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BRING IT ON

c. by Doug Blair, 2011

The frost was already an eighth of an inch thick on the windows of the cottage. Dale had just finished his correspondence to the Diocese at St. John’s. He heard the soft chatter and giggles of Lydia and young son Derek in the other larger living room doing home-school lessons. They had been absolutely right. The numbing dampness and lifeless gray of late October in Labrador was no small challenge to the spirits or constitution. He had accepted this missions assignment in full knowledge of the fact that their predecessors had lasted only eleven months. How strange it seemed that this one-time insurance salesman from Halifax should now find himself on the other side of seminary, a fairly placid eighteen months’ under-study at Cornerbrook and a double reading of the medical-missions exploits of Grenfell; now stationed with aboriginal peoples in their preparations for the long winter. He and Lydia maintained the assurance that they had heard from God following prayer that night in their apartment thirty months ago. A whole package of missions opportunities had arrived in the mail two days before. Their small Anglican fellowship had just finished a week of meetings with “Straight-Eye” a charismatic Inuit lay preacher from up the coast. (A Federal program had gotten him a scholarship in Sociology in St. John’s and he had continued through grit and many a part-time job to the Masters level. He wanted skills, hope, methods and resources to take back to his hurting, challenged and largely ignored people. Seven months back “on the land”, his humanistic hopes collapsed at the foot of the Cross of Calvary. A new life was launched. That was fifteen years ago.) 1


Dale put his papers and Bible onto the desk at the corner of the “study”. Funny how he had turned to his own note written on the inside jacket months before: “Bring on this day. Bring on this opportunity for God to manifest to us His glory, love and covenant care through Christ Jesus.” How strange the words seemed recently. The relentless aching cold. The persistent half-light. The repetitive quiet hours offering help at the town garage where trucks, launches, snowmobiles and all-terrains were a steady fare with Ernie the half-breed mechanic and his wife Justine from Montreal. Ernie had been one of the first in attendance at the small chapel. He delighted in telling his people how Jesus had gotten him off the streets, the illegal gambling joints and the booze and drugs of that Quebec metropolis. Dale was jarred by the sound of a slow, determined knock at the front door. Lydia answered it quickly, and hurriedly ushered the visitor inside to the warmth. It was Blossom and she appeared to have been harshly man-handled. Blood on the top of the forehead and a rising welt at the left cheek. Her coat was only half on, and the “Canadiens” sweat-shirt underneath all askew. The laces of one boot remained untied. One sentence said it all: “Jimmy was at it again.” By that she meant that her current common-law had binged for the weekend and returned mid-Monday morning looking for trouble. He was in fact the cousin of her ex-husband Marc. Took her in after Marc found another mate more to his liking. Blossom was crippled in one leg from a snowmobile accident. She had proved barren after four years of marriage involving desperate attempts to become pregnant. The traveling medical team at Holy Cross clinic had applied all of their knowledge, but to no avail. Ironically Marc and Lila were now enjoying their fourth month with baby Joseph. Derek knew well enough to go to his room as his parents cradled Blossom to a comfortable wing-chair complete with blanket. Dale uttered a quick and silent prayer: “Use us now Father to pour in the oil and hope...and yes, Father, bring it on...” He offered Blossom the hot, wet wash cloth and tissues. Lydia was in the kitchenette for hot tea and toast. An insolent wind shook the front door.

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GLENGARRY MEETING HOUSE

“Brothers and sisters, it is a delightful day of celebration for us as we dedicate this building. Fifteen months of hard work bringing us to this autumn day in the year of our Lord 1889. Remember all the expenditure of effort -logging, trimming, hauling, milling, framing, caulking, plastering, painting and adorning. You are all to be commended and thanked. No less than twenty-five families from the Township coming together in this fashion. I must also give thanks for the efforts in the assembly which preceded this kirk- the meetings in house, yard and barn over the years. And now, thankfully we have this place of worship. I would also report that in about ten days we should expect our shipment of Psalters from Montreal. So much from me. You know the other brothers seated up here with me: Cameron, Robert and Graham. We are happy to introduce to you on behalf of the district Brother Alistair who brings the morning’s message.” With that Stewart took his seat with the three other elders on the platform. A general rumbling, shuffling and clearing of throats followed as the grizzled old visitor rose from the first bench and came forward. There was a surprising spring to his step although the back was significantly stooped. As Alistair turned to face the happy congregation, one’s attention was instantly taken by the vivid light blue eyes beneath bushy gray brows: “As some of you know, it was my decision after the death of my dear wife in ‘85 to leave my pulpit in Kingston and to launch out in itinerant ministry, comforting, reminding and exhorting where possible. I have been able to visit this site on two other occasions and I must say that I did not anticipate such a grand conclusion. You are all to be commended on your fine work. I see that Rufus’ leg is coming along well and I remember that week of the accident when it was so seriously in question. God bless you Rufus, and your good wife Dorothy... May we pray a few minutes together friends? (What followed could only have come from Highland stock. Such articulate giving of thanks. Such beseeching of God’s presence and continued mercy. Such warning to the flesh to remain abased in the presence of the Most High. Such intercession for the precious and wandering souls of neighbours down the concession roads. Near weeping. Near laughing. Near visions of the Heavenly City brought close to this lovingly interlocked wooden structure.) 3


Upon conclusion the speaker turned again to Stewart: “Brother, would you please give me your chair and go down to sit with your Missus and the others.” Without speaking another word Alistair raised the bulky chair heavenward, kissed the head of its backrest and quietly placed it on the platform about seven feet to his left. “Friends may that chair never stray from that location during service. May it never be occupied by any of you. Just a simple unexceptional wooden chair. Henceforth it is reserved for the Lord Jesus. When you look at it you are to be reminded of our Saviour’s presence in this place by the Spirit. This Meeting Hall is a place for meeting with Him much more than for meeting with each other. As you arrive may you be able to confirm that your previous days’ activities, words and observances have been sweet before Him. If before Him you are convicted of any stumbling, repent of it quickly here on bended knee. Do not hide it. Do not play the hypocrite. Others will understand and get under your need. The Lord is here. He is the One with whom you have to do. His returning smile will be like a dozen sun-rises. Now in making this adjustment on the platform I realize that I am discommoding one of your elders each service. This is a good thing. Each of them should spend service occasionally in the pews. We all know the stuff of which we are made. In need of much searching, humiliation and affliction. Let no man be exalted. I know. I opted for this wandering new life of mine away from the kirk in Kingston because the people were looking too much toward me. I am no mediator. CHRIST IS THE MEDIATOR! I realize that soon you will be selecting one of these four as senior shepherd. It is a good thing that the responsibility be circulated among them to a certain degree. All of these men have farms to work and families to raise. I know from personal acquaintance that as in the case of the deacons in Acts Six all of these brothers are full of the Spirit, but also humble and willing. Pray for them often, that no candle be extinguished in this place. Now with your permission I would give a few brief thoughts on the lowly ministry and service of Our Lord as portrayed by Paul in the second chapter of his epistle to the dear Philippians....”

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READY TO GIVE A REASON

Allan needed this break. Time to stretch. Check the tires. Load security. Last time here was about six weeks ago. Good food. Always full of drivers. Probably would recognize some. First name basis. Easy discussion about loads. Different fleets and working conditions. Police from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. This part of Pennsylvania was beautiful...particularly in autumn. Rolling hills. Small well-kept farms. But treacherous with the lowering of the sun. Lengthening shadows. Sudden steep down-slopes or curves. He felt his eyes strained and his frame tense. Thankfully no bothersome “lot lizards” getting in his way as he did his walkaround (pathetic young prostitutes cruising the service stops in vans). Once inside he immediately appreciated the warm lighting, cozy temperature and delightful smells. Waitress with the poofy hair and knowing smile gave him a grin and pointed to a few empty tables in the far corner by the mural with all those beautiful painted Kenworths. What would it be this time? Breakfast? Hearty dinner? On the road daily regimen was cast aside when it came to eating or sleeping. Sleeping. Yeah, that had been the topic of conversation last time here, with a couple of drivers from Quebec. They had heard of a casual acquaintance who had fallen asleep at the wheel on these hills and missed a hazardous turn. Dead. Perhaps the trucker’s greatest enemy. That and the usual squeeze faced by broker drivers in their

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company arrangements. Mileage allowances. Weight and hazard adjustments. Inter-state licencing. Fines. Fuel prices. Maintenance and repairs. The little guy’s tab seemed endless. Waitress with a badge stating “Marge” arrived offering menus. “Good evening Stretch. Haven’t seen you for a while. Where you from again?”...”Kingston. Got a big load of steel coils coming back from the mill. Been hittin’ the stopand-go pretty heavily on these hills of yours.”... “Yeah, but they’re beautiful, aren’t they?” “I guess I’ll have your hot roast beef sandwich with mashed, mixed vegetables, side salad with French and a pot of tea.” “Right away Stretch, uh Allan. I’ll bring that tea and a paper.” Allan rubbed his eyes. He knew that he wouldn’t be straining at the newsprint. Most of the drivers had teamed up in twos or threes at the tables. Craving company. Conversations were up and running on the Penguins, local election issues, activities of sons and daughters, gadgets and equipment to help with the job. From behind and above he heard a familiar voice: “Allan. Remember me? Jerry?” Allan did remember. Two visits ago they had sat and talked. “Hey Jerry. Sit down I’ve just ordered.” Marge was quick on the uptake. Jerry opted for breakfast and coffee. Their previous encounter was sifting through Allan’s memory. Jerry was driving a loaner. His rig was in the shop. Serious accident in a light snowfall. Problems with insurance adjustment. Loan payments. Imposing fuel bills lingering on. Company threatening to replace him. Not enough time at home. Tension developing with his wife Stacy. One boy starting high school and getting grades well below his potential. Yep, Jerry had really wanted to unload. And he had chosen Allan. Good choice. For years Allan had been a member of Transport for Christ. Monthly meetings. Phone network. Frequent literature. Women’s groups for the wives left at home. Allan had even considered chaplaincy work full-time, but eventually opted to stay in the field “speaking words in season to those who were weary”. 6


Again Allan could remember his part of the conversation. “Jerry, I’ve seen a lot of it. Booze. Pills to keep awake. Crazy scheduling. Picky highway officials. Tricky loads. Expenses juggled frantically. A mess once with another woman. Near divorce...I finally had to concede that I did not have all the answers. At a certain point I had to let go. I needed a steady helper. I needed Jesus. I was never going to be perfect. Jesus didn’t expect that, or wait for it. He just wanted a partner. I have become that partner, and prayer and study of the Bible have taken on a completely new place in my life. Jesus is close. I know it. These battles I continue to encounter are the Lord’s battles.” Jerry had been quiet, respectful and appearing somewhat puzzled. They had talked back and forth for a good ninety minutes. And now, here was Marge arriving with the food. From the look on Jerry’s face and the tone of his voice, Allan expected that he was about to hear something good... (1 Peter 3: 15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:)

