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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Digital History

There are times when one wonders, without worrying about proper grammar evidently, “just what I have I gotten myself into"? I can relate to that question these days. I decided several months ago that I would finally get around to a retirement task that I had been moving forward in my todo list for several years. I have purposed in my heart to digitize, collate and file every last photograph, slide, negative and image already on old fashioned floppy disc in our possession. I enthusiastically set up a large table in the downstairs pantry and started collecting all of our photographs taken over forty-two years from all over the house and combined them in very poorly sorted piles of inherited photographs from Lozanne’s and my parents. I had no idea that the pile would be so imposing. I also had no idea that others would rifle through the piles with great interest and make my poor sort even poorer. Undaunted, I purchased a scanner capable of transcribing every photographic media into digital pictures. I spent a whole day devising a comprehensive filing system in which to collect the pictures. A foolproof backup system was also put into place. I quickly discovered that there simply was no way to pre-sort the negatives and the slides. Filing decisions are now necessary as I am scanning random material. No matter what I do to streamline the process, which includes exhaustive editing, the best I can manage is twenty photographs in a two hour work period. I sometimes wonder if the good Lord will allow me the time on this earth to complete this project of projects. I now regard the bulging family photo albums from as far back as the forties with some trepidation.

I started and completed the job of filing the photos on floppy three and a half inch disc. This collection was fairly recent and consisted mostly of our older grandchildren. I am now working on the hundreds of slides taken in the seventies and eighties. The job has become a labour of love. I never quite know who will show up on my scanner preview screen. I am transported back to a time when our now very adult children, most of whom are admittedly middle aged (sorry kids), were infants and young children. It is like I have never seen these photographs before. The job has turned from a formidable task into a great pleasure. There on the screen are special occasions like Christmas, birthdays and baptisms not to mention the Florida and British Columbia road trips taken in the early eighties. I am taken back in time when Lozanne and I were so young, energized and so much enjoying our young family. And yes, I have shed a few private tears in the solitude of my downstairs study.

The one question that has haunted me of late is where have all those years gone? How could time pass so very quickly? I am drawn to one verse in the Bible that best characterizes our human condition when it comes to time. We count our lives in days that quickly turn into years, and then decades. It all slips by so very quickly and then we are whisked into eternity. This timetable is a very human condition. Such is not the case for our caring and all powerful God. Moses phrases this reality so very well in Psalm 90: 4.

4 For a thousand years in Your sight Are like yesterday when it is past, And like a watch in the night.

What a short life we have on this side of eternity. What a long life we have on the other side of the door. Are you certain where you will spend your thousands of years? The very good news is that you can be absolutely certain with belief in Jesus Christ.

(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, September 26, 2010

Dents in the Floor

In April of 2006, during the three weeks after my second diagnosis of cancer and prior to life changing surgical intervention, I decided to undertake the task of building an outdoor screen room that is attached to our home. My greatest motivation was to have an outdoor sanctuary free from insects in which to recuperate after my stay in the hospital. I was strangely energized during those weeks and felt very much alive. Besides the construction of the screen room, there were several indoor plumbing repairs that I wanted to make while I was still comparatively healthy and active. In effect, I would actually take a break from the framing of the screen room and go inside to make the repairs.

Shortly before my departure to the hospital, I noticed small dents in the floor in certain rooms and indeed on the way to certain rooms. We have softwood pine floors and it is not difficult to cause damage to the boards. I could not figure out what had caused the dents and even blamed Lozanne for wearing high heels in the house. Much to my chagrin, it finally dawned on me that I had caused the dents myself by not removing my otherwise clean work boots as I moved from outside to inside work. The culprit turned out to be small pebbles lodged in the large tread of my boots. Wherever I stepped, small dents were created. They are not really that noticeable, but I sure see them clearly from time to time. I have even realized that the small pits may even have a positive reason for being. They will show those who remain, when I am gone, that I was indeed here. Should our home, as is my fondest hope, remain in the family, the dents will be a constant reminder of my former presence; albeit, clumsy, non-thinking presence. It also occurs to me that a life even well lived leaves behind few, if any, clues that we were ever here on this earth. In Psalm 90: 5-6 this concept is made all too clear.

5 You carry them away like a flood; They are like a sleep. In the morning they are like grass which grows up:

6 In the morning it flourishes and grows up; In the evening it is cut down and withers.

Elsewhere in the Bible our lives are characterized as a “vapour” (James 4:14) and as a “sigh” (Psalm 90:9). Verse 10 of Psalm 90 really sums up how short and fleeting our lives are:

10 The days of our lives are seventy years; And if by reason of strength they are eighty years, Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

If I was to stop writing at this point, suffice it to say that my blog today is very depressing. The very good news is that this “boast of labor and sorrow” is not the end. It is just the very beginning of eternity. For those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, these years are just the first breath of forever in paradise with the Father and the Son. For those of us who have accepted the saviour’s free gift, there is a great deal of hope in that thought.

