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Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Royal Law

When I attended North Bay Teachers College in 1968 and 1969, Lozanne and I lived in a small one bedroom apartment on Hammond Street. The zoning of that neighbourhood could only be described as industrial. Our home was over the office and warehouse of an electrical contractor. The upstairs hallway had outside doors at both ends and was indeed a perfect fly through for many bats. Getting to our apartment at night during warm weather was always interesting. The owner of the business and the building was truly a likable character. He had several favourite sayings. When he light heartedly wanted to issue a modern day curse, he would quip, “May all of your children need braces”. After paying for orthodontic treatment for three of our four children, I truly do understand the gravity of his pronouncement. When we had been disturbed all night by a group of his young apprentices installing a new engine in an old Dodge, his response to my query and complaint was to apologize for them, but to also explain that the car would never be fixed unless they figured out how to do the job themselves. This was followed by another of his favourite sayings, “Necessity is the mother of invention”. I have also experienced first hand many times what a truism that cliché constitutes. Fern is memorable to us for another reason. He was a very perceptive and kind man.

As the academic year came to a close, we had just about run out of money. The “loan” from my parents and the student loans that we would pay off for years had proven to be just enough to finish the school year…almost to the day. Our difficulty was that there was still a four month period before I was to start my teaching career. I had been exempted from examinations by several very kind teaching masters so that I could indeed find a job in order to support our growing family. Our eldest daughter was born in March of that spring. The problem was that there were not a lot of summer jobs to be found that would support a small family. As I paid our rent with our last ninety dollars, Fern engaged me in a conversation about our future. Before the conversation was over, he had decided that indeed he needed a tradesman’s helper for the summer and offered me the job on the spot without an application or resume being presented. He wondered, because his need for help was so great, if I could start tomorrow. I have never forgotten his kindness and indeed I did work for him until just before we moved to start our new life. Fern was demonstrating what Christians should be living every day of their lives. In the Book of James, in the middle of an admonition to treat everyone alike, there is one very powerful statement.

8 ¶ If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well; (James 2:8)

This is described as a royal law because it comes from the King Himself. Jesus is the one who gave us this very simple and succinct principle for Christian living. If we do indeed treat others as we would wish to be treated, we do well. Of course our neighbour is not just those who live close to us, but all who are in need and we are able to help. I recognize today the enormity of the kindness shown to us by a man who was only involved in our lives for less than a year.

(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, May 25, 2010

Render Unto Caesar

For the last four of five days, I have been studying. Unfortunately, I was not studying the word of God, but Transport Canada safe boating materials so that I might challenge the Pleasure Craft Operator Card examination. It is now law that any operator of a motorized boat must have a valid Pleasure Craft Operator Card. I have been boating on the water, safely I might add, for the last fifty-four years. None of that successful experience is recognized by the government of Canada. Instead I was forced out of academic retirement to memorize things like the buoy system on the St. Lawrence Seaway so that I can legally take my grandchildren out a few hundred yards on our small northern lake in order to go fishing. I can’t tell you how little I wanted to sit down and actually study. I quite literally forced myself to dredge up old and effective study skills. I also learned how to properly negotiate a lock system and to navigate in and around shipping lanes. I am now also capable of declaring a marine emergency over my VHF marine radio. The strange thing though, is that I can’t seem to find such a radio in my 16 foot aluminium boat with a 9.9 horsepower outboard motor. I also know how to use pyrotechnic flares should I ever require assistance within sight of my house.

You might be catching on that I was not too enamoured of the examination process just to continue what I have been safely doing for decades. I felt the process was unnecessary and rather nonsensical in the way that the government of Canada actually farmed out the testing process to several online companies who I am sure are making a good profit certifying old men just like me to do what they will never do. I could have simply ignored the demands of the government and been assured that being caught without my operator card was not a very likely scenario on a privately owned lake. I did, however, have the words of Jesus to guide me in this situation. In Mark 12: 13-17 we read:

13 ¶ Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words.

