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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Beauty for Ashes

Lately, it seems that I cannot dismiss from my mind what has become, in the last several years, my favourite verse from the Bible. The words dictated to the prophet Isaiah by Jesus gain more meaning with each passing day. This morning that quotation caused me to stop and think about what was the best gift I ever received in this mortal life. I have received many memorable and beautiful gifts. The one that stands out in my mind involves a gift of absolutely no material value.

I was four or five years old. The weather was dark and the rain beat against the windows. I was forced to remain in the house rather than set up my collection of dinky toy cars and trucks in the sand plot by the back door. Although, I have no memory of my mood, I must have been unhappy and pouting about a circumstance that only God could change. My mother surprised me with a homemade set of road signs. They were constructed carefully of empty thread spools, toothpicks and small pieces of paper. Each sign was a replica of actual street signs in use around our home in the fifties. A few months later, I became the proud owner of a metal set of miniature street signs. Those expensive metal signs were never as valuable to me as the hastily, but lovingly and painstakingly, constructed signs given to me by my mother. The reason for that is obvious. Material gifts do not compare in any way to the gifts given out of time, effort and love. That being said, there is no gift that can compare with what our God has in store for us.

In Isaiah 61:3 we read the words that were actually spoken by Jesus and recorded for us by Isaiah seven hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ. Jesus is speaking of His second coming seven centuries before His first visit to this earth. The words are directed to those who mourn in Zion and as a believer I claim my position as a mourner amongst them and I look forward to Jesus returning to this earth to take all the believers with Him to heaven. Even if I die prior to his Second Coming and meet Jesus on my way into heaven, I have already begun to receive the gifts as outlined in this verse.

3 … To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified."

In ancient Israel, ashes were associated with death and mourning. The beauty expressed in this verse can, in my opinion for what that is worth, be anything that we personally consider beautiful. We actually trade beauty for death, mourning and corruption. Rather than mourning the disgraces, sin and difficulties of this world, we can apply the oil of joy. In biblical times, the application of oil to the hair and the body was considered a great pleasure and a luxury. We trade unbelievable grief for joy. Rather that feeling the heaviness of our sins, we can look forward to being praised by the Lord Himself. We trade crushing guilt and self-blame for praise from God Himself. As preposterous as it sounds, we will be tall and powerful examples of goodness.

We receive none of these gifts through our own effort. We collect these completely undeserved gifts simply by accepting them through our faith 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.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Constantly Behold Him

This morning, while rummaging through a workshop drawer, I happened upon a package of old postcards and letters. Prior to this year, I had almost forgotten the existence of these artefacts. Twice in the last few months, I have sat down and read the messages mailed to me by my mother during the spring of 1957. They chronicle a month long motor trip to Florida taken by my parents and another couple. The messages were mailed almost daily for a period of four weeks. The affection, encouragement, travel details and reminders to keep up with my school work contained in the letters and postcards are almost incidental to what I most remember about that very long month.

At the age of nine years, I was abruptly removed from school and the entirety of my social network and sent to live with my aunt and uncle and their two very young daughters. They treated me with great kindness and respect. I was given enough school work by my teacher to complete independently the grade three curriculum for all of the four weeks in March and April of that year. I spent each morning sitting alone at a card table completing my required lessons in mathematics, reading, social studies and writing. I learned more about research and independent study than I cared to know as a nine year old boy. The most difficult part, of course, was to simply force my young self to sit down and start to work. I spent each afternoon exploring the small City of North Bay. I must have walked hundreds of miles during that spring. I learned a great deal about being alone, independent and competent. I do remember very well visiting my older just married sister as I was allowed to explore the city streets.

To be blunt, those four weeks in the spring of 1957 are remembered as difficult and lonely. Although I was very well treated, I was forced to adapt to completely foreign circumstances for what then appeared to be a very long period of time. I have realized lately that I matured a great deal that spring and that the discipline learned over a difficult month was of great use to me as an adult. A decade later, I was to use the same skills to catch up with disastrously lapsed university studies during a post-Christmas break spent alone in a university residence. As a middle aged man, I used identical discipline and skills to independently prepare for the Ministry of Education Supervisory Officer examination. If it was possible, I would send my parents a thank you note right now, but the true author or our learning through adversity is God Himself. It is often through adversity that we learn the most. Adversity is very often the favoured teaching method of our God. In Ecclesiastes 7:14 we read.

