Saturday, December 31, 2016

About Christmas … You Don’t Always Get What You Want!

“Where there is faith, there is love; Where there is love, there is peace; Where there is peace, there is God;  And where there is God; there is no need.”  -Leo Tolstoy

Christmas, while growing up, was a magical time. Just like all the other children of the post Second World War era, I looked at the mail order catalogues and drooled over all the toys that were being offered. In our world, that protected cloister we called family, there was the small “s” spirit of Christmas called Santa Claus.  I am not sure at what age the truth about his actually being just an image was revealed. I am sure it made a difference at some level, but we still left our Christmas stockings out to be filled and had great expectations of what might be left under the tree, long after we heard the truth.

I am not sure really, that it made that much of a difference about having a Santa Claus or not having one, as the true meaning of Christmas was always present for us. The Christmas Story was read from Luke Chapter 2 through the years, and we have passed that on down to our children… or we pray that to be so. The main theme of Christmas was that of love. All the other bi-products of the commercial celebrations were just a bonus to us. Did we fully understand that when we were merely youngsters? No, of course not, but as we grew and matured it became more evidenced in those family traditions that made up the Christmas season.

I wish I could say that every day was just like Christmas Day, but none of us can say that with all truthfulness, can we. Back then, there was the threat of knowing that the mystical Santa Claus had both a nice and a naughty list, and we lived in fear of a lump of coal or a bundle of sticks in our stockings. We all have those memories where things didn’t always run smoothly and relationships got ruffed up a bit. Some of those moments were hard to get beyond; our ability to let go of “stuff” and forgive, often took a beating. It is said that you can’t take back what comes out of your mouth. Once the harsh or unkind words are spoken, they are fixed in time… and in “memory”… if not yours, the person you said them to.  I remember how important it was for our parents to remind us that we should watch both our language and our attitudes. More than once I have been reminded of my Mom telling us that it was a sin to tell someone that we hate them, and the Scripture reminds us that if our hearts begin to hate someone, we have in essence killed that person already. That was enough to frighten our young hearts, but not always enough to stop our young and contemptuous tongues from spilling forth the words, when our anger got the best of us. Love is sometimes hard to cling to, and even harder to administer under duress, created by self-doubt, or in our weakest moments.

In our culture, in Eastern Canada, we watched Santa Claus’s message every day, following the evening news on the National TV Network. I will never forget Santa’s instruction to all the girls and boys as he ended his talk; “Now repeat after me… I promise to be good in every way and try to make every day, almost as happy as Christmas Day!” That was reflective of the ideal, which hoped for not only joy, but peace in the family, community and world.  Tolstoy’s quote, remind us that there is a “basic need”, required to accomplish the kind of peace in the world, that would be both everlasting and fulfilling. I once wrote of my Mom’s desire to have her sons love her 365 days of the year, not just on Mother’s Day. Love, not being a continuous process on a daily basis, has no great or lasting effect on humanity. There must be a deliberate striving toward that level of love, wherein you gain and retain peace.

Things have changed in so many ways over the past 6 decades. A few days ago our family took a drive around the area to look at the outside decorations and lights. In the 1970’s there were pockets of brightly decorated homes in certain areas. People would flock to those communities and drive around, just to enjoy the beauty of the Season. Not all of the decorations reflected the Christ of Christmas; many were just reflections of childhood interest, in a seasonal reproduction of gifts, and Santa Claus, along with the special arrangements of coloured lights. While the joy of the trip to visit those communities was often discussed among friends, little of the peace and joy of the Christ Child’s birth was retained, just because of superficial dressings of people’s homes. It was what took place inside the homes that was of more interest, as I began to mature, and my heart still wonders, as we drive through those same communities, visiting friends and family during the Christmas Season; do they know the true Reason for the Season?

I can remember pouring through the Christmas Wish Book, which was one of the delights of the pre-Christmas season, as a child. Those mail-order catalogues, though there were central outlets for them in most communities back then, were important factors in every child’s penning of a wish list for Santa, to be delivered through Mom and Dad. Some will remember that old song where the lyrics went something like this: “Johnny wants a pair of skates, Susie wants a dolly; Nellie wants a story book, she thinks dolls are folly”. I may be off on the lyrics there…. It was the version my Dad used to sing. We soon learned that just because we wanted something, our dreams did not always come true.

We lived in an era when the Walt Disney program sang that song, stating that our dreams come true when once we have wished upon a star. Those fantasies soon disappeared when we had to look at the future through some not so rose tinted glasses. Work for you supper and you’ll get breakfast was more in alignment with what took place. Not that we were stone poor; it was a bi-product of living with older parents who saw the plus side of teaching their children the responsibility of helping to support the family by earning their own way in life. It helped everyone, including our parents, who no longer needed to fully shoulder the burden of meeting all the expectations of a new age, with new dreams and potentials, that for the most part, cost lots of money.

Christmas has become even more commercial than it ever was. Can one turn back the clock and revert to a slower, more moderate time and survive the penalty of peer humiliation? Some would say, “Absolutely!” and not care about the repercussions of derision heaped against those under their care, especially those children in relational and fellowship groups in school and playgrounds. There has never been a time when people did “not” look down on the less fortunate. That is a sad statement for sure. But human nature raises its ugly head and scoffs at those who do not come up to the standards of the times. But, still, we don’t always get what we want.

In my work as clergy through the years, there were other circumstances, other reasons, other criteria whereby I experienced the plea for a wish to come true. I’ve stood by the side of dying people and heard their family’s plea for a life to continue, for sickness to turn once again to health. I have listened while well-meaning individuals promised the sick that if they surrendered and believed, and asked for healing, they would be healed… after all faith can move mountains… right? And, that just scratches the surface of pain and misfortune I faced almost on a daily basis. That may sound so harsh, and on the edge of unbelief, but I can tell you that not all sickness stems from sin, other than Adam’s sin… and not all prayers are answered as we want them, just because we pray in faith believing. We must be cautious about how we approach God. We come as a privilege to his throne, not as demanding servants who bring a wish-list and expect that list to be filled. We, who are the servants of God, understand the mystery of His will, only as He allows us to see it… just like everyone else. God is not Santa Claus nor is He Walt Disney who grants wishes because we have written him a letter (prayed) or wished upon some star. I have written before of Christ’s plea in the garden, just before His arrest. That was a believer’s prayer! He received what was needed, not what he desired, in the human context of his prayer.

I got my sword… a wish come true. I met the woman of my dreams… bingo! God allowed me to attain an Electrical license, that happens to serve me well to this day! My prayer was, “God allow me to become an electrician and I will go where you want me to go!” (And so I went, even to India on 4 different occasions in service for Him.) Well… I got it partially right anyhow. Out of electrical work and into ministry He sent me … kicking and screaming, for the first 5 years or so. Sometimes we get what we want with added codicils. Now, 30 years or so later, I am coasting through my retirement years, clinging to the hope that financial burdens of home ownership, and standard maintenance, will not shove us too close to the edge. Who am I kidding? That is standard fair for everyone these days! LOL  

So? How about those Christmas dreams? Mine include family gathered, time to laugh, a meal shared and most of all love, that binds us together, no matter the size or intrinsic worth of what those Christmas wrappings enfold. Quite like the Christmas fever, that we pay homage to in a commercial sense, daily life can spring some surprises on us from time to time. A turn of the tide, a fork in the road, or even a flat tire can change the planed design of your day and cause either deep heartache or bring a rich blessing. A poet  by the name of Robert Frost once wrote of the road less taken; it can bring meaning to life, as we plan ahead, and I want to share the last verse with you today, as you consider the theme I bring forward.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

While planning life, I find myself in my latter years more able to let go of what I thought should happen, and the fears of what could happen, and I cling to the promise that no matter what does happen, I am loved. For me, this has made all the difference; you might say it is the only instance where I could be assured that I really got what I wanted. I have given my wife and family every reason in the past, to really dislike me on many levels. I have been absent when I should  have been present, and I let my work take the place of the relationships that were most important to me, as I strived after what I thought was the Master’s calling on my life. But, He also called me to be a good, present husband, and father to my children. I was reminded of my remiss early enough to make some changes, but the continued pressures of work and the stresses of ministry did take its toll. Am I sad? Yes, sometimes more than I need to be perhaps. Am I ashamed? Yes, more than most will ever know. Yet God is not only good, He is great! As you look down the road toward the future, measure what you want over and against what you need, and be careful not to put all your eggs in the basket of guaranteed assurances… You don’t always get what you want! Maybe you need to look to the right "Star" and hang your future on it! That is living near the edge!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Starting the New Year with Wings

My wife and I grew up, as some will know, in Bible-believing families. We all had our favourite Scripture verses and my wife’s favourite is taken from Isaiah 40:30-31. The latter verse states: “… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV) It is a powerful image of just how our faith can help us rise above calamity, trial and tribulation, to soar with new freedom in our daily lives.