BIG OR SMALL WAVE

Pastor Ernest went directly to his study after service. Shaking a few hands at 7


the door, he walked right by Terry, his associate, without comment. What had happened immediately after the teaching was unprecedented, offensive but also haunting. He had just summarized his third session on the fruit of the Spirit and was about to call the assembly to sing “Breathe on Me, Breath of God”, when an unfamiliar male voice piped up from the back of the sanctuary. It had the appearance of prophecy, something not too common in this pentecostal assembly over the last several years: “I must tell you of my disappointment. I see that you have become too comfortable with my Word. You no longer tremble. Chewing upon a crumb of it you think that you possess the whole loaf. You will not wait upon me. You are compelled to keep up the jubilant pace, although you have small cause for rejoicing. You are cool. You do not supplicate for my arrival. You do not hush yourselves to receive my still small voice, as did Elijah, my servant. You turn too quickly to your clocks and to your agendas for the remainder of my sabbath. I hear much talk of my doing a new thing in this day, of issuing a new song, of setting a new course, and you wish to be of use to me in renewal. Is it that you are tired of the grand old message? Do you not believe that there are startling new applications for faith once delivered to the saints? I am the Lord. I change not. I am looking for earnest self-examination, for repentance, for the teachable heart. I caution you that unless such a spirit of humility is evident, and soon...I will withdraw the light and the warmth and the love. You were bought with a price. My beloved Son. You are not your own.” Ernest had not wanted to hear this word. To receive it. To be forced to evaluate it. Probably just some crack-pot visitor with an axe to grind with the organized church. But the comments about reverence and expectancy and wonder at the Word had often been the subject of his prayers with his wife. In a way the rebuke had been considered by him in earlier days, but things had gotten away from him by virtue of the weight and inertia of the corporate body which he and Brenda had worked so tirelessly to build. Would the next board meeting be a hotbed of controversy? Or would the message cause scarcely a ripple in the rhythms of the year’s program? What was his role as facilitator of the assembly? Who could tell?

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A BREAK FROM IT ALL

Craig was nursing the dregs of his third cup. Wondering what had just happened . He certainly hoped Jerry would show two days hence and that Ken would be available to offer some much needed help. It was the third day of Craig’s summer break, and this one was a real break. The kids were at camp. Kate was off on a long planned trip to Cape Breton with her sister. He had resolved to resist making any contact with the office. One day’s long country drive out of town. The second sunning in Victoria Park with a good mystery novel and watching the spontaneity of families at play and kids trying to get the slip on parents. This day had been overcast and he had crossed town to an unfamiliar coffee shop. In came a thirty something business man with tie loosened at collar, sleeves rolled back and hair somewhat dishevelled. He seemed very distracted, and Craig had approached conversation delicately. “Jerry” finally dismissed with the social niceties by saying, “I’m sorry Craig if I seem out of it, but I just don’t know what the hell to do. Two hours ago I was working on an exciting new IT project at our company when three security

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men entered our department and instructed three of us to clear our desks and follow them out of the building. FIRED, just like that! Full legal package to follow in the mail. I didn’t see it coming, although there had been similar incidents four months ago. Over the weekend a secret and top priority meeting of brass had decided to scrap our new venture. Suddenly redundant. I have a wedding planned in a month. Marie my fiancee is a legal secretary downtown. It will be a second marriage for each of us. Things were really going along well. How can we proceed with THIS?” Craig appreciated the candour, and decided not to tip the man off that he pastored a church. It was Craig’s second career and he could well remember the pain and rage of a sudden dismissal. This would just be an exchange between men brought together by providence. He was already starting to formulate a plan of help which involved Ken from the church, also of IT vocation, and quite senior. The conversation continued with cusses and joking and reminiscences, but largely he let Jerry do the talking. He needed to, and his countenance was lightening. Craig was also making a discovery. This seemed to be the first honest men’s conversation which he had had in a long time. No deference to “Pastor”. No posturing. No covering up reality with propriety and the requisite good confession. No Pauline terminology thrust into the here-and-now. He was being revived by the process. He would try to offer help as a man, and not as the “man of God”. How was it that he had lost touch with this? Too many committee meetings with women in the majority? God bless them. Too many sermons to prepare? Too many times when he had shouldered the load alone because churchmen were unenthusiastic? Yes, he had needed this break and insight. Something was bubbling inside. A new expectancy. The man was changing gears. And Jerry was becoming a friend...

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LIFE PRESERVER

Out of curiosity and nostalgia Zeke had signed on for the final South Pacific voyage of the three-masted tall ship “Providence”. Other members of the crew shared a similar background and desire. The Captain had been seasoned by many outings and testings over the years at sea. There had been some concern over the sea-worthiness of the vessel this time round and the Captain had given extra attention to all abandon-ship procedures. Newcomers to the brine, the few novice adventurers had been most attentive. Some of the old salts, Zeke included, had simply chuckled at the exercises. Thirty days out and with fewer islands sighted, the “Providence” encountered a storm which would have challenged its younger constitution. The Captain insisted that all passengers don their life-jackets and that preparations be made for the few landing craft to accommodate the elderly and sick. Come midnight the word was whispered round that the old hull was failing and taking in water at an alarming rate. Zeke was not alarmed. He had seen it all before. He did not comply with the Captain’s orders. By two A.M. the ship was lost, and crew and passengers disembarked on command in a given direction. Somewhere out in the darkness the Captain knew that there was one island capable of supporting community; probably four miles out.

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When all appeared cast off the Captain lept to the waves and swam alongside some of the stragglers. In the darkness they called out encouragement to each other. The Captain was able to fix a star above as their directional guide. And so it went, some rowing, some flutter-kicking while holding buoyancy aids, some being towed by hardier swimmers. Zeke in his eagerness to appropriate some of the valuables left on board, had missed the exodus. He had no life preserver. About seventy feet out he could see reflected in the waning light of the ship a white item which proved to be a decorative ring-buoy. It had been mounted over the mess-hall door. He dived for this assist and pleased himself with the realization that now his life had been spared. He would simply float for awhile. He could still hear some of the others at a distance making the best of a strenuous passage. The first shark arrived half an hour after sun-up. Previous experience had taught Zeke that sharks will pass by an intended victim, giving a test-bump with their snout. If the victim were to respond with sufficient energy and apparent confidence; perhaps a blow landed; the shark would move on for easier prey. Zeke used this knowledge to good avail in the next three encounters over a two hour period. With the sun and heat rising, it was abundantly clear that he could not continue simply to float around. His salvation and the use of his remaining energy would have to be dedicated, late as it was, to obeying the Captain’s orders, as fully as possible. He suspected that the rest of the crew and passengers were already ashore and taking advantage of the resources promised to be available there for more abundant living. Adding to their bank of skills with each new lesson. Their obedience and awkward flutter-kicking no longer provoked laughter. Zeke had been too self-confident, too smugly content to float around in his life preserver, too flippant to render obedience in full. Truly, it was questionable now whether he would make land at all.

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EPITAPH

It seemed only natural to visit the little sea-side graveyard after having toured the Fishermen’s Chapel. From the small hillock, neatly mown and dotted with stones, one could see to the left the quaint village of frame structures and shipmasts and housings at the docks. Straight ahead and to the right spread out the Atlantic like a large blue table-cloth not yet straightened and flattened for guests. The smell of brine was only moderated by the blossoming trees lining the one side of the yard and occasional fresh bunches of flowers placed lovingly beside marker stones. The inscriptions were full of the stories of life and families by the sea: “Martha, loving mother of Nine. Wife to Caleb.” “Samuel, lost in the storm of 1922.” “Brian, swept overboard on his second outing.” “Pastor Richard, a good shepherd.” “Sally, Isaac and Karen, tender plants harvested by cholera.”

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But one marker to the sea-ward side of the plot was particularly arresting. It suggested perhaps that the departed soul found himself in the village but not necessarily of the village: SETH PARKER “I have lived; I have sinned; I have repented; I have died; I rest; I shall rise again; I shall reign with Jesus.” Note: Final marker inscription taken from “Notes in My Bible” by D. L. Moody (Fleming Revell Publishers)

NOT NEGOTIABLE

An interesting situation was developing before me in the bank line-up. The customer was becoming more upset by the second. The teller more flustered. “Miss, I don’t understand it. I want the money. The cheque is made out to me. 14


It is drawn on this bank. The money is in his account. He has signed the cheque. My friend is away for a couple of weeks. He has asked me to do certain things on his behalf. I have shown you my I.D. I also have an account with this institution. What gives?” “Sir I am awfully sorry. We have a strict protocol on this. I cannot help you. Somehow the account number has been obscured on this cheque. I cannot read it. My supervisor cannot read it. It cannot be negotiated at this time. I must deal with the other people in line now.” That got me thinking. How many times recently in church have I seen a failure to name the powerful name of Jesus: In praise songs we fail to name Jesus. In sermons we fail to name Jesus. In prayer requests we fail to name Jesus. In giving a testimony we fail to name Jesus. In commissioning for service we fail to name Jesus. In laying on of hands we fail to name Jesus. In stating our corporate purpose we fail to name Jesus. Then we find ourselves perplexed and wondering at loss of power, loss of effectiveness, loss of specific direction, loss of converts, loss of attendance, loss of a tangible sense of the presence and involvement of God. We may be offering up that which is non-negotiable. John 10: 9. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. John 14; 13. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. The old chorus says: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. There’s just something about that name. Master, Saviour Jesus, Like the fragrance after the rain. 15


Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Let all heaven and earth proclaim, Kings and kingdoms will all pass away, But there’s something about that name.