14 When they had come, they said to Him, "Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?

15 "Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?" But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, "Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it."

16 So they brought it. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar’s."

17 And Jesus answered and said to them, "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s." And they marveled at Him.

Jesus is of course answering a question directly related to the paying of taxes to the Roman government, but the lesson can be extended to all government edicts even to this day. Here it is made very clear that we are to respect and obey the edicts of our governors. As a believer, I am bound by obedience to my saviour to obey and support our government. The exception would be that when I am asked to compromise my Christian principles, I am bound to refuse and live with the consequences of the punishment unfairly meted out to me. Now you know why I conceded to the edicts of my government, studied and passed the examination as presented. As I rendered to Caesar, I also rendered to God.

(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, May 21, 2010

Sojourners on this Earth

This morning my reading in 2Corinthians 5 caused me to remember a beautiful woman who was present for about twenty years of our married life. Lozanne’s great aunt was known by all as Ma Tante Delina. Lozanne is named after her great aunt and her second name is actually Delina. I first met Ma Tante when she was in her early seventies. Given the youthful energy that this woman quite simply exuded, you would be hard pressed to guess her proper age. She was happily married to Uncle Charlie who has been profiled in an earlier blog. As happens in most happy marriages, in my observation at any rate, he and she were complete opposites. Delina and Charlie were childless. Delina always seemed to be on the move, working in her home or visiting many and all relatives both close and extended. She was a hostess beyond description.

Each and every Monday morning, I suspect for all her adult life, Delina baked bread. It was the best bread, especially when toasted, I have ever enjoyed. Most evenings, summer and winter, at about 9:30 P.M. would find family members, who had just happened to drop by, in her dining room enjoying her special toast with her homemade preserves and a cup of tea. The conversation was always interesting and lively. Of course Uncle Charlie, after he had scrubbed his hands like he was about to perform surgery, would not partake of the toast but high fibre cereal he referred to as “his hay”.

Three or four times per week, Delina would entertain guests for dinner. She is the only cook I have ever observed who almost exclusively used a “Presto” pressure cooker. This large pot with a locking cover was heated on the stove element and the contents were kept under great pressure. Delina deftly and expertly knew exactly when to let off the steam and continue cooking. Cooking food under pressure speeds up the process considerably. I often wondered about the dangers of working with heated pots under great pressure, but she never had accident that I know of. All the while she was moving with incredible speed about her kitchen, she was very capable of interacting with and indeed engaging her guests in a running conversation. All of us looked forward to a dinner at Ma Tante Delina’s. Children were always welcome and doted upon by Delina.

Following one such dinner, Delina suggested that she take our youngest two children to the park for some after dinner exercise and perhaps some ice cream. Since she was in her eighties, we suggested that the kids did not need to go to the park. In about ten minutes, we realized that the little ones were missing and went out just in time to see Delina actually sliding down a gravel embankment in order to cross the railroad tracks to take the kids to the park. They did indeed get their ice cream in the park. When approaching little ones, Delina often chanted in a scary voice as she moved along, “Ma jambe d’or” which I have only theorized was a line from a French ghost story about a man with a golden leg. Oddly, I never observed a child who showed any fear as they were always delighted with her presence.

For the last couple years of her long lifetime, she would often ask anyone who would listen, “Why am I still here?”. After Charlie had passed away and she finally had to enter the old age home, she wondered indeed why she was still alive. I remember her asking me that very question the day before she passed away at ninety- two years of age. This morning I thought of Delina as I read very similar words written by the Apostle Paul in 2Corinthians 5: 1-2.

1 ¶ For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,

What Delina had come to understand was that we are but sojourners on this earth. The time we spend here in this world is very brief when compared to the forever of eternity. Like Delina, Paul actually groaned when wondering, no doubt, why he was still trapped here in an old weak body and not there in a new glorified body where he knew he would be for eternity. I am just beginning in the last little while to understand much more why Delina would ask the question, “Why am I still here?”.