But, what about the reality check that many do each day? We are never without some sort of problem for very long in the context of our daily lives, or that of our family or friends.  A parishioner of mine once said; “If my life were a TV program it would be a soap opera! ... Every day is filled with endless drama and nothing ever gets settled … it is just one thing after another!” It is hard to imagine living a life without drama. For those who follow Facebook on the internet, you will find that there are many who post statements proclaiming the desire to live without the constant drama, and will give sage-type information on how to overcome relationships that are always causing “Drama”.

But it isn’t just the dramatic, found in friends and relationships that can cause the sap to be drained from us on a daily basis. It is the effort of living, the constant drudgery of the mundane, along with the normal everyday things that can be overlooked. Like snowflakes that gather into mountainous drifts, the “small” things left unattended, due to exhaustion or indifference, caused by busyness overwhelming our sensitivity, can soon become another nail driven into our striving for just plain peace in living. There are so many factors in our lives in this era in which we are living. The striving after all the trappings of living today can tire us out and there is more and more chance of our souls being weighed down, than ever before.

I have always loved nature. Who doesn’t; right? Even as an adult I was mesmerized by the effort of squirrels for instance, who work tirelessly to prepare for winter. Even while invading my outhouse at the cottage, and using its eves for a winter nest, those little creatures gave testimony of their endurance and stamina. Ok.... I got them out of my eves, but that does not belittle their effort, and their seemingly endless proclivity for doing what came naturally. The interesting part was their chatter and then their constant scolding when I interrupted their work, or even came near them. They got disturbed, but not to the point that they could not continue.

I wonder how many times a beaver will rebuild it’s dam, once the forestry department has torn it open. How many times will a wildcat or coyote approach a trap and try to steal the bait without being caught in its grasp? It seems that nature’s design has as part of its plan, to make us both tenacious and resilient. My wife and I once saw two birds flying up the harbor near where we live. They had come quite a distance and they seemed to be struggling, as their flight looked wobbly, reflecting perhaps their exhaustion as they carried what looked like sticks in their talons. They were eagles, carrying building materials to their nest somewhere in the Provincial Park near our home. What stamina! No matter the energy needed to build the nest, this nesting pair took on the project and I suspect continued until it was complete.

But, that is the animal kingdom … right? What makes us so susceptible to the weariness, found in the activity of living? Why are there so few moments where we just rest peacefully, rather than wander about in the maze of mental gymnastics, while caught up in subjective reasoning, rather than seeking freedom in the solace of faith? Is it our training, our upbringing, some cultural environmental disease that is battling our immunity, finding a way to block sensitivity to our own plight? Well, perhaps so. We are the product of so many environments these days. We are looking down all the avenues of reasonability for answers, but want too many quick fixes and superficial answers. I was once accused of being too pragmatic in my early adulthood! Can you imagine! LOL… I had to look it up. I am a linear thinker, or so I found. Everything for me runs in straight lines, or so I was told. That made me a good Chair of the Board, because I wasn’t easily pushed down rabbit holes in conversation. While there were many occasions where I had to defend a decision, concerning the direction of higher academics in my job, I wasn’t drawn away from the point of the argument by those who would try to dismiss this mere mortal, who just happened to be the bearer of not-so-glad tidings by times.

The question arises then; why do we rise to the occasion sometimes and crash and burn on other occasions? It wasn’t always easy to face the upper echelon of academia, believe me! More than once in my academic journey I was reminded that my duty to the job at hand was my studies and not chasing after the call of God in my life. Yes… you heard it right! There is a fine line between an active Christian trying to fulfill the mandate toward preparedness, and being that of a servant in the activity of carrying out their calling. Balance in life is not always found even in the hallowed halls of Seminary. Many were the blossoming theolog, who fell under the weight of striving after academic achievement, far above the true path of preparedness through surrender. I do not believe God’s desire is for all who enter preparation for the work place, either as a seminarian or through a broader path of academics, to gain the highest academic standing in every case. Taking time to understand a broader spectrum of understanding of life, family, community and the world, better prepares young minds for both living and thriving through the stresses of life being lived; not just striving after being on a Dean’s list somewhere.

But people do fall down and many more are weighed down so heavily by life that they have trouble seeing the forest, much less the trees, the moss, the nature that surrounds them. There is often little that supports the effort to rise to meet the needs, much less the courage to match the desire to find such exertion. I read this morning that we often carry the weight of living daily too much on our own. The burdens of our own little world on our shoulders can make flying impossible. Imagine tying 40 pound logs to the talons of those eagles, wanting to build their nest. There is no way that these majestic birds could carry such a burden, but we, like the eagles in that scenario, often overwhelm ourselves with such burdens and yet expect to rise above it all, just on the power of self-proclamation and inner strength. This is a circumstance headed for a collision course with reality.

So, what is the answer? Inner peace, though elusive by times is just a matter of surrender and release. Ok… too much reductionism for some, but take time to do the research. What makes life so stressful for you? Where do you put the focus of your efforts? What drives your desires on a day to day basis? Most importantly, what is the most significant thing in your life … something that means more to you than anything else? Put away your cares for a moment and walk to the edge. Yes… the edge. That is where we face all the fears; it’s that place where one decision can make the difference in the direction of our lives. There we find ourselves evaluating our priorities with a deeper sense of importance, and it is there that we most often are enabled to make good decisions, over against those that may lead us back into the fog of just daily living. Being on the edge is like being at our lowest point in life. I once said that I was at a point where I felt lower than a snakes belly in a wagon rut. It was no picnic there… it was life or death for me. As hard as the moments were in those days, I found that there were things worth living for.

Today, I look back and wonder how many times I have felt the weight of situations that I could not handle, on my shoulders, and still I tried to manage. My first instinct tells me, “I can do this!” But God says, “Let go and allow Me!” That is no easy task, believe me. Pride and embarrassment take its toll and when the effort to handle the moment alone overwhelms me now, I am reminded that I am not alone.

Are you carrying around burdens that are not yours to carry? Don’t just let them go for a minute while you pray, only to pick them up again afterwards and carry them away with you. If a short prayer does not seem to work, then kneel down in your heart and surrender to His peace. I can tell you that it is not easy… but it is worth it. Walk over to the edge, dump the load and take time to see those things which bring you joy while you are there. Be reminded that life is not just a minefield waiting to blow up in your face; it is a garden in which dreams and joys are planted, so that the harvest might bring dreams fulfilled and even greater joys. Blessings are not fiction; they are a real part of our surrender to God, so that He can bring peace as He carries our burdens for us… so that meanwhile, we can find our way!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

When the Going Gets Tough.... There Is God

My hands have hurt a lot lately. My doctor told me some time back that I might begin to suffer more each year with arthritis. We had that whole conversation about family history, what types of arthritis my parents and grandparents had, along with the usual suggestions for diet and exercise. All that would be great if I lived a sedentary life and was not the type to be out doing things that perhaps might be qualified as "hard" work for most. I grew up hearing about what daily life was like in my parents and grandparents time. Hard work was the norm back in the early 1900's. It was not just expected, it was necessary for the welfare of the family. There were not the conveniences we have in this day and age. Work with your hands included hands not just in dough for our favourite recipes, but in dishwater, washing clothes, along with cutting, splitting and piling wood that had to be harvested in the forest without our chainsaws and diesel driven harvesters and hydraulic hoists on log trucks that deliver the wood to our door. After a days labour I feel exhausted and my days are not 8-10 hours long anymore. I am lucky to get 4-6 hours out of this old body these days, but I keep going.

I am one of the fortunate ones I believe. My discomfort is not unmanageable. I take over-the-counter pain management meds as needed. Doctors continue to say that the pills don't work when you won't take them. There is that fine line between being medicated for the pain and medicated so you won't feel pain. I have known people who medicate so that they won't feel pain, and that can be a downhill journey. I am not trying to be judgmental, but for myself, I fear that journey. I need to be able to function daily and manage pain that is real so that I can continue to be reasonably pain free, but also be alert, especially as I use machines that call for my complete awareness. I can't afford to be numbed or medicated so that I might be in a situation and not be aware of some critical decision making process that I am not acutely aware of, or fully capable of handling. I value my life and the lives of those who may be assisting in a project, especially in the woods, working with a chainsaw and felling trees.