HEARD ON HIGH

The mid-week evening service had just concluded at Victory Tabernacle and Assistant Pastor Michael was spending a few moments with Board member Jake Klassen at the back of the sanctuary. The service had been pleasant with a sense of some liberty in the people to give testimony or a word of scripture in the “sharing time”. But the topic of their discussion was the Sunday morning service just past. It had been the launch of a new format which had been under consideration for months. New “renewal” praise. A larger, more contemporary band. A new audio-visual system to facilitate sermon messages and to hook into satellite meetings from ministries of interest. They were discussing what they had observed in the praise session. New songs 16


which were an adjustment for the people. No matter. The band had jacked up the volume. The praise team carried the lyrics with gusto. The people would catch on to the use of the overhead screen. Hadn’t used the old Hymn Books once that morning. Neither the old choruses. Had avoided straight out Bible reading for more time in the music. Unquestionably the experiment had proved exciting. They were really moving into a new era. Perhaps now more people might come. Praise God! Suddenly they noticed a tall stranger standing closer to the back door with coat on and head bowed. It was obvious that he had been listening, but he took no step forward to engage. They smiled courteously and continued their discussion. Five minutes later it was time to wrap up. He was still there, but now his gaze was fixed upon them. Pastor Mike said, “What’s your name friend? May we help you somehow?” The stranger took a few seconds to respond. He appeared in his late thirties. His look and his dress were anything but contemporary. His salt and pepper brown hair perhaps a little too long. He responded, “My name is Jordan. I was just wondering whether you folks cancelled the service on Sunday morning past?” “Far from it, Jordan,” blurted Jake, “we had one of our greatest gatherings. Such enthusiasm. Such excitement. Such freshness. Quite a new thing for us all.” The visitor responded, “I am the Angel Jordan. Several of us have been assigned to watch over your flock and to report. This past Sunday we heard nothing from you people and wondered what was wrong.” Then he was gone. Luke 12: 8Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: 9But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. (With thanks for the story to some seasoned evangelist-missionary friends.) THE LOVE RESPONSE 17


“Dad, he’s gone downstairs again. Would you please get him?” With that Sandy gave his daughter a wink and departed with a lightness of step. Seven year old Bryce would be in the basement workshop with all of its captivating power tools. He was a natural for assembly and fancying what makes things work. The numerous Lego sets were no longer a challenge. But the next step to table sanders, radial arm saws and routers would have to wait a while. Upstairs assembled family and friends strained to hear the lesson of restraint which Grandad would be delivering, but all they got was some subdued distant talk and the loud BRRROING of a couple of swipes with the radial arm. Then the sound of eager feet and some giggles as the two males stomped the stairs and headed for the main floor bathroom for wash-up. At table Gramma Barb asked for a report on the activity downstairs. “Oh, we were just discussing Bryce’s eagerness to get into furniture making. I showed him the awesome power of that saw and the teeth. He has agreed to bring his own red box of hand tools next time and we’re going to start something.” The boy’s mother smiled at her Dad with slightly squinted questioning eyes. 18


Son-in-law, Ken was busy at the other end of the table carving the roast. Without looking up he asked, “Bryce were you going to start any of those tools on your own?” “Mmmaybe...” “What did Grandad say?” “He said that I had to learn some other stuff first, and that I was not to touch those big machines for a while.” “And are you going to do as he says?” “Yes, sir.” “And why is that?” “Because Grandad loves me and he is very old, and he has done a lot of stuff and helped me too. And he will still help me.” (Herein ends the lesson on obedient holy living.)

DAYBREAK PUSHING SNOW

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Bruce was starting to get the feel of it again. Three-thirty rising. Check the fluids. Test the blade lift. Canvas the parked car situation. This was the second coffee shop parking lot for the day. The overnight snow had been heavy and wet. He could tell that the truck tuneup had been worth it. Almost decided against the job. Last year had been so light on snowfall. But now things looked better. Payments would be made on the truck. On the braces purchased for the girl friend’s daughter. On the back support due to the “ex”. The radio program featured the same old morning crew. The same small talk. The same sarcastic humour at the expense of a celebrity in scandal. Conversational ping-pong. The woman announcer laughed like a man. Cheap jokes. Aggravated, Bruce spun the dial at random, and then gathered speed to move the heavy sparkling wave northward to the large pile right of the blue Jeep. Nothing interesting coming from the radio. Just some community info. Click. Turning southward to address another section of the lot, he saw it for the first time across the street. Church bulletin sign. Spotlit. Reading, “God Donned Diapers”. He just chuckled and gave more acceleration. But then with each swath of the harvest of snow, he saw it again. “God Donned Diapers”. By reflex he reached for the radio to give it another try. Then a little more volume...”born to raise the sons of earth. Born to give them second birth. Hark the herald, angels sing. Glory to the newborn King.” The random spin had brought him to the local inspirational F M channel. He left it there for the next hour and two more parking lots.

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ANUNCIATION

Cindy had accepted somewhat awkwardly the invitation to the Advent service at St. Matthew’s. Sandy had come in to the Grill for lunch with his wife Barb, and the subject had come up. It all sounded very promising with the tasteful decorations, the right kind of Christmas music and the telling of part of the Old Story. Crystal, her three year old, would be impressed. Good to get to the values of the Season. She knew that there wouldn’t be much in wrapping paper this year, Mom just having started the new job. But Cindy had her reservations. Her parents were church folk, but they quarreled all of the time. Dad drank too much. Mom had had to take up a parttime job just to make ends meet. Neither had been in favour of her move to a new city. And Rick, the father of her child, had been in her singles group. He had split after the “bad news” of the pregnancy and was selling cars somewhere in Alberta. Sandy had been such a refreshing customer in the restaurant. Barb had come along later. She was real and funny, and this had made her “mothering” tendencies acceptable. Cindy liked her, and felt that she could be trusted. And now the service was underway, and Crystal obviously felt special in her

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one good dress. It appeared likely that she would be prepared to accompany the kids out to their class after the first twenty minutes. The candles, boughs and red bows had made her eyes twinkle. She was even able to join in with the chorus of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”. That man Sandy was barely visible up at the organ. Cindy’s interest was taken by the teen-age girl who took the platform. She opened to the story of the angel’s announcement of strange birth coming to young Mary. Cindy could imagine the public awkwardness, the questions from the parents, the incredulous look in Joseph. No relations, but still a baby coming. Mary had believed and accepted the report. In her humble outburst of praise, she had stated “for he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden...he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.” Low estate. Cindy got that. Barb, seated next to her, had whispered with eyes still straight forward “He can be born in us too.” The young woman turned and faced her full on. Eyes connected with mutual respect. The pretty young girl up front closed the book, and descended the steps to join her friends.

MASTER OF THE IVORIES

Sandy had just enough time to make it to Marjorie Slade’s apartment before choir practice. It was his bi-weekly visit with odd treats from “the outside world” for his old friend. Long time mezzo-soprano in the St. Matthews choir. Until the arthritis had made it pretty well impossible to continue. Oh, she could make it around the apartment all right. The wheel chair usually just sat in the corner. But in getting outside, the challenges were just too hard. Parking lots, curb sides, stairways, the bustle of the people, the chill and damp of November. Marjorie was seventy-seven. Her Herb had had his stroke eight years ago. Paralyzing left arm. Slackening left cheek. Slurring speech to a humiliating degree. He had lasted only another three years. 22


That last Christmas Herb had insisted on attending midnight service to hear Marjorie give her heavenly rendering of “O Holy Night”. Sandy’s daughter Kate and her husband had helped him throughout, and he couldn’t thank them enough. In the after-service buffet in the parlour he had slipped Sandy a note as the latter offered Christmas carols on the baby grand. It read: “Thank you Sandy for insisting that Marj keep up the music. It is truly an offering on her part. I love to hear her. She is my constant joy. She needs the break from fussing over me. Much love at this rich season to a dear friend in Christ. Herb” ...”Well here you are, and with just enough time for some tea and cake. Sandy, did you bring the material?” Marjorie was sewing some festive aprons for the women’s guild and this year’s Christmas gathering. She had decided that a dozen would be adequate; each to have a seasonal image in her remarkable embroidered stitch. “Not to worry, my dear, there’s ample in the bag. I also brought you a copy of the soprano part in the cantata we’re practicing. You’re usually so quiet up here these days. Why not knock back a couple of sherries and let the old tubes rip with the sounds of the season?” Marj rocked forward and back hugging herself and issuing that half-silent moist-eyed laugh which Sandy had come to love. She thrust him the cake plate and motioned to the tea service on the walnut table. How she enjoyed these times. Full of smiles, the occasional joke, perhaps an insight from scripture to be shared from the week’s considerations. A tid-bit of news from the local paper. For her Sandy represented Christ in shoe leather. Ruddy. Middling height, but solid throughout. Inordinately large hands. (Great for those memorable piano chordings.) Strong constitution from thirty-four years, largely out of doors, supervising commercial building construction. Retirement started only two years ago. But Sandy had found much to keep himself busy. “Marj, I have to leave soon, but could we take a moment to pray for young Ron Stinson?” The associate pastor Wil Stinson’s son suffered from cystic fibrosis. Only eleven, thin and pale, but with a penchant for assembling plastic model cars, which Sandy gladly supported. 23


“Has it been bad Sandy? With the change of season? That young family has certainly had some struggles.” The next five minutes brought Heaven closer. Fuelled by the compassion of Christ, these two old saints went to the Father’s throne room. Pleaded for mercy and relief for the boy. Persevering faith, energy and wisdom for his parents. Skill for the doctors. Inspiration and outreach for the congregation in the coming festive season. Then time to leave. Marjorie reached for her purse. Her friend shook his head as if to say ‘the material cost so little; your sewing means a great deal more.’ “No, good man. this will be thirty dollars for Ron. My Herb used to go on about his favourite old ‘54 Ford Fairlane. Do you think that you could find a model of it for the boy?”

WHICH WOLF?

(With thanks to Bible teacher Abe at the church.) The lesson began as the native grandfather paced the forest trail with the youth, life happening all around, in the trees, in the air, underfoot.

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“I tell you, we come to realize that two wolves are in constant battle in our hearts, son. I still must deal with it, leaning heavily upon the Great Spirit. The one wolf strives for uncleanness, hatred, envy, evil report, theft, lying, lust, argument and unearned praise. The other raises the standards of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. If you look at a man in the quiet time, in the unnoticed time, you will see the signs of the struggle on his face. You may also ask the Great Spirit to show you how the battle is going.” A hawk flew overhead, spreading back its beautiful red tail as it lighted high in the oak. Both men observed it with respect and noted a hush among the scurrying ones, ever present. “Well, which wolf wins, Grandfather?” “The one who gets fed.”

