IN THE REAR-VIEW

I was ‘looking in the rear-view mirror’ this week, as I recalled days travelling all over the Diocese of Brandon with my friends Bishop Malcolm Harding and Agnes Flam. We were trekking to each church in this sprawling area as a part of Malcolm’s farewell tour. He wanted to have an evangelistic event in every local during his last year of episcopacy.

One of my roles was to gather everyone in a great circle to listen to each other. I asked the gathering to gaze into their own rear-view mirror and identify the one person without whom they would not be who they are. Sometimes it is difficult to get people to share in such gatherings, but this was a topic that folks found easy. People spoke about parents, teachers, grandparents, pastors, and friends.

Afterwards I would sum up the conversation, pointing out that quite ordinary people had been used in extraordinary ways to touch our lives and affect our eternal trajectory. I would ask people to aspire to do the same. I would invite people to pray for God’s strength and guidance for a ministry of influence on children, grandchildren, neighbours, and friends. It would often be a late night before we were through praying with people about their personal ministry of evangelism. Those were memorable days!

As I look in my rear-view, I see Miss Crump (yes that was her real name). To my young eyes she was incredibly old, though I do not know how old she really was. She was wheelchair bound in the late 50’s and early 60’s, long before mobility rights were a thing. Each Sunday as we stomped our way down the stairs to Sunday School, she was magically already there. I do not recall a word she said but as I gaze through my mirror into the distant recesses of my life, I know that but for her I would not be who I am today. It could not have been easy to descend into the basement of that church and wrangle a boisterous bunch of boys (Sunday Schools were full in those ancient days!). She had a host of legitimate excuses and yet for the love of God and children she persevered. Though she had great personal wealth she humbly served! I did not know at the time the impact she was having, and she likely did not either. Perhaps she knows now. I hope so.

I think this is a valuable exercise for each of us. It stirs us to thanksgiving for those God placed in our lives and it can inspire us to emulate them. Sometimes the challenge of being like Christ is so daunting we despair but we can certainly aspire to be like those frail humans that we find looming so large in our rear-view mirror.

I never got to tell Miss Crump of the difference she made but I thank God at every remembrance of her. Perhaps the one you see in the rear-view mirror is still alive, if so please tell them. You can make a difference in their life as they made in yours. Best of all, though, pas it on! You have it in you to be such an evangelist. Your creator put it in you, and He is calling it out of you. Evangelism is really not the daunting task you have imagined it. Pray that one day someone you meet today will recall you in their own rear-view.

The Clunker: A Parable

Young Christian had a clunker. It was filthy and grime covered. It barely ran at the best of times. The driver’s door would not open and he was forced to enter by the wrong door and struggle into the driver’s seat. All too often the clunker refused to start and needed to be gently coaxed into running. When it did run it shuddered and shook at any speed over 50 km/hr. Billows of inky, oily smoke plumed behind. Several times people had written “Wash me!’ in the dirt. Young Christian decided he needed to do just that! He coaxed the clunker out of his driveway and shuddered and shook down the street to “Salvatore’s Car Wash”. He left it with the manager owner Salvatore with the promise that it would be “like new” when he returned.

Young Christian could hardly believe his eyes when he saw his ‘clunker’. It gleamed in the sunlight! It looked like new, better than new! It had never looked so good. “There is no charge.”, said Salvatore, for he loved to transform old clunkers.

Young Christian continued to get in the passenger door and keep the ‘clunker’ below 50, though the engine hummed as never before. There was no trailing plume behind him, yet he maintained the same habits he had developed to cope with the old clunker.

One day Salvatore waved him down and asked why he continued driving in this old way. Did not Christian know that Salvatore had done more than just wash the clunker he had made “all things new.” Young Christian decided he must break the habits he had learned during his ‘clunker days’ and learn the habits suited to the newness of his vehicle.

With great patience Salvatore offered, “I left an exhaustive manual in the glove box. Refer to it often. It will help you transition from your dirty clunker”  to life with a new one.”

Too often I forget that the Saviour does not just wash me from my sin, but he makes all things new. I struggle with the habits formed to cope with my old life. He has given me ‘instructions’ in the Bible and encourages me to check it often. In doing so I can practically realize that I am made new, that I am free and forgiven, that I do not have to live according to my old nature but with His help I can live a new life.

