Monday, March 25, 2013

As Much As It Depends On You

Growing up in rural Nova Scotia in the 50’s was a blast. Post war North America had its challenges, but hey, we were on the road to change. The nuances of the family model, the dynamics of sovereignty over liberty and the rush to modernize a society, shaken by economic and philosophical disasters, were all part of the great picture. Wow… that was a mouth full. I wonder if I actually know what that all means. Ha… In other words… there really was change in the air. That generation wanted something better for family, and was willing to go over their heads in debt and competition to do so. They felt the inalienable right to freedom and were willing to do whatever it took to keep it… that was after 2 world wars… never to be fought again. Who knew… wars had been going on since Cain and Abel and for all the wrong reasons and are still going on today! What about those “Holy Wars”… now there is a conflict of terms. Again I digress. Like no other generation for decades, we had the options that were now available to us for good health, good schools, better homes, new cars… and STUFF!

It was all part of that time. I am not sure when someone penned the term keeping up with the Jones’, but I am certain it must have been early on in “Biblical terms” for sure. What we often failed to see, was the constant barrage of “one-upmanship” that was taking place. Oh, I don’t mean to say that we were totally unaware of it, but with contempt for past struggles from our parents, youth now labouring to make a difference and the eyes of a new generation of youth opened to all there was to ask for “now”, what an impact change made. Why back then I even thought some of my neighbours seemed to be able to get it all. Of course I could too, but on a different level or so I thought at the time. What we couldn’t see was the internal struggles that all these changes created, on all parts of family and society… some good and others not.

I loved the story I heard some time ago. An old lady who came to the grocery store was confronted by a young clerk who seemed to blame past generations for all the ills of the “now” generation. The little old lady defended herself with the joys of a simpler life and expounded on the variety of hardships that were just a matter of course for her youth… Well… maybe you had to read it yourself to appreciate the validity of its argument. Each generation seems to somehow love to place the blame elsewhere in some quarters of life. Somehow we forget that each generation has its dose of the “gimmies”. We want to have the “better” life, the healthier body, the more secure future and sometimes are willing to pay the piper to exact the price. Oops… did I digress again? LOL

I’ve been sitting here with my Bible, reflecting on those ideas this morning. Yes, even former Pastors need to refuel and keep their eyes and hearts tuned to God’s will, every moment of every day. I was reading about Paul’s take, as he writes back to the people in the church in Galatia. It seems to be that there is a personal responsibility that must always be considered in daily life. There is no sweeping that charge under the mat, and it creates a pile of stress for many people in a “me” society. I know that many would say, “it is where we are today, but hey… let’s not ignore our past generations completely.” It seems that too often we somehow get caught in those old ideas, that things were better back then or the proposition that the world has always been going to the dogs. Somewhere in the midst of all this there is the “constant” … the human factor… we’ve always had; that word again… the “gimmies”.

A phrase that has often made me feel a bit unsettled down through the years, found in Romans 12:18, and stated in various ways in the breadth of modern translations is… “as much as it depends on you…”. Wow… nothing like pouring on a bit of pressure here Paul. Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of the Bible puts it a bit differently; “… If you’ve got it in you…”. This variation in expressions may help us fathom out (ok so I used a nautical term here, meaning to explore its depths) where our responsibility lies. We have been taught, in religious terms, that God provides the way… He always has, right? Well, yes… but that is not the whole answer. He has always given His creation the choice, the option to follow or get left behind. Some would say, “Where is the love in that?” But God is “Sovereign”; not like our childhood desire to be “king of the castle”, and He does have a way of exacting His will and it is His right to do so, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I know those are somewhat archaic terms to many, but nonetheless important in our dialogue here. I know there is not a parent out there who has not experienced giving their child a rule or guideline and then stood by, knowing all along that the child would do whatever they wanted behind their backs, while saying nothing, so the child will learn from their mistakes. We bring children into this world and we do our best (I hope) to guide them to that which will enlarge their lives in positive and moral directions toward a better life… and if we have known the “Truth” we will have undergirded it with Christ! So why do we get excited when God says “no” and then lets stuff happen. He is the parent of humanity! One day, the Word tells us, whether we are ready or not, there will be a face to face with life… not past, but eternal. God, for His reasons, gets His way and all He has asked of us is love and obedience.

