Surprised by Love

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring the last few months I’ve been mysteriously blessed at unpredictable times. Suddenly, I would find myself overwhelmed by a sense of God’s love. These occurrences could not be traced to anything I had done devotionally. They were not because I had been more faithful than usual in prayer or studying the Word. Quite the contrary. Without warning, I would feel tears rise behind my eyes at the thought of God’s tender love.

Could it be due to physical vulnerability? This has certainly been a stressful time of stumbling around with a cane and then undergoing radical knee replacement surgery. In the aftermath of the surgery I’ve had to deal with pain and dark nights of sleeplessness. This whole experience has curtailed my rather organized devotions: reading an Old Testament passage and a New Testament passage then going through a prayer list.

I’ve begun to wonder if my devotional life has been too regimented, not spontaneous enough. I think that is part of it. God just wants to show me he loves me whether or not I’m able to complete my quiet time. Even when my Mini-daffodilsdiscipline crumbles leaving mere fragments of good intentions, he wants to assure me of his love.

This feeling could sweep over me due to the stanza of a hymn. Love divine, all love excelling. Joy of heaven brought down to earth. Or Meekness and majesty…this is your God…bow down in worship.

It could be sparked by rays of sunshine pouring in the window after days of gloom. God, the creator, loves to pour sunshine into our souls as wGoldfinch at Feederell as through our windows. He is a good and giving God.

It could be a bird on the feeder. The dazzling yellow plumage of a goldfinch set against the rather depressing brown of early spring in all the surrounding trees and flower beds.

It could be a touch from Mary Helen. Who am I to have been led to such a faithful helpmate!

Whatever the cause, I’m grateful to God for reminding me that he loves me not for anything in me or anything I’ve done. So often we feel that we must earn God’s affection. In reality, “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”(Rom. 8:35,39). (Read this whole wonderful chapter in Romans.)

As a mother or father loves their child, so our Father loves us, not because of anything in us, but because through his redeeming work we have become his children. I’m sure I need to be reminded much more often that God’s love is tender, faithful, constant. And I’m sure that my expressions of love for him need to be more spontaneous. Such whispers from God are not frequent nor can they be programmed. But they are wonderful gifts of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Grandma’s mysterious purse

“Do you have any gum, Grandma?” asked one of our granddaughters a few years ago.

???????????????????????????????Mary Helen searched in her voluminous purse and shortly came up with gum which she shared. I join our grandchildren in expecting her purse to have anything I need at the time. Finger nail file? Check. Change for a coffee? Check. Kleenex for my runny nose. Check. Lipstick, credit cards, sunglasses, reading glasses, pads of paper, 26 ballpoint pens of dubious origins, her little address book…the list is endless. There’s a brush, a pair of tiny scissors, her wallet, an extra plastic bag, some candy and a pill box.

If I have a cut, I can always ask, “Do you have a plastic bandage in there?” The answer will always be, “Of course!”

Lozenge to help endure a rather dull sermon? Oh, yeah it’s down there somewhere. It may take her a while to find it though. Before she finds it, my eyes may glaze over, especially if it’s a 3 lozenge message that goes on for forty minutes.

Her purse has three main compartments and a million little crannies. How one could find anything there is beyond me. Young women must go to some mysterious weekend seminar on how to buy and organize purses. Sadly, the buying they never forget, but the organization is quickly lost to mind. Not that I’m being judgmental it’s just that when I ask for something it takes her lots of??????????????????????????????? time to find it. And, of course, I like to deflect attention from my own foibles. You see my desk drawers are chaotic and the garage is…well, let’s not go there.

I may have been a boy scout and learned to always be prepared, but it’s Mary Helen who is really prepared—for everything, except nuclear war. After all she has a purse. All we men have, unless we’re European, is a wallet and some pockets.

Every man should have a wife or friend who has a purse. How can we possibly get through life without an inexhaustible source of whatever we need at the moment. And we can be confident that if she is mugged, she can always clock the perpetrator with her purse.