One day I will shed the last vestiges of this old clunker. I do not know what my new model will look like but I know it will be beautiful in its perfection for it will be made after the fashion of the Saviour!

Lent & Lengthening of Days

Have you noticed the days lengthening? They are still 24 hours long but each day the sun shines more and more. Actually, the sun continues to shine year-round, but we see it and bask in it as the year progresses.

Our perspective is so important here. Physics and astronomy might say one thing but until we experience it those truths mean little to us.

I am challenged this Lenten Season, which is named to describe the lengthening of days, to check on my perspective. I can look at life through my own quite selfish lens and be unsettled and unhappy, or I can seek the omniscient God’s perspective.

My mother uses to have an expression, “Its as plain as the nose on your face!”. By this she meant that the thing she was saying was obvious. When she would say that I would try and see the nose on my face. It was not obvious to me. Others could see my nose and I could see my nose reflected in the mirror, but I could not make out the thing that was so obvious to those who had a different perspective!

Lent is a time to see things through God’s eyes, to see truth that he makes plain in his Word. This year as I began to meditate on Lent and its meaning, I was struck with the idea that God was literally giving me more time or day light and that perhaps he wanted me to “redeem the time”. As the sunlight breaks in early and departs more slowly I have opportunity now to use the time to bless God, my neighbour and myself. I bless myself by gaining a fresh perspective seeing my true nature reflected in his Word. I bless God in growing devotion, and I bless my neighbour by putting into practise the things that are plain as the nose on my face!

Lent all to often has devolved into a selfish exercise of deprivation and self-righteousness. I would rather that it be turned into a ‘blessed season’ where I gain perspective and grow in practise. Rather than “What am I giving up for Lent?” I want to ask, “How best can I redeem the extra daylight God gives me?”

Here in Lent the days get longer and longer. They will plunge into metaphorical darkness on Good Friday and end with the Sun of Righteousness breaking from the tomb which can not hold him. The Light has come. The Light is coming (more and more). The Light will one day come and there will be no need for sun or moon for he will be our light!

Much of my ministry has been forced online this past year. I do a Bible Study three days a week and lately we are doing Romans “12 Minutes With Paul”. For years I had studied Romans and I taught it at Taylor College. I had even toyed with the idea of writing a devotional book on this epistle. I discarded that idea when I realised how many others had already done that. I have avoided teaching on Romans for the past few years because I get so excited and bogged down in its dense minutia. The last weeks have been a refreshing return to this great book, which ranks second only to the Gospels in import on my life. I have tried not to bog my hearers in detail but some days we only look at one verse. I so enjoy chapter 8 after the dark chapter 7. This study seems apt as we experience this Lenten Season.

Wipe Your Feet!

On a cold winter day my mind drifts back to warm summer memories. I travel back to my childhood summers. Brown as a bean from playing outside all day, I would return home climbing the back porch stairs and entering our tiny kitchen. The screen door would slam shut behind me announcing my arrival. From somewhere in the inner regions of the house would come my mother’s voice, “Wipe your feet!”. Halfway across the newly mopped kitchen floor I would retreat to the mat and wipe my feet. This was remarkably familiar, and I smile within with fond memories of the safety and welcome of this routine.

Today as I seek to “enter His Gates” and “Come into His courts” I still hear, in my minds ear, “Wipe your feet!” Just as my mother could not and would not tolerate dirty kitchen floors God does not and will not tolerate His throne room being polluted with sin. Confession can become an under practised spiritual exercise. In liturgical churches it can easily become rote. In non liturgical churches it can be easily omitted or perfunctory. In private devotions our rush to intercede for ourselves and our world (Good and Godly desires) leads too often to neglect of confession.

Like any other good thing if our enemy can not get us to ignore it he tricks us into becoming obsessed with it. I remember a time when I had behaved badly and lost my temper. That night in prayer I went before God. “Here I am for like the billionth time! You must be so sick of me coming like this!” and then I felt God’s voice come to me. “I certainly remember this last time,” and the scene of my offense played out before me and I felt the weight of its guilt and shame “but I don’t remember any billion times.” I confessed and felt forgiven for my sin! Later I would recall that “As far as the East is from the West, so far has he cast my sin” and that He “remembers it no more against” me.

