God Exists, Believe it – Essential Beliefs of Biblical Christians

Confusion among today’s professing Christians begins with their low view of the Bible and continues with 51% believing that “God learns and adapts to different circumstances.” What we believe about God is definitive of where we stand as professing Christians. For that reason, let me continue this series with a short statement of what the Bible reveals about God. Then we will go on to explore the glories of God.

“God is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism)

The first truth about God is that He is, He exists. As Hebrews states, “He that cometh to
God must believe that he exists” (Heb. 11:6). Although myriads profess to either believe that we cannot know if God exists (agnostic) or that he does not exist (atheism); to be saved from the consequences of our sins, one must come to him, believing he exists. While God has given abundant evidences that indicate his existence and character through what He has revealed in creation (common revelation), special revelation (through prophets), the incarnate Word (Jesus Christ), and written revelation (the Bible), belief in his existence is a matter of faith. You either believe or you don’t. It is impossible for finite creatures such as you and I to assemble all the facts about the infinite God in order to try and prove his existence.

God invites us to test and see that he exists and is good. “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8). In a common phrase, “the proof is in the pudding.” You can’t tell if a desert is tasty without tasting! Isn’t this what scientists do? They have a hypothesis and they test it to see if it is true to reality.

In talking to skeptics who doubted his divinity, Jesus said; “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves” (John 14:11). (See also John 10:38.)

To the Jews who had believed in him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31,32). We can’t know, absorb, be certain of the infinite, ultimate truth that God has revealed in Christ without taking Jesus’ teachings and acting on them. When we put Jesus’ teaching into practice we will see they are true. Then, the infinite dimensions of truth will begin to open up within our souls. So we must not put the cart before the horse, to use a crude saying. Wouldn’t it be foolish to doubt God’s existence until we have all the facts? We do not have the capacity to gather and absorb all the facts about Infinity!

When I was a nineteen year old agnostic, I tasted—believed—and found he was wonderful! Ever since I have been growing in love for God. (Read my series about our life in my blogs.) He is good. He forgives our sins when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. He will forgive you, redeem you from judgement and give you new life. Believe today!

Essential Beliefs, #8 – God is a spirit

From the beginning of time, men and women have been worshippers. But true worship is only possible if we worship the one true God as revealed in the Scriptures. Jesus met with a Samaritan woman who said, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain.” To this Jesus responded, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know…God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:20,22,24).

What he said to the Samaritan woman, can be said of untold millions around the world whether they worship Khrishna, Vishnu, Allah, the moon, nature or money. True worship exalts the true God who is a spirit and that worship proceeds from our own invisible spirit.

When we speak of God as spirit, we mean that he is not material and he is invisible. He does not have a body like men. He created matter but he is not subject to any material constraints. David meditated on the LORD and said, “where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go to the heavens you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (Psalm 119:7,8). God is present everywhere; he is omnipresent. And yet he does not have one part in one place and another part somewhere else.  All of God is present everywhere at the same time. 

When the Scriptures speak of God having an ear that hears us or a hand that upholds, the meaning is metaphorical. The Scriptures speak this way so we can understand through comparison to our own human experience.

Paul arrived in Athens and saw an idol dedicated to the unknown god. He proclaimed to them; “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. …For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:24-28).

When we pray to God or worship God, he is there in the totality of his focus even as he listens to a saint in Irian Jaya and multiplied thousands. What an amazing God is our God! “Oh, Lord our Lord, how exalted is your name in all the earth!”

Essential Beliefs – #9, God is an infinite spirit.

Let’s think of the biggest things we know and the longest distances. The Canadian coastline is 243,042 kms long, the longest in the world! Mt. Everest is 29,032 feet high. The moon is 384,400 miles away while the sun is 93 million miles distant. But the nearest galaxy, the Andromeda, is 2 million light years away. Wait, what is a light year? The distance light travels at 186,000 miles per second in a year. Beyond comprehension. The universe is estimated to be 93 million light years across. Beyond BIG! Is there anything bigger?

Yes, God is bigger; he is infinite. Beyond measurement. Bigger than miles. Bigger than light years. Bigger than the universe. After all, he created the universe. As David writes, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me…” (Psalm 119:7-10).

Let our minds dwell on this for a while. No wonder prophets from Moses to Paul exclaimed about being confronted with mystery. When we ponder God we encounter astounding mystery—but mystery that is warm and loving and powerful and compassionate and tender towards us.

For consider another revelation of God—remember, these are revelations. As we saw in our meditation of the fact that God is a spirit, He is there at any point in the totality of His love and concern with every believer who prays to Him. He is omnipresent. He, as God, is present everywhere. Then add this fact to your boggled mind, at Christmas God the Son came into finite space as a baby. As God, he didn’t stop being infinite, but as Philippians two states, he voluntarily set aside the independent exercise of his divine attributes to live among us as a man from a stable to a cross. To save us from our sins. What astonishing condescension.

Oh, God, our God, how excellent and how mysterious is your name in all the earth. We bow as ignorant and self-righteous sinners who keep trying to live as if you don’t surround us on every side.

Essential Beliefs, #10, God is eternal

Let’s think about the passage of time. Recently, I’ve been trying to sort out when things happened in my life. When was our son Stephen married? Mary Helen used to keep track of all this. When we’re young, time seems to pass so slowly. Now that I’m older, even aged, it seems to pass swiftly and my memory is weak. I just finished a book whose central thesis was time travel, that a person can be sent back in time to redo their mistakes. Fanciful.

Time is so mysterious.This in 2022. It is over 135 years since the birth of my father and mother. Over 100 years since the end of World War One. Over 500 years since the Reformation. Over 2000 years since the birth of Jesus. Over 3000 years since King David. Over 3500 years since the time of Moses, and 4000 years since Abraham.

How does God relate to time?How many years since He began to exist? The question doesn’t apply to Him. He is eternal. He had no beginning and will have no end. Moses wrote, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2). He created time along with everything else in the universe and he set everything in motion. He began the clock of time.

The Psalmist writes, “My days are like the evening shadow; …But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; …In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands, They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment…but you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102: 11,12,25-27; quoted also in Hebrews 1). God exists separate from the universe which he created. He is outside of time.