Some days are worse than others. I believe we all find that to be true don't we. For my physiology, the weather makes a difference. As a sufferer of migraines for most of my life, I have been critically aware of weather patterns and changes in seasons which have been tough on my pain management program. As seasonal climate changes take place and one season changes to the next, I may suffer for several days as my body acclimatizes to the difference in temperatures. As another example, while working in the woodlot this fall, I have been lifting heavy loads and my hands have taken a beating. My wedding ring no longer fits, and my knuckles are so stiff and sore that getting them moving in the mornings is a real chore, but I persevere and exercise gets them limbered up. I remember my Dad being told to get a small rubber ball and squeeze it in first one hand and then the other through several repetitions each day. His hands, that had begun to twist as the arthritis did its damage, began to straighten out a bit, and for several years he kept up those exercises, and it helped his condition to a great extent.

Due to the damage to my knees some years ago, arthritis is now finding a home there as well. I often wonder; how far can this advance? How many of my joints will succumb to this painful disease. Well, all perhaps, or so it seems. My wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips and even my ankles seem to be saying to me some days... "How's that for lack of response!", and I limp on until the fluid motion of this old body finds somewhat of an acceptable level of norm. I've been told that there is a key to living with an arthritic condition. Like all keys there is a limit, but within that limit there lies a diversity of options that gives us some leeway, in the decision making process. From my doctor's perspective, along with the idea of pain management through medication, there is that simple age old and time proven method used by my grandparents. We just keep on moving not matter what! One could ask the question, "Won't that do us more harm?" Well, with today's technology, there are the advantages of joint replacement. But I continue to wonder why our "now generation" has come to that so quickly. It may perhaps be as simple as diet, lack of the proper exercise and repetitive action on joints that were once used in a broader spectrum of functions daily, that kept wear-out and tear-out at a minimum. But, I am no specialist and I can only speculate. So I wonder; is my hard work good for me or more destructive than I should be taking on at my age? After all, a great deal of my life was more sedentary, in style, in the workplace. I guess the answer is going to be found in the undertaking! 

I am not sure that God wants me to rust out. Some of my longtime friends are convinced that wearing out is better than the alternative of rusting out. As I mentioned I stay busy, but when needed I stop and rest, I do. That has been my mantra of late, as my body feels like it is about to shut down. What I mean by that is, as I reach a certain level of exhaustion, and I can feel my body beginning to not just slow down, but also to scream with pain, it is telling me that enough is enough. You know what? I am just a young buck next to Methuselah or Noah. After all, when in your 60's, you should be able to go a full 16 hours and be ready for an evening out. After all Noah built an ark when he was a lot older than me... actually he was over 500 years old. Ok... We don't live that long anymore... That’s not my fault! LOL But, I believe that God has a plan for my working life as well as my resting life. What's the difference you ask? 

My resting life is that period in time when I am fully aware of Him...His being God! Some take that time during one day only per week... Sundays perhaps. Others choose a life that includes God daily, keeping in touch with Him through the daily journey and with a constant mind for Christ, so that as events and circumstances arise we feel His presence and relate our needs to Him. For me it is the latter. Yes, I do practice the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, but every day is God's day for me. I want to feel Him with me, near me, beside me and around me, and when I feel like collapsing in exhaustion, I know that He has me in His care. When I am weak He is strong. So does that make me vulnerable or over needy? No, it makes me reliant on God for my daily walk, my work, my up-time and my down-time and I am not ashamed. I have heard people state that we should not bother God with the small stuff. I can tell you from experience that if you try to handle the small stuff single-handedly, you soon lose control of even the big stuff along with the small... we are just not strong enough to take it all alone. Even Christ knew the hazard of reliance upon self and its pitfalls, as He petitioned The Father for courage and strength, if not the removal of his tribulation to come.

Each day becomes a journey of trial for us all. It is folly to try and gloss it over with an assumption that the pathway is paved with joy and blessing each moment. Life does not happen that way. We may have moments of peace, but we also endure hours of pain through exhaustion and failure. Like my arthritic condition we may seek chemical answers as some relief, but there also has to be a rethinking of life, its values and our personal actions. I know that if I abuse my body, without considering the consequences, I feel horrible. So I have to limit myself, keep my life in check so to speak, and be cautious of those moments when desire to accomplish something takes over and leads me into over-extending myself. It is living near the edge on a different level daily. It is as dangerous being an over-achiever as it is as being an under-achiever. To rust out as an individual means a waste of good potential, and to wear out, without regard for sustained potential being met, is folly as well. So I strive to walk the fine line. I walk to the edge each day and consider the options, the possible positive outcomes of whatever seems to be on the plate before me. How I reach the right outcome depends on my dependency upon God and my reliance on what He enables me to do, without taking steps independent of His will. 

It is not an easy journey, this journey of life management, focused in Christ. It is however an incredible journey, when we cast off the burdens of self-definition and determination and take on His will each day. It is hard to always be true to that path, for it is fraught with pitfalls, which include stresses and pressure from all sides. The blessings though outweigh the trials. Keep your eye on the Christ and your heart in tune with His will... Living near the Edge becomes less scary and more manageable then.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Hmmm… What Just Happened Here and Why?

I suspect that most of us have been in that situation where it seems like we have gone to bed in a rose garden, only to awaken in the midst of some forsaken briar patch with all the prickly thorns finding an opening anywhere available to inflict their painful presence. Well, that may be overstated, but you likely get the essence of my meaning. Things don’t stay the same for very long and some days the most unexpected pops up to change the course of our lives and interrupt the calm demeanor of our state of mind. Some might say that is “Murphy’s Law” and no I am not referring to an old acquaintance by that name should he be reading this. It means that if something bad is going to happen it will happen to me. But, most often it is just a matter of happen-stance; circumstance that just happens when life spins on its own path and beyond our control. There are some that will argue that bad things happen when we are not in communion with God as he decrees. I beg to differ on that argument. I have known too many instances where bad things have happened to good people who love the Lord with all their hearts and serve Him to the best of their ability. We tend to forget that Satan is at hand in the world, and he casts his net to drag in whoever will be caught, while in the fog of doubt, or who are often under the influence of pain, sorrow and often even misinformation.

There is never a good time for most things that “crop up” in a negative context in our lives. We may tell ourselves that we are prepared, or at least have done our best to steel ourselves against the worst that may come, but it is folly to assume that the reality of change, in its worst scenarios, can just be shrugged off and we can continue on with life, while dealing with earth-shattering  problems at hand. Over the past few weeks my family has dealt with a grave illness of a dear Aunt and now the death of my  dear father-in-law, who had gone to the city for what was to be only a minor operation. Granted, he was 90, but the expectation from most of us was that he would have his surgery and, as stated by the surgeon, return home the next day.

Things do not always happen according to plan. I was ambling along at just daybreak… I was in my late teens at the time. I approached the brow of a hill and looked at the steam rising from a picturesque lake stretched before me. A sloping grass covered lane that I had traveled on, made its way downward toward the lake. With sunrise awakening my senses, it was like a mystical garden, a beauty that is difficult to describe, which lay before my eyes. The forest on each side of the lane was not dense and from out of its cover walked 2-3 deer. OK… yes, I was deer hunting. It was my first time, without the company of my Dad. Now a hunter’s first inclination is to raise his gun, take careful aim at the most desired deer and pull the trigger. Well… that was not to be. I watched the deer eye me with gentle curiosity and then amble off into the under-brush, opposite the entrance they had made. It was not a short hesitation for them. They stood there perhaps a few minutes and as a young hunter I just stood there mesmerized by the site of their beauty and the natural state of freedom they were enjoying. So… what did you do you are asking? You likely have guessed by virtue of my description. I unloaded my rifle and walked that long lane, several miles back to the vehicle, and never went deer hunting again. So now your reflection might be, ”Did I miss something here?” No! I, as it sometimes happens, have now digressed.

That feeble attempt at a long rehearsed memory, much shared with my children, still haunts me to this day. It does not fall in the same category as perhaps an unexpected death, but reminds me that not everything is according to plan. My intention that day was to finally become an experienced hunter, providing venison for the table, but that didn’t happen. These are some of the things that we realize, as we begin to find our footing in life. It becomes necessary to make mature decisions based on our particular nature, the direction of our psychological preferences and resign ourselves to the fact that we must deal with those quick unexpected changes in our own way. It is not necessary for us to either defend our personal perspectives in all matters, or be forced to make decisions based upon someone else’s ideals. Cough, cough! I know that was a mouthful. Here’s the skinny on that thought. Sometimes I just need to sit down and have a good cry. Not a “manly” thing to do some might say. But I have to, in my own personal way, release my burden of pain, so that God has room to work on my soul. It matters not to me, at this juncture in life, what the world may think of that odd sampling of courage, that such a “world-defined weakness” demands. Yes readers, I am admitting that I do cry from time to time, when I am overwhelmed and the sadness beyond which I have no control, runs amuck in my life, or the life of those I love or know. I didn’t cry that day I watched those deer walk out of sight, just because I forgot to shoot; it was because my heart said, “How can you harm that beautiful creature?”… And a feeling of guilt for thinking that I might shoot, not remorse for not shooting, had crept into my heart.