Let’s hear it for purses. Hip, hip, hurrah.

(PS. Eric’s new suspense novel, Riptide, is now available from major outlets and from http://www.countrywindow.ca)

 

Tracks In The Snow

???????????????????????????????Each new snow, of which we’ve had plenty this winter, leaves a fresh page upon which animals leave their prints. In the morning I can usually distinguish from the window the marks left by juncos, rabbits, squirrels, and our neighbour’s dog.

Along the road there may be the signs of passing turkeys or deer. Those familiar with the lore of the woods can identify each animal and bird by the tracks they leave.

Our lives also leave the impression of our passing on the lives we touch. Paul wrote to Timothy urging him to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12b). The great apostle’s life was so transparently holy that he and asked the brothers and sisters to “follow our example”(2 Thess 3:7) since “we make ourselves a model for you to follow”(2 Thess. 3:9).

Of course, perfection cannot be found in any human hero. Paul admitted, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Rom. 7:18). We ???????????????????????????????would be wise then to heed Peter who reminds us that only Christ Jesus left us the perfect example, “that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).

One of the great values of Scripture is the inspired portrait it paints of patriarchs and prophets, kings and shepherds who left their marks on redemptive history. In some cases the story gleams with light; in others the malevolent glow of brimstone warns us away from the pathway to destruction. There we discover Adam and Cain, Abraham and Jacob, Rachel and Ruth, Hezekiah and Manasseh, Saul and David, Judas and Paul.

Even depraved lives are recorded, “as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did”(1 Cor. 10:6). Esau sold his birthright for a quick meal. Like unhappy taxpayers, the Israelites grumbled throughout the exodus. Like corrupt executives salting away millions, King Solomon hoarded gold and horses and wives.

???????????????????????????????The tracks left by godly men and women, however, are what inspire us to climb the upward path. “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. . . By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By faith Abraham . . .made his home in the promised land . . . offered Isaac as a sacrifice”(Heb. 11:4,7, 8,9,17).

Besides biblical biographies, God often uses more contemporary stories of godly men and women to challenge us to walk more carefully in the footsteps of Jesus. The gospel energy of John Wesley and the astounding mind of C.S. Lewis have inspired me to greater heights as have the stories of transformed tribals in Ethiopia’s Oro Valley.

Not only spiritual giants leave a mark. All of us can point to the tracks left by seemingly ordinary Christians who blessed our lives. I remember Florence Scruton’s example of cheerful thankfulness in spite of declining health, Elaine Mutter’s generosity during our mission years and the enthusiasm for the gospel??????????????????????????????? exhibited by Pakistani pastor, Hidayat.

Sadly, I can think of others who have left behind an example of schism, controversy or moral bankruptcy. So I need to ask myself, what tracks do I leave? How deep is my devotion to Christ?

The Winter Of Our Discontent

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis winter is one for the record books. Repeated snowstorms have pounded much of the US and Canada. Here in Ontario, it’s been decades since we had so much snow on the ground for so long. Early on we had a paralyzing ice storm that knocked out power even in Toronto.

Images of stranded motorists, multi-vehicle pileups, downed power lines, and snow-chocked streets have filled our TV screens. And when forecasters weren’t warning about the latest winter storm they were lamenting the drought and fire danger in California.

How do we react to harsh weather? Well, if you are like most of us, you complain Winterloghm, croppedabout it. “What terrible weather.” “It’s so cold.” “I can’t wait for spring to come.” “Why don’t we get more sunshine?” This winter scores in the 99 percentile on the “complaint scale”.

But why complain? We can’t change it. Are we letting off steam? Has winter’s icy grip plunged us into very real depression? Or, are we just having fun? Perhaps we’re using comments about the weather to initiate conversations with strangers? Weather is a safe subject that keeps us from making verbal faux pas about politics or religion or women’s apparel.