The passage of time, its measurement, does not apply to God. “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by” (Psalm 90:2) Peter paraphrases this truth, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8).  A day = 1000 years = a day?  Such thinking is another mystery. Some theologians, in trying to explain God and time, have said that he exists in “everlasting nowness.” I’m not sure that helps.

But what does help, is to know that the Lord has loved us from all eternity. “His lovingkindness is everlasting, And His faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5) “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us…chosen us…In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons” (Eph. 1:3-5).

Hallelujah! “He loved me err I knew him.” Beyond comprehension but such a source of praise and thanksgiving. As another hymn writer describes it; “Loved with everlasting love. Let by grace that love to know. Spirit breathing from above thou hast taught me it is so.” Wow!

And if God is in control of time, maybe we should be a bit more patient. We are in such a hurry.  [Essential Beliefs – #11, God is an eternal spirit]

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. If you appreciate this blog, please pass it on. Further articles, books, and stories at:  Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ; check out his web site: www.countrywindow.ca –– Eric’s books are available at: https://www.amazon.com/Eric-E.-Wright/e/B00355HPKK%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share)

How Hymns Help Me Gain Perspective On Grief – A Man’s Journey Through Grief, continued, #25

There is snow on the ground, the weather is cold, and I resist the urge to go for a walk outside. My flesh is lazy. “Dad”, my daughter said just the other day, “you need to keep walking.” Sigh. It is true.

So, after I completed my list of jobs in town, I drove to the community centre to walk around the track. It’s on the second floor above the hockey rink. I punched the elevator button and had a flashback. This is where Mary Helen and I used to come in the winter. I can see her punching that very button. And as I began my walk, images followed me around the circuit.

It has been a good week in that it has been almost without overt expressions of grief. I’ve been able to talk about her without tears. I’ve been slowly constructing a new life. I don’t know why the sense of loss should suddenly come upon me at the community centre. Of course, I never know why…or when. It’s just that, at times, the sense that she is not beside me is overwhelming.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve tried to maintain a sense of perspective. I’ve reminded myself that I have been blessed, even though Mary Helen has been called home. I remind myself that some are suffering with cancer, some have lost a child, some have lost a spouse long before the three score years and ten they expected and some are living in war zones. I’m fortunate. We had so many good years. And she is rejoicing in heaven.

I began noticing something in many of the hymns I read in my morning devotions. It’s obvious really. Sorrow and loss is so universal its often expressed in our hymns. Here are a few examples.

Face to face with Christ, my Savior …

What rejoicing in His presence,

when are banished grief and pain

When the crooked ways are straightened

and the dark things shall be plain.

[Face to Face]

After the toil and the heat of the day,

After my troubles are past,

After the sorrows are taken away,

I shall see Jesus at last.

After the heartaches and sighing shall cease,

[After]

Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,

but our toil he doth richly repay….

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way…

[Trust And Obey]

There is a name I love to hear,

I love to sing its worth;

…It tells of One whose loving heart

can feel my deepest woes,

Who in my sorrow bears apart,

 that none can bear below.

O, how I love Jesus….

[O How I Love Jesus]

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;

Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;

Leave to they God to order and provide;

In very change He faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heav’ly Friend

 Thro’ thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

[Be Still My Soul]

We live in such an air-brushed society. Cheerful. Positive. Happy. True, the daily news tells about inflation, tragedy, murder, and war. But that’s out there in some one else’s life or across the ocean. Until our expectations of living “happily ever after” with the love our life crash into inevitable reality. Perhaps we—I mean I—need to pay more attention to the hymns I sing to gain a sense of perspective.

Down through the centuries grief and loss have been part of the human condition. Many of the hymn writers have written their experiences into their poetry. Such knowledge does not eradicate my sense of loss, but it does help me realize I am one among a great throng. And it reminds me how sorrowing saints down through the ages have been led to Jesus, the great sorrow-bearer. No wonder they sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus”. No wonder, they look forward to heaven so much.

It is my prayer that I will draw closer and closer to Jesus and that someone reading this soliloquy may be helped.  

Where Can I Go For Help On Living Life?

Gurus tell us, “you are your own truth,” or “no one gets to define you but you.” Others tell us, “love yourself” or “never judge others”. Still others talk about yoga or some special course of supplements. Talk about confusing. Then some life crisis occurs. Or a relationship breaks down when our friends perceive that our “love yourself stuff” is just old arrogance in a new guise. A diagnosis of cancer rocks our world and anxiety takes over.

Where can we go for help. To the book that millions in every generation have gone to for wisdom and practical help. The Bible. There we will find ultimate truth about changeless ethical standards, who we are as men and women, how we should live and relate to one another, and how we can conquer the demons within. Although modern men and women think they have it all together and where to go for help they are sadly mistaken unless they turn to the collation of what God has revealed about reality in common revelation, special revelation, and in the incarnation of God’s Son at Christmas.

The Bible is a miracle! Imagine 40 different authors writing 66 different books over 1500 years recording a progressive and unified revelation of God and his dealings with mankind. In spite of this astounding diversity of authors, writing styles, literary genres, and time frames it is one unified and authoritative revelation of God’s will for mankind. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17). They are “the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).

Scripture is inspired, or as the NIV states, “God-breathed.” Scripture is authoritative; it must be believed and obeyed. Scripture is sufficient for a person to be saved and equipped for every good work. We need no other revelation. It’s content evaluates as truth or false all human ideas and philosophies.

Do you doubt its authenticity? Well, consider what Jesus said about it. “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). In quoting a Psalm he said, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). After his resurrection he talked with two men on the road to Emmaus. ‘Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead”’  (Luke 24:44-46).

To be an obedient follower of Christ, one must believe and act upon the inspired, authoritative, sufficient Word of God as contained in the 66 books of the Old and New Testament. Our lives should be spent probing its pages.

But you may think that it is hard to understand. Do we need scholars to explain the essential truths of the Scripture to us? Is its meaning so mysterious and archaic that ordinary, untrained people cannot understand it? It is not helpful to believe that the Scriptures are inspired, authoritative and sufficient in their teaching of all we need for life and godliness, if for understanding we need scholarly interpreters. 

Before the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Church taught that understanding of the true meaning of the Scriptures comes through the mediation of that church and its priests. They held that the Bible was too complicated and mysterious for ordinary men to understand. For this reason the Bible had not been translated into common languages. Tyndale, Martin Luther and others of the reformers revolutionized access to the Bible through their translations. This marvelous work continues today around the world.