Now I have another way to characterize our short life on this earth. We are but dents in the floor.

(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, September 24, 2010

As the Deer Pants for Water

When I was eighteen, I dropped out of school. I was not doing particularly well during my last year in secondary school, due mostly to a poor choice of courses and a less than industrious attitude. I felt I could not take another day of school and determined that I would leave and never return. I walked away from the building in March of 1966. I well remember my father having little to say about my choice other than a quietly understated admonition that was closer to an ultimatum that I should find a job within three weeks. After two weeks of doing little about finding employment, I took the night train and joined my cousin working at the Spruce Falls Power and Paper mill in Kapuskasing, Ontario. Upon my arrival in town, I applied for employment at the mill and found myself working for very good money as a millwright helper within two days.

The most valuable part of my formal and informal education, I have realized, was the five months I spent in the paper mill. With each passing day, school began to look better and better. Indeed, I was back in secondary school the following September with a much more mature attitude in evidence. There is insufficient space here to describe how I was unprepared for the real working world, particularly in a northern paper mill. One of the duties given to me might shed some light on this reality.

During maintenance shutdowns, the huge dryer drums upon which the finished paper rolled off the line were removed from the paper machine. A small hatch was unbolted and removed and, as the apprentice, I was given the unenviable job of crawling inside a very hot drum about eight feet in diameter and thirty feet in length. The temperature inside was probably about 130 degrees Fahrenheit, although it actually felt hotter, much like my sauna when it is heated up and ready to use. I never knew that the human body could shed so much water in the form of perspiration in such a short period of time. The loss of bodily fluids was so extreme that we were asked to ingest salt pills in order to keep from fainting, a practice that I suspect is no longer acceptable in terms of health and safety measures. Anyone with even mild claustrophobia could not remain in those close quarters to complete the maintenance required. I am not normally claustrophobic, but that escape hatch did look awfully small as I moved further into the drum. Suffice it to say that after two successive shutdown events, I started to plan my return to academia.

The thing that I remember most about the experience is the degree of thirst I felt while working in the drum for short periods of time in order to survive the heat. I could not stop thinking about water while I worked so slowly in the heat and I could not drink enough each time I climbed out of the drum. My vivid memory of that all consuming thirst has reminded me of another overwhelming thirst and longing that is described in Psalm 42: 1-2. This longing increases for me with each passing day. The language in this psalm is beautiful poetry.

1 ¶ To the Chief Musician. A Contemplation of the sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

I can identify so well with the thirst felt by the parched hart. He longs for the cool refreshing water of the brook. Jesus spoke of “the living water” in John 7:38. He said “…if any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink”. (John 7:37) I continue to feel that intense thirst for the Lord and I long to finally have the opportunity to stand before Him. Do you have that kind of thirst today?

(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, September 22, 2010

The Lost is Found

All of my summer earning as a teenager came from either teaching swimming or life guarding at various beaches. The summer before I left for university, despite my best efforts to secure a better paying job, was no exception. I was working two beaches that year. We always worked alone no matter what the weather and the size of the crowd at the park. When I consider the working conditions then, I am sure that they could not and would not be replicated today. We worked hundreds of feet of rocky and sandy shoreline, with one deep area at either park. Our equipment was very minimal, the most useful being a telephone with which to call for help. A weekend crowd on a hot day could consist of hundreds of swimmers, the majority of whom were children. There was one sign at the entrance that outlined the few obvious rules for use of the park, most of which did not concern water safety, but the use of the change rooms and washrooms.

Most days as a lifeguard were very long and uneventful. The job could be very boring. On cool days, reading at a picnic table in a deserted park was your only option to stay awake. The job involved a lot of walking and extreme sun exposure before the days of sunscreen. I remember so well one very hot Saturday afternoon in July of 1967. There were at least two hundred adults and children in the water. As usual, I patrolled the shoreline barefoot from shallow to deep water always watching the water and correcting any obviously dangerous behaviour observed. A woman in her thirties approached me in a very agitated state. She could not find her six year old son. She had been looking for him for several minutes and was now in a state close to panic. I asked her where she had last seen him and whether or not he had been playing with other kids. She could only point to the shallow water and shake her head signifying that he had been alone. I was not comforted much by the fact that this boy was last seen in the shallow water. A young child can succumb quickly to drowning in a foot or less of water.