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, But in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other…(New King James Version)

The prophet Isaiah makes the point very clear in Isaiah 30:20.

20 And though the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself any more, but your eyes will constantly behold your Teacher. (Amplified Version)

Like me, if you find yourself in adversity today, look around with fresh eyes for the Teacher. Your God and your Jesus will be right there where, if you look and believe, you “can constantly behold” 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.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

No Remission of Sin

I have previously written several blogs describing events observed and lived during summer visits to the farm of my great aunt and uncle. These events have remained in my memory for more than fifty-five years. It will be plain to the reader just why today’s memory has remained so vivid.

There I sat on the fence, completely unaware of just what was about to unfold before my seven year old eyes. My great uncle and his adult sons had brought a docile cow which was probably a steer and tied it to the barn yard fence. After some quiet preparations and without a word of warning to the animal or myself, one of my second cousins swung a sledge hammer and hit the steer squarely over the head. His action was followed almost simultaneously by another cousin who drew a sharp blade across the throat of the animal. A third man attached the hind legs of the steer to a hanging chain come-along and slowly pulled the cow upside down so that the blood could more efficiently drain from the now dead carcass. I was indeed shocked by what I witnessed. I have realized in adult years that the reason that I was not sent into the house or forewarned of what was about to happen was because not one of those men considered what they were doing to be anything but routine farm work. Indeed, as vivid as the memory is, I was not harmed psychologically for life by witnessing their work reality. The quantity of the blood spilled and collected that day was a life lesson in itself.

When I first became interested in reading the Bible, prior to becoming a Christian, I had a lot of difficulty reading and understanding the necessity of the animal sacrifices described in the first few books of the Old Testament. I simply could not make the connection between the forgiveness of sins in return for the shedding of blood, albeit the blood of a sacrificial animal. My childhood memory of the slaughter of an innocent animal made the Old Testament descriptions all that more real. I finally found my understanding of the process in the New Testament Book of Hebrews.

22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. (Hebrews 9: 22)

The Old Testament covenant or agreement between God and men and women was dedicated with blood. Sins could not be forgiven without the shedding of the blood of sacrificial animals. The New Testament covenant was a completely new agreement for us sinners, but the shedding of blood was still involved. We read this very clear statement in Hebrews 9: 11-14.

11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.

12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh,

14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Indeed when we celebrate communion, we are asked by Christ Himself to drink the wine in remembrance of His shedding of His innocent blood on our behalf. How thankful I am not only for my understanding of the process, but for his great and final sacrifice made directly for the remission of my sins.

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I often marvel at what constitutes a lasting and robust memory. Last evening, I had the occasion to suddenly remember my brother-in-law, who passed away about a decade ago. When I was a child, he often visited our home throughout his long courtship of my older sister. Gary was one who enjoyed good naturedly teasing anyone from whom he could evoke a reaction. Although I don’t remember reacting to the innumerable times he sat down on the couch, opened the newspaper and declared that “How Green Was My Valley” was on the late movie. This classic film never, to my knowledge, was shown on the midnight movie schedule of the only available television station when I was a young adolescent and older teenager. Indeed, I did not see the movie until I was an adult husband and father. I had by that time concluded, erroneously, that the title was just one of Gary’s fabrications designed with teasing in mind.

Last evening, Lozanne and I watched a rented copy of the 1941 masterpiece “How Green Was My Valley” directed my John Ford. We have both seen it many times over the years. With the opening credits, I could not help but fondly remembering my brother-in-law and how entertained he would be to learn that indeed it really was on television tonight. The movie chronicles, through the frequent narration of a never seen man in his fifties, of his life as a boy in a large, loving and Christian family who lived and worked in a Welsh coal mine community at the turn of the twentieth century. There isn’t much about life that is not present in this heart warming story of unrequited love, marital joy and humour, family dynamics, long term illness and accidental death in the coal mines. Unfailing stoic behaviour in the face of great physical and emotional hardship is a major theme of the film.

Despite previously enjoying the movie, I had not until last night gleaned from the script the deep Christian faith of the Morgan family. Praying on special occasions, the singing of hymns, Bible readings from Isaiah 55 and statements of eternal faith jumped out and grabbed my attention last evening. The most profound moment occurred just moments following the tragic death of the patriarch of the drama. At the end of the story, his wife, Beth Morgan, looks up into the sky with a look of unexplainable euphoria and proclaims to her daughter and widowed daughter-in-law, “Father came to me just now and he spoke to me. He told me of the glory he had just seen!” The Bible tells us that we on this side of the divide can have no idea what is in store for us in Heaven. In 1Corinthians 2:9 we read the following reassuring words.