The miracle about Scripture, besides its existence, is that it is understandable by an ordinary person in all it says about what is necessary for salvation and holy living. (Psalm 119:105,130) (The theological word for this is perspicuous which means clearly expressed and easily understood; lucid.) All Christians are commanded to search the Scriptures. (Acts 17:11) The Scriptures are addressed to all. (Deut. 6:4-9) They are profitable for all. (2 Tim. 3:15-17) This reality does not deny that parts of Scripture are difficult; “there are some things hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:16). Consider however, the amazing clarity and simplicity of Christ’s teaching.

The essential clarity and simplicity of the Gospel is witnessed every day around the world when untaught men and women take up the Scriptures, understand what they are reading and are converted. This is why we distribute Gospels to people. The text is understandable and able to save through the help of the Holy Spirit illuminating the reader. None of this denies the blessing that preachers, teachers and scholars are to the church. But we must not let anyone rob us of our heritage.

Holy Bible, book divine

Precious Treasure, thou art mine.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. If you appreciate this blog, please pass it on. Further articles, books, and stories at:  Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ; check out his web site: www.countrywindow.ca –– Eric’s books are available at: https://www.amazon.com/Eric-E.-Wright/e/B00355HPKK%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share)

But Lord, Do You Really Want Us To Change Our Plans? – Our Story continued, #33

One night this week, I lay awake for an hour reminiscing about the next chapter in our lives together. It was five am when I finally got up and booted the computer. I stared at the blank screen, brushed back the tears, and began to type another episode in the surprises God’s grace brought into our lives.  

It was back in the early 1980’s. We thought furlough was just another episode in our missionary lives. The plan was to use Toronto as a base, keeping the family together, while I continued to write TEE materials. I would return to Pakistan yearly to superintend their printing and implementation and then proceed to one of the Persian Gulf Emirates. Many Pakistanis, Filipinos, and others were employed in Abu Dubai, Qatar, and other Emirates as migrant workers. Among them were Christians who could be helped by an extension program. It sounded like a visionary plan.  

So, we returned to the house left us by my mom—my childhood home. It needed a lot of tender loving care after having been rented out for several years. The locked attic, containing family heirlooms, had been broken into and some items stolen. The oak banister and fireplace surround had been painted obscuring the beautiful wood finish.  

The whole family was soon busy restoring oak trim, refinishing old tables and cabinets, and tidying the garden. Re-shingling the roof and repainting the outside trim could wait.  

When we were not away visiting other supporting churches, we began attending Long Branch Baptist Church, my home church ever since my conversion. [Long Branch is in West Toronto near Lake Ontario.] Long Branch had often helped me during my studies at Columbia and had supported the family throughout our time in Pakistan.

They were without a pastor at the time, so it seemed natural for me to teach a series of studies in prayer meeting and preach on occasion. I enjoyed teaching on the Lord’s Prayer and selected Psalms. This carried on for over a year.

Meanwhile, Debbie and John enrolled in High School. Stephen decided to enrol in our alma mater, Columbia Bible College. I continued to work on completing part two of my Old Testament Survey series. What could go wrong? Well, some churches began to drop our support, assuming we had returned to Toronto for an extended period. What was happening to my plan?

God had other plans. Long Branch asked me to become their senior pastor! What? Pastor, I thought, no way. I was a teacher, not the shepherd of a flock. True, I loved preaching even though each time I got up to preach, I was anxious that my preaching would fall short of communicating the marvelous truths of the Gospel. Of course, I reasoned, even great preachers like Spurgeon had been anxious before speaking. And it was true, I had had lots of experience in administration while in the mission. Perhaps I had some administrative gifting, after all. But I had a rather retiring personality—not a good pastoral quality. I also warned them that I could not carry a tune, let alone lead music. On the positive side, Mary Helen had an amazing ability to befriend and love people. Thus, after considerable prayer and discussion within the family, I accepted.

Pastor of a church! That meant three messages a week, funerals and weddings, deacons’ meetings and visitation. Fortunately, there were a number of key families in the church that gave it stability and who had an enthusiasm for the Lord. The congregation had known me since I was a new Christian. People were very supportive, loving, and forgiving as I took up my new responsibilities. But the most fortunate thing going for us was Mary Helen. She was our secret weapon. I wondered sometimes if they asked me to become pastor more for Mary Helen’s gifts than mine.

Eric & Mary Helen at Long Branch Baptist

In the years that followed I was often plunged into deep water where I struggled to keep my head above water. I first had to inform all our missionary supporters of the change in ministry. I had to get a marriage license, develop a pre-marital counseling plan, take funerals, and visit. We soon set out to visit every member. During the period in which I had been taking prayer meeting, I had sensed certain needs in the congregation. I seem to have a natural propensity to sense problems and try to fix them. Over the years that followed, we had many long, long deacon’s meetings as we brainstormed different ideas. I tend to come up with too many ideas. In spite of some resistance to my constant emphasis on what I considered creative change, these deacons and their families became some of our dearest friends—friendships that continued to the present day. 

We instituted a number of innovations. We started encouragement groups to gather believers into small house groups to dive into the Word and pray together. A monthly soup and sandwich Sunday was suggested by one of the deacons as a way to deepen fellowship. The church provided the soup. People brought the sandwiches. The mission’s program continued to develop. The church took on interns, young men just out of seminary or Bible College. Teams were sent to help in disaster areas or to assist new churches to put up a building. Instead of a traditional evening service every Sunday, I suggested we have occasional open forums where we could discuss current issues with input from the congregation. A clothing outlet was begun.

Eric typing sermon on early computer

In spite of considerable nervousness before I got up to speak, I reveled in researching my sermons, searching for illustrations, settling on applications and then delivering the messages. Early on, worried that bitterness and unforgiveness—universal problems—might lurk somewhere in the congregation, I preached a series on forgiveness which I later developed into a book. Also concerned that believers depended too much on professional pastors, I taught a series underlining the fact that every single believer has one or more spiritual gifts. Later, that too became a book on how to discover and develop one’s spiritual gifts.

Meanwhile, Deborah graduated from High School and enrolled at Ontario Bible College, later called Tyndale. And the attraction Stephen and Catherine Entwhistle had found for each other in Murree Christian School grew into a full-blown love affair. Catherine, a kiwi, had come to New York and be closer to Stephen. They got engaged and I married them in September of 1985.

