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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Green Wood

One of my earliest memories is excitedly climbing up onto a pile of wood slabs and throwing them one by one through the coal chute opening into the basement of our house.  We moved from that house when I was six years old and I well remember the day that the workmen installed the ultra-modern oil furnace in that house.  As I consider both memories, I suspect that I was four or five years of age when I began to work with wood.  I loved to move and pile the wood, not just because I got to help and be with my father, but because deep down I truly enjoyed the process of dealing with wood for the purpose of heat.  I didn’t know that fact then, but within one year of owning a home, we burned wood for supplemental heat and continued to do so in every one of our future homes.  My love affair with wood heat has gone on for thirty-eight years.  My obsession has necessarily been replaced, due to my recent inability to keep up with the much loved labour, with more modern forms of central heating; namely, natural gas and electricity. 

I truly love the smell of seasoned wood in the woodshed and indeed the aroma of just a wisp of smoke from a good fire.  The heat produced is like no other.  It is pervasive, heats every part of the home and creates a comfort like no other fuel.  Of course the beauty of an open flame held captive in your home is a very primitive pleasure.  I actually dreamed that in retirement I could heat a home with wood.
For the last six years of our lives, the Lord allowed me that pleasure and we were able to heat our country lakeside home with wood heat.  We possessed a modern wood furnace as well as a large two sided old fashioned stone fireplace.  I loved, while I was able, to split and pile twenty cords of wood late in the spring of each year.  The purchased birch would arrive in front of our woodshed in a very green form.  By green I mean that it was full of sap and not suitable for burning at all.  The moisture in the freshly cut wood prevents it from burning properly and indeed the smoke created from burning green wood can result in the build-up of dangerous creosote in the chimney.  By splitting and piling in the open ended woodshed this vast amount of wood, we were able to provide four or five months of curing of the wood.  During the warm summer and fall days the wood dried out so that it could be burned with efficiency and safety.  There is a short, but fascinating statement attributed to Jesus in the twenty-third chapter of Luke that speaks of green and dry wood.  To put it in context, let us start at verse 28.
28 But Jesus, turning to them, said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
 29 “For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’
 30 “Then they will begin ‘to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’
 31 “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”  Luke 23: 28-31
I find these four verses to be quite remarkable.  Jesus has spent the previous night and day being brutally dragged through the mock courts of the high priests, Pilate, Herod and back to Pilate.  He had been mocked, beaten, spit upon, and scourged.  Just the chastisement of the whip as wielded by the Roman Soldiers was enough to kill some men before they were crucified.  Jesus is unable to carry his own cross due to his exhaustion and injuries; yet he miraculously stops to speak to a group of women who are lamenting and mourning his tragic end by the side of the road on the way to Calvary.  He is forecasting about thirty-seven years into the future the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in the year 70 A.D.  
It is the words in verse 31 that have the most effect on me.  Jesus is several times in the Bible referred to as a tree or a vine.  In this case he is referring to himself as the green wood that is not filled with sap and the promise of life, but green wood that is filled with goodness, grace, innocence, healing and miracles.  This “green wood” is not fit to be cut down for fuel.  Jesus is telling the women and us that if Roman soldiers will do such evil and violence to He who is innocent, just imagine what they will do the the “dry wood” which represents the evil and rebellious inhabitants of Jerusalem.  There is another level to this metaphor.  If God the Father could see fit to so severely punish his innocent son the “green wood” in order to pay for our sins, just imagine what He will do the the “dry wood” which is fit for burning for all of eternity.  
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Saturday, November 26, 2011