It is miraculous in a way how the human condition can move from bored and day dreaming to extremely alert and thinking clearly. The page of the Royal Life Saving Manual virtually appeared before my eyes and I knew what had to be done. I called the police for their assistance with the crowd and the possible need for other emergency services. With a whistle and a megaphone, I aggressively asked that all swimmers get out of the water, which they did very obediently. I then asked for teenage or adult volunteers to hold hands in a sweep line from the shallows to the chest deep water and search every foot of the water for several hundred yards along the shore. The line of volunteers was about a hundred feet long. My worst fear then became that they would indeed find an unconscious or even lifeless six year old boy in the water. Instead, as they pressed further and further down the beach right out of the park and in front of private residences, a young boy approached those in the shallow end and asked what they were doing holding hands. We had found the lost boy and indeed he wasn’t drowned, but just wandering where he did not belong.

What I remember most about that day, was the reaction of the mother as she saw her son being escorted to the beach by an adult volunteer searcher. Her face literally lit up as she saw him coming at a distance. She began to shake and cry uncontrollably. When he arrived nearer the shore, she ran towards him and nearly suffocated him with her embrace, weeping all the while. Her relief and joy at seeing him alive and well were quite simply overwhelming. I am not sure what happened at home, but not once did she scold him in the least for wandering off and causing a major event for all at the beach. Her only reaction at this point was all-consuming joy. My memory of her response to the return of her son, reminds me very much of the return of the prodigal son in Luke 15. In verse 20 we see the same picture of God’s everlasting love for the return of confessed and repentant sinners. He is so anxious to run and welcome the sinner into the Kingdom, God doesn’t even wait to hear the confession that He knows is forthcoming.

20 "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

Later in the parable we read the very familiar words:

24 ‘for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

God is awaiting our return to the fold with great anticipation. His joy knows no bounds when we finally do arrive.

(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, September 20, 2010

Call Unto Me

This summer I was taken aback by the words of a young man who certainly appeared to be what we would refer to as “the common man”. He was a well behaved protester at the G8 Summit in Toronto being interviewed by CBC news. His wisdom simply startled me. He voiced so eloquently what I have been feeling in the last year or so in words that made so much sense. He looked straight into the camera and said:

“What we have now in the global economy is socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.”

The huge corporate bailouts which governments have paid out to the banks in the United States and General Motors and Chrysler in the United States and Canada are being financed by the tax payer. I wondered at the time how such greed and incompetence could be rewarded by the seemingly hypnotized establishment. It is becoming evident that the banks and the car companies are flourishing, although the auto makers continue to lay off workers, but the economy continues to be weak in the United States and now in Canada it is slowing down. Unemployment continues to rise and who is doing the suffering…the little guy, the common man, not to even mention the poor in the developing nations of this world. The words spoken by this protester on the lawn of Queen’s Park are indeed true. The two national governments, in the guise of helping the common good, have employed socialism to subsidize the wealthy, but they are continuing to assure the common man that the market controls unemployment and their suffering. Despite the incentives and increased unemployment benefits offered to stimulate the economy, the lion’s share of the money went to the richest of the rich who surprise, surprise, continue to grow richer. We the taxpayer are faced with a growing debt, rising taxes, sometimes buried in things like Harmonized Sales Tax and now the spectre of privatized medicine.

It is so very evident to me that the secularization of North America can explain so much of what befalls us. As we in North America consciously move away for God and God’s Word, the clouds just continue to become blacker. Instead of helping the poor, we offer them capitalism as their way out and shower the wealthy with more and more of our hard earned tax dollars.

The actual words of God found in Jeremiah 33:3 make the error of secularization perfectly clear.

3 ‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’

The Message renders the last clause as “wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own”.

All we have to do is have the faith to “Call unto” Him and he will answer us. Few of us are calling these days and you can see the results everywhere you look.

(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, September 17, 2010

Jesus Wept

Recently, I have been reminded of the shortest verse in the Bible. Lozanne's studies have taken her in the direction of these two words. This simplest of sentences tells us so much about Jesus and prove that indeed he was human as well as divine. In John 11: 35 we read:

35 Jesus wept.

This verse has special significance to me. From the fall of 1960 until the summer of 2006, I could not and did not cry any tears. Even at the funerals of my parents, as upset as I was, the best I could do was to get a little choked up, but no tears appeared in my eyes. I can remember vividly the last time I cried as a boy. I had just returned from an overnight camping expedition and faced the prospect of a Sunday night of studying for an important seventh grade science test the next day. I was so overtired that I sat in front of my notebook and wept. My parents simply sent me to bed with the promise they would wake me up early to study in the morning. Through no one's fault, our generation was raised with the clear implication that males, as they matured, were not to cry. Some of us became very adept at shutting out the emotions that may indeed cause weeping, both in public and in private. Why such a culture should have existed, I have no idea as I look back. What I have since discovered is that a vital emotional outlet was denied us.