Personally, I sometimes wish that the matter was out of our hands all together. Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up in the morning and never have to worry about the problems of this ol’ world? From the planet’s hungry, to the disappearing rain forests and the melting of the polar caps; not to mention the little things that annoy us and cause those moments of grief from day to day, or perhaps a few of those grey hairs that appear from nowhere, once the crawlers turn to toddlers, then to teens while they are still only 10, and so on. Life in general can be hard to handle. Even the workplace is no longer a safe haven in terms of a guaranteed security as the dynamic of change creates a “fluid society” in every aspect of that term. Everything is in motion and that fluidity can cause economic growth and decline in almost the same breath. But, life and faith does not work that way. When things fall apart we still go on and I see that being necessary in practical terms, as well as faith, being lived out every day.

It would assist us to re-read the tenets of our faith from time to time. I love the portion that James writes in chapter 2, verses 14 to 22. He reminds us there that we don’t have the freedom or the right, to close off the rest of the world and live just to ourselves. There is no escaping the accountability that is always before us, in terms of our love “shining forth” in more than a few kind words (and for those of us who love to go the extra step and add to that a warm hug) before ushering the “wanting” of this world on their way.

So, it seems that every day there will be the tide of responsibility before us. Changes needing to be made will seem to be insurmountable, for the leadership in business, the political arena, but also in the home. My thought is that it took us generations (innumerable) to get to this state and it may take a whole lot more to straighten it all out… not taking it back to a simpler life with a primitive lifestyle, but saving and restoring, if possible the goodness that is a given potential. Here comes that kicker... It is tied to that phrase that can upset the weary and challenge the busy, “As much as it depends on you!” That’s the hardest part of all. It is more like living on the edge than anything else I have experienced in daily life… not bad; it just depends on how you define the view, and in this case the responsibility, from there.

Monday, March 18, 2013

On Cramming for the Finals

The phrase “If you don’t, you won’t” still haunts me… Teachers, parents and fellow students all had their own take on that phrase. I remember hearing my Dad use the little rhyme, “If you do it when you get to it, you may never get to it, to get at it again!” Wow… a breakthrough in mainline philosophy... yet is sticks in my craw along with many of the adages that haunt me from childhood and those formative years in school and later on in my 14 years of university study. Yes… I was a slow learner. It took me 32 years to decide that I actually was supposed to go to university after all; even though one of my mentors in high school told me it would be better for me to just go out and be a good mechanic. Of course Dad would hear none of that and he stuck to the “Pastor” dream even when I had no idea he thought that way until some 15 years later! I digress!… LOL! In high school the thought process was always, you need to study more and cram for finals. I guess I missed the handing out of that trait the day they were being distributed in class. My theory was always listen in class, do the homework while still in school, be ready to play any sport and well… can I admit this… strut your stuff for the girls. My thoughts were, sports and girls were most important in my educational preparation for life.

Well, that theory lasted about 10 minutes. I was good at sports and even won the coveted best all around athlete in high school one year. Then something happened… responsibility set in. Yup, it has a way of taking over where high ideals thought that they had the upper hand. So, I had work to do. Along with the challenges of small “p” political involvement in school, there was the work outside, in after school labour at the local grocery store. I spent about 9 years there through teenage and married life in various levels of the job. But, I couldn't seem to find the right fit. I entered the business world and then in the mid 80’s I finally felt called to what Dad identified as, my true life’s work. Ha! “Dad… couldn't you have said something sooner!”… “No…I knew you needed to prepare first!” It was like a call to cram for the finals all over again.

Did I say that I crammed for finals? Well, perhaps I had better set the record straight on that while I am at it. All that talk about doing so, was one day dashed to its final end, when a favorite teacher gave an insight that suited me to a tee! His take was this…"what you accomplish in cramming is very little… do the work through the year… understand what you read and are taught, as you go through life, and you will be able to write the finals without cramming. The night before the finals go out and take in a movie, go on a date, (like ya… that was gonna happen! LOL) but don’t cram… it just proves that you can memorize and not necessarily understand the work."

So off I went to university. Still holding to the theory of my favourite teacher, I held to the task of sitting in the front row, with open mind and listening ears. I did my work as much in advance as I could while trying to be there for my wife Karen, bringing up 3 children, starting immediate part-time pastoral work and doing part-time electrical work to help augment the cost of university. Oh, did I mention I took 7 courses that first year. So... they tell me that I made the dean’s list that year… who cared… the work was just beginning. The funny part was that I was at the same time, on academic probation because I had not done so well in high school…LOL! Ah yes, cramming for the finals never worked for me!