As the Bridegroom Rejoices

As I headed for my Volkswagen which was parked, due to the lack of a parking lot, on a distant street, I began to look forward to the weekend.  Another week of teacher’s college was over.  The 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. hours were a shock to the system after attending university for a year.  I longed for the fifteen hour lecture week, especially since class cancellations and skipping early or inconvenient classes reduced the university workload down to a more manageable grind.  Missing class at North Bay Teacher’s College was, we imagined, punishable by immediate expulsion.  I was eagerly driving to pick up my bride of three months.
Our Friday evening routine was very quickly established during that year at normal school, so named because the teaching masters were supposed to inculcate the norms of standard teaching practices.  I picked up Lozanne at our modest (I am looking back with rose colored glasses) one bedroom apartment in the heart of the industrial section of town.  Our first stop was the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce which was in the downtown core.  There was but one method to get money to spend in 1968.  After parking and putting a nickel in the parking meter, you stood in a long line in a large high ceilinged and echo filled bank and withdrew the money from your account with a written withdrawal slip.  Our usual weekly withdrawal was $25.00.  We would then buy gasoline as required at thirty-four cents per gallon.  The empty eight gallon tank would cost us $2.72.  We then headed for the A and P grocery store to buy our weekly groceries for around $17.00.  The money left over was our spending money for the week.  We would then head home for a special Friday night meal like frozen chicken pot pie.
I have very fond memories of the early months of our marriage.  For a brief period in our nearly 44 years, there was only the two of us.  There were definitely times of tension as we adjusted to the complexity of married life.  There were also times of joy and growing together as a couple.  It is the times of joy that I best  remember these days.
The Friday evenings stand out, as do the number of times I was late for class in the morning, which oddly seemed to be a very forgivable misstep  at North Bay Teacher’s College.  My uncharacteristic lateness on a regular basis became somewhat of a class joke for both students and teaching master alike.  These memories have lately given me an enhanced understanding of Isaiah 62:5
 5 ... And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.
Throughout the Bible the concept of the church becoming the bride of Jesus  is constantly developed.  The prophet Isaiah, who wrote the above words about seven centuries before the birth of Christ, is forecasting a later day when God (Jesus) will rejoice and delight in His church given to Him as a bride.  Who makes up the church?  Simply stated, the church is made up of faithful believers.  It does not consist of any one denomination or religion.  It is made up of those who have professed their belief in the saving work of Jesus dying on the Roman cross in order to pay dearly for our sins.  As I rejoiced over the bride of my youth, as I continue to do so to this day, so God rejoices over those who are true believers in his church.  He sees every one of them as desirable and beautiful just as a bridegroom is expected to see his bride.  I am thankful that I can count myself amongst those men who can truly understand the second half of verse 5 in Isaiah 62.
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Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Work of God

Of all the possible idols that can separate us from God, the most insidious, personally speaking, is work. I have been retired for almost a decade. I worked on a part-time basis for another three years following my retirement. I have come to realize that what I considered to be nothing more than a healthy work ethic and admittedly driven ambition was much closer to full blown idolatry. All of my working life, I planned, prepared and studied as necessary for the next promotion. With the exception of one ten year stint as a superintendent of schools, the longest I remained in one position was four years. My average stay in many positions was three years before seeking a new job with better prospects. I moved from teacher to vice-principal in two different schools, to principal of small school, to principal of two small schools, to principal of a larger school, to superintendent, and finally to director of education.

The last thirteen years of my career consisted of 70 hour work weeks with some days ending after 11:00 P.M. I sat through countless meetings, travelled a lot and worked most evenings and a good part of weekends. The odd thing, as I look back, is despite my realization that I worshiped at the shrine frequented by driven workaholics, I am still proud of what I accomplished. I hope I did some good for the students and parents I served. I also had a very supportive wife who was with me every step of the way. I did not know the Lord Jesus as my savior until near the end of my working years. I began to become aware of work being my modern idol replacing ancient wooden statues of various small “g” gods just prior to my retirement.

One has only to browse through the the Book of Proverbs or the Epistles of Paul to learn that the Bible espouses a healthy work ethic. The key word is healthy. For the majority of my career, my approach to work was missing one very important element as presented to us by Jesus Himself in John 6:27-29

27 “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”

28 ¶ Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”

29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Without faith in Jesus, no work would be better than hard work. When you live and work by faith in the Son of God, then you are satisfying what God requires for a healthy and productive work life. If you truly fulfill this one requirement, whatever else you do for work will be blessed. Although so called “good works” which we do for the benefit of others around us are not required to achieve everlasting life, when we work with faith we will naturally tend to good works through our actions and our giving. As is often true of the Savior, the most beautiful component of what Jesus tells us in these three verses is the stark simplicity. The only work required of God is faith. Wow.

(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. All are welcome to follow me on Twitter at

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Entertaining Angels

I gently pulled back on the stick and raised the nose of the Champ trainer and in that one smooth motion experienced my first take off from a snow covered surface on skis. As I climbed away from the ultra white surface of the frozen field, I tentatively turned the nose to climb in a northerly track that had been set by my flight instructor who sat in the seat directly behind me. We had travelled to the main base of Orillia Airways in order to return the plane to its northern home at a satellite base. I remember that there was only enough daylight remaining to get us safely to Trout Lake near the city of North Bay. As I slowly climbed to our cruising altitude, I was quietly concerned with the ever increasing grayness in the sky ahead of us. Indeed it was too dark for the time of day and the latest weather report that we had received prior to take off.