HARD HAT PASTOR

Craig had writer’s block. He had been at the keyboard for two hours but with very little in the way of results. This was to be message three in a series on turning around the stranglehold of conformity to the world. 25


The tuna fish sandwich was only half-eaten. Deb was in the front office doing books and keeping away phone calls or other disturbances. The side wall of the study looked like a battle station with bulletin boards containing architect’s renderings on the renovation. Sheets of figures from the recent meeting of the Board were thumb-tacked. Also tallies on the first six months’ return of pledges. For a moment Craig’s imagination drifted to the enhancements to program which had been emphasized for weeks now from the pulpit. It seemed overwhelming but worth the shot. Millions of dollars. Economy pretty shaky. He had not imagined that he and his assistant Eric would be so intensely involved. But they were the staffers. A Board of volunteers had only so much time to give. Additionally Harry had dropped a bombshell by informing them that his own tax business was entering corporate year-end season. His could be only a “surgical” or “strategic” involvement. They had thought that he and three other people of business would carry the reins. It was looking much different now. Deb popped her head in the door. “Your wife just called to remind you to drop by the dry cleaners. Also, to give yourself a good ninety minutes leeway. The Johnstons are expecting you at six-thirty... How goes the message from the Mount?” “Not so hot, Deb. I have the foundation text. But the inspiration? Right now I’m looking over an outline of a similar sermon given four years ago. Could possibly doctor it over in a pinch. There’s just been so much...” Right then they both heard some commotion at the door to the outer office. Deb stepped outside. Craig took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. It was Stan Wallace. Deb knew that he had been talking with Craig about some tensions with Claire. “Is Craig in? I have to speak with him.” In this atmosphere of urgency she could only point her thumb at the open door. As he entered, she thought that she heard something like “ She’s packed a bag. Gone to her sister’s. Taken David with her.” Deb was totally out of the loop for the next fifteen minutes. Only some mumblings. A voice raised a couple of times. A pause of silence which was 26


probably prayer. Then the door opened and Craig came out alone. Eyes red. Chin quivering. Something was different with her cousin. These were not tears of compassion. And Craig had shed many. These were tears of exhaustion and self-pity. Acts 6: 2Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. 3Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. 4But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

SANCTUARY STRANGER

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Ryan, the priest-novitiate nudged his superior in the arm and pointed to a pew mid-way down the sanctuary on the right side. “There he is again. Same time almost every day. Looks around and then just sits there for about twenty minutes. Sort of a seamy looking character. I wonder if he means well? Remember the recent thievery?” Monseigneur quietly examined the old fellow in the dwindling late afternoon light. Quiet surroundings. Votive candles flickering nearby. Archie practicing some Bach on the organ up front. Nothing to worry about. Just sitting there. Head slightly bowed. Old tweed overcoat. Peaked winter cap in hand... The two men went on to other matters. But then the simple visitor stopped showing. One day in a hospital visitation, Ryan had left a parishioner’s bedside and was headed for the elevator when he noticed the old fellow propped up in a bed in a four-patient ward room. He yielded to the temptation to drop in for a short visit. After introductions he learned that “Patrick”, a retired machinist and widower, had been in for about eight days following a surgical procedure of some complexity. There followed some small talk about children and grand-children in distant cities and Patrick’s interests and pass times in retirement. Finally curiosity brought Ryan around to the subject of the elder’s daily church stops. “Oh that’s really quite simple. I love the feel of the place. The quiet. The Gospel pictures. The courtesy. The candles. Any music is a bonus. My wife periodically came to St. Mark’s. I didn’t. But now I come to pray.” “If you don’t mind my asking, what sorts of prayers do you lift up. I’m a great student of prayer.” “Not much I guess. I sit down. Settle myself. Think of Heaven. Think of the many good things that have come my way. Think of ways to improve. Remember some friends. Quietly, I say something like, ‘Hello Jesus, it’s Patrick’. Then I wait for about ten more minutes. That’s all.” A few more tid-bits were exchanged. Then the handshake. The departure. But Ryan had resolved to pay another visit soon.

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The opportunity came the following Monday. On the seventh floor at the nurse’s station, Ryan thought to stop and inquire about the patient’s progress. He was told,”That Patrick is remarkable. Never a complaint. Always a hopeful glimmer in his eyes. Pleasant sense of humour. Often able to get the other patients in his room talking about something interesting. A real treat.” Bedside, Ryan brought up the nurse’s good report to the mysterious man. “Oh, that’s all thanks to my visitor. He comes at break of day and stands at the end of my bed. I have always been an early riser. This hospital isn’t going to change that. Expect to be out of here in three more days.” “You have a regular visitor?” “Yep, Jesus.” “Are you serious?” “No kidding, Ryan, it has been wonderful. Standing right there. Just as plain as you are.” “And what does He say?” “For a while He just smiles at me, but then, “Hello Patrick, its Jesus.”

SHAKEN BY THAT JOSHUA MAN

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In the last post I shared some of the portrayal of Jesus given by that retired Roman Catholic priest, turned author and speaker, Joseph Girzone. I wanted to envision such a Saviour, perhaps a more inclusive one than I had ever considered before, or at least since my conversion experience of 1982. Here was a friend of sinners (imperfect people) who was so immersed in the spirit and love of His Heavenly Father that He saw the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 as no exaggeration of the truth. Girzone would state that as in the case of plants and animals in nature there are phases of development during which the organism is doing exactly what the Creator knew that it would do. But with the passing of time in God’s sovereign schedule, maturity is reached. He says the same thing about spiritual maturation and explains that God is so much more patient than conservatives in the Church. You know, the catechism reciters, the dogmatics, the line-drawers, the ones who ‘believe that every word of the Bible is true’, except the one that says “judge not lest ye be judged”. We have a sure hold on “one-way Jesus”, the Four Spiritual Laws, the Sinners’ Prayer, the Moment of Decision, but we foster coldness and censure. In this fashion we will do damage to the unity which Jesus envisioned in his prayer of John 17. I can go to another exceptional teacher, also celibate, but this time Protestant, bringing home the same message. ‘At time of judgment by the Lord it will not be a question of adherence to creeds, but rather of love extended, service rendered and help given to the hurting, needy and lonely. In essence the litmus test of Matthew 25.’ In this other case it was the Scottish professor Henry Drummond in his classic The Greatest Thing in the World. See our earlier post of September 21, 2009 entitled Love in Shoe Leather So perhaps I have waived the club, raised the torch, in challenge to supposed heresy or lukewarmness, when I might have been shown “a more excellent way” by the likes of Papa Girzone. I have sifted these matters while barbecuing three good looking steaks and listening to the glorious bells of St.Agnes Parish ringing the evening hour in our neighbourhood.

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THROWING THE SWITCH

The impression of that short video clip remains with me. It starts at the outskirts of a small American town, dated approximately sixty years ago. It is summer time and a father is leaving the house for work. He bids a good day to wife and pre-teen son. The scene shifts to a stretch of railroad and a long trestle bridge over a gorge. The bridge has two distinct tracks each contained with safety fencing. Part of the one track is down for repair and the father is assessing the job. At the north end of the bridge a tall stand of trees borders the rail line as it executes a gentle curve leading to the small clearing at the gorge’s approach. Scene shifts to the household again and mother has noticed that father forgot his lunch for the day. The son responds, “I thought I heard Dad say that he was checking out the trestle bridge at rail mile 237. That’s only an hour’s walk from here. I’ll take it to him.” The boy is then shown happily hiking the rails through some pleasant countryside. Finally the bridge appears and he sees Dad at the far end approximately two football fields away. He shouts a greeting and hops on to the long structure. But then the father’s facial expression changes. He hears an approaching train still obscured by the trees. It is the eleven o’clock passenger run from upstate. He looks at the rail switches and notices that the train is being directed toward the damaged track. His son is well out on the bridge on the other rail, effectively walking a corridor of death. The scene shifts to the interior of one of the train cars full of happy travelers of all ages, shapes and sizes, obviously unaware of the imminent peril. The timing of the video now picks up a pace and one sees a succession of faces registering shock -son, father, locomotive engineer. The train has emerged from the trees only yards from the bridge, and the father takes one last tearful look at his boy as he throws the switch, directing many lives to the course of safety at the cost of the life of his son. The screen goes black and silent and the text appears:

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John 3: 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

NOW THANK WE ALL…

Richard arrived ninety minutes early. There had been some difficulty Starting up the old Chev. First frost on the glass. Heater rudely whining At season’s change. Samantha busy in the back Preparing Communion’s elements. Pew upon pew checked For hymnals and print-outs On their mission relief challenge. Bibles waiting, as always. Truck noise in the lot Announcing Harry, Sam and Art. The hardware store. 32


The dairy farm. The township office. Come to welcome and worship. Sanctuary lights left off. The early sun brings delights, As it warms the one Stained glass, Christ With his shouldered lamb Back from its wanderings. Another car arrives With tell-tale tic-a-tic. The two women finally settled Upon harvest treats worthy Of the after-hour. But this year minus Christina. Art’s Christina…so sudden. He at the piano Sampling a few strains: “Now thank we all our God...” And he was thankful For rescue of friends, memories. Richard reflects on year’s near close. One wedding, funeral, two baby girls. Two farm foreclosures. The awful crash in the fog. County hospital’s new wing. Clothes bundles and books for Haiti. And what of this morning? Fifty or so would come, Harvests all in. Lands churned, blackened, And ready for sleep. Crows in the final clean-up Thanksgiving, A wonderful pause, 33


And a weapon, wherein Folk laud their Creator Regardless. The best yet to come. PSALM 65 9Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. 10Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof. 11Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness. 12They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side. 13The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.

FREE THE TURTLE

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This morning walking to work I got thinking about turtles. Images. The painted turtles sunning themselves on the half-submerged log at Point Pelee. The prehistoric snapper lumbering across the dirt road to the irrigation canal in Dover Township. The giant tortoises mating at the Detroit Zoo (that was a lesson!) The hundreds of hatchlings in the documentary scrambling from nest to shoreline past snacking sea birds. The stand-up comedy classic by Jonathan Winters of the amorous turtle crossing the Pennsylvania Turnpike. My son Jordan hopping a ride on the leathery shell of the sea turtle near Honolulu Beach. But mostly my thoughts turned back to a pet miniature turtle that my Mom got for me around age six or seven from that wonderful pet store at Covent Gardens Market in London. I had just recently become interested in swimming (my Dad having won the battle of wills at the cottage at Long Point. I finally took my feet off the bottom.) The pet had one of those plastic dish homes complete with coming-ashore ramp and tropical island with plastic palm tree. He was about three inches long and alternated between still float, frantic paddling, scratching up the ramp to his “beach” and popping turtle flakes. Such pets are no longer retailed. Some worry about a contagion. I began to think that he was bored. I was bored. One summer afternoon I considered the sparkling white pedestal bird bath in the back yard. Why not free the turtle to some real swimming? Grabbing him by the sides of his shell I escorted him to his Olympic-size forum. Then I ran inside to tell Mom the good news. It took the crow only a couple of minutes to perch at the bath, pluck his hors d’oeuvres and then fwop away to the open sky. For a moment Mom did not understand the pint-sized drama. What followed was a gentle lecture on the need for supervision, limits, the safety of home and the reality of troubled waters and voracious crows out there. Perhaps God was coaching her. He has the same concern for His children in their haste to experience that big world, when for a time His plan is the controlled environment, training in small ways and the plastic palm tree. There are hazards in this fallen place. The “fallout” from Adam and Eve’s

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blunder pollutes the landscape much more than any choking radioactive cloud. We need to be carefully taught. Liberty is a process and not a “busting out”.

