Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Some Old Flames and First Loves

Try as we might, we never totally forget those first loves, those old flames, that once lit were ever to be part of your memory’s landscape, past and present. They can be any number of people, or even things that just seem to touch life and add something special; a new interest, a lifelong lesson or a new zest for living. I thought today about some of those flames and how they often affect those around me.

It is odd how some of the joys of life can stick like glue in your mind’s eye. I have tucked away some of those moments and experiences that perhaps even changed the course of my life. I am not one to work on the theory of chance, as many of you will know… life places in the greater picture what it is meant to be, with a sprinkle of freedom of choice thrown in to keep us fine-tuned and always aware of the best course to take. It is not always fun to examine ourselves, and I must say that down through the years I have had many the opportunities to do just that… I have gone to the edge and looked into the abyss and though; “This is not a comfortable place to be!”… it sharpens our sense of identity if we let it.

On the lighter side; I remember back some 55 years to my primary grade teacher, Miss Doleman. Life back then should be, you would think, simple. But for many the person who steps out of the comfort of home, to the world of peer pressure and the cruelties of life outside, there needs to be a champion, a mentor; that someone who can make the difference between success and failure in the “stepping out” process. That was Miss Doleman. For a 5 year old turned loose in a new world, she was the perfect guide to make the pathway smoother… she was my first love! Ha! Mom and Dad even took us for drives down toward Lockeport on Sunday afternoons and threatened to take me in to visit her, just because I talked about her all the time! Those first loves are so important!

Now one of those experiences that burned some great pictures into my mind, is the occasion of the spring burning; the raging fires on the Allen homestead. I can remember Dad deciding when was to be just the right evening for the fire. It would be totally frowned upon today in many places, but it had a practical application, in that is kept the fleas and wood ticks back from around the house. We were located in the fringe part of the town and surrounded by woods (forest) and burning in my Mom’s eyes was always tricky. But this was Dad’s domain, a man thing, carried forward from years of historic burns that lit the night sky around the neighbourhoods of his childhood and our little community! Ha! What a rush. Many the night Mom would panic with the words planted on the end of her tongue. “Morton… do we need to call the fire department!... It looks so fierce!” But Dad always assured her that it couldn’t go anywhere and would then sneak off to get some wet brush to beat it down and try to keep it under control.  We never lost the battle once, though it did seem scary to me I will admit these 50 years later.

Not all fires were barn burners! Nope! One afternoon my brother and I, with perhaps a couple of the neighbourhood friends, decided to have a “little” campfire in the old car we played in in the back field. Now this was strictly prohibited! But, we thought we could just have a little fire, be like adults on a camp-out and no one would ever be the wiser. Well, it seems we didn’t quite get the fire out. A spark lodged in the seat of that old car and when we were getting ready for bed that night, we happened to glance out the upstairs window and voila; a finger of smoke emanating from the old car. There was nothing to be done then but to face the consequences. On Dad’s arrival home from work that night he saw the smoke and put out the remains of the fire and lit one on our butts a few minutes later. Now those experiences are real life lessons!
Not all of the first time experiences were negative. Back in about 1958, Mom decided that we needed a facelift on the Ohio Road and hired a couple of carpenters to renovate the homestead. The talented duo were patient, tactful and full of great stories when they took a short “cuppa”, while trying to avoid Mom’s new “thoughts about just minor changes”, which seemed to steer the ship of advancement some days! LOL! One of the guys was Cecil“DeMoliter” and I called him mister “demolisher” and of course he countered with me being named, “Dennis the Mennace”! I became fast friends with Cecil and Claude and just a few years later, when I was more able to swing a hammer and actually hit a nail, they put me to work on little jobs about the community when they worked there. That became the first swing of the hammer, my first taste of another small “L” love that has lasted even to this day… carpentry and woodwork!