The church lovingly catered the luncheon. The years rolled on with Stephen and Catherine moving to New Zealand while Debbie kept fending off suitors until she fell in love with Brian Marling. I married them in July of 1987. Our family was growing through marriage!

Brian Marling

The maintenance of our home in Islington began to wear on the family, even though some men from the church helped us put on a new roof. With the challenge of the pastorate, we felt the need of a more maintenance-free house. We sold Burnhamthorpe and bought a split level in Rexdale.

By 1988 Mary Helen and I both felt exhausted. We needed a break from constant pastoral demands. With several manuscripts on the go I was becoming itchy to focus more on writing. The book on spiritual gifts was beginning to take shape but I needed concentrated time to work on the manuscript. The publisher that had printed, Tell the World, was interested. We broached the subject of resigning with the deacons. They were not receptive and urged us to stay.

Mary Helen and I pondered different solutions. What did God want? Surely, he didn’t want us to burn out. And while I loved preaching and teaching, I still found some aspects of the pastorate onerous. We needed a period of renewal and refreshment. We had seen others take a sabbatical in Pakistan and recently read an article about how much a pastor had been helped by one. Such a practice, although common among Roman Catholics, was unknown in Baptist circles. The time was ripe with the family in a good place. Stephen and Debbie, both married, had fulfilling lives ahead. John was in his third year of studies at Waterloo University and fairly independent.

We proposed a six-month sabbatical to be financed by setting aside a portion of my salary every month for the rest of the year. The deacon’s board reluctantly agreed. Mary Helen’s sister, Colie with her contacts in the U.S. South suggested two places. In November, following her suggestion, we reserved a place on St. Simons Island, Georgia. We planned to divide our time between St. Simons and the Smokie Mountains of North Carolina. Our excitement was palpable but the obstacles—especially financial—seemed insurmountable.  Debbie challenged us to trust God as we had during our time in Pakistan.

Can the Grieving Know Happiness and Joy? – A Man’s Journey Through Grief, continued, #24

Ever since Mary Helen was called home, a verse has challenged me. “This is the day that the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24, KJV). How is that possible? Is this rejoicing supposed to be an act of my will? How can I work up enough determination to be joyous in my loneliness for Mary Helen? That doesn’t sound possible. I wonder if I can ever be happy again. I’m being honest here.

Maybe there’s another meaning here. The NIV translates it to say, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Is this a corporate, group request? And, when we look at the context of the whole Psalm, the writer is in anguish, crying out to the Lord in the face of enemies “who swarm around me like bees” (vs. 10-13).  In this dangerous situation, he celebrates the enduring love of God (vs. 1-4) and the presence of the LORD as his helper and refuge. He celebrates the LORD’s deliverance with “shouts of joy and victory” for “the LORD’s right hand has done mighty things!” (vs. 15). He has hope although the LORD has chastened him. He gives thanks for his salvation.

Then as we look at the immediate context of my problem verse, it becomes a Messianic prediction. “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (vs. 22-24). The rejected stone is a clear prophecy of Jesus Christ. (See Mat. 21:42; Mark 12:1-211) And what follows in the text is suggestive of his triumphal entry.

With that clarification, I can see how to “rejoice and be glad in this day.” For this day is the day of redemption. It encompasses the coming of Jesus Christ who, though rejected by the Jewish leaders has become the capstone. He is the stone on which all of salvation rests. All of redemptive history revolves around his coming, death, and resurrection. My own forgiveness for my sins and thus my justification, my adoption into God’s family, the ongoing sanctification through the indwelling Spirit, and my hope of heaven rests upon this STONE. The whole of the Christian Church rests on this foundation. In that I can rejoice and do so most every day.

But back to my original problem. Can I find happiness and joy again after loss? I don’t think God expects me to be hilariously joyful in Mary Helen’s death, although she is now in heaven rejoicing. Jesus didn’t rejoice, but wept, at Lazurus’ grave. He knows we are human. With so much of the Psalms being given over to lament, I don’t think God expects the Ukrainians to take joy as they see another apartment building destroyed, or Haitians in the chaos of their country, or a person suffering through cancer. But we can rejoice each day in our Saviour and his salvation.

Besides this joy, is there any other way for a grieving person like me to find a measure of happiness? While reading in my devotions I came to the stark, apparent pessimism of Ecclesiastes. The Teacher who wrote the book, probably Solomon, tried to find enjoyment in seeking wisdom, building great projects, amassing wealth, tasting every kind of pleasure but found that “everything was meaningless, a chasing after wind” (Eccl. 2:11).

In spite of this pessimism, there is instruction given of how to find joy and satisfaction. “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the man who pleases him God give wisdom, knowledge and happiness…” (Eccl 2:24-26). Enjoyment begins with acknowledging that God, who gives us every good gift, is the giver of enjoyment.

Enjoying Wildflowers & Nature

This theme is repeated in chapter 5. “It is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is the gift of God” (Eccl. 18,19).

This sounds almost like hedonism. Of course, John Piper explained in his book, Christian Hedonism, enjoyment—especially in God, himself—is not wrong. In fact, as the catechism explains, “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” To take it further, enjoyment of the gifts God has given is to be pursued. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17) “Trust …in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17)hat then can I do as a grieving husband to find enjoyment and satisfaction.

Enjoying Nature and Road Trips

  • First and foremost, I need to celebrate salvation, rejoice in God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who has given me not only eternal life but all good things to enjoy.
  • I can enjoy gathering with God’s people for worship, Bible study, prayer, and mutual encouragement. This is a gift of God.
  • I can find joy in my family, truly gifts of God.
  • I can enjoy devotions and prayer that leads me to daily celebrate God’s grace.
  • Without either gluttony or addiction, I can enjoy the foods God has given. I am learning to cook tasty and enjoyable meals.
  • I can find satisfaction in some God-given task. A friend who is in a wheelchair has adopted the task of praying for Ontario pastors. This gives him great joy. I find joy and satisfaction in my writing about our lives, the progress of grief, and the attributes of God. I’m also beginning to find joy in Mary Helen’s specialty, phoning people and writing cards.
  • I can enjoy God’s creation, for example, by travel, identifying plants and birds, and taking photos.
Enjoying family

As I enjoy these gifts of God, I find my overt grief recedes. I wish Mary Helen could enjoy them with me but she is enjoying the presence of Christ. This is my lot as determined by God’s grace. I will always have memories along with occasional outbursts of deep grief but gradually a measure of enjoyment begins to pervade my days.   

