Monday, April 20, 2015

Time Changes Everything… Or Does It?

I still get calls/emails, after all these years, from old friends and associates who wonder what I am up to and inquire about my taking a Church somewhere as an interim for a while. The conversation generally starts with how I am feeling these days, my state of health and how the family is doing. They don’t always like to ask directly about our son who has been fighting cancer (brain tumor) for the past 5 years and who is now undergoing treatments that will run until around Christmas. (He started those treatments this week and he needs our support not only in prayer, but more practical ways to help support his family’s needs. It has been a long 5 years for us all in so many ways.) Illness comes in several ways and to many of us. Even I have had my fair share through these years and it has left me weakened physically and sometimes low of spirit. I no longer desire the pastoral role, or the stresses that come with that role. I needed retirement to heal and now even more in the throes of Ben’s extended illness. It is hard to say the words, “No not really… I need time and healing and want to be here for my family just now” for even though my body is weak, my heart somehow feels guilt in not answering yes when asked.

I have often wondered why we feel the need to question decisions about retirement for people we know. I know it has often been said that people waste away once they retire, but I was not one of them. I had plans to help others with the electrical and carpentry skills that I had gained through the years. I had hopes to go into business helping my son with a construction business that has been his for quite a few years now. I had plans to perhaps continue to go overseas teaching and lecturing as long as my health allowed me to go. I had plans.

Back in my youth I had one focus in mind and that was to follow my Dad in the mechanical and body repair trades… to help him… to work along-side of him. But that was not to be so I found my heart leaning towards teaching and using the mechanical skills, along with carpentry, until I found that business was drawing me out and away, as doors closed and others opened. So many times I have asked questions about why doors closed before me, except that new ones always opened immediately, beckoning me forth into something just as rewarding. People told me that time would heal the wounds I often felt, when something I felt comfort with, and good about, turned out to be a disappointment or a dead end.

When changes come in life, we want to feel that time will in fact heal those wounds that have been opened. It only stands to reason that the rigors of living life every day would help us to forget, or at least begin the healing of major issues, but that is not always the case. Many carry the scars of past events that are hidden just beneath the pretense of both psychological and spiritual wellness.  We think that the bumps and lumps that we get along the way are only minor and putting on the so-called “Happy Face” will help us overlook the pain, or at least bury it beyond the discovery of others; away from those prying questions that would break open those wounds again.

We might ask ourselves then  if we can apply the stiff upper lip and just get on with living normally. The easy answer is that some can, but most can’t. In fact, the truth is that very few of us in life can, and not suffer future consequences that will cause more trouble than we might ever expect. It is a known fact that stresses carried through life most often have harsh and sometimes devastating effects on our health that can change the course of the very life being lived or planned.  How we handle those stresses should always be of great importance as we go about our daily lives. The Bible tell us that we have several options available to us, and if adopted with faith, these options could indeed make a difference in both the immediate life we live and the years to come.

What is most important to remember when searching for scripture verses to help with life’s trials, is that most were written, not with an all-inclusive or universal fix in mind, but more in line with a contextual answer to a specific need that confronted a group of people or specific person. It is most important to remember that we are never alone.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” While this verse opens our minds to the commonality of distress, tribulation and all of the debilitating factors that life can bring, there is a reminder that God has always been there for his creation… for us.

Paul wrote in his second letter to the Church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”  Paul was reminding the Church in these verses that we carry daily the pressures of life being lived and these pressures though heavy, and can weigh us down, yet they are not impossible to carry. The difficult key to finding our way through these messy times is looking at the future not the moment.

Have you ever broken a bone and suffered the pain and inconvenience of a cast, or maybe something even worse like an appendectomy? These more minor physical ailments are just that, minor. Yet there is something very true in our ability to adapt, looking at the setback as only temporary and being able to acknowledge that life would find a level of regained normalcy soon.  A bee sting does not last forever but truly hurts… a minor parallel? We wish this could be case in all our life’s trials, disappointments and tribulations, but it is not. There is a level of truth though to be considered, in how we can look ahead in life, and gain the ability to leave behind that which we cannot change. A portion of a prayer, adopted by recovering addicts, that was written by Reinhold Niebuhr says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The bee sting is so very real and can bring tears to the eyes of a small child and have a long lasting effect on a genuine fear of bees for years to come. The Theologian Niebuhr saw the plight of the human soul in the battle against those things that could not and would not be assuaged by our skill or ability to overcome by will power alone. His answer was found in releasing to God that which we find ourselves unable to fix or change. Human courage can get us beyond some things but not all… knowing where the difference lies is then the key. When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth, there were many problems to be addressed. Some could be easily fixed, but many could not. His advice was for them to begin to sort out problems both corporate and individual/personal and look more to the future; being things that are eternal and not temporal in nature. In layman’s terms we could say, “Let’s evaluate what may seem to be there before us and measure it against what is going to be there in eternity.”

I try to see each day some good beyond the pains and aches of aging process/illness that I face or even the limitations that life brings in other ways. My Brother-in-law calls it the "AGE Virus". I look ahead to the next moment, next hour and next days, weeks, months and years that may stretch before me and pray that God will continue to open the windows of my life and let His Son shine in, so that I may allow His Son to shine out through me, no matter the situation I face each day. It is not easy. It takes a level of release that is not easily learned… it takes practice and for those who rely on faith, it can be stretched almost to its limit. But it is not impossible. Some days I lose; most often though, are the days when God wins.