On a deeper level, however, we need to consider the whole issue of contentment in general. Is our happiness dependent on circumstances such as our health, our bank account, or our status? It takes real maturity to maintain equanimity in less than ideal situations. But that’s exactly what God calls Christians to develop. Raod closed during ice storm Paul was able to say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances”(Phil. 4:11) and this in spite of suffering terrible storms, torture, shipwreck and privation of many kinds. See 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. Contentment didn’t come naturally to Paul. He probably often complained about his circumstances before he learned to be content. His example gives us hope; we’re all on a steep learning curve.

We need to ask God to help us to learn contentment, not only with the weather but with our financial and physical health. In adopting us into his family, our Father obviously cares for us and will provide for us. “Be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”(Heb. 13:5). (Remember that this does not mean we are to be content to bury our gifts and abilities like the wicked servant in the parable of the talents.)

In general, the picture we glean of Israel in the Old Testament is of a complaining nation. Moses warned them, “You are not grumbling against us, but ???????????????????????????????against the Lord”(Ex. 16:8d). Israel’s story warns us that serious complaints uncover dissatisfaction with God’s providential care.

In our day, when there is such an emphasis on wealth and status we need to read often what Scripture teaches about discontent. Jesus asks us not to worry about what to eat, drink or wear, but instead to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well”(Matt. 6:33). Paul writes; “Godliness with contentment is great gain”(1 Tim. 6:6).

Charles Spurgeon said it well. “Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and if we would have it, it must be cultivated; it will not grow in us by nature; it is the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be specially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace which God has sown in us.…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADo not indulge the notion that you can be contented without learning, or learn without discipline. It is not a power that may be exercised naturally, but a science to be acquired gradually. We know this from experience. Brother, hush that murmur, natural though it be, and continue a diligent pupil in the College of Content.”

And so Lord, help us to learn to be content. We’re not there yet.

Pesky Squirrels Model Persistence

???????????????????????????????Our black squirrel took a flying leap from the deck banister and grabbed onto the cage of suet hanging from the roof. What an acrobat! It clung to the cage while it tried everything to get at the suet inside. Finally, it concentrated on the wire tie I had used to keep it closed. It kept gnawing and twisting until finally it broke it off, opened the cage and settled down for a royal feast.

Mary Helen said, “Poor thing. It’s hungry. Let it be.”

True, it’s been a cold, snowy winter that makes it very hard on our furry friends: black, brown and grey squirrels. And they do provide us with almost daily entertainment. The other day I watched one climbing the pole holding our bird feeder until it got to the circular Squirrel on Feedersquirrel baffle. It tried dozens to times to climb over the baffle only to be frustrated by its loose motion. Then it would climb down, survey the situation and try again. When we had an ice-storm, the ice froze the ‘squirrel baffle’ to the post keeping it from moving. Until it thawed, our persistent squirrels were able to swing themselve over and empty the feeder.

The ingenuity and persistence of our squirrels is amazing. Until I used duct tape to hold the finch feeder to its bracket, they kept knocking it down. Do squirrels eat niger bird seed? I’ve had to put stronger and stronger wire on the suet cage to defeat them so the woodpeckers have something to eat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe could learn a lot from our furry friends. Never, never give up. If we accept the difficulties in our lives as a challenge, like the squirrels, we will develop perseverance. Paul and James explain. “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character hope”(Rom.5:4). “The testing of your faith develops perseverance”(James 1:3). Becoming a persevering person is a crucial quality of maturity and character.

As Nelson Mandela said; “The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote; “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

Calvin Coolidge is even more insistent on the importance of persistence. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not… nothing OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAis more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not… unrewarded genius is almost legendary. Education will not…. the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Lord, give us grace to persevere whatever the obstacle.

The Book That Made Your World

The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western CivilizationThe Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization by Vishal Mangalwadi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out of his own Indian experience of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam along with his scholarly research and study of western secular humanism Mangalwadi demonstrates the historical effect the Bible has had on our world. This books should drop like a bomb in the middle of our complacent and arrogant so-called secular scholars. That it won’t is due more to their prejudice than reality. That it has been written by a non-western Asian is startling in itself.