BUG SPRAY

Thanks to Phillip Keller for his most worthy book, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm Twenty-three”. Keller, a Canadian, student and practitioner of agronomy, one-time shepherd, world traveler, nature photographer and Christian writer and lay speaker. The following was inspired by one of his chapters. Psalm 23: 5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. In the warm season when the shepherd had the flock in remote pastures, the bugs were the major problem. Their invasion of the eyes, nostrils and mouth could drive the sheep well beyond distraction. Afflicted ones could literally fret

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themselves to death under the siege. The only relief came with the wind or with a special potion of oil and herbs which the shepherd poured upon the face of the willing patient. Until the sheep got an understanding of the blessings of these remedies, something had to be done to get its attention and to cause it to stand still. Nothing did the job but the soothing sound of the concerned shepherd’s voice and the words of empathy and assurance which he employed. Interestingly the two main symbols for the Holy Spirit in scripture are wind and oil! First the Master’s voice must be heard, then the submission, then the gracious application of the “Helper”. The Greek word for “comforter” used in Jesus’ Upper Room message to his disciples translated “comforter, helper, paraclete, stand-by, supporter”. The “bugs” which torment us - guilt, insult, meddling, envy, impatience, slander, unbelief, self-pity, lust, pride will all be dispersed, if not eradicated, by the Helper. We are told in Galatians chapter five that the Spirit’s application brings “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance”. Consider them all as sparkling facets of the diamond of love. Diamonds, by the way, achieve their richness under extreme pressure. Common stuff becomes precious. So, my friend, listen for the Voice, submit, be comforted, be changed.

GROUNDED EAGLE

The farmer found it at the headland of his corn acreage next to the woodlot. Apparently it had injured its wing and it looked rather comical hopping around in an effort to stay clear. But in moments when it rested he could not help but admire its streamlined shape, glimmering plumage and penetrating gaze - a golden eagle. With a make-shift cage he was able to contain it and bring it to the barnyard where it was staked in a semi-shaded area not far from 37


the ducks and chickens. With all the barn cats around, it was not hard to come up with harassed or partially eaten rodents which proved acceptable to the guest.

The rudimentary dressing and splint appeared to be doing the job and the bird was improving daily. The farmer noticed that the eagle was beating a path to and fro his stake. He would often notice the bird looking skyward as if waiting for something or someone. With the exception of a couple of brief scuffles, the domestic fowl stayed clear of him. They watched and studied how he behaved under his constraints. After some consultation with his wife, the farmer knew that it was about time to release his stately guest to the wilds. He did have some concern about the transition, so it was agreed that there would be a visit from the Lands and Forests man. The farmer asked the Ranger about the bird’s habits and particularly about the constant pacing and looking up to the skies. This was the Ranger’s answer: “Sir, this is an extraordinary bird of the high skies. He has little business walking afoot with hens. He usually mates for life, and it is likely that on several occasions during the visit his partner passed overhead. At a certain point the free bird would assess whether it was possible to release the other, or whether to kill him. Either way the restrictions upon the beautiful golden visitor would soon be ended.” The farmer pondered these comments as the other drove off with the eagle...”high flyer...meant for the skies...suffering limitations...persevering...by 38


taking up or by death...freed ...restored to his Mate”. 1Th 4:16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 1Th 4:17 Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. This was a story which I heard from Bert Clendenning, a compelling Texas preacher and friend of R.W. Schambach. I thought the imagery was excellent in light of the glorious hope of Christians to be caught up someday with their Lord. But the idea of constantly looking to the skies and having little to do with the other occupants of the farm, now gives me concern. Of course we have been called to be different, and to many we will seem peculiar. We are citizens of heaven, but we must find ways to be of “some earthly good”, to rub shoulders with neighbours, if possible to befriend them, and perhaps to see their hope turn skyward.

FOND REMEMBRANCE

Veronica, You have much To be thankful for, As you boil your leftovers And wait for the Bathroom wax to dry. The boy is out Doing his deliveries, And Connie is late At school with her project. Ted will phone Tonight from Calgary. He has been so Tired these last few weeks. 39


But the Company Has a new customer. Big one…out west. He’s the senior driver. Still you’re lonely, Veronica. And the bills are there. In various colours. Beckoning. From the top of the fridge. Hang in there, girl. Everyone will be home This weekend. And Saturday dinner Is planned with Kate And her fiancé. Remember how your Sister came to your Kitchen table. And cried that Frank Wanted to call it off, After eighteen months. Remember how the Two of you Had really prayed. For guidance, for healing. (She the seasoned Career girl.) Remember four summers Ago, Veronica. When you had had Your own doubts about Ted. The phone calls, late nights, And feeble explanations. Remember at the Last school, your boy’s 40


Circle of tough friends. The merchandise hidden In the basement. The constable’s visits. How Ted had taken Him out of school To share a six- day run To Chicago, Kansas City And Saskatoon. How they had really talked. Remember, Connie’s Trouble with the cysts. And she just getting Used to female issues. The scary first diagnosis. And the kind second doctor. Remember your Dad’s Last six months. Woeful widower. Deathly quiet apartment. Ted’s insistence on the many visits. Healing the old hurts. Remember your Dad’s Hospital stay. The glorious Saturday When you finally shared “That Jesus stuff” He had so long rejected. Yes, Veronica, Remember, would you? It hasn’t been easy, But it has been good. And it continues With God’s help. In strange ways Young woman, 41


You have been the glue, Holding it all together. Now, for your own good, Rejoice and be thankful.

THANK YOU MR. HURLBUT

Recently, in going through some of her parents things, Hilary discovered a treasured old volume, Hurlbut’s Life of Christ for Young and Old, (1915) by Rev. Jesse Lyman Hurlbut. This is a companion volume to the classic “Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible”. Hilary remembers hearing stories read from its pages by her Mother and Father when she was very young. Who knows the impact which those moments had in drawing my wife to Christ? Who knows the sense of challenge, attraction and adventure? I have started to examine the stories and I found even the introduction to be full of meaning. It reads in part: “These then are some of the reasons why we should all seek to know the story of Jesus: because he is the greatest and most famous man that ever lived; 42


because his story is full of interest and full of wonders, and is true; because he came to show us how kind and loving God is, and how willing to have us call upon him; because his life shows us a pattern of what we may be and tells us how we may be like him; because Jesus has made and is still making the world better, and brighter, and happier, wherever he is known; and best of all, because through Jesus our Saviour our sins may be forgiven and taken away, and we may be pure and holy as Jesus was upon the earth. With these thoughts and aims, this Story of Jesus has been written. May it help many, young and old, to know Jesus better, to love him more, and to follow him more closely!� Once again we are reminded of how the Kingdom Of God must be accepted in the spirit of a little child, and of how the life of Christ must have the preeminence in our examination of the scriptures. Preachers and teachers take note. Thank you, Mr. Hurlbut (1843-1930).

JOSEPH GIRZONE LIBERATOR

Many have read with blessing the book Joshua by retired Catholic priest Joseph Girzone. It tells the story of a modern-day small community receiving a simple, personable carpenter into their midst. This newcomer, Joshua, is immediately attractive to the children and the hurting. The adults are more reticent until they realize the guilelessness and helpfulness of a new friend. His wisdom on life is grass-roots but compelling. By the end of the book the suggestion is well planted that Jesus has made another visit to planet earth. Get a copy of this first book in the series.

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Recently I uncovered another of Joseph’s books entitled A Portrait of Jesus. Here is a noteworthy excerpt: On a morning after a night in the hills, He (Jesus) would reappear in the nearby village. What did He look like? Did He look fresh and neatly dressed? Where would He have found a place to wash, or shave, or brush His teeth, or even comb His hair? He probably was not well-groomed. His hands and arms showed the toughness of a hardworking carpenter. Walking the long distances He did on His endless missionary journeys, and not finding restaurants along the way, He must have been slim, though strong and muscular. His features would have been swarthy, bronzed, from walking in the hot sun for hours, and sometimes days on end. His hair and beard were probably not nicely combed, since it is hard to imagine Jesus carrying a comb in His pocket or finding the facilities to shave regularly. His eyes must have riveted people’s attention. Eyes, the mirror of the soul, express so much of what we are. When people looked into Jesus’ eyes, what did they see? I suspect each person had the eerie feeling; “This man knows me. I can tell. I can see it in His eyes. When He looks at me, He is looking into the very depths of my soul. He seems to know my deepest secrets, and seems to be telling me, ‘I know all about you. I know what happened yesterday. I know how bad you feel. I also know how you struggle to do what is right, and how you reach out to hurting people and in quiet ways help them. I want you to know I am your friend and I want you to be my friend. I love you. Do not be frightened. I love you just as you are. Do not be discouraged with yourself. Life is not easy. Remember you are only human, and can do only what God gives you the grace to do. In time my Father will give you the grace to be

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what He wants you to become, but only in His good time, so be patient and gentle with yourself. In the meantime, know that I love you and I will always be near you.’” I think that is what people saw in Jesus’ eyes, not a maudlin, sick, sentimental look, but a look that betrayed a depth of vision that cut through all the sham and camouflage, and saw into the heart of each one. The simple, ordinary people struggling to live, with their goodness and crippling weaknesses, drew from His heart understanding and compassion. The mean and the evil and the self-righteous drew from His soul searing anger and instant condemnation.

JAIRUS RUNNING, HOPING

Our little girl was almost gone. The fever gripped her like a vise. The eyes attending elsewhere, wan, The fragile hands as cold as ice. And I as useless as a child. Her mother stroking soft the brow. And something hidden, wanton, wild Was pressing, choking sweetness now. 45


I fled the room, a flick’ring thought Arrested mind and sinking heart. The Nazarene whom many sought Could he be called, and life impart? The doors rushed by as I made haste. This rabbi now a racing steed. A father with no time to waste. Would Jesus rally to our need? He hears my plea, yet looks so calm, And joins me in the homeward trek. Has he the skill? Has he the balm? To save our lives from total wreck? But friends advise with words I dread, To trouble not the Master more. My little flower, already dead. My wife distraught upon the floor. Yet still he comes, quite undeterred, And takes her hand, and softly sighs Her little spirit hears the word. The call of life, “Sweet maid arise.”