(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, May 19, 2010

Be Still

I have been slow to create at the keyboard. The reason for that is not exhaustion or illness, but the advent of a beautiful warm and early spring. Last week the screen room (an absolute necessity in the north) was roofed for the summer and much needed repairs were completed with the help of a neighbour. We and any visitors to our home spend many hours in what becomes an extension of our house in the fair weather. This week the swimming pool was placed into summer service. This is the first year I can remember that the weather was warm enough to even contemplate pool installation so early in the spring. It is a huge job to clear the cover of debris and remove it for further cleaning and drying on the lawn. The pool is then refilled and the pump and peripherals installed. The solar heater pipes caused an afternoon of work and frustration until the faulty valves were isolated, removed and replaced. This work was also made possible with the now necessary and appreciated assistance of our neighbour. The pool water, even now as I write, is turning from murky brown to clear blue as the filtration and chlorine systems become effective. Our outside furniture is all in place.

The beauty of nature waking up for the summer has been quite simply stunning. In the past week, we have observed on two occasions a moose grazing at the bank of the far side of our bay. She is a majestic and huge creature that we welcome to our home. Our beavers that live just up the lake shore swim by our dock carrying saplings in their teeth just close enough to send Marley, our English Springer Spaniel into a frenzy. The ducks are doing their procreation thing right in front of the house and the indeed have taken to wandering around on our front lawn in male and female pairs. For some reason, Marley does not react to them with her past enthusiasm. She seems to recognize them as old friends. The red squirrels are using our deck rails as a route to the trees to the west of the house. Rabbits are hopping across the back lawn and down the driveway. The most majestic pair on the lake are our loons that we rarely see, but regularly hear. Very early before dawn this morning, I heard them calling to each other. What a beautiful and faith reaffirming sound! This morning I am quite simply in awe of the warm sunny weather and with the creations of our Lord. Two verses of Psalm 46 keep going through my head.

10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

11 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

(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, May 15, 2010

English War Bride

My maternal grandfather was in the Canadian Calvary during the First World War. Periodically I study his antique cloth photograph on our family room wall. He is so young and gallant in his uniform and holding a riding crop in his hand as he leans on the photographer’s fake studio wall of stone. The only indication that he is serving in the Canadian Forces is the telltale maple leaf insignia on his hat. Near the end of the war to end all wars he was stationed in England. He married my grandmother in 1918 and brought her to Canada with a babe in arms. My grandmother was a World War I English war bride. Their first born child was my Aunt Joan who passed away in the fall of 2007.

I have often thought of my grandmother, who lived to be 93 years old, arriving in the port of Halifax after a long and difficult voyage across the North Atlantic. I imagine her getting on a foreign train with a babe in arms for what must have seemed an endless journey into this huge wild country in the middle of winter or worse during the blackfly season. She had grown up in a small village not far from London and disembarked from that Canadian Pacific Railway train, after days of difficult travel, in Chapleau, Ontario, a rough railway community on an isolated rail line with no connecting roads at the time. My grandfather was to soon commence his career that was to be interrupted by the Great Depression as a brakeman for the C.P. R.

Can you even imagine the cultural shock suffered by that young woman? My grandparents raised eight children who lived until adulthood. My mother was born within a year of my grandparents arriving in Chapleau and passed away in 2005. Since my Grandmother lived into my adulthood, I have some vivid memories of her. The most vivid memories; however, come from my early childhood. She would come to visit our home for a couple of weeks. She travelled on the train, of course, from Fort William every couple of years. She never lost her clear British accent or her sharp wit. She loved to engage me in puzzle work that was somewhat beyond my age. She enjoyed playing board and card games, but gave absolutely no quarter to the young. She always played to win. It was she who taught me, through inevitable tears, more than anyone else, that despite your ability and effort, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Indeed, I learned to be a good sport at an early age.