My lack of tears ended during my thirty-four day hospital stay in May and June of 2006. On a couple of instances, while I was desperately ill, I noticed, along with feelings of submission to the Lord, a few tears in my eyes that had to be wiped away. I am not sure if others noticed. The deluge came the day that my surgeon suggested that I take a day pass and go home for the afternoon. I must admit that his strategy of allowing me to go home for brief periods of time and returning to the hospital in the evening was one of the most healing strategies that he employed. On at least five occasions as I began to become stronger, I was removed temporarily from intravenous machines, their connecting tubes and other apparatus taped to my body strategically under my clothes, and sent home with Lozanne to spend time in our screen room by the lake. The agreement was that I would return very early in the evening to be reconnected and medicated for another night in the hospital. I can't describe the joy I felt when the doctor made the suggestions of the day pass. Cane in hand for stability, I made my way slowly to the car with Lozanne. As I entered our car, she started the engine and the sound system started up without warning playing a country gospel song. The lyrics started with the words, "My Jesus". I began to weep uncontrollably and inconsolably for about ten minutes. I could not get my breath and cried like an injured three year old. At first, I was horribly embarrassed and apologized for my untoward behaviour. As I calmed down and the tears subsided, I realized how much better I felt for the cry. I have been crying at the drop of hat ever since. I cry over movies, my children and grandchildren, when I give speeches about my wife, over the dog and sometimes in chapel during the Lord's Supper. Suffice it to say that I now cry easily and indeed I must admit that I continue to be embarrassed by it, but at the same time it feels so good.

I am heartened by the fact that Jesus, who was God on earth, was able to and did weep. In this instance in the Book of John, He has shown up purposely four days after the death of Lazarus. He knew Lazarus was already dead and He knew that He would raise him from the grave. His weeping was quite simply caused by his great sympathy for the profound grief felt by those around the grave site. He could empathize with their distress and actually feel their grief. Jesus is described as weeping three times in the New Testament. If Jesus can weep, so can I.

(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, September 15, 2010

Walk With God

I have heard my brother-in-law, who is a very convincing preacher, exclaim from the pulpit, “You aren’t getting out of here alive”. He is not referring to leaving the chapel after the sermon to have lunch. With the exception of the return of Jesus to escort the redeemed to heaven, he is correct. It would appear that there is only one way out of this life. Since the believer is assured heaven on the other side of the door, there is little to fear except the manner of death, which may be difficult or indeed may be quick and painless. I am intrigued; however, by the accounts in the Bible which describe the ascension to heaven by two individuals who do not suffer through the process of death. Elijah, a very aggressive and faithful prophet who fought against idol worship at great peril to himself, was taken to heaven by a whirlwind. I can only theorize after the reading of the story that Elijah was transported directly to heaven as a reward for remarkable service to God. There was no doubt that his faith and his demonstration of it was a minute to minute example for the rest of us. We read in 2Kings 2:11

11 Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

The second example is the one of Enoch. Enoch was the seventh generation descendent of Adam. Little is told to us about him except that, after his son Methuselah was born, he walked with God for three hundred years. Then in Genesis 5:24 we read the very sparse and concise statement, the significance of which, is easily lost in a quick reading.

24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

Just what does it mean to “walk with God”? To me it suggests a relationship that goes very much beyond the attendance of church on Sunday. The Amplified Bible translates it as “habitual fellowship”. That would involve, I am sure, allowing God into virtually every facet of your life. It would mean the continual talking and listening to God through prayer. It would mean the keeping of short accounts with the Lord in respect to committed and confessed sin. In the New Testament times it would include, no doubt, keeping the Word of God ever before you. It would also mean obeying Jesus and living as the Son of God set out for us while he was on this earth.

I am greatly humbled by this short account of Enoch. As hard as I try, I have difficulty walking with God for a whole day. I get up the next morning and try again. I suspect that my experience is that of the vast majority. We try and we fail and then we try some more. Enoch walked with God one hundred and nine thousand and five hundred (109, 500) days, not taking into account leap years. He walked with God never slipping for three hundred years! This is a man who I admire. The good news is that I will still get to meet Enoch in heaven. It is likely, unless Jesus returns to this world, that I will get there through the conventional route, but I am assured by the Son of God that I will indeed make it there despite my less than perfect record.

(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, September 13, 2010

Draw Me Nearer

This morning Marley and I ventured along the farm road that is adjacent to our property. We walked back into the forest. It is a walk that I avoid during the warm summer months. The likelihood of meeting a black bear foraging for raspberries is a factor that keeps us out of our favourite walking trail until the cooler weather is upon us. I enjoyed a glorious fall walk with my faithful walking stick and my loyal canine companion sniffing out the scent of wildlife as she ran alternatively ahead of and behind me. I purchased a stout walking stick the day I decided to retire. I use it daily summer and winter. While walking on a smooth surface, it simply balances in my right hand. On rough or slippery terrain it provides greatly increased stability and balance. A walking stick is invaluable for breaking cob webs in front of you on early morning summer walks near trees and shrubs. It also affords at least the psychological promise of protection. Where we walk, even on our own property, bear encounters are common and in the past I have had to deal with an aggressive dog as well. I am not sure about the wisdom of using a walking stick on an attacking black bear, but this well worn instrument gives a modicum of comfort. It is the height of my shoulder and a little more than an inch in diameter. It also makes an excellent leaning post when I stop for a rest. Marley understands its use in pointing out directions along our journey. In short, I have become uncomfortable walking anywhere but on the driveway without my walking stick.