THE TENTH BEATITUDE 46


John waited patiently in the damp cell for return of his friends from an audience with Jesus. The guard had relatives who had visited John at the waters of baptism. It seemed strange to him that such a well-intentioned man should be locked away as a threat to Herod’s family. Only fitting that John should have some liberty in visitors. The Baptist, through long hours of loneliness, rehearsed that day when Jesus had visited the Jordan and the revelation had come. The humble immersion. The appearance of the dove. The voice from glory stating, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” His preparation of repentance had benefited large crowds, and the Nazarene was now on the move exhorting children of Israel to repent “and believe the Gospel”. How John delighted in imagining the scene of Jesus under blue skies addressing large crowds on the subject of the Kingdom of the Heavenly Father, and His marching orders. John had sensed no other calling, under the circumstances of his imprisonment, than to pray for the success of the new rabbi. But the staightenings of the jail, the isolation, the inconsistent news of Herod’s intentions, the prisoner’s diet, the end of the great outdoors all pounded away at the prisoner’s resolve. Would his mission prove fruitful? Would he ever 47


know? And so he had instructed the two men to make their way to Jesus and to ask one more time whether He was in fact the Messiah, or should they wait for another? And now ... the sound of heavy footsteps, some mumbled conversation, the jangling of keys and the incoming torchlight. They were here! “Did you see Him? What is the word, friends? Please, quickly!” The iron door groans. The visitors enter. He grabs a shoulder of each with trail-worn withered hands and searches the faces imploringly. “Brother John, He greeted us with a smile, heard your inquiry, and simply stated, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And BLESSED is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” The prisoner let out a slow sigh, slumping forward as if to hang from their shoulders now. His mind journeyed through the promises of prophetic burden which had been his staple for years in the wilderness. What was the Master’s intention? Then it hit him. The words of Isaiah, perhaps the greatest of all prophets: “3Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. 4Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” (Isaiah 35) 48


No...John would not be offended. His work was accomplished. His Saviour had come. His soul was secure. Come what may.

DEMONIAC UNBOUND

He wanted to come closer. The demons shouted, “No!� And he was still their prisoner (The townsfolk feared him so.) Long banished from the village He lived among the dead. In filth and naked horror, For years their constant dread. And part of him was dying And part yearned to be free. His baffled mental battle A tragic mystery. Some noise down at the lakeshore 49


Had stirred him from the cave. For stepping from a boat, was One With righteous power to save. The demons knew that instant Their host was on the mend. Their stay among the Gadarenes Their craft could not extend. And then Christ called them, named them And cast them into swine. Which, plunging headlong to their death, Were smothered in the brine. The demon-plagued no longer, But faithful, clothed and well. This rescue at the lakeside His special joy to tell. (A single word from Jesus Can touch such depths of soul. Eradicate the madness And make the broken whole.) (Painting by Edward Munch)

THIS MAN RECEIVETH SINNERS

Luke 15 1.Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. 2.And the Pharisees and scribes murmered saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. That’s just it. The Lord has come to minister to those who have a real sense of 50


their deficit. If they attempt to bluff and claim self-righteousness, then He moves on. He says that the Physician has come to minister to the sick, and to those who will acknowledge that they are sick. Consider how Jesus dealt with the woman who came to the well in mid-day heat as recorded in John 4. Presumably she chose that time to avoid numbers of other women. She had had many husbands and was the subject of much gossip. Presently she was living common-law. All this Jesus knew by the gift of knowledge. When he stated these facts to her, there did not seem to be condemnation in his countenance or a roadblock to the interview. He was there to dispense “living water” regardless. He was there for her alone. There is a famous painting of this incident showing the Lord seated by a small well-lid at the base of a flight of stairs. His head appears cocked to hear the sound of one approaching from above. It is this woman of shame. He is there for her. He knows that she is coming. The woman is so impressed with his willingness to bless that she accepts what he is there to offer. She runs off to tell neighbours that she has found the “promised One”. A revival ensues in the community. Many come and listen to His teaching for themselves. He does receive sinners. They sense that he holds a certain optimism for their redemption. If you can come to some quiet place, and lay yourself bare for His healing, and welcome Him to make His presence known, you will not be disappointed. You will find Him friendly, and more than a match for your sin. A new life awaits. John 6: 37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

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A SINGLE WORD FROM JESUS

I have noticed four occasions where Jesus has spoken a single word. Four words in red in the text. They are filled with significance: “Go.” (Matthew 8:32) The demon possessed man has crouched at the Lord’s feet. He is at cross-purposes. Wanting to be free. Feeling the seductive draw of the numerous powerful evil spirits within. Jesus’ single word sends the “Legion” into a herd of swine who scramble to their destruction. Jesus shows here His absolute authority over the dark world. Is anyone having difficulty with evil influences? Let him focus on the Lord and avail himself of “the expulsive power of an over-riding affection.” “Come.” (Matthew 14:29) Jesus has just miraculously fed the five thousand and He dispatches the disciples by boat to the other side of the Lake. They encounter overwhelming stormy conditions and their master comes to them walking upon the water. Peter blurts out, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” And he is doing it! Anything granted by the Lord pursuant to our plea is supernatural - salvation, healing, clean living, victory

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over adversity, equipment for service - all miracles, requiring nothing from us but the sincere appeal of a beggar. It is in coming to Jesus, not a creed or philosophy or force. “Ephphatha” (Be opened-Mark 7:34) Ever the courteous Physician, Jesus has taken the deaf and dumb man away from the crowd and has tangibly touched his afflictions, importuned Heaven and sighed with great compassion. It is when He commands and enables eyes and ears and tongues to be opened that new life and liberty are realized. Until He gives such an enabling of the senses, understanding and confession - darkness and silence. “Mary” (John 20:16) In the resurrection garden Jesus approaches Mary Magdalene in a form which she does not recognize until the gentle and much studied and loved voice pronounces her name. How she had hoped for a victory over death on this third day following the Cross. It had come faster and more intimately than ever she could have imagined. Beyond the pale of death Jesus knows the name and nature of each loved one and bids her or him to follow. His happy face will appear.

ECCE HOMO

As God’s timetable for redemption came to the point of crisis in Passion Week, 53


it was as if the people were constrained to speak truthful words on the plight of Jesus of Nazareth. The High Priest was threatened by news of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. He suggested to his associates that Jesus be eliminated. He stated that ‘it was expedient that one man die for the people so that the nation not perish’. Of course he was attempting to avoid repurcussions from Rome should the people rise up in support of the miracle-working Nazarene. The crowds on Palm Sunday welcomed the donkey-riding teacher with words from Psalm 118, ‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’ There was a messianic connotation to their song. Perhaps 430 years of waiting since Malachi’s promise would now come to a close. But the people failed to continue with the next verse of that Psalm: “ 27 God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.” Judas approached Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and ‘straightaway went to him and said Master, Master and kissed him’. Oh, that the man of Kerioth might have been pledging sincere allegiance and love to that greatest of rabbis. Instead the gestures were meant as acts of identification and betrayal to the temple henchmen. Much perplexed by the crowd’s ferocity, Pilate had our Lord savagely whipped and torn. On the judgment porch he presented the disfigured prisoner, hoping that bloodlust in the mob might have been satisfied. He asserted, “Behold the man”. Yes, this is God’s definitive man - obedient, gentle, truthful, resolute, meek, merciful, clean-living and full of light. But Pilate had no such attributes in mind. The setting was Golgotha and three crosses were set against the darkened sky. One of the thieves beside Jesus blurted out, ‘if you are the Christ save yourself and us’. Yes, this is the very focal point of salvation, but the rescue would be an atoning blood-letting and not a last-minute escape. Above the head of Jesus on the cross, a poster had been affixed by Pilate’s order, stating “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. It asserted the long awaited truth, but it was meant only as a gesture of contempt for the lamb-like holy man, and as a mockery of God’s elect who looked for their Golden Age under a benevolent King. The assertion was thrice-given, perfectly given, once in Hebrew the language of faith, once in Greek the language of wisdom and art, once in Latin the language of power and commerce. Not a single sector of the 54


metropolis would de missed. In all of the above, right words were spoken, but in the wrong spirit. There was a seventh assertion. Was it also in error? The Roman centurion stood beneath the cross and witnessed the last words of the thorn-crowned prisoner. His assessment, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” How could he have expected that soon the bruised corpse would be raised glorified to live evermore; that the individual who relinquished his life was not simply a son of God (holy man) but the eternal Son of Glory?

EMMAEUS

“We have seen Him! Miriam, it was wonderful. Cleopas and I were walking the road to Emmaus. We just needed some time together to deal with the events of the last few days in Jerusalem. Some small business there provided the opportunity for a quiet journey. We felt intense heaviness and disappointment. We had heard the Nazarene in the Temple. On the Mount of Olives. Wonderful, frightening words of a coming upheaval followed by a Golden Age. Admonitions to remain vigilant, clean, helpful. Just like the man himself. Surely you had heard, Miriam, of his many deeds of mercy. How he would lighten up a crowd. The many healings. 55


That fellow Lazarus over in Bethany. And such Messiah talk! But this was the third day. Some women had reported that his body was missing from the tomb. No one knew where he was or who had taken him. Our spirits were heavy. It was hard to let go of the dream. Liberation for our people. Suddenly we were joined by a pleasant looking man who asked if he might walk with us. He seemed a good listener. For a while he just let us initiate the conversation. Things turned to our disappointment with recent events. The humiliating capture, torture and death of the rabbi Jesus. That really sparked a note of interest in him. He even rebuked us for our attitude! We then got a lesson from the scriptures on how Messiah would suffer immensely before entering into his glory. Quite impressive. Soon we were at the village and it seemed right to us to invite this man for dinner and rest for the night at our lodging. Then something amazing happened at the meal. It was as if he took over the position of host. He took the serving of bread. Offered up a simple but moving prayer. Broke the bread. We took a closer look at those hands. Scar marks. Punctures. A closer look at his face, his eyes. Captivating. Alive! It was Jesus! As I tried to say something, he disappeared. Gone! Vanished! Miriam, we have seen great things. Our joy compelled us to take to the road immediately, nightfall notwithstanding. Return to Jerusalem. Seek out his disciples with this good news. He is risen. He is risen indeed.” Note: I have long been fascinated with a famous painting by Robert Zund showing an elevated bird’s eye, or God’s eye, view of those three men walking the road. Here was the infant Church. Two gathered with Jesus in their midst. The courteous humanity of the visitor. His companionship in travel. His willingness to receive their ministrations. To share the intimacy of a meal and the common blessing of bread. The ever presence of those wounded hands. The arriving of the supernatural so “naturally”. The corroboration of all of scripture to his finished work. The warm hearts confirming the awesome yet available comfort and input of deity The picture which I have shown above has been cropped to give better detail 56


to the three men. The original has a much higher and all-encompassing point of view. As God perhaps would have seen it. I can hear Him saying, “That’s right Son. Tell them. Initiate your Church. Just as we saw it from before the foundation of the world.”

SO MUST CHRIST SUFFER

Be it far from thee, Lord To consider That the City holds nothing but pain; That the welcome this time Will be bitter As you enter their streets once again. Be it far from thee, Lord, This is foolish; All such talk of rejection and rage.