Peter resisted having his feet washed. This is a more drastic version of wiping one’s feet. After becoming convinced of the necessity of allowing Jesus to thus clean him he wanted his whole body bathed. Jesus simply chided him that all that was necessary was a good wiping of feet.

All this to say that we do not have to flog ourselves constantly for sin. Jesus took our stripes. Once we have been adopted into the family of God we are welcome, as the writer of Hebrews says, to “Boldly approach the throne”. Yet we ought not to disrespect God and his holiness by rushing into His presence without first wiping our feet.

Many of us have mirrors by our doors to quickly check our appearance before we go out into the world. We do not want to launch out with breakfast stains on our tie or our fly unzipped. We should take a moment before our corporate or private worship to do such a spiritual check. The Psalmist invites God to search him and find any wrong, and so should we.

After wiping my feet, I was welcomed to the warmth of my family home and I could ask my mother the important questions like “When is supper?” or “Can I go over to Steve’s after supper?” But I dared not ask those questions if I had not first wiped my feet!

We are all bidden into God’s presence and family. Wipe your feet!

Heaven’s Rim Shot

Who is the shortest man in the Bible? Bildad the Shuhite! (Sound it out)

I really enjoy a good pun. I know that to some that sentence seems oxymoronic, but I do not think so. Take the play of words from Shakespeare and he becomes a forgettable hack. The best lyrical music plays with words. Puns have a distinctly high place in literature. So why is it that our first response to a good pun is a groan? Why does such a noble endeavour engender such ridicule?

I believe that a pun is like a name just on the tip of our tongue. It is just beyond our reach but once someone (in my case, my wife) supplies the word or name, we are a bit indignant. We think, “I knew that! I did not need you telling me!” The pun is amusing because it derives from our group experience. We groan because we knew that! We groan because we were not first to say it. We groan because we feel that given a bit more time we could easily have come up with a similar play on words. The thought is so common as to breed a kind of contempt.

I have learned that if one is going to share such thoughts one must develop a thick skin and indeed an awareness that the ‘groan’ is a unique form of ovation.

A restaurant would never succeed on the moon because no matter how good the food might be there would be no atmosphere!

The resistance to puns comes from an unwillingness to be reminded of our own inadequacies. This reticence plays out in people’s resistance to the Gospel. People do not like to be confronted with the truth that they are not sufficient in themselves. The initial presentation of the Gospel begins with our common need. There is an element of ‘bad news’ that accompanies the Good News, and it is against this that our evangelism first bumps. Though the experience of a need for meaning is common it lays beyond consciousness and folks resent being uncomfortably confronted, in this regard. Nevertheless, like a good punster (again nor an oxymoron) we must persist through this initial discomfort. During this stage of evangelism, the ‘sharer’ is made to feel the ‘groan’ and too often slinks off like a thin-skinned comedian. The true ‘punch line is never delivered and never received! Persisting past the ‘groan’. Past the initial discomfort and resistance to the acknowledgement of our common need. A true ‘hearing’ is regularly preceded by a rejection of some kind. A comedian learns not to take this phase personally. An evangelist learns to pass any rejection along to Jesus. Isaiah tells us that Jesus was rejected, and He is used to it! A good evangelist (certainly not an oxymoron) deflects any feeling of rejection to the One “was rejected and acquainted with grief.” The good evangelist continues faithful, over time, until the ‘punch line’ is delivered. When faithfully delivered it is amazing how effective this punch line is!

“God loves you. Stop trying to live life on your own terms as if you were the Sovereign Lord. Surrender to him and know peace and love, beyond imagination.” No better punch line exists. Listen and you can hear Heaven’s rimshot!

Beyond Talk

Have you seen all the “Let’s Talk” ads. They have come every year for the last several turns around the sun. They may provoke an “Oh yes, it is that time of year again.” response. But awareness of mental health has never been more important than now. Isolation from true human contact and burrowing deeper into virtual ‘relationships’ with only those who share our opinions, biases, and point of view, leads to ill health. It features an exaggerated sense of grievance. We feed off the gripes of the like minded and our temperatures rise beyond what is healthy or helpful.