But, you know there are other loves in our lives. These true loves should mean so much to us that they change the course of life, and make us into tangible forces of manhood, womanhood and parenthood. I am not implying that we never make mistakes and regret some decisions, but love should be foundational to a solid life of growth and positive interaction with others. A further to that, is our relationship with God. John wrote from his vision on Patmos to the Church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:4), “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” This warning to the Church and its people was real. In life we wax and wane with the times and occasions. There are days when we incline our hearts to our faith, and there are days when life drags us to the hinterlands of isolation and declining interest in all that is Godly! Those are the days when our hearts hear the Spirit’s plea… “Don’t forget your first love!” No, it is not Miss Doleman… it is the God who heard my cries as I sat on the stone gate post on the Ohio Road some 56 or 57 years back, when I was only 3 or 4 years of age… Calling out to Him… “God! God! God!” My mother’s inquiry about this was answered with a short retort, “I just needed to talk to Him!” There are days like that even at this juncture in life. I just need to talk to Him and have Him either light a new fire in my heart or put out some old smoldering coals of something better forgotten.

It’s where we allow our minds and hearts to go each day, that makes all the difference. Years ago I was not one to dwell on the past; I felt it could slow me down and anchor me in a place where I was not happy. Today, I value the past. I can see its significance, rising up toward the future, and I rehearse the important things that have add substance to what has become a rich and varied life that, even though it may have had its moments, will turn into something of value to a loving God if I let Him guide me through what is left of its living. So it is that “living near the edge”, has been both great and frightening, while also being both uplifting and disheartening, but it has always been a learning experience. Stepping out near the edge is what I do, because I need the challenge? No, I am most often taken there by my personality and the path that leads some days where I am not expected to go. It has its challenges, but it all depends how you view the perspective from there! Blessings for your day, and perhaps as you rehearse those old flames and first loves, it may do your heart good to live near the edge for a few minutes!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ok!… Here’s Your Chance…Throw Me A Kiss!

Growing up with a Mom who was very ill by times, I knew that kissing was something that wasn't going to happen much. But, as I remember it, she did throw kisses. One winter day as I struggled to plant a spruce tree for Mom in the lower garden, so that she could see it from her window… she threw me a kiss. Our children growing up were taught to throw kisses to Grandmas, Aunts and all sorts of relatives and friends, as we were leaving to return home. That has been a tradition still carried on by our own children and grandchildren, as with many families I am sure. There is a meaning to every kiss thrown.

First and foremost it should always mean to show love. I remember someone telling me that when a kiss was thrown to a favourite member of their family, they always made the motion of catching it and putting it in their pocket. This signified that it was important and could be retrieved, enabling them to relive the joy of the kiss over and over again, until that person returned for another visit.

Second, the thrown kiss may show caring thoughtfulness. In ministry especially the joke is that a pastor’s spouse will throw a kiss to signify that perhaps people are getting anxious and the sermon or Bible study is getting a bit too long! It is always done subtly, but does tell us something; there is a balance needed and time elements of delivery may not align with everyone’s attention span… especially if it is a difficult topic. Even though Karen has joked about it, she never once in the 27 years of sermons has thrown me a kiss. Of course she is biased! LOL But there may have been times when she looked quietly at her watch to remind me that a Bible study was going a bit over, even though I was deep in contextual explanations.

I have to chuckle at the times that it has been mentioned in various contexts by different folks on very different occasions. I had a rather “intentionally direct” member of a congregation add subtlety to his bag of tricks, when he set his watch alarm to go off at the sharp top of the hour. I let him go on for some time thinking that someone would ask him to turn it off previous to the service, but no one ever did. So, I boldly asked him one day, “Why the alarm?” He smiled and said calmly, “It is just a gentle reminder that the service time is up!” Our family laughed about that for years, but the truth was that something was being said in that alarm. It was the “Kiss” principle. Keep it short stupid!

Now my wife would disagree with that always being the take on the “kiss” principle. She would sometime interpret it as, “keep it simple sweetie”, especially if I ranged into the more technical side of a Bible Study on the theology of the Paul in Romans for an example. So, what am I saying this morning? Does the “Kiss” principle have a good reason to be put into practice? Well,… yes. Now there, I have conceded a point that I have not always wanted to give up on in my life. My mind will lead me down paths of recollection and philosophy that sometimes can overwhelm the most avid of readers. (I use caution here to not use the term reader, not follower, for to follow me is an error; make sure you are followers of Christ.) I have been known to be overly verbose at times. I do try to be reasonably to the point, but sometimes though, I admit that I just let my thoughts flow.