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Thou art Christ and our hope For the future. Usher in your foretold Kingdom age! (ISAIAH 11) Be it far from thee, Lord To provoke them, Though religion is made cheap display; Though the temple is filled With their barter, Please, discreetly keep out of their way. Be it far from thee, Lord, Look for better. Set your mind on the sceptre and throne. Quite enough talk of mockings And scourgings And of us leaving you all alone. But the Christ turned a deaf Ear to pity; Willing still to endure sin’s full load. For the hates and the hurts Of that city, He was bound to the Calvary Road. Isaiah 11 6-9The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid. Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them. Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain. The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

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10On that day, Jesse’s Root will be raised high, posted as a rallying banner for the peoples. The nations will all come to him. His headquarters will be glorious. (The Message)

THOMAS GETS IT RIGHT

Oh, the sting of my reluctance, Ever doubting Jesus’ words! Had I not been in that dry place Where he fed the hungry hordes? Had I not been there at Bethany As Lazarus left the tomb? Had I not been in the Lord’s High Feast Within that Upper Room? Oh, the shame of my denial At the news of Easter-tide. Was it crucial that I test truth With my hand thrust in Christ’s side? 59


Was I so bound to five senses As to claim the others erred? Was I so steeped in self-pity As to doubt if Jesus cared? But Christ came by special measure Just to put Thomas at rest; And he offered up his body For my eyes and hands to test. It was true, my Lord had risen; How my spirit was relieved; Yet I know of greater blessing Had I, seeing not, believed. Oh, the joy down at the seaside In that breakfast with the Lord, As he fed our hunger and our faith, While Peter was restored To a confidence that Jesus Knew his love for him ran deep; To a challenge and a hope of Fruitful years feeding Christ’s sheep. Oh, the promise as he left us In his bright ascension hour, Of baptism in the Holy Ghost With fire and with power. Then the angels’ bless’d assurance As Christ left our dry terrain, That in this same way from Heaven’s clouds, He would return again! My Lord and my God! I shall believe with faith’s eyes now!

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MESSAGE AT THE MEAL

A hymn they sang to finish Their last meal with the Lord; A time of blessing hidden From threat of scribe or sword. An upper room was furnished For what had proved to be Their place of richest teaching Ere Jesus faced the tree. As other families gathered, So he with his reclined. The Vine with his dear branches, By love so intertwined. In bitter-sweet remembrance Of Israel’s darkest hour,

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When lamb’s blood o’er the door-frame Assured redeeming power. And as no other member Would stoop to washing feet, Christ took the soothing laver And made the feast complete. With bread and wine he showed them The brotherhood’s new fare; Those broken, poured-out tokens, His life and love to share. Then startling words were uttered, Their peace abruptly cleft; That one would soon betray him, And Judas, strangely, left. The stillness now arresting, With his departure near, The Master seized the moment To overcome their fear. And spoke of how the Spirit Would soon be at their door, To strengthen them and comfort them And teach them more and more. While he would be in Glory Preparing them a place, Whence he would come to take them To see the Father’s face! How thrilling was this teaching! How strangely pulled their love! The times with him so precious; Still grander times above? And lastly, he allowed them To hear his priestly prayer; That Father would sustain them 62


Through all life’s toil and care. A hymn they sang to finish, That wondrous Hallel Psalm, {PSALM 118) Portraying the Messiah At death’s dark door, yet calm. This meeting, how exquisite! This Master, how sublime! This message meant to strengthen Til Resurrection Time! JOHN 15: 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

SIMON OF CYRENE

I could scarce believe my ears As the Roman soldier said: “You there, stranger, lift that cross, Follow Jesus, good as dead.”

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I had missed the troubled crowd, Having just come into town. Now I pressed beneath the load, Joined to him who wore a crown. All around humanity, Yet my thoughts were fixed on him. Why the back ripped to the bone? Why the cruel and thorny brim? How he struggled to ascend! How he laboured for his breath! Yet I sensed his body strove T’ward the hill marked for his death. It became a strange desire To relieve his tortured frame; To receive the brunt of burden, But to go on just the same. I was reckoning in me A compassion yet unknown, While he nobly took the taunts: “Where’s your kingdom? Where’s your throne?” Momentarily we stopped To console dear grieving friends. In his voice was total calm, Real concern for their lives’ ends. Then, too soon, my privilege passed. We had come to Calvary. “Thank you friend,” he gazed at me, Then they nailed him to the tree! Oh, the truth welled up in me! Could the blinded mob not see? Here their sin’s death penalty. Here the Crux of Destiny. In the man from Galilee. In my friend who hung for me. 64


There were two who shared his plight, Robbers, bearing each his cross. One would hail him Lord of Light. One would chose eternal loss. And such love etched on his face For the dogs who pierced and nailed. And a priestly prayer for grace, And a final psalm exhaled. At his death the skies were dark And the crowd stood hushed and awed. ‘Neath the profile still and stark, ‘Neath the battered Son of God. And a soldier lowered his head With a sense of grief and shame; For the gentle one now dead, For the folk who were to blame. And another thrust him through With a spear to his right side; Though already we all knew That the Holy One had died. And a woman beat her breast As she looked upon her son. And her sobs held one request, Just what evil had he done? How was I then to expect That in three days news would ring Of the tombstone rolled away? Of the resurrected King! But his converts would explain That for months the rabbi said, That Messiah must be slain And then risen from the dead. So, I give to you my joy. 65


From my sin I am set free! And my praise I will employ For the one who died for me: Simon, stranger, lift that cross. Follow Jesus good as dead. I will follow him forever, Living for my Lord instead. GALATIANS 2: 20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me (Picture by Michael Godard)

DOSTOYEVSKY AND HIS TESTAMENT

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He was found writing and circulating pamphlets against the czarist regime. Standing in front of a firing squad with other unfortunates, blindfolded. Waiting for that dreadful word, "Fire". But instead rough hands pulled him away from the place of death, yanked off the blindfold. Reprieve! And a new order to make profit from these troublemakers in the work camps of Siberia. Ten years hard, cold labour. Shocked and puzzled, Fyodor Dostoyevsky waited for his transport, wondering whether to thank God or Lady Luck. On the day of departure in the bustle of line-ups at the train, a woman placed a pocket New Testament in his hand, squeezed it, and gazed upon him briefly with eyes of hope. She was accompanied by another and together they whispered that he might examine it in his spare time. Then they were gone. That Testament became his hiding place, his focus of good, of hope. With stolen hours and stolen candle light he studied the record of the Man of Mercy and meditated upon the heart and purposes of Christ. He read it to others. They engaged in dialogue which effectively transported them from the harshness and purposelessness of the camp. In his words: "One sees the truth more clearly when one is unhappy. And yet God gives me moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and believe that I am loved; in such moments I have formulated my creed, wherein all is clear and holy to me. This creed is extremely simple: here it is. I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly and more perfect than the Saviour. I say to myself with jealous love that not only is there no one else like Him, but that there could be no one." Following his detention, which included five years military service, life was difficult. Family debts threatened to rob him of most of the profits of his writing. A gambling addiction. But a good wife and a constant communion with Christ were his consistent salvation. He resolved in many of his works of fiction to make use of Bible stories and to consider the merits of Christ and Christ-likeness. Go to his classics and see this illustrated: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov. His topics were often suffering and the inequities of life. To me it is a joy to consider that during the seventy-plus years of hard Communist experiment, including the suppression of Christian worship, these books were treasured in the households and libraries of the federation. It was, 67


if you will, a long growing season of the wheat and the tares together and indistinguishable until the harvest began in 1989. Imagine the scene in Crime and Punishment where the murderer has come to the harlot's poor and ill-lit apartment. Her bruised soul has taken comfort from the account of Christ and other unfortunates like herself. She draws out her Bible and reads to Raskolnikoff the story of the raising of Lazarus. He asks, 'Could there be such a thing? The raising of a dead man to new life and opportunity? I am dead.' Leo Tolstoy, that famed author of War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Resurrection, himself a Christian, had the deepest admiration for Dostoyevsky and his works. It was as if the latter had found the pearl of great price in grace, undeserved favour with God. The former was stuck in the loop of legalism and pressing duty. He had never seen himself as a criminal saved for reasons known only to God. From the deathbed of Dostoyevsky in 1881, a daughter, Aimee, relates some of the last words: "Have absolute faith in God and never despair of his pardon. I love you dearly, but my love is nothing compared with the love of God. Even if you should be so unhappy as to commit some dreadful crime, never despair of God. You are His children; humble yourselves before Him, as before your father; implore His pardon, and He will rejoice over your repentance, as the father rejoiced over that of the prodigal son."

WANTED: UNDER-SHEPHERDS

You are out there. Really. Doubting yourself, Doubting the flesh, Counting an inventory of hurts And lesser humiliations. Forgiving. Giving. Rejoicing in 68


Christ’s ability, Compassion, wisdom, Manliness in the face of Wicked devices. Offering hope, warning. The Grand Story. Not your spin on it; Just the Grand Story, Able to unlock any heart. Able to hug any neck, An under-shepherd of The foot-washing sort, Having caught a glimpse, Or two Of the Master. Never again to be common; Never again to be free Or desiring it.

FOOT-WASHING JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE 69


The elderly woman approached me in the dairy section with a look of recognition. She was a fellow-member of the seniors' Bible study at the church and she did not have me in the context of part-time dairy man. The broad smile appeared, and we went through simple re-introductions. She commented that she had not seen me recently in church with my wife. I was obscure with my explanation. Quickly she responded, "I tell you, we all have it too good. We will have to see some bad times before we are ready to see the Lord move again in our midst." Looking quite alert in her eighty-third year she began to tell me of revival which she witnessed in Eastern Europe and Russia in the five years following World War Two. She was Romanian born and came under Nazi and then Russian occupation. Thousands of youths had been rounded up by the Russians and were headed to repopulate and redevelop the land ravaged by the onslaught of the Fuhrer. Her command of the Russian language was excellent and she intercepted many of the thoughts and plans of her overseers which had

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been intended as confidential. The relocated people were deprived of food and medicine and many were falling seriously gaunt and ill. She came down with jaundice and other complications and heard her captors predicting that she was not likely to live. A seventeen year old girl facing such odds! In her darkest moments she reached out beyond Sunday School experiences to a loving Jesus whom she beseeched for salvation and healing. That night she felt new vigour and hope and a new beginning. "I tell you sir I saw revival in the streets in these terrible circumstances. People stopping from their work to cry out to God for forgiveness and help. It did not take a church. The Holy Spirit was at work marvelously. All this going on under the noses of the Communists who were committed to silencing the message of Jesus. And here I am now, alive in my eighties, in Canada. It must be that the Lord still has some work for me to do. Still some souls within my sphere who are yet to come in." How I was inspired, standing by the half-priced chocolate milk, talking to this remarkable woman of faith. Hearing this living testimony. Now none of this had ever come out in our year or more together at the Bible study. Sad. "Foot-washing" of saints and by saints can happen in the most unlikely of places. It MUST be given place to operate.