Enjoying food

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. If you appreciate this blog, please pass it on. Further articles, books, and stories at:  Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ; check out his web site: www.countrywindow.ca –– Eric’s books are available at: https://www.amazon.com/Eric-E.-Wright/e/B00355HPKK%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share)

How Chaos In Mecca Affected Life in Pakistan – Our Story continued, #32

In late November of 1979. I had just returned from teaching an extension class. The students were abuzz about the seizure of the holiest site in Islam, the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

It was a time of martial law in Pakistan. Discontent boiled beneath the surface. The economy was in a shambles. There was a renewed passion for Islamization, outrage at the continued existence of Israel, and an anger at all things western, especially American. At the same time demand for western consumer goods increased.

Mary Helen was in South Carolina attending her mother’s funeral. The kids were in Murree School. I kept my ears glued to BBC where I soon learned that the US embassy in Islamabad had been attacked and burned. American Centres in Rawalpindi and Lahore had been gutted. American Express and some other American offices had also been destroyed. The US began taking steps to fly out all non-essential consular personnel.

Burnt-out American Center in Lahore

Police guard burnt-out American Center in Lahore

At 7:00 pm, I was trying to relax over supper while Lal, our cook, stuffed home-made salami in the kitchen. Suddenly, we heard a chilling chant on the road outside. Allah-ho-akhbar, followed by shouts of Pakistan means, there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.

I held my breath. The mob seemed headed toward the Christian Religious Centre, a part of the Forman Christian College campus. The Centre housed Intervarsity, our PACTEE office, and some staff housing. We soon heard shouts and sounds of things breaking.

We later learned that, after smashing our office sign, breaking windows and doors, and trashing some of our books, they gave all residents of the centre an ultimatum. Leave by 10:00 a.m. in the morning or be burnt out.

What had happened in Mecca that so aroused anti-western feeling? At 5 am on November 20th, 1979, the final day of the hajj, Sheikh Mohammed al-Subayil, imam of the Grand Mosque, was preparing to address 50,000 worshipers inside the mosque. Among the worshipers, what looked like mourners bearing coffins on their shoulders and wearing headbands made their way through the crowd. It wasn’t an unusual sight. Mourners often brought their dead for a blessing at the mosque. But they had no mourning in mind.[1]

The Sheikh was shoved aside by men who took machine guns from beneath their robes, fired them in the air and yelled to the crowd that, “The Mahdi has appeared!” Mahdi is the Arabic word for messiah. The “mourners” set their coffins down, opened them, and produced an arsenal of weaponry that they then brandished and fired at the crowd.

The attack was led by Juhayman al-Oteibi, a fundamentalist preacher and former member of the Saudi National Guard, and Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani, who claimed to be the Mahdi. They called for a revolt against the Saudi monarchy, accusing it of having betrayed Islamic principles and sold out to western countries. The 500 well-armed militants held this holy shrine for two weeks by retreating with hundreds of hostages to underground chambers.

It ended in a bloodbath. Prince Turki, youngest son of King Faisal, had summoned a French secret service officer who recommended that the hold-outs be gassed unconscious. Unfortunately, harsher minds prevailed and both militants and many hostages died. The incident and others around this time is thought to have spawned Al Qaida and similar militant Islamic groups.

But why did we have trouble in Pakistan? A false report that the United States was behind the mosque seizure aroused an angry mob. They were no doubt encouraged by agents from Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini had falsely blamed the seizure on the United States and Israel and later called the murders in Islamabad a “great joy.”

News filtered in about other incidents around the country. Three missionary couples with a sister mission 300 miles south were manhandled and their house wrecked. Two jeeps were burnt. The mob had tried to compel the senior man to recite the Muslim creed. Gradually trouble eased due to several wise bulletins from both Saudi Arabia and the Pakistani President.

Trouble, however, continued in the college community. Over the years, Forman Christian College in Lahore, one of the country’s premier educational institutions had graduated many of Pakistan’s leaders. Much of the property had already been nationalized, but not residences, the church, or the Christian Centre. The Christian principal had been deposed and a Muslim installed as acting principal. Although the school was still under a Christian board, it seemed unlikely that a Christian would ever again be allowed to serve. It soon became clear that a well-orchestrated plan had been worked out to use this pretext to occupy any property still in Christian hands.

The mob had first attacked the home of the Presbyterian missionaries who were property managers. They had to flee across the back wall. The mob then proceeded to the Christian Centre where we rented our office. This threat would continue for four days. The police seemed powerless, or unconcerned. I vacillated between anger at the injustice and fear of what might happen. My Pakistan brethren would not allow me to show up at the office, lest the appearance of a foreigner further agitate the crowd.

Destruction of Pactee sign and office

In spite of four days of threats and intimidation, God gave a tiny band of 13 Christian families including Zafar Ismail, our extension worker, our cook, and the Presbyterian property manager a mighty demonstration of His presence and protection. They suffered no physical injury. They did not retaliate with violence or threats. They had no publicity or organization. Through only prayer, patience, faith, and deep humility they prevailed.

Zafar commented, “We have learned in truth that God lives today!

Many are saying of my soul

There is no deliverance for him in God

But thou O Lord art a shield to me.

 (Psalm 3:2,3)

In the days that followed, we temporarily used a corner of the chapel to carry on our PACTEE ministry. Fortunately, we found that less material than we thought had been damaged.

Mary Helen returned from South Carolina without a visa. But instead of being detained, her explanation about the death of her mother elicited sympathy from the customs officer who waved her through. Yes, indeed, God protects His children.

Life resumed. The remaining six months before Stephen’s graduation, were a blur of activity. TEE classes. Writing, revising, translating. Preaching. Visits to the RYK area. Mission committees. Merle Inniger relieved me of field leader responsibilities during this period so I could focus on PACTEE.

TEE was proving to be so encouraging that I faced departure from Pakistan with some reluctance. Nevertheless, we realized that our kids had made sacrifices to enable us to serve in Pakistan. They had not made those sacrifices voluntarily, but by virtue of being part of our family. In July of 1980, it was time for us to make a sacrifice in order to maintain our family togetherness. Mary Helen and I also needed a break. A five-year term with one three-month break left us more exhausted than we expected.