Ok… now you are wondering; does this soppy wimp eat meat? Well, yes I do. I even eat deer meat when someone offers me a steak or roast. I have eaten it as hamburger and the occasional mince pie… so I am not against its consumption, but my heart is just not in taking their life. That is one of life’s strange twists, which is better left to another blog… as I smile a twisted smile of “Oh ya… like that is going to happen!” I digress!

“Can the awful things that just pop into our lives when we least expect them, be of divine providence?” … One of my students once asked me. I wish that I had all the answers for people. It would be great to fully understand our Sovereign God, and be able to bring full insight into every circumstance of life to all those who fall into the category of inquirers/searchers, but that is not to be. We are given a day… that day is today and we are not given a key to the map cabinet, where the great charts of life’s course are stored. We are the deck hands, the men and women who climb the rigging and trim the sails at the captain’s command. I am not sure I want to be apprised of the days ahead, like some would strive to discover. Many there are who favor the prophetic symbols of the apocalyptic writings and/or some mystic references… Yes, even striving to add to or more fully project greater meaning from God’s Holy Word. But the Word tells us that no one will know the day or the hour of Christ’s return. No manner of prophetic message from those proclaimed “seers” of contemporary time, will ever fully enable mankind to understand what is happening, with any more accuracy than merely trying to hazard a guess.

We have much to be thankful for as Christians. No matter the trial or tribulation of the moment, we are not alone. Our family may be rocked by news of illness, and then face a death bringing sadness and questions of the future for our dear Mom, but God has everything in hand… He cares for us... we just have to allow Him to shelter us from the stormy blast of fear and discomfort, amidst the assailing of those crushing events. Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us of that very thing. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths”. While our hearts are searching for answers to those questions of, “What just happened here and why?”… God is at work in our lives, even while we are still reeling from the news of change and apparent disruption in our life plans. There is no Band-Aid that can just fix a little scratch to our psyche, like a mother applying a plaster to an abrasion in our childhood. No… this stuff is for real, and we try to catch our breath and wonder how the next few moments will become even tenable at the very least.

Those moments are present where we are pushed near the edge. There is only one tether here, only one true life-jacket available in those situations. The human touch helps a bit, but it can’t erase the pain of loss, or our security now unhinged, and the hole that is left, as the void widens in acknowledgement that this is for real. Some people say; “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” Well, while there is some degrees of sense, found in this philosophical prophesy, I still maintain that something is going to take my life someday, and in the meantime I am still a man with tears in my eyes from time to time. I am sure happy that I can hear my God remind me that, while I am weak, He is always strong. I can live there… on that edge… with God beside me as my (Isa 9:6) …Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace; while He is also King of King and Lord of Lords. You and I are not alone through those horrible turns in life, which can leave us spinning and afraid. God is standing on the edge with us, and can give us a different perspective from there, if we let Him. Why not ask Him (God) to be there with you today and always… even when you are shoved unexpectedly to the edge. Be blessed, and I am praying for you!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Confusion and Best Laid Plans

Growing up in a conservative family, as a child I soon learned that not everything happened just to make me happy. There were those days that I thought would never end. There were times when circumstances brought me to my knees in despondence, as I have mentioned in previous writings. With parental guidance being shared by several family members in my early years and inconsistency being more than a watch-word in some respects, there was no time for confusion; but the question has arisen in my mind more than once; “If all this was for good, and in God’s plan… why did it hurt so much?”

It is likely that there will be more than one reader who has asked that same question. As the worst things happen in our lives, we are faced with several avenues of understanding surrounding our faith. For the Christian who has been drilled with the “Word” all their lives, the answer may be straight-forward and the process of decision may be a simple one. But when the “worst” happens, the foundational precepts seem shaky when undermined by harsh truths that may have been overlooked by some myopic theology or thematic preaching. I am not trying to tear down the effective element of God’s Word being expounded, or even trying to label one denomination or theological orientation, as more effective than another. But, when limited access to the Word, as a prime source of “truth” directing both life and “Faith-based ideology”, there can be a true deficit in one’s ability to fully understand and demonstrate, through living, how God works in carrying out His sovereign plan.

Limited access is not just living without a Bible to read, but more importantly the lack of its reading with a view to experiencing a deeper walk and life in Christ, as proclaimed by the whole of the Bible. Growing up, we often wondered what those preachers were saying. We often sit under lay teachers in Sunday school and Church sponsored Youth Groups, and too often the Biblical information we received may have been from a canned format, being proclaimed by someone who may have just felt the need to “fill a need”, not out of a call to teach the Word in truth, and that being in context of both historical and cultural circumstance which may have been above their pay grade (knowledge).

This begs another question for many, and can become just another stumbling block to overcome, for those who see both historical and cultural value as a byproduct, that is similar to the filler found in our food or drugs, as necessary elements that build a story and not the foundation upon which a greater message is being given. A few Sunday school teachers, from my pas,t reflected that the New Testament was the prime source of all we needed to know about the Bible. Other followers and perhaps some longtime Christians will fervently admit to not having read much of either the Old Testament or the New Testament, citing that much of what is written is either too difficult to understand, (words to large, names too difficult or concepts too deep) or out of context with the world now-a-days.

As a child I never considered that I was making arbitrary decisions about life and what was being lived out day to day. Things just happened, and though much of what happened I knew was out of my control, I didn’t often consider that it was God’s hand effectively moving in my life, that could change circumstances at the drop of a hat. Given that as Christians we acknowledge the presence of both good and evil, we must also strive to understand God’s sovereign right to make choices for us, that may affect not only us personally, but also others around us… especially those we love.

In Church today our Pastor submitted the example of Job, a man of God, who was confronted by the satanic effect on his life. It would be easy for any of us to cave in under the weight of such a disaster as that which confronted Job. The loss of all he had, excluding his wife and his life, brought him to the brink of despair, but Job continued to rely on God for both his life and his joy. The playing out of this story before the reader reminds us that God may in fact allow bad things to happen to good people… for a greater good. We examine God’s fairness against our understanding of life, not against God’s greater plan for His creation. We hear our parents, our friends and others quoting that old adage, “Behind every cloud there is a silver lining!” and we struggle to reign in our disappointments, hurts, and anger with God, so that we can be one of the “beloved”, holding a banner of goodness and a testimony of witness for our God. Yet our hearts still cry out… “why God?”... “Why is this happening to me and those I love?” And our predilection in questioning God is not sin! Some may define it as such, but we are not the first to question God’s decisions, or His right to make them. The sin enters when we let go of God and turn from His will and lose our faith in what He is planning. We soon learn that hope is tied to faith and faith is tied to God’s plan, and this includes His ability to overcome, as He has promised in His Son… the Christ.

So are we wrong then in embracing those few precious verses that the Word brings to mind when we are surrounded by troubles? Jeremiah 29:11 is one of those we cling to. “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a   future. “ It would be remiss of us to just suppose that this verse lays open before us an all-purpose covering of God’s grace that guarantees nothing but goodness, found in Divine security, with no negative circumstances in life. The greater context is generally found in the reading of the surrounding verses; even better, a whole chapter of the complete Book of the Bible, in which the promising verse is found. Note that in the following verses of 12 ff state, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."  There is always that expectation that something specific must take place with His people for them to begin to see Him acting as a sovereign God who brings positive benefits.

I have those days when I like Job could sit before the fire and scrape my body with ashes, in agony over elements of disappointments in life. Fear for my family, their health, their livelihoods and their faith in He who holds them in His hand can overwhelm me, and my mind spins out of control with questions that I would love to ask God. But, who doesn’t have those days? We live in a world that some may define as the end times. There are those who would evaluate the haze of pending economic and political disasters as the beginning of the end for humanity. But I don’t believe that God is finished with us yet.

I loved certain stories in Biblical history reminding me that just because I have struck out, lost my way and seem to be hovering in some void, in my own sense of reality, God is still in control. I can’t imagine how “BIG” God is, how immense the scope of His omnipotence and the vastness of His Divine Grace. My mind seeks again and again the mind of Elijah, who when feeling defeated and afraid needed not some huge evidence to free him from fear… it was the still small voice of God speaking to him. (1 Kings 19:11-13) Can you imagine the heart of Abraham when confronted with the directive to sacrifice his son? (Genesis 22:9-13) To let go of someone you love , just to prove a greater love for another! Wow… Is that even possible? Yes, I am afraid so; yet our minds question the validity of such a request, or even being confronted by the possibility of it ever happening in our lives,… to us, as His soldier of faith.

