spirit within me simply seized the moment and took over. It was a wonderful feeling. All despair and confusion left me and I spoke clearly. I was led to a conclusion that comforted me as much as I hope it comforted others. That conclusion is found in 2Corinthians 5: 4-8.

4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.

5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord.

7 For we walk by faith, not by sight.

8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

Paul assures us in verse 4 that our troubled and weak mortality here on this earth is swallowed up by life! Imagine how that statement is so opposite to the thinking of this world. Death is presented as an opportunity at life! We are guaranteed by the very Spirit who spoke on my behalf that, while we are alive on this earth, we are absent from the Lord. When; however, we are absent from the body, we are present with Lord. We shall join Jesus the very instant we leave this mortal body. Now that is comfort for those who believe!

(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, April 27, 2010

Free Indeed

Next week, I am pleased to write, is the fourth anniversary of the start of my second battle with cancer. I have an appointment with my oncologist for a check up the day before that very well remembered day that marked my first major surgery followed ten days later by another. Following the surgical procedures, I was, much to my dismay, encumbered by intravenous and feeding lines hanging off two I.V. poles on wheels. I also had had multiple drainage apparatus that had to be connected to the poles before I could get up and walk. I had been bedridden so long that fluid was beginning to build up in my lower extremities. I learned that week that one of the biggest dangers a man or woman can face during illness is the inability to move. The solution offered to me, besides medications of course, was simple enough. I had to get up and walk twice each day. It was much simpler to say than to do. I was determined to get up and move. At first, I had to require the assistance of the nursing staff to get me on my feet with all of the machines and lines organized and to make sure I was decent prior to a public walk down a hospital hallway. The first few days I was assisted and watched carefully by staff as I pushed and attempted to steer two very full and top heavy I.V. poles on wheels around various hospital floor hazards. I was weighed down physically and emotionally and was exhausted after only a very short walk.

As my recuperation progressed, my load was lightened and the duration of my walks increased as I become stronger. Every so slowly, it seemed to me, various tubes and machines were removed. The load was lightened. On the final night of my hospital stay, I could no longer sleep through the noisy surgical ward night and I was walking the hallways at 3:00 A.M. As I walked long distances that night, the final I.V. connection quite simply fell out of my arm. I returned to the nursing station to gladly return my final pieces of equipment and stipulate rather forcefully with their smiling tacit approval that the line would not be placed back in my arm. I then turned and walked out into the main public promenade of the hospital and experienced a feeling of joyous freedom that is difficult to explain. I was free of the cumbersome, painful, awkward and weighty things that were obstructing my progress. It was wonderful! There I was, striding (in my mind I was striding) down the hallway past the smiling security guard who had watched my progress or lack thereof on other nights at 3:00 o’clock in the morning. I was free. Today, the sweet memory of that freedom reminds me of the words of Jesus in John 8: 31-36.

31 ¶ Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.

32 "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

33 They answered Him, "We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be made free’?"

34 Jesus answered them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.

35 "And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.

36 "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

It occurs to me that the feeling I experienced that night in the hospital falls short of the elation and freedom I felt on the day that I accepted Jesus as my saviour. If we study His teachings and obey as best we can those teachings, we come to know the truth. It is that truth that makes us free. When we finally listen to that small inner voice that tells us to come to Him, we are finally free of all the cumbersome, painful, exhausting, awkward and heavy things that are obstructing our progress. We are free indeed.

(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, April 25, 2010

The Thief on the Cross

Every once in a while, I feel compelled to read and meditate on certain passages in the Bible. I can go weeks with general reading, but sooner or later I must return to certain familiar passages. Today is one of those days. I have turned to Luke 23: 39-43. I can only marvel at this crucifixion scene as described by Luke.

39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."

40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?

41 "And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong."

42 Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."

43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

Lately I have been confronted with how some make the gospel so very complex. They dissect and intellectualize until it is difficult to make much sense of their interpretation of the Word of God. They place so many conditions on an assured salvation that I wonder how any of us can measure up. They are concentrating on the “todos”, not the grace through faith part that I hold onto every living moment. The television in our house is often tuned to various televangelists. After many years of study, both Lozanne and I are rather mature and discerning viewers and listeners. There are times of late that I wonder how the simplicity of the promise of salvation can be lost so often.

I am greatly assured by the experience of the thief on the cross in Luke 23. One of the two criminals crucified with Jesus sarcastically demands that Jesus, if He indeed is the Messiah, save Himself and the two criminals. The second sinner rebukes his fellow criminal and suggests that the two of them are getting just what they deserve. Jesus, he contends, has done nothing wrong. This criminal makes one profession of faith in Jesus when he asks, “Remember me when you come into Your Kingdom”. He hasn’t the time to pursue righteousness or to immerse himself in the Word of God. He has no opportunity to repent of his sins or even to feel remorse and make restitution to those he has harmed. He has the time to rebuke the other thief and to profess his belief in Jesus with one statement that is actually a request.