In India, I have a few times been challenged to keep it short. It has not always been a simple task and the request was received so that someone who was there for the first time, might have opportunity to speak first. I often felt like I was getting the leftovers, as schedules need to be strictly kept and time then ran short for me to lecture properly. You have to understand the culture there and their sense of timing. LOL. But, I was being asked to make the lecture shorter as a way of accommodating other’s needs. During those times I sometimes tried to evaluate my reason for going all that distance and what it is that God was trying to accomplish through me, if I was not allowed the time to do a good job at teaching, with both depth and Spiritual challenge.  A friend there told me that it was because I could accomplish the task no matter the time allotted and I didn't need not follow a script… it flowed from God’s presence, after years of the faithful study and practice. I think he was overdoing it, but the challenge is always before me. It is when I am spiritually challenged that God picks up the pieces and carries me through the work. My job is to present the facts, the subtleties of the Word and help others to better understand the dynamics of faith… in total dependence on Him, not encumbered with the worries of time and schedule.

You see, the team perhaps felt that I was one of the faithful sureties. They knew that I was there each year and could do the task at hand. That is the way God works. He enables those He sends, who suddenly feel unsure; He equips them for the tasks at hand, no matter the trials along the way. It is never easy to face the challenges, when expectations are not met, or cast off self-doubt when we feel less than equal to the task, after hours of preparation and then be confronted perhaps, as the parameters change. God is in the down moments, as well as the peaks of joy and satisfaction we find in the victories. Get ready for the “Kisses” that may come in life… they will come!

Finally the thrown kiss may have a level of threat. My heart sinks when I know that many use this form of what should always be loving and kind gesture, for something else. Now-a-days there may be other gestures thrown in there, but nothing good ever comes of the emotions that provoke these responses toward another person. I often wonder if it wasn't very similar with Judas, when he signified who Jesus was to the guards, when they came to arrest him before his trial and death. Even though he would have directly kissed Jesus on the cheek, perhaps it would have been that same emotion, that same disdain, which drives people to react with such thoughtlessness.

So today I have a question for those who have made it this far. Do you feel that you need to throw me a “Kiss”?  No, I don’t mean the mean and nasty .. lol… although if that is how you fell, I don’t mind getting feedback from readers no matter the context. I have had some good stuff, along with a few not so gentle criticisms in my day… all in a life’s work I say. While I may take the high road and continue to follow what God is leading me to do, I can perhaps add more of my life’s experiences, talk about my many travels (Oh my… I have had lots!) and try to do a better job blending in the meaning of life, in Christ, through those experiences (if you feel that I am falling down there). My plan though, is to continue to write from the edge. I have no desire to take the easy path… that would be just plain out of context for me and I don’t want to let my kids down…LOL... they are too used to me being off the wall, out to lunch, and as my oldest daughter lovingly puts it, “Dad you are such a freak!”

So come back and connect with the challenges, the fun I poke at collections of life’s experiences, trials, and disappointments, but most of all the joys, as we walk toward God’s blessing, while living near the edge. Not comfortable at this point? Hey, it is always in how you define the view from there! Blessings for your day and always! 

Monday, April 1, 2013

It's Sudden Death In Overtime!

Having played High School hockey one season, I learned that sudden death in overtime was exactly what it sounded like. As the clock was reset to 5 minutes, the pressure to out-perform and defeat the competition was the ultimate goal… or was the ultimate “goal”, the ultimate way to defeat… oh bother… it was one or the other I am sure. So out ran the seconds, until one or the other of the teams got the puck tucked into the crease and into the net; after much boarding, checking, tripping and all-out war on the ice. It usually came with lots of name-calling; a verbal punishment, thought to distract the competition long enough to steal the prize, and outright fouls to gain a few seconds away from the pressure, giving time to take those few extra breaths to suck in just a bit more air. And last but not least… let’s pull the goalie! Wow… What a game! But, somebody had to win… right? I never could positively gauge who the best team was… now who put forth the best effort that was different! It seems that since teams are made up of members, each had to be the best every day and that was not always easy. There were injuries, personal problems and distractions outside the game that they carried onto the ice, and of course team dynamics… ah… nothing worse than jealousy, and resentment to knock the stuffing out of an otherwise good line.