Moses,  in the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3:1-15, was confronted by an enormous task, a God moment, where he must enter a holy place to learn that life was going to change. This man knew he must. There was no turning back, but he would nearly lose his life, due to the fact that he did not realize the depth of God’s will demanding him to be pure of heart and readiness, entering into the task set before him. It was only due to the wisdom of his wife and the completion of a ceremonial service that saved his life. Why do we tend to skim over the details, when considering God’s will… where is the wisdom in challenging God, on the terms of our contract, so to speak? In my experience, there is none. We have to do what God’s has deemed to be our task in life and remain in both solidarity and faithfulness to that task.

So here I am. I know the plan that God has for me, not to harm me…. But does that make it any easier? No, not really. My human nature is tied up in flesh, and the desires of that flesh can be as varied as they are many, and they are not always in alignment with God’s plan or His will. St. Paul stated that he struggled with this just like the rest of humanity.  (See Romans 7:15-20) Having knowledge of something does not necessarily make the pathway easier. Understanding the pros and cons of a subject does not make decision making easier all the time either. Much of the time we seem to need to make our own mistakes and deal with their potential consequences, as we develop a personal set of values and mores upon which we build our lives and family foundations. Some find it both harsh and illogical to just follow the script… it leaves them spinning, under the assumption that freewill means something far different than God’s greater plan; an assumption not wisely made. For those who become labeled due to their faith, there is much to battle, but not much to lose when all things are considered, if we stick to the plan… God’s plan.

So, do we steer clear of God and what some would call His insipid plans for our lives? I think not! In the weighing out of clear decision process there is little to consider. A renowned theologian once told me; “It is just a decision… not a debate!” He is the writer of the famed Biblical Paraphrase, “The Message”, Dr. Eugene H. Peterson. We chatted following one of his lectures and I wanted to know how I could better challenge my congregations to accept Christ. I was astounded at the clarity and simplicity of his answer. Years of work with small church in rural America taught him one thing he said; “Remember that God is in control and ours is to just present the facts and leave God to move in His people” Those who steer clear of God’s plan may find themselves in depths over their heads or more than lost in the shuffle to come one day. How we live our lives as the deck is shuffled is the ingredient with which we are going to be found acceptable or not. For Moses, someone else saved his proverbial butt (See Exodus 4:18-31). For us, the Christ has been the one… He has paid it all. Now for us to live within that plan there may be moments near the edge, but hey… living near the edge is not all bad, if we don’t look down, but up. Look up into the eyes of Him who came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. God’s plan is more than we can comprehend, but not more than we can withstand, for we stand not alone.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Adapting to Survive…In Real Time

Have you ever wondered about terms used and the definitions of some of the phrases that are floated at us in this day and age? It seems that as we grow older there is a constant need to either catch up or be left behind. As a youth, from the time we learn to crawl, walk, and then express ourselves with both emotion and forethought, we have learned to adapt to both situation and environment. It is not one of those things that is particularly difficult for most, but it can be a real trial for some.

Growing up in a small town, limited in experiential knowledge by a culture that wanted protection as well as stability in family and community, there were not a whole lot of options. It was the post-war era. It was a time where both economic growth and family values were taking yet another "turn” in its road to development, and not always for the best. Culture has a way of recycling its good and it’s bad. History tells us that some of the greatest cultures have fallen prey to both internal and external decay and destruction.  

To evaluate the extent and breadth of that statement takes much soul searching and a desire to be both objective and realistic about the past, and the path it has forged toward the future. It is so easy to either overlook or misjudge the former paradigms, those things that helped shape and mold who or what we have become, as both a people and a culture. Each following generation brings its own definition of what the past means, developed by its own interpretation of the context of that which has unfolded and how it has either affected for good or evil. Therein lies the crunch; that being the historic foundations from which the basis of the evaluation of context is being done.

OK… I know, too technical.  As a lad in the small town I had no way of knowing very much about world politics or the vast separations found in the religious outlook of people. We are generally taught first from the beliefs of our parent and organic family structures, then graduate to teachers, peers and on to a broader worldly view based on the cumulative effect that each has brought to the table. Time and the experiences shared along the way, both opened my eyes and grounded me upon a personal path that was shaped by both my family and a broader world history.

Sitting under the tutelage of religious context while also travelling outside of the boarders of small town boundaries, you soon learn that there is more to life than that which has been presented by Mom, Dad and social mores of the protective community of your childhood. That is not a given only for a small lad born to a conservative family in the back waters of Eastern Canada, it is a more universal truth for all who venture through the portals of youth, to experience the taste of life beyond the protective shield of home. Even that is not truly a fair statement of reality, as not all have benefited from a protective home and the bonus of a foundational stability based on faith, love and respect. We are molded by so many facets of life; childhood and young adulthood are only structural parts, and limited by its brevity. It is said that we have only a few short years to give stable foundational training to our children before the “world” takes hold of their thoughts, and turns their heads, hearts and motivation toward the path that may encapsulate life as they know it.

Few are those who are able to re-route their lives beyond that which has shaped, formed and engaged their thoughts and principles toward a pathway, once the groundwork of experiential knowledge begins to limit their understanding or outlook, on both present and future conditionings of developmental growth. We become steeped in the knowledge of disappointments, defeat and betrayals so early in life that is it hard to not become cynical about the act of living. In other words…. It is hard to teach old dogs new tricks. Yet we easily get into trouble when our adhesion to learned truths are either forgotten or ignored, in light of immediate need or desire. Why didn’t I just say that? It would have been so much simpler, but for those who want the truth, many of the old adages no longer meet the need to cut through the fog of easy “white-wash sentimentality”. There needs to be a bit more, to take the edge off the  historic numbness that pervades the minds of many who sit wondering what life is really all about, especially when trouble hits. It is not enough today to stick mindlessly to those old adages, that in some respects merely present calm, or assurances, “after the fact”, once the tribulation of upheaval has passed, or is yet to be faced. There has to be more to the answer in light of our human need that cries out for a directing response, when we are in the midst of the battle to survive the moment.

So, you may ask, why this tack (nautical term) on life today? You may be wondering what may have taken place this past week, or over the past month or two, that brings on this somewhat of a rant on life, and its universal cyclical nature, when the really important questions may be more related to how to get through life each day, is what may be needed? Well… here is the skinny on my reasoning. We get caught up in the “Mr. Fix-it” attitude too often. We want the answers now, and it is similar to the venture to the refrigerator or pantry when a hunger pang hits our mind. We may wander through the stocked shelves and see all those snacks, while not really developing a clear answer to the problems at hand; many of which are not related to a real hunger for food, but may only be a manifestation of either boredom or perhaps a personal psychological emptiness, that food will not fill.

Today’s computer age has taken us into the presence of daily situational discomfort, that for many leads to more questions about life, than the search for answers can provide. We face not only our own trials but almost immediately the problems of others, in life, love and the workplace, not to mention the world. While we understand and accept the fact that our forefathers related and evaluated news at basically the same level that we do today, there is also the knowledge that time has made the immediate dissemination or broadcasting of information, both a formidable and confusing environment in which we find ourselves. For the Christian child who is suddenly confronted daily with “new truths” being propositionally imposed either by academic study or merely by peer pressure, to conform to another’s understanding of truth as related, there are extreme pressures afoot. Add to this a profound presence of evil that pervades the human essence, still occurring in a world awaiting rebirth, and we are confronted by an uneasy unrest that leads to uncertainty that is as diverse as it is many.

We tend to deal in futures like people who follow the stock market in commodity trading. We want to know what the future holds and if things will get better… is there hope for what I am gambling on daily? Adaptation here is not a “foul” word that leads down to hell and destruction. I am not debating the idea of evolution versus creation here. In coping with situations in daily life, there has to be a certain level of adaptation, if we are to survive. We are given meaningful choices that we can make. Many of those choices are not easy; many will need a soul searching or introspective evaluation of what is both before us and from whence we have come; being what has engaged the situation before us. Daily life is a maze of choices that are dependent upon both our ability to appraise what is really taking place and our coping skills that very often may be put to the most severe of tests. For the faint of heart, even this daily cyclical routine can be overwhelming. But what of the rest of us? Are we more capable, more resilient than the rest? Is there something special about those who can forge ahead when even the stoutest of hearts and constitutions are adrift in disillusionment  with life? What factor in the human presence seemingly keeps some immune to the scratches of living from turning into a festering septic sore in life that is both debilitating and paralyzing?