I love and cherish the answer given to him by Jesus. “Today you will be with me in paradise”. One earnest profession of belief and he is about to join Jesus in heaven that very day. That is the gospel I love, simple and beautiful.

(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, April 22, 2010

The Dentist

I have a dental appointment next week. It just showed up on my computerized schedule in Outlook. I winced when I saw its unwelcome appearance. I dread going to the dentist. This reaction is absolutely irrational and not based on modern day experiences at the dentist. Our current dentist is very competent and always assures me a pain free visit to his ultramodern dental clinic. I am plagued all these years later by the effects of memories of another time in dentistry. When I was a child so many years ago, expected stoicism was more in vogue than compassion.

The very first dentist I visited as a four or five year old introduced me to an unnecessary aversion that will last a lifetime. I do remember that he appeared to be elderly to me. He was probably in his fifties or sixties in actuality. He unceremoniously, without any warning, reached into my mouth with a pair of pliers and pulled a baby tooth that was decayed, but was not the least bit loose. The necessity of administering novocaine, which was indeed in use, simply escaped him. He did not see the need to freeze before doing what he considered minor work in a very young mouth. As an older child, I was taken to a somewhat younger dentist whose outer office smelled strongly of antiseptics. You could also hear very clearly what was going on in the inner office. The drills in those days were actually mechanically driven by small wire belts and pulleys. They were dreadfully slow and emitted a loud grinding sound when in use. This dentist actually filled what he considered minor cavities without freezing. My memory of the pain of that drill remains with me to this day. My worst memories; however, are reserved for the orthodontist who treated me when I was in grade eight and nine. Orthodontics, at least in our home town, was in its infancy. My mother and I travelled by bus to a nearby city in order to have my teeth straightened. In my elementary school, I was indeed a novelty. No other student had ever even imagined wearing the large and sometimes painful wire braces. I was asked constantly to open my mouth and show what was on my teeth. The braces were installed in one four hour sitting with no freezing and even less regard for the pain inflicted. The monthly tightening of the wires was a dreadful experience and the pain lasted for days. The system of elastics and palettes worn was also cruel and unusual.

I realize, as I force myself to go to the dentist, that my aversion (read fear) is completely and utterly irrational. It does, however, help very much to keep in mind the words of Paul found in 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.

Paul of course is referring to the fear filled consequences of serving God and spreading the gospel in the first century. One could be imprisoned or even killed for teaching Christian doctrine. The verse also has a very universal meaning to us in the twenty-first century. The believer has not been given a spirit of timidity, but of power. The Amplified Bible renders the word fear as “of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear”. Instead of dwelling on unreasonable fear, I am able to tap into the power of God. By doing so, I feel His love as I love Him and acquire through His strength a calm and well balanced mind. Discipline and sober self-control are part of this soundness of mind. I will mentally carry this quote with me next week as I go to the dentist.

(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, April 18, 2010

In His Boat

In the spring of 1957, I was given permission from my parents to purchase a boat. I was nine years old. For the then tidy sum of ten dollars, I bought a very used nine foot flat bottomed punt with three seats. The oars, which were the only means of propulsion, were included in the price. This object of my dreams was made of red painted plywood. It was obviously homemade, but of sturdy construction. I remember rushing home from school for days to give my punt a fresh coat of red paint and to embellish the sides with two bolts of yellow lightening. I stencilled the lightening bolts with masking tape and absurdly marked my boat as lightening fast, which it most definitely was not! We lived across the road from a large lake and I watched with great anticipation as the ice melted from the lake that spring.

As strange as it may sound in this day and age, I was given brief but effective instructions on boat safety, a practice run with my father in the rear seat and then set free for the independent use of my boat with my parents’ specific permission in consideration of the weather conditions on any given day. Wearing a life jacket was mandatory only when the water was cold, otherwise it could remain within reach because I had learned to swim. For four years that punt was used for fishing, exploring islands and deserted shoreline, swimming and diving in search of lures lost by other fishermen. I was in that boat a great deal until I purchased my second plywood boat which was larger and powered by a twenty horsepower Elgin outboard motor. The cost of my second used boat, not including the outboard motor purchased by my father, was twenty dollars. Fifty-three years later, I marvel at the trust and faith given our generation by our parents and indeed the maturity level we achieved as a result at a very young age. I suspect that the parents of today would wonder why the Children’s Aid Society was not called to report the endangerment of a child. In Mark 4: 36-41, we are given another lesson on trust and faith by Jesus who happens also to be aboard a boat.