Mangalwadi seeds his scholarship throughout by telling illustrations from his experiences in both India and the West. With voluminous quotations from an astounding array of scholars of every stripe, he establishes the democratizing, liberating, inspiring role of the Bible in the success of Western civilization and its spread throughout the world.

He traces the effect biblical knowledge has had on human’s rediscovering their humanity, becoming thinking, rational people who were given to invent things–the rise of technology. He shows the effect it has had on freeing women, marriage, banning slavery, etc.

He ponders how the abosolutely unique character of Christ,an apparently defeated hero, supercedes the mythiccall heros of the ancient world to remake civilization in miniscule amounts into his own image. Christians, believers in the dignity of man and in morality, became the revolutionaries that really changed individual societies and ultimately vast segments of the world.

He shows how the Bible inspired language codification, translation and great literature; how it led to the founding of universities and was the inspiration for genuine science.

He establishes the role it played in rooting morality at the foundations of just societies, without which corruption becomes epidemic. Which societies are the least corrupt? Those founded on Protestant principles.

He traces the effect Bible believers have had on exalting the family; inspiring compassion through a host of insitutions including hospitals, leprosariums, and orphanages; creating wealth and innovation.

Perhaps, most important, he shows the effect it has had on producing human liberty. He gives case studies along the way to demonstrate the transforming effect the Bible has had even on societies as disturbed as those who were headhunters.

This is not a book to read in a week or even month, at least in my mind. It is a book to read in small batches that inspire thought. Every thinking person, especially secular humanists and post-modernists who are leading us deeper and deeper into despair, need to read this book. Highly recommended.

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No Place Like Home

We crept ahead an inch at a time through driving snow. I peered ahead past our line of cars but spotted no reason for our delay beyond the slick nature of the snowy road surface. My knuckles gripped the steering wheel as if the intensity of their grasp could ensure safety. A fire-truck sped by us oOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAn the right shoulder; a tow-truck on the left. I massaged my right knee to keep it from cramping from the tension. Ten minutes. Fifteen. Thirty. What if?

Then two badly damaged cars materialized, one against the left guardrail, the other nose toward the ditch on the right. We crept by only to pass three—no five—no six or seven more each showing the effects of crashes. Fortunately, they were receiving help although no police had yet appeared to shut down the road.

With a sigh of relief we exited the highway and soon turned into our own driveway. Home! Warmth. Shelter. Is there anything like it on a cold, snowy day? We turned up the thermostat, put on coffee, and relaxed.

I could feel the tension gOur home on a winter's dayradually dissipate as I sat there drinking my coffee on our couch. I looked around: the familiar pictures on the wall, the china cabinet, the dining room table, the rug, the kitchen counter. I smiled at Mary Helen across the room in her recliner. “I am blessed,” I thought.

That old cliché is so true. Be it ever so humble there’s no place like home. We often take our homes for granted. They’re just there. Ready to receive us whenever we come home. Then my thoughts circled the globe. How must Syrian refugees suffer; driven from their homes. How terrible to lose your home in a typhoon; or, like a friend’s daughter, to have it burn to the ground.

Even animals, create homes: burrows in the ground, hollows in trees, dens in caves, nests.

Having a home is so basic—so wonderful. And yet we read that Jesus warned an erstwhile follower that; “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”(Matt.8:20). Think of it. The ultimate source of all shelter didn’t have his own home on earth. He went without, he suffered, and he died for our sins so that we might find eternal refuge.

Raod closed during ice storm “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms, if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am”(John 14:1-3). Wow! All those who trust in Jesus for their salvation, have a home being prepared for them in heaven. “This world is not my [only] home. I’m just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.”

Actually, throughout the ages God has been a refuge for his people. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations…He is my refuge and my fortress”(Psalm 90:1, 91:2). We need not only a home for our body now but a refuge for our souls—a place where we can go in thought and prayer, a place where we find comfort, acceptance, encouragement and love. When the storms of life bear down on us, let us retreat there often. And let’s give thanks for our earthly homes.