The key may be found in that contemporary computer term, “living in real-time”. Ok … the phrase I used here has the added term of reference “Living in” to augment context to the reference found in my blog today. As we struggle to cope daily we certainly are directed by our present situations, but we are also driven by both our past (that from which we have come) and our desire to know (at least some level) and understand the future. The complicated issue that is at hand here is complex, as it holds for most the prevalence of our ability to handle both regret and fear. Regret is a powerful drug in itself, but when we add the element of fear (in respect to future) to the mix, a daily scale of balance in living the “Good Life” can go somewhat amuck! So why consider real-time living and how does, or can, it make a difference?

According to Merriam Webster the definition is stated as “… the actual time during which something takes place
For the person who finds themselves literally on fire, they are told to stop, drop and roll. To put out a grease fire on the stove top we are told not to use water, but to smother the flame with salt, a heavy blanket, or if it is in a pot, to jamb on the lid. We respond to those needs conditioned by learned procedure that is accepted practice. Is there a part of us that feels that external elements of reality are different that internal ones? Because we internalize life situations such as sickness, heartbreak or loss, to be something we can’t smother, throw salt on or extinguish somehow, (both literally and physically) and there is no answer left for us, but the fabric of our cross to bear…  Can we be easily convinced that there is or can be a reprieve for us?

We have a plaque in our home that says, “When life becomes too hard to stand… kneel… pray!” I am not one to understand the fullness of the concept of all of life’s adages or do I make a great deal over people spouting their life’s principles as if theirs is the only answer to how I can survive. I am a searcher who is seeking truth beyond my fragile state, trying to make sense of those things that happen both in my weakness of body and mind. I know that Satan is real and because of that I acknowledge that God is real. I have felt Satan’s power on my mind and I thank God for His power over evil and His Grace to forgive me on a daily basis.

Moment by moment we all face the “stuff” that comes our way. Some things are gut busters, others are blessings. We don’t try to understand the blessings, but we struggle to agonize through the horrors of that we cannot change; things that may be life changers or bring us to the very brink of our existence. They may be as simple as stitches in a knitting pattern that have confused us, but they can sometimes drive a weakened and tired soul to distraction and cause such deep soul upheaval.

Near the edge, in those moments, we need adaption and change is not always a bad thing. There we need to begin to rest in the moment as it is, not in what we consider that it should be, and it is then that we begin to find peace. Someone may search methodically to find that one stitch missing for a time, others systematically go over the column of numbers to find an incorrect post so as to justify the end balance…. Others, no longer able to stand, just kneel. It is adapting to survive… in real time. Today are you living too near the edge? Are you one of the searchers for both living in blessing, as well as peace? Well, you may not always find any answers here… I surely don’t come close to having many of them, but God does! Someone once stated that I must have “all” the answers with my education (a criticism), life experiences and travel, but I don’t! What I have found is that I don’t really know anything much at all. I have to rely on God every day, because as I fall down, and I do, He both picks me up and sets me walking again… in real time… moment by moment.

I write only to acknowledge that I am living near the edge. The edge for me is often uncertainty about personal health, the welfare of my family and the state of the world in which we live. But, it also helps me rehearse my journey, and reminds me that I, like most, am struggling to learning to better cope daily, especially as I age. I am however finding it more difficult each year to keep up with the racing pace of a changing world and feeling like I am being left behind in so many ways. Here in this juncture of life I must rely more and more on He who created, and He who sustains, and He who forgives when I fall short of His desire for my life. “He” is my God and salvation… to Him I give thanks… in real time! This is how I practice real time living as an aid in maintaining a sense of presence in a complex world.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Message Never Preached

I was asked a few weeks ago to bring the message at one of our churches in the area. I had long ago decided that in retirement I was going to cut back on doing services, while still being led of God, not just being guided by a sense of weary overload. So I consented with no regrets and asked if they would like a sermon or an India presentation, which I thought might be a different option for them, while their pastor was away. They opted for the presentation.

I had been planning for some time a message which had this title, “The Correlation between belief, faith and hope from a Biblical perspective, in Post-Modern Theology” Now the question here is, do I always preach the messages that I work on? The answer is no… not always! Why? It might be a question that some might ask… perhaps you are now. Why spend time working on a sermon that may never get preached? Well, it is an exercise in two things. First, it keeps my mind active in both the Scriptures and the study of Theology. You see we need to know God’s Word to live it daily, and if we are not reading and studying it, there will soon be voids in its meaning for us. Second, I always want to be prepared to have God open my mind in preparation for a call to serve him and being prepared is sometimes having a message (sermon) on hand, ready for the call.

The strange part of life is that not all preparations are in alignment with God’s purpose, in His timing. You must have heard the old saying “The best laid plans of mice and men…!”  There is never a warranted time for what is our timing, only Gods. So, my message sits there waiting and perhaps will continue to do so forever… but there is no loss in that either. It was good for me to write it and it helps me recall the Grace that God gives even amidst my feeble attempts to direct his Grace towards my direction of needs. St. Paul once reminded the readers in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 that life does not always go as we direct and our needs are met according to God’s wisdom and plan for our lives. He prayed for relief three times and each was answered with “no!” There was a reason, and in learning the reason, reason at once returned to Paul’s mind and heart. Now there is a concept to wrap your mind around.

Every day is a test of our strength, courage, tenacity and faith in what God can, and is doing. The strength, courage and tenacity comes from God, they are not a mere design enhancement that appears with a particular set of genes, as it would be that some might have reasoned. I am making my way through the days now; more weary perhaps than I used to be, due to advancing age, but I am not dead yet. Each day is also an exercise in living life to its fullest. It is a trip to the edge by times, but I don’t mind that as much as I used to. Who am I kidding… it is still scary! LOL But… God is with me daily, making all things possible within His will.

There will be those sermons never preached, though they may not always be sermons, just plans that never reach fruition, and completion. And that is OK too. I have learned that sometimes the preparations are the most fun anyway… Take Christmas for example. I digress… that is for another season. Go ahead… be blessed in the journey and accept what God grants you today!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Going Grey in May

Some might suggest that one month is no more stressful than another, and thus change in hair colour is independent of season and time. I believe, as I watch life roll by, and have had children and grandchildren who like to change their hair colour, like others would change their seasonal attire, hair colour might in fact be seasonal.  I digress. My thoughts today are not about hair colour at all; the theme of this collection of thoughts is about BRAIN CANCER.

I have been reminded, as I occasionally mention or post about Brain Cancer, that it is not the “only” type of cancer out there, and it is important to be praying for all who are struggling as survivors in the midst of this terrible disease. That is so true; any type of cancer is terrifying to say the least, and can manifest itself as a reminder that life is fragile at the best of times. Yet, my thoughts are mostly aimed at a person who has Brain Cancer. He is my son.

Ben is strong, talented in so many ways, and has a love for life and helping others. He is opinionated, feisty, up to argue his point on design and construction method and most of all highly respected for his wide variety of knowledge and skill sets, in a vast array of fields. He has tried his hand at many things and guess what… he happens to be good at all of them. He hadn't had many challenges in life that have slowed him down or stumped him, until one night in 2010 when he had a major seizure. He might have had some slight ones previous to this that he was not aware of, but not like this one. He was quickly diagnosed with a tumor and he immediately began to make decisions to meet it “Head On”. That is my Ben… a no nonsense guy who sees life as a set of challenges, and walks toward them with strength and courage that amazes me to no end. If he has weak moments, they are "his" weak moments, not shared with the world.

It seems that most or all types of cancer, here in North America, have special months. With the advent of ribbons as a sign of respect and honour, cancer awareness soon took up their use and different colours signify the various types of cancer. Grey is the colour of the Brain Tumor and their Cancer Ribbon. My wife and daughters are wearing grey this month. My youngest daughter posts her grey apparel each morning in support of her brother. Both of my daughters and my wife have painted their fingernails grey. I am wearing grey most days as well, but I am not as consciously dedicated to its use. You see I have a problem, not major, but nevertheless, I struggle.

I love my son dearly, but I also care very much about all who are facing the diagnosis and prognosis of the various types of this disease. I pray for over 20 people daily who are either close family or friends, who are cancer patients and survivors. If I know this many people who have cancer, how many people are actually suffering from this disease just in our area? Many, many more I fear, are out there; silently suffering and living a daily existence that even their family and friends cannot fully understand. They live from day to day, MRI to MRI, Dr.’s appointment to Dr.’s appointment, with a regime of treatments, antibiotics, anti-seizure meds and stomach pills to fight off further complications. Treatments meant to heal often harm the system and their resulting problems can lead to further medical treatments that take time, energy and human resources, not to mention further monetary stress to the patient.