I remember like it was yesterday standing beside my grandmother on the shores of Lake Nipissing at the height of Hurricane Hazel in 1954. She was probably a little younger than I am now. Toronto had been seriously damaged by Hurricane Hazel. Where we stood, the damage from this now downgraded storm was sustained mostly along the shoreline. The waves rolled in higher than I have ever seen them, even to this day, on a freshwater lake. The wind was a continual roar in my ears. We had to yell at each other to converse. Boats and docks were torn apart. Lawns behind high and strong breakwaters were dragged out into the lake. The rain fell in torrents and the lightening and thunder never stopped. I had to lean my six year old light frame into the wind to maintain my footing. My grandmother had insisted we venture out to observe the storm first hand because, as she put it, the storm reminded her of the seashore near her home when she was a girl. I remember so well how much she thoroughly enjoyed that drenching and probably dangerous walk that October day. On that day so long ago I felt the absolute power and majesty of God. This incomprehensible power I felt even as a child is well described in Job 37: 1-5.

1 ¶ "At this also my heart trembles, And leaps from its place.

2 Hear attentively the thunder of His voice, And the rumbling that comes from His mouth.

3 He sends it forth under the whole heaven, His lightning to the ends of the earth.

4 After it a voice roars; He thunders with His majestic voice, And He does not restrain them when His voice is heard.

5 God thunders marvelously with His voice; He does great things which we cannot comprehend.

The most telling section in today’s selection of verses is found in the profound words, “He does great things which we cannot comprehend.” It is not only when we stand in a fierce storm that we should remember these words. We can be so much better off acknowledging these very wise words and submitting ourselves to His power, majesty and thankfully His grace.

(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, May 11, 2010

Good and Faithful Servant

There I sat on the door step of Flora MacDonald Public School in the late August sunshine. I had just attended the new teacher orientation luncheon hosted by the board of education that was to become my employer for more than the next three decades. I was twenty-one years old and about to meet with my first principal, Maurice Black, for a tour of the school and more importantly for access to my classroom. My first class was a group of thirty-one grade four students. I realized the other day that those surviving nine year olds will turn fifty sometime this year. It is difficult to keep up with the passage of time within your own mind. The transformation of child to very mature adult happens, it seems, in the blink of an eye. In my mind they remain nine year olds for life, at least my life, that is.

Mr. Black was to become my well remembered mentor. You always knew that he was working in the supply room when you entered the empty childless school. The aromatic smell of his favourite cigar brand wafted up the stairways. In the four years I spent soaking up his wisdom, which was conveyed in such a humble and non-assuming manner, I came to respect him very much. His sense of humour was ever present, but ever so subtle. He retired within three years of my first promotion to vice-principal of another school. He passed away several years ago. Written in his obituary were the words of Jesus from Matthew 25:21 and Matthew 25:23. There in Mr. Black’s newspaper obituary were the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. Actually the full quotation is as follows.

21 "His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

The words are part of a parable that tells of a master giving three of his servants, according to their abilities, five talents, two talents and one talent respectively. The three servants were to be faithful stewards of the money entrusted to them and to seek to increase its value for the master. The first two were able through their faithful efforts to double the amount and return it to the master at a later date. The servant entrusted with just one talent had, because he claimed he feared his master, buried the single coin in a hole in the ground. He returned the coin with no increase. He was not greeted with the commendation of “good and faithful servant” but with the condemnation of “wicked and lazy servant”.

In this parable, Jesus is the master who has gone away, but we know that his return is imminent. Each of us, according to our ability, has been entrusted with faithful service on his behalf. That faithful service begins, of course, with faith and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. If we have contributed to the increase of His kingdom during his absence, then we shall receive his commendation. If we have not, we will receive his condemnation when He arrives. In the parable, the master suggests that the wicked and lazy servant should have given the talent to the bankers so that there would be at least some increase. The bankers in this parable are missionaries, ministries, distributors of Bibles, Christian charities or perhaps Bible believing churches. If we can’t put our possessions to good use ourselves, we should turn a portion over to others who can. I would be delighted to be able to read in my own obituary the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant”. How about you?