Stephen graduated from Grade 12. But grade 13, still required at that time for university entrance in Ontario, was not available in Pakistan. We needed to return to Canada to explore options. Should he enrol in university in the U.S., we wanted to be at least within phoning distance.[2] We had learned from experience that adjustment to our home culture after years of absence was often more difficult than adjustment to Pakistan. It was crucial to keep the family together during this period.

The encouraging development of PACTEE eased our minds as we prepared for furlough. We knew it would be left in good hands. Three new missionaries joined the staff. Moffat Lindsay, one of our own experienced missionaries, would take over half-time as Executive Secretary. Another couple were studying language and developing English writing skills. A woman with excellent skills in Urdu and knowledge of the Pakistani culture and some experience in writing also joined the staff. A Pakistani artist whose illustrations would make the courses attractive and relevant was on staff. The chairman of the PACTEE committee was now a gifted Pakistani. Zafar Ismail, our key translator, continued to give as much time as possible while Russ Irwin offered yeomen service.

Interest in TEE was growing throughout the country. My Old Testament Survey, Part One was being taught in nine centres. But I had not yet completed writing Part Two of this basic course. PACTEE requested that I be given time to do that during our stay in Canada. The mission agreed.

With that in mind, we left for furlough. I had a rough plan in mind concerning what the next few years would look like. First, I would complete the second Old Testament Survey course. Then, while maintaining Toronto as our base, I would occasionally return to Pakistan to see courses through publication. I would also turn my main attention to travelling to the Emirates a couple of times a year to help begin a TEE program in the Gulf region.

With this rough idea in mind, the future looked bright and challenging. However, once again, God had other plans. We would shortly begin a new and unexpected chapter in our ministry. But that is another story.


[1] Thanks to; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1979_Grand_Mosque_seizure

[2] We never had access to a phone during our missionary career. This was long before cell phones. To make a phone call to Canada or the US required booking it through the Pakistan post office or at an international hotel. Such a call might take all day to arrange.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. If you appreciate this blog, please pass it on. Further articles, books, and stories at:  Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ; check out his web site: www.countrywindow.ca –– Eric’s books are available at: https://www.amazon.com/Eric-E.-Wright/e/B00355HPKK%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share)

Can We Know Anything For Sure?

An article in a recent issue of the Globe and Mail outlined the pervasive extent of cheating in our society. Evidently not only is it prevalent in financial sectors but in poker, chess, fishing, and even in Irish dance. The U.S. is defrauded to the tune of 12 to 25 billion dollars in fraudulent claims to Medicare. The author offers no solution to this moral morass. The ten commandments and a commitment to revealed ethical standards was not even mentioned. Except for the extent of cheating, this is nothing new. It is to be expected in any human society where God is ignored.

However, when we see the slippage in biblical standards among professing evangelicals, it is time to be very worried indeed. Ligonier Ministries took a recent survey and found that 65% believe we are born innocent, not sinners; 52% believe that God learns and adapts as circumstances change; 42% agree that adults have the right to choose their gender; and 56% agree that God accepts the worship of all religions.

For these reasons I want to begin an occasional series outlining what Christians must believe. This begins with revelation. Christians must affirm that ultimate truths, changeless ethical standards, and knowledge of the infinite, eternal God can only come through REVELATION. (Not the book.) That is, we can only know what is ultimately true not by experiment or opinion but through studying what God has revealed. We can learn about medicine, the movement of the planets, the characteristics of matter, and so on through observation and experiment. But we cannot learn about ethics, for example, through observation. Otherwise, we might conclude that bigamy, cheating, cannibalism, and mercy killing and even war are okay. As we will see, there is a limited amount about God that can be deduced from observation.

The knowledge of that which is beyond experiment and observation must come from the one who is Creator and Source of all. If he doesn’t reveal it, we can’t know it. Fortunately, he has revealed himself through four kinds of revelation; common revelation, special revelation, incarnational revelation, and written revelation. 

First, consider common revelation, which gives a limited picture of what can be known about God by observation. Romans One defines this for us. It also pronounces judgement on mankind for their overt rejection of what is plain to their eyes.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).  

Through this revelation of his creativity in making the universe, God has revealed several of his attributes. From what we see, we should be able to admit that; 1. The originator of the universe must be greater than the universe itself, he must be other-worldly, that is, divine; 2. He must have immense power to create the universe; that is, he must be omnipotent; 3. He must have infinite wisdom to create such immensity and diversity while keeping the universe in balance; 4. He must have existed before created time; he must be eternal.

In spite of what is obvious from gazing at the stars, considering the creation of our bodies, or pondering the immense diversity of creation from the smallest bacteria to the greatest whale, people reject what is clearly seen about the Creator. Instead, they embrace foolish ideas. (Read Romans 1,2).

Belief in common revelation—whether we call it that or not—is an essential Christian belief.

If we profess to be a Christian we must base our beliefs not on opinions, feelings, cultural practices, social media statements or philosophies but on what God has revealed. We’ve seen that he has revealed himself in common revelation. He has also revealed himself in;

2. Special Revelation

Because the revelation of God and truth through the light of creation is insufficient to provide what mankind needs to know for life and salvation, God gave special revelation through prophets. “God spoke to our fathers through the prophets at many times and in diverse ways” (Heb. 1:1). These prophets, men such as Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, and Daniel, did not choose to become the conduits of God’s revelation.  God chose them. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of manbut holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (1 Peter1:21). For example, consider Jeremiah. “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations’” (Jer. 1:5).

For this reason, acceptance of the divine authority of the books of the Old Testament recorded by these prophets is a necessary Christian belief. We do not have the option to pick and choose between Genesis, Exodus, Judges, Ruth, Psalms, or Isaiah. They all declare the Word of God.

Sadly, throughout history mankind has rejected God’s revelation of himself in creation-common revelation, and through prophets-special revelation. Instead of accepting what what God revealed, cultures invented other narratives to explain reality. Our day is no different. In a recent article in the Globe and Mail the claim is made that religion was invented to hold agricultural societies together. The author categorically stated that now we know better than to believe in any religion.  So instead of accepting what God has revealed, we should just fabricate some other narrative? How has that worked out? Consider the twentieth century as an example of the effect of rejecting revelation and embracing human ideas. Some estimate that it resulted in the death of 200 million. I think the evidence of human folly and bestiality is enough for the followers of Jesus Christ reject the myths and stories and philosophies of so-called modern man. Instead, we celebrate the most astounding revelation in all of history:

3. Christ as Revelation.

God sent his Son, Jesus Christ to be born of a virgin, not only to secure our salvation but as a revelation of who God is. “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” (Heb. 1:2). [We will consider the person of Christ in a later post.]