So while “Go Grey in May” is a call to a particular type of cancer, and the desire to bring awareness so that more and greater research can be done to fight the disease and bring a cure… every month needs to be important. One month out of twelve doesn’t cut it for me. I want a resolution now and a 30 day barrage, even though it is better than none, seems rather lack-luster against the need for focused and non-biased research toward a cure for Cancer.  The point is, “big business” may trend toward high priced ways to prolong life, ending in expensive chemicals that while touted as the only way, are just another mere patch, and the real concern is for profits, not cures. That is my opinion!!!

I want my son, my family members and friends, to be as important every month, from the perspective of research for a “Cure”, as they are to us as part of our lives and families. My hair is turning grey… can that be a badge of awareness of how this disease “Brain Cancer” is affecting me, as my heart aches so badly every day, and I am not the one who is afflicted.

My son, Ben, walks towards the edge every day now. Every day there are new challenges, new things to confront his strength and courage, but there are also those things that bring great joy and pleasure while on the journey. I can only be aware and prepared, as my greatest joy is being by his side while a new project is undertaken and finds completion. I smile at the curious new takes he finds on living and approaching ideas and structure in life. His mind swirls with ideas, plans and while most are aimed at his future, some are directed at me. I get tidbits of reality check and not a day goes by that he doesn’t remind all of us that struggle is just a word.

I see that in all those for whom I am praying. Some have been in the battle a long time, while others are new and still trembling from the news. All are important… not all are grey for May… each day is part of the battle and each month is one month more to await a true cure.

So, we are going grey, in our family, in May… each in our own way, but we feel the stress of others as they wear the colour representing their cancer, for their month of importance. It is another walk to the edge, a much different edge perhaps this month, but nevertheless, we are not alone. God walks with my Ben and he walks with so many more who have turned their lives daily to the God who creates and sustains… even in the midst of this illness… that terrible and horrifying word… “Cancer!”

Friday, April 22, 2016

It Is All In The Message… Or InThis Case, The Lyrics..Or Is It?

I have been struggling over the past hour or so about whether to write today or not. I have put together my thoughts about the post of a very interesting song, performed by a group known as Boyzone.  I am posting some of my thoughts only as a basic statement of reasoning, as to how I see the folly in our first glance acceptance of some media, especially if it sounds catchy or upbeat, while having a pseudo-Christian flavor.
If you are familiar with my writing at all, you will know that I am wordy.  I try to think through things systematically, because I too have been found wanting and unworthy myself many times.  My only intention is to try to help others to avoid the traps that life can bring. If I can help one person evaluate life, reflect on their purpose, and find God’s true meaning in giving us life, I try to do so.

I have no right to judge, other than from the perspective of what Scripture directs about our duty in love, to question the validity of things sometimes. I guess we are to judge what is right or correct, in clearer terms, as a gauge for living, that we might reflect both God’s love and His desire for our purpose in Him. We are taught to love everyone, but also in doing so to follow the lines of delineation that separate us from the sin that might mask itself behind twisted truths. This means to protect our hearts and minds form Satan’s ploys, while serving those who are the downtrodden and lost, or in the activity of ministry through testimony and teaching. Losing one’s self in the work can be a dangerous folly with tragic results. The story of the betrayal by Judas begs the great example, while the folly of Peter’s denial of Christ shows how easy it is to be drawn away by circumstance. These men are two examples of the frailty of the human spirit. While one was used of Satan for God’s purpose in what is judged as a truly distasteful event, (I know beyond our human understanding!), the other tripped on his own fear and confusion (we somehow judge as a more accepted recklessness) and was used in a totally different manner for God.

So, I have been stewing on the song that was posted and many others like it. “Boyzone”, has a magical influence on their listeners. But is magical enough, or does it turn our heart away from where God wants us to be? The message of the song they sang in the post has a very deliberate duality in its presentation. The use of language and its influence in all audiences can be very leading to say the least. From the perspective of the novice, (Careful here for sure…. As I don’t want to be misunderstood) when their listening ear hears words like God, faith, belief and the particular phrase they used, “If only prayers were answer…”, it would be easy to equate this to be a song with a Spiritual base in God’s grace, but it is nevertheless, as you listen and read the lyrics, only of small “s” spiritual… based not in God’s mercy and grace, but that of self reliance and one’s own tenacity and ability.

The world today is filled with pitfalls, and it seems that even Boyzone had its own tragedy when one of its members, Stephen Gately, was found dead while he and his husband Andrew Cowles were on vacation. We live in such a mishmash of influences and it is always hard to know how lenient we are to be with our belief, knowing that we are bashed from every side with lobbyists who while heralding the anti-Christian flags, lift high the idea and importance of being “politically” correct, over being “Spiritually” correct. It is hard for most young people to find a track that meets both God and man’s acceptable standards. Today we tread a similar path that the Israelites trod, as they moved slowly toward their freedom from slavery, and finally the Promised Land. They wanted God, but had an idol of “human” need fashioned, rather than wait for both God’s directives, and direction, for their future.

I wonder sometimes about how far we can stretch Christ’s directive to His disciples, found in Luke 9:48-50. This portion of scriptures is often used far out of context, beyond its intended purpose. Here Jesus is telling his disciples to not stop those outside of their own group, stating, “For anyone who is not against you is for you.” It is nearly impossible for us today to get to the root of the full understanding of Christ, of things around him, other than His being both God and man, dwelling among us. For the disciples, the stress caused by watching someone else using Christ’s power in miraculous ways, was disconcerting to say the least. What is important here, is not the disciples understanding of what was taking place, but Christ’s ability to acknowledge what the circumstances of the event, that the disciples were then judging, really was.

In today’s social upheaval, with Satan's struggles to keep humanity in his preferred alignment, away from faith and toward destruction, we as Christians need to be vigilant in our survey of what is both meaningful and healthy in our ingestion of many hidden messages in sheep’s clothing. In a study back in the 1960’s (I covered it in a course I took in my post-graduate work) it was found that subliminal messages could be sent via mass-media, which would affect the watchers/listeners toward almost any action or reaction. (No!!!… This is not a conspiracy theory about governmental control… not as most would see it! This government control is of a spiritual nature.) In the study, which tested people’s reaction to subliminal content, there were commercial messages for certain food and drinks, placed in between numbered frames of movies in drive-in theatres. The reaction was found to be phenomenal. People rushed to the food kiosks at an amazing rate during intermission. What they found, caused the limitation of advertising to that being only non-subliminal, but did little to stop the flow of its use in how the presentation of subliminal messaging could be used, both covertly and overtly, in all forms of media, including advertising itself, following the governmental regulations that ensued.

One must be cautious not to overstate the obvious. Any overstatement can create an avalanche of recrimination against any facet of social media, including Christian music itself. It is said that the foundation of many of our “Old Faithfulls” of the past, are known to be found with non-Christian origins, having their melodies taken from the popular ancient tunes from the pubs of European society. Many the old hymn has brought men, women and children to their knees in repentance before Christ, so it is folly to throw stones at too many glass houses, I realize. The message of music is not only stimulating; when used overtly, but as stated can be a powerful motivator towards repentance and salvation.

An ol’ time preacher once stated that it was easy to bring a soul to repentance… it is far more difficult to keep them safe and secured in Christ. We hear the heralding of the benefits of more music and less sharing of the “word” in Churches today. People through the ages have always preferred music over preaching and so the seats of the church sanctuaries are oft filled with the “core groups”, those who are the mainstay of the church, and our deliberation of who they are and why they attend are left to God’s judgment, and not man’s; though those outside are oft too quick to judge that group for themselves.

“The CONTEXT, the CONTEXT”, comes the cry from the heralds of academia. When the music of faith is sung in glory to God, and not “man”, as it seems was the case for the driving out of demons, as Jesus saw it; and in the context of satisfying God’s directive to teach, preach and testify to the new creation in Christ, and what He accomplished on the cross for mankind; it makes all the difference. So, I worry about what is being presented and accepted by even true believers by times. We are all so easily both influenced and affected by what can still be a subliminal means of misleading and misdirecting us away from the true message of God’s Word.  What is most important I think, should be what He has, and is accomplishing, even today for His glory and here we must take caution in our evaluation of praiseworthiness. So our eagerness to subject most things to scrutiny before God should become not just important but an everyday exercise, for our good and the good of others.

I am, as I stated, not the best judge, as I myself am judged daily by God, but I try to consider the end results of all that is happening; as I view even more closely the end, and what that holds for all of us. I pray that as we listen, watch and absorb information of all types, even from the pews/seats of our churches, we might check the foundations of its content and meaning in accordance with God’s Word, and for our lives.
Sometimes the walk to the edge is not what or where we expect it to be. Today I am reminded that I am near the edge now; how close only heaven knows, but I am nevertheless getting closer each day. My perspective is just that, mine. But, if you go there with God, in Christ Jesus, you often find things that you are not expecting. The key is not letting go of God’s hand. Let His Spirit guide you, and the view from there can be uplifting, while also un-nerving by times… But God is there with you. Why not go there and see for yourself, if you are not there already! I am praying for you!