9 But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him."

The word “glory” appears three hundred and fifty-one times in the Bible. It can mean great praise and honour for man, but the praise is usually given to God. It can also mean inexpressible beauty and magnificence. Along the same vein, it can mean splendour and bliss. Indeed at times, as we see in Psalm 73: 4, the word is used as a simple but powerful noun that sums up the beauty and peace of heaven.

24 You will guide me with Your counsel,

And afterward receive me to glory.

Last evening as the words “The End” appeared on the screen, it struck me with great clarity, what Beth Morgan was expressing for all to understand. What magnificence, what splendour, what peace, what bliss and what beauty awaits 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, October 12, 2010

Fallen Leaves

There are some inevitable consequences to be faced for living in the country. One of them is dealing with fallen leaves. Around our house there are many evergreen trees, but the majority of the shady greenery consists of birch and poplar trees. There are a few maple trees fighting for some space as well. All of the trees act all summer as protection from the sun and the wind. As winter approaches, the leaves turn varied shades of gold, yellow, brown and red. Initially the property is beautiful. Before very long, we are buried in decaying leaves. I have long since given up trying to rake and dispose of the leaves in the fall. I am convinced that it simply can’t be done. There are just too many leaves.

One job that must be done twice weekly for the month of October is clearing the eaves troughs of the falling leaves. There is no escaping this ritual. The troughs and downspouts fill up to the point that water will not flow within them. It is necessary to climb up on the roof and meticulously clear each run of eaves trough and then remove the bottom of each downspout and clear the leaves collected at the bottom of each spout. This year, for the first time, I have contemplated installing covers over the eaves troughs in an attempt to stop the deluge.

As I was working on the roof the other day, one thought was in my head. How could there be so many leaves to clean out of the troughs? Who could ever count the number of leaves falling on our roof? How many leaves have I cleared and dropped to the ground? I even started to figure out varied ways to estimate the numbers of leaves. The numbers are seemingly endless. There is no way that the human mind can even grasp the shear enormity of the numbers of leaves falling to the ground. Two verses in the Book of Matthew came to me as I worked. In Matthew 10: 29-30 we read:

29 "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.

30 "But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

The human mind cannot truly grasp the complexity of this world as created by an omniscient God. Who can even pretend to understand the active role that the Lord plays in the eternal unfolding of the universe? As I was asking myself who could ever know the number of leaves falling to the ground, the clear answer came to me. God knows! At any given second, on any given space, God can tell us how many leaves have fallen. He placed each leaf on the trees and through His will they fall to the earth before the weight of the snow and ice breaks down the trees. He created you and me as well. He is so aware of our being that he can tell you how many hairs are on your head. It occurs to me that if he is that aware of the minutia, just think of the important things he is watching and providing guidance and assistance to 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.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

We Have Dominion

My memories of the Christmas of 1957 are vivid. I had asked for and received a beautiful red leather jacket that I wore exclusively for several seasons until of course I outgrew it. My most powerful reminiscence; however, was based in the natural world. Late December of that year was extremely frigid without a hint of snow. The extreme cold coupled with a lack of wind and precipitation created the most perfect sheet of skating ice on Lake Nipissing that I have ever experienced. Nipissing is an Algonquin word meaning “big water” and indeed the lake is about 40 miles in length and 16 miles in width at its maximum, creating, that Christmas, a flawless ice surface of about 337 square miles. The ice froze almost instantly to a depth of about 8 inches. There was no hint of a thaw after the freeze took hold. The ice was so clear that it was possible to see the bottom of the lake at surprising depths of water.

The real joy came from skating in any direction until exhaustion or the constant cold caused us to return home. Parents in those days set few ground rules after making sure that the ice was safe. We were confined to an area about one mile from shore and we were not to skate any further than the then city limits of North Bay, Ontario. That created for us a rink one mile by five miles. I can still feel the exhilaration I felt skating at full speed for miles at a time. Although I enjoyed playing hockey and skating with neighbourhood friends, my most vivid memory is getting up at dawn and skating alone great distances as fast as I could. The flawless surface remained for about ten days until a snowstorm in January of 1958 covered the ice. My skating skills improved daily during that period.