Christ is the Word of God, that is, the revealer of God, the ultimate communication from God. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14).

Because of the importance of this revelation of God in Christ, God appointed men to infallibly record the events in his life, his teaching, and his death and resurrection. Men such as Matthew, Luke, Paul and John, etc.—like the prophets of the Old Testament—were infallibly let to record the books of the New Testament.

Belief in God’s revelation of himself in Jesus and the record of his life and teaching is an essential truth that genuine Christians must believe.

If we profess to be a Christian, we will embrace belief in our inability to know absolute truth except as God has revealed it in common, special, and incarnational revelation. In the next post, we’ll consider how essential it is to believe in written revelation as contained in the Bible.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. If you appreciate this blog, please pass it on. Further articles, books, and stories at:  Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ; check out his web site: www.countrywindow.ca –– Eric’s books are available at: https://www.amazon.com/Eric-E.-Wright/e/B00355HPKK%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share)

Remembering My Soulmate During Church – A Man’s Journey Through Grief, continued, #23

It has been very important to me, in my grief, to continue in the condo we enjoyed. It is such a familiar and comfortable place. The artifacts of our life together are here. The pictures, the furniture, the pots and pans we used. The bed we slept in. And yes, the tax returns and files with what is necessary for the next tax return. It is a base where I can sort out my life, begin a new chapter. I realize that some feel it important to leave all that behind, except the taxes, and begin life anew in a different living space. Not me. Each of us approach our loss in a different way. I’m told by those who have gone through it that however we grieve is okay.

Yet, my solitary condo is not enough. I need friends. I need church. But most of all, on a human level, I need family. So, after a lengthy enforced solitude due to sickness and circumstances, I stayed a few days with my youngest son and his family. It was wonderful to just be there to feel the vibes of their busy lives washing over me. And it was inspiring to go with them to church.

[An earlier picture of John, Shona and their family]

As it happened, it was the church Mary Helen and I pastored after our return from Pakistan. Our son John and his wife, Shona, have continued serving there in various capacities. While many of the friends we made there have been called home, yet there are still some we remember and love. To us it was a special place. In fact, our son married the daughter of one of the deacons. And our granddaughter married the son of an elder. Ever since we served this church our lives have been inextricably linked with the congregation. People from this church have loved and supported and prayed for us for fifty years.  

Will the ministry carry on? Yes. What a joy it was to listen to our granddaughter’s husband lead the service and participate in the beginning of their missionary conference. Then one of my grandsons—John’s youngest son—shared some of his experiences working as a summer intern reaching out to people in the community. Seeing God’s love through the Gospel being shared by a new generation; is there anything better than that?

Cailie with her husband, Immanuel, a new generation serving the Lord

When I left them to drive home my heart was full of praise to God for what he is continuing to do. Which is why I was puzzled that as soon as I left their driveway I began to weep. That continued almost all the way home until I could distract myself by a radio program. Why was I so weepy? Okay, I have often been deeply affected by things as diverse as a happy TV story or news of a conversion. But while I went the whole time of my visit without tears, why the tears on my way home? Was I suddenly realizing again that I was driving alone and going home to live alone? Or was it just the sense of being with family and church friends. I had felt enveloped by family love. And during the services it was wonderful to sit with family to worship together. I don’t know the cause of my renewed grief. I just know that sometimes I can’t stop the tear ducts from letting loose. Fortunately, no one was with me.

I think part of the reason is that Mary Helen and I have always been involved in kingdom work; extending the gospel in Pakistan and later pastoring a number of churches. And Mary Helen was always there in the very centre of this ministry. People loved her. Church has been intrinsic to our lives. Together.  I’ve had a very tough time staying through the services of the church we made our home church in Cobourg. Almost every Sunday I have felt the grief renewed as the congregation sang. I’ve often wondered if I could stay. It felt so hard worshipping without her by my side.

This visit reminded me of our time in the 80’s at Long Branch Baptist Church. That period is such an important part of our story. I’ll share that in the days ahead.

The unpredictability of grief is just something I have to live with. It suddenly comes on me at unexpected times. A verse of Scripture during morning devotions. Drying clothes. Cooking meals. Watching a program. Bizarre. Reading part of her journal. Emptying a drawer. Going on a rural ramble. But still, the pain of grief is slowly easing. The broken pieces are beginning to come together. I can see a productive future ahead, by God’s grace.

The sun sets behind Mary Helen and I a few years ago or is our life together fading as a new life rises?

The Surprises of Grace – Our Story continued, #31

Throughout our lives we were continually surprised by the directions God’s grace took us. From time to time, God redirected us into a ministry that seemed beyond our capacities. I have often felt reluctant to accept this kind of change. During most of this period from June 1978 until July of 1980, I had accepted the responsibility of Pakistan Field Leader and membership on the International Directorate of the mission–but without much enthusiasm. Have you ever been reluctant to accept a task that seems beyond your own capacity or that shifts you from a ministry that seems fulfilling? That was our experience. Even as I write this, I realize that I should have been more eager to accept God’s leading. Submission to His direction is foundational to Christian discipleship. Don’t we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done?” As Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “There is always enough time to do the will of God.” But I often wondered why God kept thrusting me back into organizational positions when I enjoyed teaching so much. Was God preparing me for something in the future that involved administration?

Much of my hesitancy arose from resistance to doing what stretched me, what I found difficult to do. Why should I deny the sense of joy and fulfillment that I felt from writing and teaching? Besides, Mary Helen wasn’t always thrilled with the responsibilities that came her way along with my immersion in administration. We should have accepted the fact more readily that in foreign missions we are always short of workers. When need or necessity dictates, none of us can restrict our ministries to the area of our primary giftedness. We have to pitch in to fill gaps in personnel. As you can tell from this memoir, it was a hard lesson for us to learn. And yet it was a good lesson—part of learning to be a disciple whether in a home church or abroad.