This dependence has made me much more attentive to the use of walking sticks in the Bible. The mention of rods, staffs and crooks is very common in scripture. When Moses is charged with the responsibility of leading the Israelites out of Egypt, God actually makes use of the staff that is in the hand of Moses as he speaks to him. In verse Exodus 4:20 that walking stick becomes “the rod of God” which Moses uses to punish Pharaoh over and over until he is ordered to leave Egypt with the Hebrew nation. Moses also uses this staff to smite the rock to find water in Exodus 17:6 and he held it aloft in order to fight Amalek in Exodus 17:9. When he held it up, his troops prevailed. When his arm tired and he let it down, the troops of Amalek prevailed. This walking stick became an instrument of God.

Lately, I have been meditating on the very familiar words found in Psalm 23: 4

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

I read the words “rod” and “staff” as one instrument; namely, a heavy walking stick probably with a shepherd’s crook at the end. I have always understood that comfort for His “sheep” comes from the protection afforded by the staff of the Lord. I am not to even fear the threat of death. I will fear no evil because the Lord is there to look after me. It has also dawned on me of late that the reference to “rod”, which is also an instrument of punishment in the Bible, may suggest that I may need to be disciplined from time to time, and indeed I do. The crook on the end of the staff signifies my need to be redirected from time to time, and indeed I do need that as well. I am recently heartened by the realization that a staff with a crooked end is used primarily to pull the sheep towards and closer to the shepherd. The strange thing is my realization later in life that such discipline and redirecting is a comfort, particularly when I know that the direction of redirection is always closer to Him. Indeed, the attention paid to my welfare and direction in life by a loving and disciplining God is forever a comfort that leads to 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.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fear and Trembling

There she stood in obvious anticipation with that trusting stare. She was clipped, brushed and her pendulous ears meticulously cleaned and groomed. After her very thorough shower, she smelled of cheap shampoo. Marley, our seven year old English Springer Spaniel, was now ready for her annual visit to the vet. This is a yearly event I have come to dread. I approach it with much prayer, before, during and after the experience. Marley is inexplicably stressed by a visit to the vet even when she is perfectly healthy and only due for a couple of vaccination boosters that she doesn't even feel when they are administered. Regular readers may remember a blog about this annual event last year (Count It All Joy, August 18, 2009). It truly is a memorable day for Lozanne and I each year.

After lunch, leash in hand, ready for certain later use, and collar securely fastened, I ushered her into the back seat of the car. This year she was immediately suspicious. I have no idea how, but she sensed her destination. She began to shake...just a little, but shaking nevertheless. As I made the turn onto the highway that leads to her veterinarian of four years, a cowering Marley with begging eyes greeted me in the rear view mirror. The trembling increased with each passing kilometer.

Upon arrival in the parking lot, I had to block her escape through the open car door as I secured her leash in order to literally drag her into the clinic waiting room. Thankfully, this year there were no other dogs in the waiting room. Last year it was quite evident that her stressed behavior influenced the less than perfect deportment of other dogs who were blissfully unaware that they were in harms way, until Marley somehow communicated clearly with her demeanor of sheer terror that there was something sinister about this place and this afternoon. The whining, the begging to leave, the pulling toward the door, the standing up to look me in the eyes, the shaking, the trembling, the look of abject fear was enough to convey her clear message to all around her. This year there was no audience to influence. As usual, the actual visit with the vet with me holding her with much difficulty on the examination table was quite uneventful and painless for Marley. Unfortunately the vet and I didn't enjoy the visit nearly so much. I was brushing dog hair off my sweaty brow and clothes an hour after the visit. As I left the office, exhausted, I thought about her fear and trembling and indeed those very words came to me as a quote from the apostle Paul in Philippians 2: 10-12.

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,

11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

12 ¶ Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;

Paul is speaking to the members of the church at Philippi. In this epistle, he is attempting to correct some of the bad habits that had sprung up in his absence. Apparently divisiveness and squabbling were diverting the Philippians from an effective walk with Jesus. Verses 10 and 11 present a beautiful and effective picture of the lordship of Jesus. Eventually all will bow to His kingship either voluntarily or otherwise. All will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord. Some scholars have argued that the salvation mentioned in verse 12 actually refers to the Philippians successfully dealing with their difficulties. Other scholars insist that Paul is indeed referring to their redemption through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. My interpretation, particularly based on the translation presented in the Amplified Bible, is that in verse 12, Paul is referring to our redemptive salvation. He is suggesting that those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and are, as a result, saved from their sin, should continue every moment they are alive on this earth to “cultivate” or “fully complete” their salvation. They should do this with fear and trembling that actually reflects “awe, reverence, watchfulness, caution and timidity for anything that might offend God”. We know with certainty that we can’t work our way to heaven, but we can indeed further our initial acceptance of the free gift of salvation by continuing daily as best we can toward the goal.