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WHY WEEPEST THOU?

Mary Magdalene had come to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. It was Sunday morning. She had no idea how she was going to get the stone door opened. She had no idea how to handle her grief. She only knew that she must make the closest connection possible to the Master, for only there might she find some peace, some comfort, some idea for the future. This was the little woman out of whom Jesus had cast several demons. We do not know what they were. We cannot be certain that she had once been a woman of gross immorality. No matter, through Jesus she had heard and had believed that she was a new creature by faith. But the stone door is rolled away. The tomb is empty! The Master has been taken. And Mary weeps. For disappointed hope. For the cowardice of His followers. For the jealousy and envy and pride which had been shown by the fellowship right up to the end. For the hypocrisy and heartlessness of the religion of her age. For the unstoppable oppression of the contemporary powers. For the innumerable suffering ones who would now miss the comfort, hope, truth and healing of Jesus. For the pathetic alloy of elements, good and bad, in her own heart. 72


But then a stranger appears. He states in seven words, “Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou? She briefly explains her predicament. Then she hears that familiar wonderful voice say her name, “Mary”. How could she not notice? It is Jesus. Freed from the shackles of death. Coming to her side. Her response is automatic, “Rabboni” (most honoured teacher, most honoured Master). In spite of her compulsion to embrace Him, she is instructed to go and inform the brethren. Jesus is alive. He is immediately available. He is not diminished in power. He has been true to His word throughout. Let us take this scene in the Resurrection Garden and realize that it contains the seeds of all true revival in the Church and for the community.

DOWN GOES THE GAUNTLET

Old George wiped away the tears. It was Tuesday and he had just had a visit from the young pastor. Keith had told him of the surprising challenge which he had been burdened to issue. He was smiling in giving the news and animated. But the old church elder of former days, suffering almost total blindness and general atrophy of the limbs could not take it all in. Keith had left a CD copy of the message, knowing in his heart that George would rejoice at the development. And that he would pray. George remembered eight years ago that whole process of selecting a new pastor. He had been drawn to Keith from the start in a field of six possibles. Other men stood taller; had a more compelling timbre in their voice; had papers from more prestigious Bible colleges. George had felt like the old prophet Samuel, passing by more imposing candidates for the runt of the litter, David. But David had had the key to God’s heart. So did Keith. During these last two years George had not been able to leave the Rest Home to attend, but he had gotten reports from various sources and he had taken on the burden in heavy prayer for Keith’s constancy. George was aware of some 73


of the more imposing personalities and their regrettable sense of territory in church program. He had feared that Keith was buckling. That a low common denominator was taking over. In his forty-five years at the fellowship George could remember a wide variety of characters in the pulpit. Some with a sincere malleable shepherd’s heart. Some commandants. Some ear ticklers. Some career boys. But then there was Keith. He could still remember Keith’s candidacy sermon taken from that haunting prayer at the end of the prophecy of Habakkuk. He had entitled it “Yes, this is true religion.” The one where the prophet had said ‘although the trees and crops fail and the livestock go missing, yet I will rejoice in the Lord.’ This was a matter of loving God for God’s sake, and not for His trinkets. George had loved the young preacher for the purity of his spirit and the loyalty of his message. The selection vote had been close, but it is possible that George’s input had won the day. The two had enjoyed a special bond over the years. Each on an occasion had had to correct the other on an issue of serious importance to the church. But brotherhood and mutual respect had never wavered. And now this young man was telling the assembly to ‘move on, grow up, wean themselves, take risks for the thrill of new revelation and new opportunity, open up one to the other, and then come together in agreement to take blessing and truth outside the church walls’. George was hugging himself in the wheelchair at the prospect of all of this. His prayers were being answered. For the moment there was nothing as adequate in the way of praise and thanksgiving as “the tongues”: “Parabba do manni forrah sic bianti pas kemmi soodah.” And then laughter. Rich, full and in the tone of a much younger man (1 Peter 1:8). The one nurse at the station down the hall turned to her colleague and remarked, “Oh there goes old George again in that odd language of his. Wonder what it could all mean? Too bad when they get like this.” Note: The story is told of Father Nash who would travel to each crusade town and travail for days for the anointing and fruitfulness of Charles Finney’s preaching. The astounding results are history.

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I Will Not Smell, I Will Not Listen

WHO ARE THE PRIESTS NOW?

Christ gave up the ghost. The thick veil in the Temple at Jerusalem split from top to bottom. In real terms the Mosaic economy had finished its course. The succession of high priests was ended. The beasts for sacrifice, no longer required. One blood-letting would now have eternal focus. One High Priest, eternal office. And believers were enabled to approach holy functions and places standing in the righteousness of their Saviour. This is the New Covenant. We are told in the Letter to the Hebrews that we may now come boldly to the throne of grace that we might receive help.

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We are told in Peter’s First Letter that we have been raised to “a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices” (chapter 2:5). But might any veils still stand in the way of our service? How might we caution ourselves? Beware of the following: 1. Persisting in known sin. (Psalm 66:18) 2. Unforgiveness. (Mark 11:24-26) 3. Prayerlessness. (Mark 14:38) 4. Condemnation unchecked from Satan. (1 John 1:8,9) 5. Idols of distraction. (1 John 2: 15-17) 6. Shyness and Fear of Man. 7. False humility. 8. Tempting praise. (Luke 17:10) 9. Lack of Bible foundation. (1 Timothy 4:16) 10. Making a “pope” out of any man. (Psalm 118:8,9) 11. Lack of rest. 12. Lack of meditation in quiet. 13. Church barricades to the five-fold. (Ephesians 4:11-13) 14. Backward looking sentimentality. (Luke 9:62) 15. Judgmental spirit. 16. Comfort seeking.

I guess it just boils down to how much you desire to conform your will and 76


ways to God’s. How much you perceive yourself as the purchased possession of Jesus, and as His ambassador with dynamic delegated power. At any moment a large door may open. Look again to Psalm 37. If you resolve to “delight yourself in the Lord”, seeking His agenda, you will discover that you receive increasingly “the desires of your heart” (the desires of your Lord’s heart). The potential of such ready volunteers is awesome. They are the ones who have been given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). In the Lord’s name they may “loose” revelation, forgiveness, healing, fresh confidence, agendas of help, ministry commissions, praises and supplications which will move Heaven. They may also “bind” dark practices, temptations, strife, spiritual attack, sickness, thick-headedness, condemnation or despair. What a tremendous privilege we have as day-to-day priests of our God through Christ! Admittedly we still need pastors and mentors for clear direction, interpretation, confession, prayer agreement and a mature sounding-board. But we must not abdicate from evident openings for ministry. We must be bold when the Spirit urges (but not when our fleshly ambition prods). Christ uses believers (Mark 16:15-18). Not just men and women with certificates on the wall. When, oh when will our churches discover this? Unlocking the treasure of the priesthood of believers. And it is for the community at large. Not just in-house.

OF ANDREW’S SPIRIT

We have found Him And know that He is truth Distilled and pure. A Certain Spring, ‘Though damp and slush Delay the budding. 77


A Prince with yarns Of fields and flowers And feathered trust. Unspoiled by gold Or other trappings Of convention. Unmoved by rank Or rule of present powers. But moved by Smallest cry of Pain or shame Or lonely lot. A Man whose every Waking step displays Assurance, equity, Mercy, patience, hope Direct from Heaven. Whose gaze commands. The Promised One. Re-charging nightly On hills of prayer, (With His Father, So He says.) As we have slept. Brother, drop your net. Come meet this One. Come meet your future.

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BUT STILL‌

I have bottomed out. I have lost the day. I have pain within; I can scarcely pray. I have watched dreams pale In the time's harsh gale. I have few to help. I am gaunt and pale. But still I have the Lord... But still I have the Lord, And He picks me up With the thought of Him. And He brings His light Where before 'twas dim. And He makes me see With new eyes of grace; As His Kingdom comes, And I find my place. So sufficed, I have all. James 5:

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11Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.

WITH GOD ENOUGH

The stakes had been driven in Karl's field following a paltry yield of barley. The benches had come from the assembly hall down the town-line road. The posters had been tacked to the post office bulletin board. The preachers in no less than four denominations had announced the special week from their pulpits. And now Brother Fuller was in town, and the opening Friday night just hours away. That afternoon Fuller had brought together two dozen pillars of prayer in the tent and for 90 minutes they had importuned God's visit and power upon their struggling, recession-weary community. He said that the Master in Mark 6 had called His followers out of the everyday into a desert place, a dry place, and there He had performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes. Not in the city but out in the desert places. And this is where these faithful people of Oklahoma had found themselves for the last four years. Dusk with its cooling realization had come, and my wife and I, together with another young couple, had secured seats in the front third of the benches under the canvas. All of us felt the weariness of the day drifting away in the anticipation and good cheer of the gathering. The sawdust was underfoot. The banners on the tent wall: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Our friends were new to this experience, but it had not taken much courteous coaxing. A poor second crop. A part-time job disappearing with the closing of the lumber yard in town. A teen-age son in rebellion and mixing with some undesirables after school. The music began complete with fiddles, banjo, drums, accordian and trombone. The old favourites brought a comfort and an encouragement. "Got 80


Any Rivers? You think are uncrossable. Got any Mountains? You can't tunnel through. God specializes in things thought impossible. He'll do for you what none other can do." And then the message from Brother Fuller. Parts of it remain still now, clear in the memory, filled with promise, and filled with the thrill of our young friends stepping forward in response to the call of Jesus: "Enough, friends, to be in His family; To relish in the engagement of real, caring prayer; To know that His Testament bequeathes us Life, unburdened conscience and new spiritual power. To sense foretastes of Heaven. Enough, to see His artistry at break of day; To hear His serenade in the turtledove; His optimism in a youngster's laugh. To thrill at His power in the thunderbolt, In the stinging wind over dry fields, In the deluge that fills the watercourses In mere minutes. Enough, to hear his words of rebuke To the Enemy, the Slanderer, And his underlings who whisper, threaten or foreclose; To understand His assurance that no man, no devil Shall take a child out of His hand. This is our Father, As represented by our Elder Brother. This is salvation, and This is forever." The gathering and the ushering away of new converts. The singing of "Just a Closer Walk with Thee". The dismissal of the assembly from the tent to the clarity of a sparkling late-summer night sky. The scenes remain vivid and aweinspiring to us, some thirty-five years later.

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Bring It On