A deceptive type of paranoia is loose in the land! Of course, the difficulty is that one of the first signs of such deception is that we are not aware of it! Such deception can hardly be battled with argument. This ‘crossing of swords’ exacerbates and heightens the temperature. It too often entrenches each ‘side’ all the further.

I dare suggest a different tack. I suggest that St. Francis  might have been right and that it is better to “understand than be understood”. Such understanding requires less reaction and more listening.

I think a mirror might be a helpful image and that as we carefully listen and gently reflect back what we hear that we all might make progress. Too often people driven by grievance slip into extremism. If we sought to gently reflect how these actions or words look and land, asking if this is what they really intend, then we invite human interaction rather than de-personalized grievance.

This necessitates me refusing to join in either sharing or refuting and places me in the steps of Francis and of Jesus. Good sandals to stand in!

Each day we are confronted with the difficulty people with mental health issues face during the fear and isolation of covid. Our friend J. has had to be institutionalized because of her adverse reactions during this time. Because of isolation her communication has been reduced to texting friends. Texting is a poor means of communicating at the best and this mentally ill woman has managed to hurt and alienate many furthering her isolation. Every day she is contact with me sharing her hurts and always asking me what she can pray for.

V. lives in terrible anxiety and in isolation too often listens to these voices of worry and despair. She finds hope in reading her precious book of Psalms. She may go weeks without human contact.

B. lives in a care home which is rightfully extremely strict about its covid protocols. She is often locked down with other mentally ill residents and they “drive each other nuts!”

The healthiest of us battle with this isolation seeking healthy ways to connect. Let us not just talk but let us act justly. Let us not air grievance raising the temperature but be cooling agents. This is the 2021 way to be preserving salt in the world.

Shalom.

Change and Changelessness

The World longs for change.

The World turned the calendar… but like a beggar’s pocket… No Change!

The World pins its highest hope on vaccines… still no sign of change.

Thousands die… no change.

In three short weeks devout resolutions fall to dust.

Humanities best efforts to reform bring …

Wait for it…

No change!

Vanity of vanities. There is nothing new beneath the Sun.

Change like quicksilver eludes our grasp.

Hope arises only to fail, as hopes before too often have.

The outlook for reformation is gloomy.

The forecast for human evolution is dismal.

Until something changes, nothing will.

The onus falls on me and you!

Change begins with contrite hearts.

With humble spirits.

Change relies not on the dint of our labours.

It lies in repentance!

A true turning away from selfish ways

An honest turning toward the Light

An honest turning toward the Right

An honest turning to the Good

Knowing, “There is none good but God.”

From our knees  we may see the cracking of a new Dawn

Light aroused from an empty tomb

A Light that makes the darkness tremble

A Right that lifts the broken and the fallen

A Good poured out like water on a dry and weary World.

Bright Hope can be known

There may be change

Hope has a Name

Newness has a Way

The Name, the Way, is Jesus.

That’s the Truth!

Genuine Delight

I think in these dark days of ‘covid winter’ we have to take care to savour joy when it finds us. In the past I was a bit more cavalier about the good things that came my way. I thought “That was nice, there will be plenty more moments like that!” I now repent of this attitude that takes grace and mercy for granted. Like taking a small bite of dark chocolate and letting it slowly melt on my tongue, I want to deeply relish the grace-filled moments of beauty and joy. I want to genuinely enjoy them and take time to thank the giver of all good gifts. Such savouring, I think, will give us insight and perspective enabling us to live well.

Yesterday we had a wonderful visit from our grandchildren. While Linda played floor hockey with Declan in the basement, I walked the floor with little Ronan. He is just shy of two months old. He would not settle for me if I were seated, so I held him tight and paced all the time gently bouncing him up and down. I enjoyed the down like fuzz of his little head beneath my chin. I shooshed and hummed and rocked until that wonderous moment when he dropped off in a peaceful sleep in my arms. There is no feeling like this!

I carefully laid him down in the middle of our big bed and lay down beside him. There we spent the next hour together. I did nothing but enjoy those moments. I watched his little rib cage go up and down as he breathed. I admired the complex beauty of his wee hands as they twitched this way and that. I listened intently to the little inarticulate baby sounds. I inhaled that lovely ‘new baby’ smell. Mostly though I smiled and delighted in this miraculous little life. Ronan did not have to do anything or perform to bring such delight. I wondered if God does not delight in us in a similar fashion.