(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, September 9, 2010

What Has Been

During my first year of teaching in 1969, I learned an important lesson in democracy. Unwanted jobs can often be apportioned to the most unsuspecting and vulnerable in the name of the will of the majority. As I sat in my first staff meeting ever, it was moved, seconded and resolved, before I could even think of objecting or declining, that I would serve on the Economic Policy Committee representing the two teaching unions in negotiations with the board of education. I observed at the table at my first meeting of the E.P.C. that it was not uncommon to combine several very experienced negotiators with a number of representatives with 2 weeks experience. Consensus was usually reached in a very short period of time that way. I attended monthly and sometimes bi-weekly meetings that year in the old Central Public School that was to be torn down in the summer of 1970. I never did observe negotiations with the board in progress that year. My memory of that old building is mostly confined to the basement which consisted of painted and unpainted brick and cement blocks as well as poured concrete.

I was amazed to discover this summer that some of the brick that surrounded me as I tried to concentrate during those evening meetings has a new home. That new home is in our home. The former owner of our house visited us this summer and in response to my question as to the source of the antique brick in our kitchen hearth, I was surprised to learn that they had been purchased at the demolition site of Central Public School and then stored for years until they were used. As I approach the kitchen stove, oven or microwave, I can’t help but think of those meetings in 1969 and 1970. I am also intrigued by a tar print of the treads of a work boot that remains on one of the bricks. I can’t help but wonder the age and stage of the man or woman who left his or her footprint in time 40 years or perhaps much more ago.

The revelation revealed by the builder of our house has also caused me to consider the relevance of the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 1: 9-11.

9 ¶ That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun.

10 Is there anything of which it may be said, "See, this is new"? It has already been in ancient times before us.

11 There is no remembrance of former things, Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come By those who will come after.

Solomon’s disillusionment is somewhat sobering unless you read Ecclesiastes to the last chapter. Even in our home, we have a classic example of how building materials can go in a circle to be reused again. They indeed are not new and have been before. It is though they bonded with me and followed me to this house that I would eventually purchase. Even more disturbing is the revelation that the remembrance of what was is very limited. Except for my recording of some of this information in my writings, I suspect that the legacy of the bricks in our kitchen hearth will be lost forever with my aging memory. The remembrance of the person who left the boot print is already a vapour I suspect. Generations come and generations go. We are remembered for a very short period of time simply because those who knew and loved us pass away with our memory and we are soon forgotten.

In Ecclesiastes 1: 4 we are reminded that although generations come and go, the earth remains forever. I like to take this one step further. God remains forever. Jesus Christ remains forever. Believers in Jesus get to live forever in Heaven. When I consider the magnitude of His free gift, I am no longer concerned with how long I will be remembered on this earth.

(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, September 7, 2010

Wait on the LORD

During the summer of 1958, I spent twenty-one days waiting. Three long weeks of hopeful expectation day after day were spent awaiting the delivery of an archery set from the then popular Eaton’s catalogue. My mother had made the telephone order and told me that it was unlikely the much awaited bow and arrow set would arrive from the Toronto distribution centre that week. I still watched for the delivery truck each day, just in case. There were so many deliveries by Eaton’s in those days that I could observe the Eaton’s truck coming down our long street at the about the same time daily. Each and every day for that three week period I trusted that the truck would indeed pull into our driveway. My faith was renewed each night and I just knew the driver would make the delivery the next day. There was no notice or any forthcoming information from Eaton’s as to why the delivery was delayed. The reason for that is that they probably didn’t know it was delayed. I was the only party who held that opinion. As a child, I remember learning patience on a regular basis. Instant gratification was not a part of my generation’s childhood experience. We learned to wait and hope and then the next day to wait and to hope once again.

Come with me to the summer of 2010. We ordered for Lozanne an Apple iPad directly from the Apple Store Website. It was unavailable in local stores. We were informed clearly at the time of ordering that there would be a ten day wait before shipping probably because the computer had not been built yet. On the tenth day, I received an email informing me that the iPad had been shipped. I was given a tracking website address with the promise that we could follow the progress of the shipment. As a matter of interest, I followed the breathtaking progress of that package from the surprise, to me at least, manufacturing site of Shenzhen, China to Hong Kong, to Memphis, Tennessee, to Toronto and finally to North Bay, Ontario in four days less a few hours. The irony was that it then took three days to move the order the last few hundred kilometres up the highway. All the while, however, I was informed where the package was for the Friday, and the weekend. I knew it would arrive on the Monday. The whole process reminded me of how the wait for expected orders had changed since 1958. There was no wondering and little expectation of gratification daily because I was aware exactly of the location of the prized package. There was no looking for the truck. There was no reacting to the noise of a vehicle in the driveway. The excitement of expectation had been removed from the wait!