As I recall the winter weather of my childhood, there is no doubt in my mind that the temperatures were consistently colder than those of today. I have no scientific or statistical proof for that observation except that I know that it was colder. Although, as I age, moderation in the temperature is quietly welcome, I realize that so called global warming is an observable phenomenon to individuals of my age and stage. The effects of shrouding our planet in clouds of greenhouse gases is causing the earth to warm up with the dire consequences predicted facing our succeeding generations. Of late, I am sickened by the televised images of the horrendous damage done to the Gulf of Mexico and to a river in Michigan all in the name of greed for more oil. The recently televised red toxic sludge oozing towards the Danube River in Hungary is frightening indeed, especially when I consider the direct words spoken by God in Genesis 1:26.

26 ¶ Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

God gave us “dominion…over all the earth”. We have not done a very good job with His entrusted stewardship. Hopefully the younger generation can reverse our failures in taking on and achieving this God given responsibility.

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

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Precious in His Sight

In the last twenty-four months, Lozanne and I have mourned the loss of five saints. The last to enter the door to heaven was declared to be, in his obituary, a “man of God, husband, father and gentleman”. As important as the later three characterizations are in a life well lived, they pale in comparison to the significance of the former, a man of God. Some readers may indeed be confused by my use of the word “saint” to describe those friends in Christ who have recently passed away. In the Bible, the word “saint” does not describe those who have been designated such by a church hierarchy. Sainthood is not an earned title to be conferred after exhaustive investigations into your holy life years following your death by church officials. One of my favourite short verses in the Bible is found in Psalm 116:15.

15 Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His saints.

The above verse is taken from the New King James Bible. Who are “His saints”? Different translations of the Bible render those two simple words as “His loving ones” (Amplified Bible), “those who love Him” (The Message), or “His faithful ones” (Holman Christian Standard Bible). John Calvin in his commentary referred to the saints as “the godly”. “The sanctified ones” is how John Gill rendered his take on the meaning of saints. Matthew Poole characterized them as “God’s people”. The one that best fits my definition of saints is “all believers”, which was coined by the great nineteenth century preacher, Charles Spurgeon.

A saint is anyone who has accepted the free gift of redemption so freely and generously offered through His redemptive work on the cross by Jesus Christ, the son of god. A saint is a professed believer in Jesus. A saint is a repentant and confessed sinner who knows he or she is forever forgiven. A saint is one who knows he or she is going to heaven. A saint is one who understands that his or her death is not a moment of regret or sadness, but an event that is actually precious in the sight of the Lord as He welcomes them finally into heaven. If you are a believer, you are destined for sainthood!

I suspect that I would have to look hard and long in the temporal and secular writings of this world to find another example wherein the words “precious” and “death” appear together in the same beautiful concept.

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

Monday, October 4, 2010

Have Courage

By noon, the sun had retreated behind the ever greying clouds of a cold winter’s day. The wind had been calm, but as we lit a fire for warmth and our lunchtime tea, the biting wind chill froze our bare hands. It actually hurt to remove a mitt and strike the match. Before the kindling was burning properly, the snow began to fall. The north wind blew the snow sideways and made it hard to open our eyes. The landscape began to fade into whiteout conditions. My fellow Boy Scout and I had been left at daybreak at the end of the road adjacent to the river we were following. We had planned to follow the river a distance of about seven miles in order to spend the night in a known log cabin up-river. Carrying heavy survival packs, we had laboured on snowshoes over difficult terrain and deep snow for the last four hours. The change in the weather caused us to reassess the wisdom of our goal. We very much needed to reach the safety of the cabin before darkness fell and the temperature plummeted even lower. The temperature at our point of departure had been 4 degrees Fahrenheit, which on the Celsius scale in use today is about -15 degrees. There was no doubt in our mind that the temperature was dropping and dropping fast. A night time temperature of -20 Fahrenheit (-30 Celsius) or colder could be expected. The snow swirled around the dugout we had fashioned with a snowshoe in order to get out of the wind and light a fire.