In a matter of minutes, the clouds thickened and the snow pellets began to hit the windshield with ever increasing audibility and regularity. I was not surprised when I heard the familiar words, “ I have control” meaning that I was to relinquish control to the flight instructor who was about to display some real bush pilot skills. The snow squalls became so intense that we had one choice and that was to land. As Cliff (I have long since forgotten his last name) began a turning descent attempting to go around the worst of the clouds, I set about the task of looking for a suitable lake upon which to land. A medium sized lake ideal for our purposes loomed out of the blinding snow. Cliff made a partial circuit and decided out loud that we had little choice and on the positive side, the lake appeared to be fully frozen. With little ceremony he turned into wind and after completing a cursory landing checklist, landed on the lake surface. Oddly, in my mind at least, he kept the aircraft moving at a velocity closer to lift off speed than taxiing speed. As we headed straight towards the beach, he asked me to turn around in my seat and report any open water in our wake. To my horror, I observed and duly reported that indeed there was slush and water being kicked up behind us by our quickly moving skis. Cliff simply lodged the airplane up on the beach just out of the slushy ice. The wet tracks of our skis stretched out behind us for most of the length of the lake.

As darkness approached, we realized that only an unoccupied cottage might provide us some shelter from the storm and the surprisingly cold night. Behind the cottages, we found a plowed road and before long we presented ourselves cold and desperate at a farm house door. The elderly couple welcomed us immediately into their home. Cliff used their single black party line phone to report our safe but unexpected arrival to his employers. I called my parents to explain why I would not be home that night. I was eighteen years of age. Within minutes, a hot and plentiful supper was on the table and we were invited to spend the night in a large loft which was heated by one ascending black stove pipe on its journey from their well stoked wood stove to the roof and the now clear night sky.

I marvel as I grow older at the hospitality afforded two strangers in the night. This wonderful couple displayed no concern for their safety and seemed to relish the prospect of having visitors to share their meal and their home. I will always remember their kindness, an excellent meal and indeed their good humour.

The recent memory of the experience has brought to mind the words of Hebrews 13:2.

2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.

It occurs to me that their actions were indeed biblical. I am fairly certain that on that winter night in 1966, this kind and hospitable couple fell far short of their possible aim of entertaining angels. If it could happen to Abraham and Sarah as described in the Book of Genesis, why could it not happen to them or indeed to any of us? In Chapter 18, the account of three men paying a visit to inform Sarah that she was to become a mother despite her very advanced years is one such example of angelic beings enjoying the hospitality of mere mortals.

After a hearty farm breakfast, we walked back to the frozen Champ and after some initial difficulties started and warmed the engine, freed the skis from the frozen snow and set out to take off for home. Despite the very cold minus twenty fahrenheit degree overnight temperatures, the lake was still slushy on the surface of the hopefully solid ice. Cliff actually taxied at ever increasing speeds around the edge of the lake until such time as he could achieve a take off speed as he turned into wind that morning. I will never forget the wake of watery slush churning behind us as we lifted into the air.

(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. All are welcome to follow me on Twitter at

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nothing Serious

My father survived my mother by thirty-four days. Both of them passed away in January and February of 2005. Within days of my mother’s funeral, following her very sudden and unexpected death at home, he was admitted to hospital for what appeared to be a respiratory ailment that in the words of the big city resident physician was “not life threatening”. It soon became apparent to my sister, Lozanne and myself that whatever was wrong was not getting any better. I had conversations with my very coherent eighty-seven year old father that led me to believe that he was actually debating with himself whether to die or to continue living. I did not know until the vigil that became those thirty-four long days that at a certain age, or perhaps at any age I sometimes wonder, you can simply will yourself to leave this world and join those in the next.

We watched as his health went from bad to worse despite the fact that he lived through rather major bowel surgery to repair a tear actually discovered in a chest x-ray. Even ten days before his passing, the young resident in charge of his care, assured us that he would recover. At that point I respectfully informed the doctor that he was indeed wrong, a fact which he admitted several days later when my father lapsed into a coma. Dad had simply willfully laid down long enough that his aged body just started to shut down. In effect, he died of nothing serious.

Several days before his death, we witnessed something that I will never forget. Apparently while in a continuous unconscious state, my father suddenly opened his eyes, smiled and reached out with both hands to someone or something at the foot of his bed. Even as we asked him who or what he saw, he was obviously in a comatose state and did not respond. There was such peace and joy in his smile and gesture that I think of the sight often. Who or what did he see? To whom did he so clearly smile and gesture? I will never be certain, but I now firmly believe that he saw an angel there to escort him to heaven or, dare I hope, that Jesus Himself appeared at the end of that bed and eased his difficult crossing over. The words of John 14: 2-4 lead me to ponder that promise. Jesus assures us that He will “come again and receive you to Myself”.

2 “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.

4 ¶ “And where I go you know, and the way you know.”