The phrase “wait on the LORD” appears three times in the Psalms and twice in the Book of Isaiah. The meaning in each instance is virtually the same. As I was contemplating the differences in waiting between the experiences as described above, I could not help but realize that waiting on the LORD is much more like my 1958 experience than the summer of 2010. In Psalm 27: 14 we read the following encouraging words.

14 Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD!

Waiting for the LORD involves the same skill set and emotions of my boyhood waiting. In faith, we are to hope for the LORD daily. We are to look for the LORD daily. We are to expect the LORD daily. Finally we are to trust in the LORD daily. Those of us who have had the opportunity to enjoy this hopeful expectation and to have our wait rewarded by joyful communion or answered prayer have no desire for any changes to this ancient and God designed process.

(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, September 5, 2010

Of the Ending

On a recent summer afternoon my ten year old grandson Liam was using my desktop computer. Since Liam is autistic, I always make sure to look over his shoulder to see what he is up to on my computer. I have no fear that he will go where he should not on the internet, but rather I am always entertained both by his amazing computer skills and curious about just what he is creating. There is also the minor concern of having a forty page document printed in living colour at any given moment. He has no concept of the word “frugal”. On this day I came downstairs in time to see a one page document of three cartoon characters coming out of the printer. I did not recognize the modern day characters, so I asked him to name them. As he did so, I read the title that he had typed in bold letters at the bottom of the sheet. I was frankly very surprised to read the following words:

“All the world of the ending June 2011.”

It took me a moment to realize that he has become aware of the so much discussed “end of the world” theory that suggests that the earth is doomed on Dec. 21, 2012. As I so often do before or during my writing, I did some research and discovered, to my amazement, no less than twenty-nine theories that claim the world will be consumed by an apocalyptic event on Dec. 21, 2012. These vary from the predictions of Roman oracles, the Mayan calendar, the writings of Nostradamus, ancient Egyptian prophecy and even predictions supposedly based on the Book of Revelation in the Bible. I was dumbfounded. It is no wonder that it is easy to overhear young people discussing what a recent movie portrayed may come true. I have even heard reports of otherwise responsible adults who are actually running up excessive debts that they are sure they won’t have to repay after the Winter Solstice of 2012.

My research trip to “end of the world” websites left me exhausted and dizzied by the nonsense I read. The Bible makes it crystal clear what comes next in God’s plan. We are also clearly informed that we cannot and will not know when that event will happen. For the record, references to the end of the earth and the skies above it as we know them are mentioned in Matthew 24: 35, 2Peter 3: 10 -13 and Revelation 20:11. There is absolutely no indication in these verses as to when this dissolution will happen. I share the opinion of most scholars that the dissolution of the heavens and earth will come long after Jesus comes to reign on earth. We find the words that inform us what is to happen next in Matthew 24: 36-42.

36 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.

37 "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.

38 "For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark,

39 "and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.

40 "Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.

41 "Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.

42 "Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.

Jesus is referring not to the cataclysmic end of the earth, but to his return to earth in order to take His church (those who believe), both living and dead to Heaven. This is often referred to as The Rapture or The Second Coming. The horrendous descriptions of apocalyptic events in The Book of Revelation take place in the seven years following the return of Jesus. This is referred to as The Tribulation which is indeed not the "end of the world".

I thank God for the grounding that His holy Word provides. As I hold up the nonsense of “end of the world” thinking against the stable template that is the Bible, I can clearly discern the truth. We should indeed prepare for the return of our Lord and Saviour and we can never know when that much awaited event is going to be. The rest of the man made misinformation and hysteria we can ignore, as I am sure that is exactly what my grandson, in his quiet, isolated and non-communicated wisdom, is doing.

(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, September 3, 2010

All Things Work

I read with interest a few weeks ago a newspaper article outlining the plans for a local high school reunion that would span a weekend. Indeed, a very full weekend of catching up with old friends was anticipated. Tours, a dinner and socials were about to unfold for alumni arriving from around the world. What really caught my eye was the enthusiasm expressed in a couple of quotations from local graduates and organizers. One of them told the reporter, “I loved high school, the hockey and the football days, the tightness of a small school and the camaraderie”. Another went so far as to say, “If I could go back, I would do it all over again. I loved high school.”

I cannot personally relate to those sentiments. I know many who would absolutely agree with me. The very thought of having to return to my secondary school and enter those doors as a student is enough to make me shudder. When I look back I wonder how I ever made it though the experience. Indeed I did drop out one year to work in a paper mill and had to return for an additional year, teeth clenched and determination etched on my face, to complete my senior matriculation so that I could attend university. The moment I entered university, I realized that learning was something to be enjoyed. I found creative thinking was prized and pursued the opportunity to learn and succeed with enthusiasm. In the pursuit of three degrees and other qualifications my marks improved with each passing year.