36 Now when they had left the multitude, they took Him along in the boat as He was. And other little boats were also with Him.

37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling.

38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?"

39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, be still!" And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.

40 But He said to them, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?"

41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!"

Jesus in chapter four is quite literally forced into a boat on the shoreline in order to be able to preach to the pressing crowd. He sits in the boat and preaches through parables. It is very interesting to see Jesus as the man and the God in this brief story. As the man, albeit a very relaxed one, he is able to sleep because of exhaustion through hurricane force winds. As the Son of God, He is able to tame the storm with three words. The disciples who had witnessed many other miracles of healing were astounded at His power to control nature. Jesus reminds them that we have to have faith and go to Him in storms. Indeed, I have learned over the last few years that we are always safe in His boat. The point is; we must be in His boat. We do this through our faith, trust and belief in Him.

(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, April 16, 2010

No Milk Today

Just inside the door of our pantry is a small blue lettered sign that reads “No Milk Today”. It caught my eye recently and took me back to the days when milk was delivered to homes by a milkman driving a specialized truck. The practice went on well into the eighties. That would account for about twenty years of our marriage. I still miss the convenience. Milk tickets were purchased and left with the empty bottles outside the door. When bottles fell into disfavour and disuse, the tickets were left in an envelope in a pre-appointed spot. The milkman knew exactly the demands of any given household and would make sure that the correct amount of whatever was used was indeed delivered daily. On the occasions that milk was not wanted, the “No Milk Today” sign was posted usually in the living room window to alert the milkman to the fact that no milk was to be left that day. Indeed there was an assumption that milk was to be delivered unless the process was halted by the sign.

The sign also evoked in me another memory. As a principal of an elementary school, I remember receiving a call from a concerned neighbour informing me that one of our kindergarten students, after disembarking from the school bus, was hanging around in her backyard obviously locked out of her house. In those days, kindergarten was a half day program and the morning class was dismissed at 11:30 A.M. in order to be bussed home. The temperature was about thirty-five below on that January day. The neighbour, who was known to the school and indeed a parent of an older student, offered to bring the child into her home until mother arrived home. I asked her to have the mother call me as soon as she arrived home in order to investigate if the bus driver had made an error in judgement in allowing a five year old off the bus with nowhere to go. There was indeed an error in judgment, but it was not the bus driver who was totally at fault. This mother and the bus driver had a private agreement that when the “No Milk Today” sign was in the window, the child was to be dropped at grandmother’s house further along the bus route. When the sign was not present in the window, the child was to be left at home. Indeed the sign not had been in the window that morning. Mother had in her haste forgotten to place it in the window!

The “No Milk Today” sign also brings to mind the words of the author of the Book of Hebrews in chapter 5 and verses 12 to 14.

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.

14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

These words are written, not for the new Christian, but for those of us who should have some maturity and wisdom in our journey with God. Some of us never move from the milk that a baby Christian needs to the solid food which represents the mature study and understanding of the Word of God, which inevitably leads to submission and obedience. Some are content to just believe and remain with the basics like God loves me and forgives me. They are indeed saved, but missing so much of the richness that can come of a relationship with the Lord based on adult “solid food” study of the Word of God. If you are one of these mature Christians who is still drinking the milk of the basics, I suggest you put up your “No Milk Today” sign and get on with your relationship with our God and His Son.

(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, April 14, 2010

My Peace I Give You

Last night I just sat and watched our English Springer Spaniel sleep. I have such difficulty getting a good night’s sleep that I actually envy her ability to just sleep. She starts of course with the obligatory three turns around in a circle. I suspect that this ritual is an instinctual check for nearby predators before lying down. Modern day domesticated dogs forget to look or smell for predators, but they still make the turns. She then stretches out her limbs as she settles on her side. Only Marley can stretch in such a luxuriant fashion. You then can see her legs and paws become more and more relaxed and loose. In a couple of minutes her breathing slows and becomes almost imperceptible. Her eyes close but can open up again at the slightest noise. She is absolutely loose, relaxed and even limp.

Of course her position of sleep is dictated by the room temperature. A cool room will cause her to curl up in a ball with her paws underneath her and her large floppy ears actually covering her face. A slightly warmer room will find her on her stomach with her snout on her paws. A still warmer room will allow her to lie on her side on the rug or even, I must admit, on the couch. As the temperature increases, she will move to the wood floor to lie on her side. Every once in a while she greatly entertains me with lying flat on her back with her legs straight in the air in order to cool down. I can’t think of a more peaceful sight than watching Marley sleep. If only we could learn to trust our Master like she does. Jesus tells us in John 14:27 the kind of peace we should be able to find.