Do I enjoy the challenge… no! Do I regret that I must try so hard when my desire would be that God would simply take away those challenges? No! Without those challenges in life we would not be inclined to lean on God when life gets tenuous. I will leave you with three things that Jesus spoke about His purpose in coming to earth and living among us.

Matthew 11:28-29 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Walking toward those words we can find peace… walking away just adds to the depth of despair with the worldly affairs that become heaviness in life. Maybe it is living on the edge… just maybe it is worth the view   from there. May you be richly blessed as you walk towards God in tribulation... not away, as it is for many  the habit to do... Especially as the day of His return is nearing.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Hope Springs Eternal – An Easter Thought

I remember in my youth, many, many light years ago, how the Church celebrated the Easter weekend in a big way. I am not sure how many times we went to Church for 3 hours on a Good Friday through the years. The service seemed long for someone who was not only short in stature but also not long on patience. Yet, I have fond memories of those times. It always seemed like something was happening and what we were doing was worth the effort of trying to stay both focused and awake during the time in the pews. My Dad used to carry large nuts and bolts in his pocket, when we were really small, and when it seemed like we were just on the edge of making a bit too much ruckus, he would hand us those simple toys to keep us occupied so as least we would not disturb too many people around us.

I often wondered if my parents ever got really upset with us when we became a bit overzealous. I know as a small boy I must have had lots of energy and was known to be too talkative. Even today I am accused of being too wordy. I guess some of my family find my blogs to be too much and in that category… so I know the stories about my constant youthful chatter must have created more than one stressful moment even in Church. It seems, from my mother’s former reflections, that they always held to the hope that even though my brother and I were young, we were getting something out of what was being said during services. Their hope was that we would respond one day to Christ.

Today, we seem to think that children are far more energetic; perhaps they may even be considered far less attentive, but as I reflect I wonder sometimes if that is really true. The back pews of our home church had initials carved into them. The hymnals had youthful drawings, pages torn out and the corners turned down and almost ragged…. I know that few adults would do such destructive things. On one occasion the suggestion was made to keep a group of youth from attending Church as they were much too disruptive and destructive to the church building and furniture.  I questioned the validity of that reasoning and those few of us who felt that these boys needed to be part of our congregation, that they might see both God’s love and our love, finally won out.

Children have always been a concern to the crowd. They have always been noisy…they love to play and create, no matter the time being centuries/decades ago or today. In all ages the youth of community have followed their parents and have needed something to both keep their attention and challenge them, and it has been the challenge of the parents to keep them amused and in hand so that their youthful exuberance would not overly upset others around them. Perhaps the older we get the more easily we are distracted… No... Not at all… The older we get, it is more likely that we want “our” focus not challenged by others around us.
During a time of teaching the people, Jesus was asked to bless some small children. The disciples rebuked those who brought the children and wanted the children sent away. I have often wondered why this might have happened. We can only speculate, but it may very well have been a response to what may have been seen to be some disruption created by those same children, while Jesus had been speaking to the adults earlier. It is so interesting to read what Jesus response to that rebuke was. Verse 14 of Matthew 26 records, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Then he laid his hands on them and blessed them before he moved on.

There are so many things in life that we do not see clearly, do not understand fully. People often question where hope lies in the hearts and lives of those who seem to be paying no attention to what is going on in the context of faith in Christ and their Heavenly Father. Many the time I have heard common folk both Christian and non-Christian label, criticize and judge those who looked, acted and seemed in some remote way different from themselves. On one occasion years ago my heart ached for a man who was greeted by a neighbour, as he entered the Church to attend one of our Sunday services. The harshness of his comments turned that man away and nothing I could say could bring him back, just because one critical comment from a judgmental person broke his spirit and resolve to come back to God’s house to worship.

I never gave up on my friend and continued to pray for him even though he would not change his mind to attend. He did however say that he believed and I know that was the most important part of his faith journey. Years later a man who had never attended Church approached me with a gift, along with a note that said, “This little hurricane lamp is to remind you of the years you spent holding out the light to those of us in the community” Some must have been looking and listening and a few years later that same man who gave me the light became a deacon in the very Church I had pastored all those years.

As Christ approached the cross, though his personal courage seemed to be weak, his spirit of resolve was certainly strong. God did not leave His Son to die alone, rejected and forgotten by mankind, His creation. There was hope, an answer to Jesus’ prayer for former glory to be renewed. Even for the thief on the cross near Jesus, there was hope. Though he may have been rejected of man for his crimes, he was immediately forgiven and given the hope of eternity though he would not be baptized and may not receive a believer’s burial. We are often too quick to condemn ourselves and others, too full of grief, regret and self-abasement, to realize that God has more to give than we can ask for. He has always been full of grace and love… we are often too busy with life to see that clearly. It is so simple, yet we make it so complex. Hope is not just for the perfect but for the imperfect as well, not just for the uplifted, but for the downtrodden too.

With God’s creation there came hope intact and active, seen now at the Cross of Jesus. Though we are created with free will and can decide to accept or reject, that hope need never fade. Because of Calvary’s Cross and what God accomplished there through His Son Jesus, all have hope and that hope springs eternal for all and for all time. Today, don’t turn away from hope. Give hope its due. It is not something that need fade in our lives for it springs eternal every day. Like living near the edge, it is all in the perspective we take from where we are. My Mom always said that where there is breath there is hope and I guess she kept me breathing through the years with that hope in mind. I pray that this Easter you will take that hope into your heart and life, and give it a chance to grow…. Just like those little snow drops and early spring flowers prying their way out through these late snow falls. Hope does spring eternal!