Indeed, I left secondary school with less than impressive grades. I have vivid memories of the fall convocation I attended after I had attended university for several weeks. It was such a relief to be assured that when I exited from that gymnasium, I would never return. I had studied Latin for four gruelling years from a man, who, despite his good intentions and competent approach, was prone to racial slurs and inappropriate exhortations, examples of which I have wisely decided to omit from my discourse this morning due to their objectionable and offensive nature. Within the confines of the sixties, his comments were not at all that unusual or perceived as offensive. The world has indeed changed for the positive in at least some areas. In the end, I achieved the stellar grade of fifty-one percent in my provincial examination for Latin Authors. I must admit that I memorized, with great difficulty (I am not now, nor was I ever very good at memory work), pages of English translation of Latin and simply wrote them down after trying to identify the first line of the selection. In short, I translated very little. The shocking event of my convocation evening was the earnest congratulations of my Latin teacher. When he commented on my fifty- one percent, I was surprised to hear him kindly say, “Fifty-one percent is all you need to get out of here”. Indeed, how correct and perceptive he was. I have never forgotten his congratulatory words. I must concede today that the study of Latin has shaped and defined my English reading and writing skills.

I have also realized in recent years the truth of the words of Paul in Romans 8:28.

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

We are not shaped by destiny, fate or even luck. We are conformed to the image we will become from the beginning by the hand of God. When we are going through difficult times, we may find it hard to recognize that indeed all circumstances are part of God’s specific plan for us. He is at work in us long before we have the wisdom to accept His free gift of redemption or in Paul’s wording we “are called according to His purpose”. All things, including a young person’s distaste for high school, work together in the shaping of an individual and I thank God daily for that reassurance.

(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, September 1, 2010

The Church

I enjoy very much the historical column in our local Saturday paper which is entitled "Time Capsule". The column written in late July caught my rapt attention as I opened the paper. It was not the text, although that was interesting, that seized my attention. It was the large photograph of the Eglise St. Antoine prior to its destruction by fire in 1936. Inset is the smaller photo of Father Theriault, who is a well known historical figure in the City of Timmins. To the right of the church, which was rebuilt immediately, was the object of my immediate interest. Obviously the parish rectory survived the fire that destroyed the large landmark that, as a matter of interest, was built by Lozanne's paternal grandfather. The large Victorian style manse evoked my sincere interest because Lozanne and I spent a couple of difficult hours in that house, which was torn down many years ago, preparing for our upcoming marriage. I remember a warm July evening in 1968. Father Morin, a very kindly man, had a tough job to do that night.

When Lozanne and I became engaged a few cultural, language and religious barriers were crossed. Our situation was not unheard of in those days, but it was unique. To the horror of our parents and the religious institutions of the day, protestant and catholic alike, an English Protestant groom and a French Roman Catholic bride were applying to be married, and I do mean applying. We could not be married in the Roman Catholic Church without the express permission of the bishop who was sequestered in a distant community. Father Anicet Morin, the incumbent vicar in 1968, was to interview us and make a recommendation to the bishop who had the final say in allowing us to marry…or not. Since a marriage in any other church or venue was unthinkable to Lozanne's family, we were under considerable pressure to perform. A long interview progressed through the evening. I have forgotten most of the questions with the exception that we were asked whether we intended to have children. Would those children be raised as Roman Catholics? I was not asked to convert, but further assurances regarding the religious raising of our as yet unborn children were sought in an interview with me alone. After several difficult hours, we were informed that a letter of recommendation would be mailed to the bishop for his consideration.

Obviously, the bishop consented to what was then referred to as a "mixed marriage"...a marriage that has happily lasted 42 years so far. Indeed, I kept my promise to raise the children in the Roman Catholic Church. Ironically, not one of them attends the Roman Catholic Church today. I want it remembered for posterity that I did indeed keep my promise and even participated actively in their religious training.

Most of us go through life regarding buildings or institutions as churches. I was in this category until I was forty-eight years of age. Today, as I remember so vividly the church building we were married in, the words of Colossians 1:18 are ringing in my ears.

18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

The church is not a place. It is not a rich and powerful institution. It certainly is not a building, nor is it a hierarchy of well educated men or women. The body of Christ is a very simple concept. Believers in Jesus and His redemptive powers are the church. Jesus is head of the church. Indeed, in all things He is to have the outstanding superiority. Speakers in the pulpit at our local chapel are greeted by an expansive large lettered message that stretches across most of the back wall of the auditorium. The words "that in all things He may have preeminence" are a very valued reminder of the standing of Jesus in a building that is not a church.

(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.)