If we lived life the way we thought it always worked, what a stew we would be in. I have friends who I have been praying for down through the years. They are in the bracket of those who prefer to cram. You know the type. “I don’t have time now”, or “I am going to but need to find myself first”. I met a man one day who said, “ The things I have done in life (in times of war) God could never forgive me for” What he was saying was that he couldn’t forgive himself. That is sometimes the challenge. But the biggest stumbling block is the excuse … “not now Lord… I am too busy”, “I will later… I want to live my own way now… there will be lots of time later on in life”. Like those exams of old, life tends to bring what we least expect to the table. It seemed every year that those exams held topics and questions that we had never covered in class… which of course is the case. We are responsible to read the literature and understand the themes, concepts and meaning of what is being covered between the pages. That can be a whole life's work!

So life has its final exam too! Cramming is not good effort or practice. I am glad that with the finals always before us, we can have the option of spending our time in constant review, but also more importantly to take time to rejoice, worship, confess and fellowship with Him who marks the final when it is examined. Don’t lose track of where you are in the final semester by leaving it all to the night before… we don’t know when that will night come. Living on the edge takes constant preparation, but hey… it is all about enjoying the view from there!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Out For The Day… I’ve Gone Away…. “NOT!”

Life has a way of bringing its most unexpected challenges, when we are not ready. Just when we think that all that could happen has happened, another swat from nowhere can take its toll on our everyday existence. That is not to say that it shouldn’t happen. Our nature, being that of human, and for the most part predominantly in favour of immortality, just seems to negate the idea of something more happening. Not having total control just goes against the grain of that ideal we set for ourselves… the dream of attaining the “satisfying life”. Yes, life goes its own pathway sometimes and we cling to the straws of hope and end up having to go along for the ride.

Some will have noticed that it has been over a year since I last entered a new chapter in my blog. Much water has flowed under the bridge in that time. Many will know that while in India in 2012 I contracted an e-coli bug that sent me for a loop. I had only been there for about 5 days, on our 17 day trip, and my lectures were just beginning. Having already made 3 previous trips and not having any problems with the food or water, I naturally felt that God had placed a wall of protection around my system. Yet, this trip was fraught with illness among the team members, far more than in other years. I was not the only team member hospitalized, though the only lecturer over the 4 years of visits to India. I struggled to continue after release from the hospital and was able to complete the lectures, though much diminished in capacity and energy. I finished the tour and returned home to immediate hospitalization again and spent many long months struggling to get my strength back, only to discover that it may take 12 to 18 months perhaps for my system to recovery satisfactorily. Consequently, I was not able to go back to India in 2013 and am waiting for the Lord to direct any further trips in future.

Strangely, many of my friends and family have taken the subjective approach to the situation with the thought that this is a good thing. Not my illness, but that it has shown that overseas travel in such primitive surrounds is not always a good thing. I on the other hand, will echo the thoughts of a former missionary who when asked about the fear of perhaps dying, while in service in such a difficult country, answered that he had no fear, he had died before he left home. We need to understand that God does not call and then send His people unprepared… even for death. We must die to self, daily; otherwise we cannot be truly in service to our Lord and King… we will always cling to some element of self-need or identification… that desire to live forever on our terms not His. Human nature calls us to equip ourselves and God calls us to let go and let Him equip us… all else is in vain.

So over the past year I will admit that I have had good days and bad days. Yes, I have hit low days of depression and struggled to remember that in all of this there is something greater than what my concerns are. Thankfully, over the past months, I have pictured the face of Jesus and heard Him say, “Yet not my will, but Thine be done!” It has been a journey that I would not have desired to take, but one that has been worth the taking nevertheless. It has made me look at another perspective of living near the edge and remembering that doing so is not always bad… it just depends on how we define the view while living there.

I thank you for your prayers during this journey through illness. I thank you taking the time to read my journal. I thank God for His love for His creation and for caring for those who are the disenfranchised and forgotten in this world. I pray that God will raise me up again to more work for Him in India, if that is His will. Until then I will pray for others and continue to share my thoughts and life journal with those who care to read and faithfully labour in the vineyard here at home.