So it is in life. It seems, as time creeps on, that there may be more indications that we may go into overtime after all. I hear lots of people arguing that the end is near and since there hasn't been anyone who has got it right thus far, I am thinking that God’s plan of “sudden death overtime” is more to the mark. We are challenged on every side to do what is right. The battle for truth is like the battle for right… what is truth and who is right? Well… now that is the ultimate set of questions! Eugene Peterson once told me that it is simply a matter of decision making for people. It is that simple… we decide for ourselves what shall be the truth we adhere to, and that is what makes what is being done, right. When we choose the Christian faith, our route in life becomes our “way of life”, not just a guarantee to eternal bliss. The battles are still going on all around us, confronting us on every side. Don’t agree? Think back over the past few days. How many times have you been disappointed, wanted to shout in anger or perhaps just wanted to give up in defeat? There are lots of emotions that I could name, but each carries with it the challenge to stay on the path we have chosen to take, no matter how hard and how rough that path may be moment by moment.

The Bible says that the war is not over yet and I lean toward that thought. Only God can win this one. Having tripped and fallen more than once in life, I know that I am neither strong enough nor smart enough to win this for me. Without Him and the blessing of the “Christ” this ol’ tent of flesh would just be another casualty of the war. So I cling to the “Old Rugged Cross”, so to speak. What Christ accomplished there for me is more than I could ever dream of and it wasn't just for me. Oh, I know… it is up to each to make up his or her own mind for themselves. That’s freedom right?

So what is God doing? He is giving us the prescribed periods, set forth in this life event, to make the right moves, follow the proper strategy and make every attempt to attain the “proper” goals. Then, when there seems to be no end in sight He will call “A Sudden Death Overtime”. Not a good analogy? Well, I work with the simple theory… one of those “Kiss” principles… keep it simple stupid! In that time the true winner will be Christ and He will give those, who may still be doubters, an opportunity to repent, Those who don’t will just be on another defeated team. Who wouldn't want to be on the team who has the ultimate player, the foremost athlete, the strongest, yet most selfless team-member, who has shown his ability to win, even when it looks like defeat is imminent? That sudden death overtime can be scary, but it is like being afraid of the dark. If we are not prepared for the darkness to fall, by knowing that there is nothing to fear, we will certainly feel a stressful discomfort as it nears.

I’ve been playing on Christ’s team for a long time. I have not always been the best team member and have carried my personal trials on and off the ice more than once and have even been sidelined with injuries caused by my own folly. To say that I don’t deserve to be on the team would be correct, but for one thing… no one is. That is the beauty of God’s grace. As much as I fall down, He expects me to get up and go at it again, a little humbler than before maybe, but equipped with the same armour as everyone else. That is if I do my part and follow the path, the plan or the strategy, that leads to the ultimate goal. It takes teamwork to. There is no place here for one-man teams in this game. There is especially no place for team members to outthink the Coach. And when it comes time to get on with the game, the only thing on our minds should be the strategy set out for us… this is not the time to fear the outcome or second guess Him who has knowledge of every move the enemy will make.  If I “FEAR” the overtime game I am depending on what I can do, not on what God has already done. After all what is there that God can’t do?

The thing that alarms me most, even for our Christian family, is that even though there may be a struggle with some about both God’s omnipotence and His omniscience… whether we like it or not we serve a Sovereign God. If you get stuck on those big words take time to Google them… it will do your soul good! This weekend we have celebrated one of the great Seasons of the Christian calendar year. God, incarnate with us, showed His love by dying for us, paying the price for sin past present and future, for those who will love and serve Him (See John 3:16) and then gave us the hope of eternal life with him as he was resurrected from the grave. Some will struggle with walking out that far into their belief system today and in future. For me it is a matter of course, a set my choice patterns along my path in a “living” faith. Living on the edge may be tenuous at times, but I have always been a bit of a radical from the old world’s point of view… or so my father always said! LOL… It is always just in how you define the view from there!