I find such comfort in the words of Jesus. My father lived by Christian precepts all of his life and became a believing and professing Christian in the last few weeks of his life. I will never know for sure who he saw at the foot of his hospital bed, but my faith and personal experience lead me to believe that the promise of Jesus in John 14: 3 was fulfilled before my very eyes.

(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. All are welcome to follow me on Twitter at

Friday, November 11, 2011

A New Dawn

I find it intriguing that seemingly unimportant memories are often part and parcel of very significant events in our lives. I remember like it was yesterday the dawning of the day that was to be March 5, 1969. There I am in my 1962 blue Volkswagen Beatle buzzing across the brand new railroad overpass in North Bay, Ontario. Just as I reach the summit of the convex bridge the sun is rising on the horizon. It is a beautiful spring day and temperature is in the mild range. I can still remember the high pitched sound of the tiny air cooled rear engine as I shifted into fourth gear. Despite the fact I had slept very little in the last two days, I never felt more alive on that day as compared to all the days in my young twenty-one years. I was driving to my parents' house for breakfast. Shortly after midnight on that very day, I had become a first time father and now the day dawned as a spectacularly beautiful red, yellow and pink sight directly in front of me on the eastern horizon.

Lozanne, who had suffered her way from girlhood to womanhood by way of a very difficult and poorly supervised labour of thirty-two hours, was finally resting comfortably and I had spent hours admiring through the nursery window our beautiful new-born daughter. In those days, fathers were considered and treated as a nuisance to hospital staff, were not allowed in the delivery room and actually holding your own baby was something you could do at home after a four or five day stay for both baby and mother in the hospital. As you would expect, my specific and sympathetic memories of those thirty-two long hours of labour are with me to this day. Just as powerful is the memory of the dawning of that very special day in 1969. The pleasant and vivid memory puts me in mind of Peter’s rendering of the coming of Jesus Christ in 2 Peter 1:16-19:

16 ¶ For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

17 For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the Excellent Glory: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

18 And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.

19 ¶ And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts;

After two very dark nights over four decades ago in St. Joseph’s Hospital, a beautiful light came shining through. That day dawned on a completely new life for both Lozanne, Tamara and I. The morning star of a new baby rose in our hearts. Life would never be the same again. The same can certainly be claimed on a much grander scale, of course, with the coming of the brilliant light that also shone in a dark place that was and is this world; the coming of my savior and my Lord 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, November 9, 2011

Outside of Time

We have moved! Lozanne and I no longer live in the country. Almost five months ago, the movers arrived at our door more than an hour late. That very difficult day ended in the early hours of the following morning. We have downsized to a small nicely renovated bungalow on a city street. The many unopened boxes that were resident in our new garage have finally been opened, attesting to our somewhat successful attempt at downsizing. What you need and what you want to keep are always two very different things.

Out of necessity, driven by the state of our health, we have given up the view, the lake, the quiet and the space, both inside and outside the house. Marley, our English Springer Spaniel, has made the greatest sacrifice of us all. She has adapted very well to being on a leash after spending the last five years running free. It has become very apparent that all she desires on this earth is to be with us, wherever we are. Soon after moving day, Marley and I were delighted to find, almost at our door, a beautiful walking trail that follows the wooded banks of a nearby river.

Of late I have been much more consistent than I was in the past at praying as I walk. Inevitably, despite many and varied topics, I pray for each and every one of our grandchildren by name. I petition the God of the universe for general requests for all of them and specific requests for each of them. A few days ago, I was discussing with the Lord my dreams for their lives in the future and it dawned on me that some of them will eventually become parents and our great grandchildren will be born. I now include our great grandchildren and indeed our great great grandchildren in my prayer requests. Given my current health status, it is doubtful that I will live long enough to meet any of my great grandchildren. As a mere mortal, I can only imagine what they will look like or indeed what kind of lives they will have. I cannot know anything about them despite the fact that they are the result of a loving union blessed by God that began more than forty-three years ago. The Lord has no such limitation. In 2Peter 3:8 we read the very reassuring words:

8 ¶ But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

The Lord Jesus is not trapped within the physical constraints of time as we are every minute of our lives. As I pray here in the present for our great grandchildren, the Lord can see them in real time in the future. He can see them as children or adults with children of their own. Indeed he may see and hear them at prayer at the same time as I pray. When I pray for future generations who carry our genetic signature, I am praying for actual persons who are being watched over by the sovereign God of the universe. It boggles the mind to think of the power of God. I have one never ending desire that I routinely express in prayer; that each of our grandchildren, great grandchildren and indeed all successive generations will do one thing. I pray for it daily. I pray that they will walk with 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.)