Both of us were fourteen years of age and attempting to pass the tests required in order to become what was referred to as a “First Class Scout”. There were several requirements, but none as gruelling as the return seven mile hike through the wilds with the expectation that the scout spend the night in the bush. It had become apparent to us both that the likelihood of reaching the safety of the abandoned cabin with a fireplace was fading with the worsening weather conditions. We had to make a wise and informed decision. If we were to continue, it was almost certain that we would have to build, in the extreme cold and wind, a lean-to in the snow as well as a wind break in front of our fire in order to survive the night. Neither one of us was carrying a down filled sleeping bag suitable for extremely low temperatures. To continue, succinctly put, was to risk falling asleep and never waking up for the sake of a new badge on the arm of our uniforms. After as careful a discussion as made possible by our tender years and weighing all of the pros and cons, we decided that it would indeed be prudent to return to our point of departure and call for a ride home. We knew that we would have to repeat the journey again at a later date, but we felt that we had made the wise decision. Indeed, snowshoeing through increasingly soft and deepening snow took us even longer on the return trip. We knocked at a farm house door to ask for the use of their phone well after dark. I was wearing knee high moccasins for increased mobility and in order to not damage my snowshoes. I could hardly feel my feet as my father pulled up in his blue 1958 Austin to take us home.

Everyone I spoke to, including my parents, applauded our decision. That is until I went to the next meeting of our scout troop and explained our weekend adventure to our scout master of at least three years. He was a man for whom I had, and indeed have to this very day, the utmost of respect. He shocked me with his immediate assertions that we should have continued on our way despite the weather and survived the night in the bush whichever way we could. I completed the seven mile requirement in the spring, but I never could get past for years the fact that I had not won the approval of a man I respected so deeply. I second guessed that decision made by the fire in the snowstorm for many years, until, that is, I matured to the point that I came to the realization that true courage is not usually found in risking life and limb, but in having the courage to make a decision that is right and then standing by it. My career as an educational administrator afforded me countless opportunities to make difficult decisions knowing that various stakeholders would either approve or not approve. I learned that true courage is standing behind your decisions, actions or indeed your beliefs.

Becoming a born again Christian can be much like making a well informed decision that you know will garner some approval, but probably more disapproval. There will be a cost to be borne as a result of your decision. Friends, neighbours, colleagues and relatives, including parents, may say you have gone too far with “your religion”. Most will likely suggest that some moderation is in order. More likely than not, there will be someone you respect very much who will tell you that you should move in another direction away from such fundamentalist beliefs. When I was fourteen, I made a decision that I am sure to this day probably saved my physical life. At the age of forty-eight, I made a decision to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. That decision, as unpopular as it was, and sometimes continues to be, saved my spiritual life. I don’t regret either decision one little bit. Both were taken with the best information available and backed up by the courage of my convictions. Can Jesus make the imperative “must” any clearer in John 3: 5-7?

5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

7 "Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

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

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Locked in the Trunk

Yesterday I took our dog, Marley, to the vet for treatment of a yeast infection in her ear. Needless to say, from her perspective, the appointment did not go well. She was not happy as we drove home. Yet this morning, there she was staring up at me with her usual loyal and undying love. An internet joke that my sister-in-law sent me a few months ago came to mind.

“There is no doubt that your dog is man’s best friend. This premise can be simply proven by trying the following experiment: Place your dog and your wife in the trunk of your car for one hour. When you open the trunk, be careful to observe which one is glad to see you.”

I have no doubt when I opened the trunk that Marley would emerge tail wagging and ready to greet me with great joy. I suspect that the reaction of a loving wife or indeed my own reaction to being locked in the trunk, lest I be accused of sexism, would not be quite the same. It occurs to me today that there is much to be learned from the unfailing, unconditional, ever-loyal and accepting love of our canine friends.

All of us, from time to time, are “locked in the trunk”. I know that I have been in that hopeless darkness several times in recent history. My reaction does not model the example of man’s best friend. Marley is very much aware that, despite her immediate circumstances, in the long term, she is very much dependent on my love and care. Her reaction is the correct one. My reaction has been, like so many of us, one of anger towards my God. He is a forgiving God who can wait until our anger subsides in order that we may learn from the being “locked in the trunk” experience. As the gospel song “The Power of Your Love”, from the album of the same name, prays to our Lord, “renew my mind as Your will unfolds”.

I cannot even begin to appreciate the gift that my saviour has given to me. Despite the reality that I can never measure up to the standards demanded for entry to heaven, and I do mean never, Jesus has provided a way to take my selfish scarlet sins upon Himself and make them as “white as snow”. Through His coming to earth, teachings, actions and sufferings, I have a promise of an eternity in heaven. This thought is perfectly reflected in Isaiah 1:18.

18 "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.

19 If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land;

As I emerge from being “locked in the trunk” all I have to do is be “willing and obedient”. Marley can do it. Why can’t 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.)