(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, May 9, 2010


This morning I find myself enjoying very much a photograph that I recently scanned from a negative that has actually been languishing untouched in my banking files for about twenty years. My mother mailed it to us several years after the wedding of Lozanne’s youngest sister in 1986. It is an exceptionally well composed photograph given the offhand way it was snapped in a darkened reception hall. I had always meant to have the negative developed, but somehow never got around to doing it. With the arrival of the digital age and my scanner that magically digitizes slides and negatives, I finally brought the picture back to life. This digital photo is presently the “wallpaper” on my computer screen.

There we are, Lozanne and I, dressed for a wedding, smiling and, almost disturbingly, much younger. The shot exudes youth, strength, vigour and for Lozanne’s part, beauty. The well lit close up photograph with a very dark background presents us as tanned, relaxed and ready to take on the world. My hair and moustache are dark and full. I was thirty-eight years of age and Lozanne was almost thirty-six. Lozanne’s hair style and dress both suit her so well. In short, it is my favourite picture of my beautiful bride. There are some surprisingly clear and explicit verses in the Bible. If they were to be read on television, perhaps “Due to adult content, viewer discretion is advised” would be announced. One such section of excellent and wise advice is found in Proverbs 5: 18-19. I heartily recommend the following advice.

18 Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth.

19 As a loving deer and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; And always be enraptured with her love.

Late in the summer of 1968, while attending the wedding of my cousin, I introduced my bride of six weeks to my paternal grandfather. He was to pass away shortly after Christmas of that year. I have never forgotten how he absolutely charmed Lozanne with what he said. He shook my hand and said “I wanted to wish you the best, but I see you already have it”. All I can say forty- two years later is that Grandpa Hall was indeed prophetic.

(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, May 2, 2010


This morning I am drawn to the reading of Isaiah 53, a prophetic and pivotal chapter close to the centre of the Bible both physically and spiritually. I am not reading it from my regular New King James Version Bible, but from my much prized 1917 Scofield Bible that belonged to my maternal grandfather. My mother gave it to me when I became a born again Christian. I had no idea of its literary and historical significance until much later in my studies, when I kept seeing the name C.I. Scofield mentioned as a famous Bible scholar of the 19th and 20th centuries.

My memories of my grandfather are confined to one trip made to Fort William, Ontario when I was six years old. I have a few vivid memories of that trip. We travelled through the United States as the faster route in 1954 and there in a restaurant window I saw my first television set. On the marvellous small black and white screen that kept flipping up and down was the wonder dog Lassie. Lassie was saving the twins from the creek for what I believed was the first time. As I grew older, I realized Lassie saved the twins from the creek or some other predicament on a very regular basis. My single most striking memory of my grandfather was his good humour when he took me out in the barn yard in order to “dress” a chicken for dinner. It is no myth that when a chicken’s head is cut off that they can and do run around for a few seconds with no head. He found my reaction to the scene amusing in a kindly and good natured way. It was a different day and sometimes education techniques were very direct, often without worrying about the little psyche of the child. The book mark in my Scofield Edition is my grandfather’s Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen membership card dated in 1958. I believe he died in 1958. I was never to see him again.

The very good news; however, is that I believe I will meet my grandfather in heaven. There are copious notes written in the Bible that would certainly suggest that he was a born again Christian. In Isaiah 53 there is a single word that is written 3 times. This morning I am drawn to verses 5 and 6.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

At verse 5, in the smallest possible print of blue ink applied so many years ago with a straight pen or perhaps a fountain pen, is one word. The word is “vicarious”. The word “vicarious” actually summarizes much of the reason for our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Vicarious means: Done or suffered for others; taking the place of another or the substitution of one person for another. Jesus Christ took upon Himself the horrible punishment that is our due. He became the sacrifice on our behalf so that we may be saved from an eternity of punishment. Instead we are assured, if we believe and act like we believe, of being “healed” by His stripes. We, like sheep, cannot help ourselves. We fall into sin and He was there to take our punishment upon Himself. “Vicarious” is a most appropriate description of the condition in which we find ourselves in our relationship with Jesus.

(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.)