27 "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

In this chapter, Jesus is telling His disciples about the coming of the Holy Spirit after His death. He terms Him the Helper. Other words found in the Amplified Bible to describe the Holy Spirit are Comforter, Counsellor, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener and Standby. Jesus is offering us not just any old peace, but His peace. He is not offering it as the world does with all its suspect motivations. He is offering it as our loving and trusted Saviour. If we accept Him and become saved, we are then indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We then have no reason to be fearful or troubled. We have only to remember that we are offered His peace if we will accept it.

(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, April 12, 2010

More Joy in Heaven

I remember like yesterday a desperate phone call from Lozanne informing me that Jessica Rose, our precocious two year old daughter, was lost somewhere in the neighbourhood. She had apparently taken the opportunity to explore her surroundings while mother was busy with the new baby boy who had just come without invitation into Jessica’s life. Fortunately, I was the vice-principal of a senior public school that was just over the hill behind our home. I was on the scene in just a few minutes to learn that indeed Lozanne had called the police prior to calling me and there were two cruisers in front of the house. The policemen were searching the neighbouring yards while calling out Jessica’s name. She had been missing for about a half hour that afternoon. It is hard to describe the panic a parent fights back in such a situation. I tried to comfort Lozanne very briefly and started to search the yards untouched by the concerned police officers. Lozanne had found it very difficult to search by herself while holding an infant. It was the mild spring of 1977 making temperature and weather conditions not of immediate concern.

Twenty minutes later Jess was found hiding under an overturned aluminium boat in a neighbouring yard. The continual calling of her name by strange male voices had actually caused her to go into hiding until the officer who found her had the presence of mind to visually search any good hiding places. Suffice it to say, the relief felt by Lozanne and I, can’t be described. Concern and desperation were replaced by joy. Needless to say, Jessica was welcomed home with jubilance and great relief. The two searching police officers were thanked profusely. Jesus tells us a parable in the Book of Luke that mirrors the joy felt in finding a lost child. In Luke 15: 4-7 we read:

4 "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety–nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?

5 "And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

6 "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’

7 "I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety–nine just persons who need no repentance.

The other night as I was dozing off, I was half listening to a televangelist who was putting forward his personal theory that when a sinner is saved on this earth, his or her family and friends already in heaven are the first to be given the fantastic news. I can’t verify what he was postulating in the Bible, but I sure like the sound of the prospect. It could indeed be true, because Jesus tells us that when we accept Him as our Lord and Saviour there is great joy in heaven. It occurs to me that there may be a joyful party in heaven every time each and every one of us is saved. The ninety-nine persons who need no repentance only think they have no need to born again. All have need of repentance, because all are sinners. The ninety-nine just don’t see their need. Are you the one who was lost and is now found or are you part of the ninety-nine?

(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, April 10, 2010

Beware the Man

Lozanne and her brother have had a running argument, well more of a good natured debate than an argument, for several years. She has a favourite saying that she has insisted is in the Bible. Her Christian and earthly brother has disagreed strenuously on this point. “Beware the man who is too loved by all” is the wisdom that she shares from time to time. Indeed those who seek their own glory while supposedly serving God are to be watched carefully. We are told this by the Apostle Paul on several occasions. They may at times introduce doctrines that are not Biblical, but personal.

Lozanne is not talking about these false teachers. She is speaking of certain men who rise to relative greatness within a given church. They are very capable leaders and sometimes charismatic speakers. Others begin to defer to them for any and all decisions. Decisions that should have been corporate can become individual. Sometimes without even their own awareness, they begin to seek the glory that belongs to the Lord. They begin to enjoy the continual flattery and praise. They bask in the popularity that usually grows exponentially. We are told in The Book of Isaiah that this is not to happen and indeed the Lord will not allow such to happen. We read in Isaiah 42:8 the following wisdom.

8 I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images.

This quote is rendered wonderfully in the paraphrased Bible contained in the book called The Message.

8 I am GOD. That’s my name. I don’t franchise my glory, don’t endorse the no-god idols.

“I don’t franchise my glory” really captures the essence of the wisdom. We are to regard our God as just that. He is the LORD and he does not lend out His glory. The lesson for all of us is that we must constantly search our hearts and ascertain that indeed we are giving all the glory to Him and to no one else including ourselves. I find it very easy when praised for serving the Lord to enjoy the glory. We are not to do that. “Beware the man who is too loved”.

(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.)