I leave you with this message that St. Peter wrote: 2 Peter 3:14-16 Living Bible (TLB)

14 Dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen and for him to come, try hard to live without sinning; and be at peace with everyone so that he will be pleased with you when he returns.
15-16 And remember why he is waiting. He is giving us time to get his message of salvation out to others. Our wise and beloved brother Paul has talked about these same things in many of his letters. Some of his comments are not easy to understand, and there are people who are deliberately stupid, and always demand some unusual interpretation—they have twisted his letters around to mean something quite different from what he meant, just as they do the other parts of the Scripture—and the result is disaster for them.

Friday, April 15, 2016

What Is There About The Number Three?

People down through the years have often stood by old sayings. Have you noticed that? For instance there is the forecasting of weather. My mother used to say that you could tell when it was going to rain by what the ants did. As we sat on the steps on good days, and watched the various insects, birds and animals throughout the various seasons, Mom would point out what was taking place. She was passing on the information that I suspect was both her experience and that which was told her by others.

The work of the ants was always curious to me. I never wanted an ant farm, but how they labored was always a curious thing. Some mornings as we ventured out to play, it was easy to notice the small mounds that were formed around their holes in the walks and driveways. I am sure that most people have seen them and will have heard the explanation for their work. Mom would say that it was a sign of coming rain. The ants would build these little dikes around their holes to keep the water out. I thought it was quite ingenious… so a stitch in time saves nine. The work they did in preparation would do a lot towards saving them from repairs later on.

Certain times of the year the birds reacted differently. Come early fall we would watch some varieties gather on the power and telephone lines; starting with a few then in large bunches stretching across several lines sometimes. They would form into flocks as they prepared to go south for the winter. And in the spring the work of gathering material for new nests began, or the refurbishing of older nests to be reused, took a priority and we soon heard that a mother’s work was never done.

This is my dog Kea but Dad used to tell of an old dog that they had named Bunny. I am not sure of the breed, but it seemed to be a typical family dog from what I can remember of the stories. She used to lie around the house as that is quite typical of most dogs, when there is not much happening. Dad used to tell of the antics of the dog, as her daily routine began to follow the course of family life as she aged. One particular trait, which I have read about and heard from others, is the ability to tell time by events within the family they belong to. Well Bunny was that kind of dog. Dad said that his mother would tell of the dog getting up from the mat in the late afternoon, where she lay all day, and stretch and want to go outdoors. She would make her rounds and then about 10 minutes before my Dad would be coming home from work, Bunny would make her way to the front gate to await his arrival and greet him… always happy to see him home again. Dog, has always been man’s best friend.

Now to this point I have stuck with insects, birds and finally animals. I suspect that by this time there is the feeling arising that I have digressed again. Well, I haven’t; I am just enjoying the thoughts that come to mind about those old sayings and how we both receive them, and how they affect our everyday lives.  Not all of those old sayings are always true. Well, there is a sense of truth, but in my experience it is like one more old saying that Mom used to quote and I heard later, on many occasions: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. It remains that things are not always going to fall into the molds of our generalizations in life, but there are those things which do stand as foundations for our life’s journey.

Some time ago I took a spill as I left the house. It was one of those days that announced spring in a relaxing telltale sort of way. The sun had been out, the ice on the driveway had melted, and it was now dry, and all was well with the world. What I had forgotten was that the sun, now on the opposite side of the house was no longer able to keep the temperature up in the areas that were now shaded. So, a bit of water that had dropped from a leaking gutter was now a frozen patch of ice. I was busy looking forward and did not notice the frozen patch which lay about 10 inches below my first step. Yes… I ended up head over kettle (there is another one for you with variations!) in pain, bruised, embarrassed and unable to get up without assistance. I thankfully was not injured too bad I think. Time will tell, as my old back has not yet recovered.

Now I have always heard another old saying that states. “Things usually come in three’s”. Perhaps the use of the negative, bad things happen in three’s is more frightening. It causes one to wonder, when something happens, if there is more to come. I don’t know how many times my Mom would say that death happen in three’s; meaning old friends or relatives. So, I nursed my wounds, gathered back what was left of my pride and went about my daily work, as best I could. I steeled myself for the eventual ribbing that I knew I would receive from family and perhaps a friend or two. The jokes came and so did the next accident. This time it was my son. He somehow cut one of his knuckles at work and needed 3 stitches to keep it together. I felt bad as he already has enough on his plate just now. But the term “bubble wrap” was kicked around briefly for the two of us by this time and a few laughs were had. Wouldn’t you know a few days later my oldest daughter tripped over their young puppy and twisted her ankle… now the bubble wrap comment became overused for sure, and with a boomerang effect for some of the users!

Some could say that adds an edge to the accuracy of old sayings, when life’s experience has borne out that particular saying to carry some level of truth by times. But this brings me back to the other saying about pleasing people or always being right… not always right all the time. So we can feel somewhat secure with the likelihood of the incidents and circumstances of the day not always providentially to be found in threes … right? You would think so… But for one!

A fellow that I studied with through the years often said, “But the Big Guy has a plan!” This kind of off the cuff relaxed statement from a theolog, reminded us all that the insecurity of attaching ourselves to much of the idealistic terminology of the times, can lead us down a path towrd slippery footholds. I have often been more than weary of old sayings, due to my own observations about life. While the ant, the birds and the old dog sayings do have an element of truth, and there were those three recent accidents in my own family; this does not prove anything written in stone. What can we bank on then? Well for the young theolog from past years, and many just like him, there is one truth that we can’t escape and it has to do with the idea of three once again.

We all are born, we all die and we all will rise again. WOW… did he just say that we will all rise again? I thought that was only for them born again believers!!!! Yes, I KNOW, I KNOW! But before you close off reading and throw this blog to the ditch consider this. Everyone, no matter their religious affiliation, or lack thereof, has come to the conclusion that the first two portions of my stated threesome are true. There are those others who see life as a cycle of death and rebirth at one level or another. Forbid it Lord that I could come back at a toad, but perhaps in someone’s estimation, that should be my fate! Others among us will casually qualify life as an unending replay of birth, death and rebirth to try again, to perhaps do a better job next time. Ever watch the movie, “Groundhog Day”? LOL What if all we had was the reoccurring, relentless pursuit of haphazard life in cycles? What a drudgery and let down; perhaps but for  those adventure seekers who’s only ambition is the adrenaline rush of putting it all out there for the magic of the moment. Most of us want more than the moment… or at least I think that is the status of most, even today.

So how about that third option… well it is not an option… it is a reality. For those who are believers (I am steering away from the “born again” label on purpose here) this last step in process, for we created beings, there is the belief in the final step. One day we will all stand before God. Ah! ... But what about those others… you know them… the ones who don’t… you know they don’t believe… you know, they don’t believe in God… who He is and how it all works! Well, you have to remember that even believers sometimes think that once the end happens, (you know DEATH) there will only be those who believe and serve God, who will get to see Him, up close and personal like. It is kind of a biased attitude really, but one that bears more than its share of elitism I am afraid, in terms of “beware of our own folly” thinking. Well, here is this ol’ dog’s take on that idea, dear readers so hang on to your hats folks cause here it is.

Where was I going with this?… Oh yes, for all you naysayers at this point don’t give up on me just yet. I have not come without much study, research, thought about all of this and the only thing I am missing is empirical lab test-tube type study (for all you scientifically oriented persons needing that type of confirmation). I stand only on what the Scriptures have to say about it all. Sure, one day I am going to face God and He alone will judge. But the Bible tells us that “all” will be judged, for the good and the bad. Yes, that includes even the unbelievers. So, how does one justify their presence before God without their being resurrected? Hmmm… kind of adds a twist to those selected few theories that get flung around by some.

Every day we face so many incidents of trial, tribulation and concern. Every day is a battle to reach some level of assurance that our lives are not falling apart. I think St. Paul had it right when he stated that he was happy for his trials, as they made him stronger. Someone once said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I am just glad that I have God on my side, as He helps me get through the everyday “stuff” so that I do not lose either hope of faith. Both are important to me… I could not go on without them. “Try it Donald and see!”, was a familiar saying from my childhood. We don’t always trust that which we cannot see and so God gets left out by many. But take a step on the wild side and test out this non-adrenaline cure for your curiosity. It is another walk near the edge and believe me, you “will” get a new perspective from there.

“When we all get to heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be…”; see, even the hymn talks about it… But there is a stipulation included.. There can be good news, or bad… Today we have the choice. Choose to believe… It brings a better ending for that number three! Blessings from me and May God richly bless your day!