What if his affections are not earned by our behaviour?

What if there was nothing we need do to earn his delight?

What if there were no conditions to His love?

The answer to all these questions is that they all are true. “The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph. 3:17

Just as I was enraptured with quiet joy for that hour, so I am captured by the notion that my Heavenly Father is eternally delighted in ways that I can only haltingly reflect. This is a thought to take us through the darkest that ‘covid winter’ has to offer!

The Challenge of Epiphany

It is a bit ironic that many call January 6th a dark day when Christians around celebrate the Epiphany, when “the Light to lighten the Gentiles” is celebrated.  In January, as the days slowly lengthen, we recall the dawning of the Light of the World, long foretold, the hope for both Jew and Gentile. This Epiphany was long expected from the time of God’s covenant with Abraham that “all the world would be blessed.”

Back in the Centennial Year, in a ‘Coronation Church’ (founded in the year Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne) on the Day of Epiphany, I was first commissioned for ministry. It was my Confirmation, which is an Anglican rite wherein the candidate takes the promises of infant baptism as their own. Afterward the minister asked the presiding Bishop to pray a ‘special’ blessing on me and the call to ministry the entire congregation affirmed. The Bishop lay hands on me a second time and prayed as requested. I mark that day as having particular influence and one that ‘launched’ me into the place I find myself so many years later.

My heart has consistently been moved to encourage people to experience their own Epiphany. Though the Light has shone in the darkness He has not been universally received. The promise to those who receive him is the “power to become children of God.” This epiphany is vital!

It is a shame and a stain to see people purporting to be Christian acting out in violence and lawlessness. Darkness and Light cannot co-exist. We, as children of Epiphany, are called to “walk in the light even as He is in the light.” When we do not, we must repent! We can all make mistakes, but we ought not to persist in them.

Epiphany calls us to live in the light, to walk in the light, to spread the light of Christ.  Epiphany calls me, calls us, to tell of his light and to (imperfectly to be sure) live in His light that the world may see us and “Glorify your Father in Heaven.”

Epiphany remains a challenge and a reminder to me. I no longer belong to the church of my childhood, but I am who I am because of her and for that I remain eternally grateful.

It is also a joy to see the ‘light’ coming on for friends who are taking Alpha with us. It is a wonderful thing to see people come in pain and confusion and find answers and find Jesus. It is a simple thing to pray for our friends and invite them to join in a inquiry into the faith and it is a glorious thing to see God at work in lives!

Occupying in a Fallow Time

I have been wondering what the ancient farmer did while the land lay fallow during a sabbatical year. God had ordained that the land was to ‘rest’. The benefits of this are obvious for the land. It had a year to replenish nutrients used up in the six previous years of crop production. It took preparation during those years for the farmer to be able to continue to eat during this time, but what, I wonder, did the farmer do during that year?

The land may have been at rest as far as crop growing was concerned but it was engaged in replenishing itself in order to be at its best in the years to follow.

Surely this was the work of the farmer during those years. He was not idle! (I have never met an idle farmer) He must have been engaged in equipment repair and infrastructure replacement. He was engaged in home repair and personal study in how to grow better crops next year. He thought more and deeper than when his every moment was consumed in the business of agriculture.

The land was better after the sabbatical and so was the farmer!

Few farmers ever actually practised this in the biblical way, though land is sometimes left fallow and crops are rotated. In recent times fertilizers have seemingly replaced the need for sabbatical.

I believe the same is true for us. As a culture we fail to observe sabbaths. In our busyness we miss the benefits of replenishment that are intended for us in God’s design. We continue to “work harder not smarter” no matter what we think.

2020 has been a time of forced fallowness. It is not as if we should laze during this time, though the therapeutic benefits of naps have become clearer. We are still called to “occupy” until he comes. But this is a time for tending our ‘supporting infrastructure’ to repair our lives and relationships in preparation for a fruitful time ahead.

I wonder if many of us are not squandering a crisis. We have busied ourselves in finding creative ways to continue in our old paths when we have a glorious opportunity to walk an entirely different path for this time, so that we can be all the more prepared for the seasons to come.

Now when we are making resolutions can I suggest that we resolve to find the fullness of God’s blessing during these strange days. Let us not let a good crisis go to waste!