During that time, the General Director, George Hemming, gave me an assignment that proved prophetic of our future. He asked me to study missionary principles in the book of Acts and write a paper describing those principles in the context of missions today. Over the years, Mary Helen has commented that sometimes I make things too long and complicated. Her observation wasn’t amiss. In this case, one paper became two.

In October of 1978, our mission convened a quadrennial council to seek direction and a renewed vision for the years ahead. As a representative from Pakistan, I joined delegates from all our sending countries and those from six of our Asian mission fields. Among much other business, the council considered the principles presented in the two papers. The group was positive about the study, but I never imagined that these papers might open a door that had never occurred to me.  

What door? Our General Director recommended that this study on Acts be published in book form. He offered to find a UK publisher, which he did. Two years later the two papers appeared as Tell the World, a small volume produced and promoted by Evangelical Press. I was amazed. Without tearing my hair out to find an agent and a publisher—as most writers do—God introduced me to book publishing. Was this a portent of things to come? But first we had more lessons to learn about God’s way of redirecting us along fresh paths.

Throughout this period, we became more and more conscious of convulsions in the Muslim world and how they would affect us in Pakistan. The eruptions of fervor ushered in a period of extremism. What might happen next?

Every Inch of Progess is Contested – Our Story continued, #30

During the late 70’s, political tensions seethed beneath the surface. During a military coup, the left-leaning but elected leader of the country was arrested leading to riots. Cars and buildings were burnt and shops were often shuttered. Police clashed with demonstrators all over the country. Martial law was established and a program of Islamization began. Public lashings for crimes such as bribery were introduced. It became more common for women to wear coverings. The sale of alcohol was banned—except for Christians!

Sign showing cancellation of alcohol

From this period, we can count the movement away from a more open society towards a social order much more intolerant of non-Islamic mores and other religions. Friday replaced Sunday as the weekly day off, although Christians were allowed Sunday off to go to their worship services. Paul’s statement in 1 Cor. 16:9 described the situation. “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” We all intensified our prayers that the freedom we had enjoyed to share the gospel would continue. The opportunities were vast!

A bus full of political demonstrators

We now had 20 missionaries on the field. I was pulled in two directions, on the one hand to encourage our team and on the other to see the TEE promoted. What a great group of missionaries they were. It was a privilege to be part of their team.

Our ICF missionaries during the visit of the General Director, Mr. Hemming

As a reading of the New Testament asserts, Christians face not only challenges from society at large, but from within their churches. While such Satanic attacks should not surprise us, they are always disappointing. Serious divisions began to appear within the RYK area churches, requiring me to frequently visit.  

For some time our mission had been encouraging Pastor Hidayat and others in the RYK area to organize a network of churches working together under a simple biblical constitution. It was to be called, the Pakistan Christian Fellowship (PCF). There had been considerable progress. Local pastors and church leaders took on more and more responsibility for settling church disputes, ordaining pastors, and setting a vision—always the goal of indigenous missionary work. But Satan was not happy.   

The ordination of pastor Iqbal during a convention; Hidayat and Umar leading

A pastor who had been in fellowship with us for many years, suddenly separated from the fellowship over a matter of personal pride. He formed a schismatic group in Rahim Yar Khan in competition with the PCF churches. He had to be de-frocked and stricken from the membership. (I think fellowship was restored years later, but my memory is poor on this issue.)

Then the PCF leadership dissolved the Sadiqabad Church board due to dereliction of duty and serious divisions. Hurt pride led two men to reject any attempt at resolving problems. Instead, they also formed a separate church group.

New followers of Christ among the Marwari Hindu tribals had greatly encouraged all of us. But just when we were rejoicing at this progress, a complete breakdown in relationships between Marwari and Punjabi workers occurred. Why? Punjabi Christians from the Punjab province comprised the majority in congregations all over Pakistan including those in our PCF churches. The earliest Christians in this part of the Indo-Pak subcontinent had been Punjabi. As a result, they had a tradition of running things their way. But their approach irked the new Christians from the Marwari tribe.

Rival cultural practices also added tension between Punjabis and Marwaris. For example, Punjabis believed that men must doff their headgear before entering a church service. The Marwari men, however, were required by their culture to keep their turbans on in the presence of women from their tribe.

John Ranah speaking to a group of his Marvari tribe

Although Punjabi, himself, Pastor Hidayat knew enough about the importance of harmony among Christians to become the main peace-maker. He bore the brunt of the Marwari’s discontent while also being the one expected to resolve the problems in the Sadiqabad and RYK Churches. Appeals to Scripture, to love and forgiveness, seemed unavailing. Our RYK area missionaries did all they could to support Hidayat and pray for resolution, which would come, but after a sad delay.

The ingrown stubbornness of some believers was not surprising. Division and disunity had been the bane of the Pakistani Church for some time. Christian groups and denominations in different parts of the country continued to divide and haul each other into court. (We are not immune from this in the west.)

I began to visit the RYK area every two weeks to demonstrate solidarity with our missionary team and to restart extension classes. In the late summer of 1977, the field conference had elected Roger Pomeroy as field leader. This  freed me up to concentrate on TEE ministry. With relative freedom still allowed in Pakistan and multiplied opportunities before our mission, we adopted a prayer goal to see 18 new missionaries volunteering by 1980; 18 by 80.

About that time, we took a quick three-month furlough to connect with supporters and co-ordinate our schedule with Stephen’s approaching graduation from High School. While in Toronto, I was finally able to evict the tenant from our family home. He owed us a year’s rent which we never received. When we returned to Lahore, having given up our house in Model Town, we moved into a spare home on Forman Christian College.

However, we soon realized that progress would be contested on many fronts. RYK TEE centres were closed again due to lack of teachers. The missionary who had been supervising the centres was called home to the bedside of his sick father. The field leadership fell vacant and I was required to assume this responsibility. That would mean less time for TEE and much more time involved in local and international mission administration.

Health problems began to dog the missionary community. I began to experience indifferent health. One of our missionaries was in the hospital with acute hepatitis. A couple with another mission, who were going to help us establish more TEE centres, had to return to the US due to cancer. Three other sick missionaries had to leave Pakistan. Two Presbyterian missionaries were ordered out of the country. During the summer, an American Baptist missionary went missing. After a massive search, he was found dead, possibly due to a fall while jogging or some unknown accident. The cause of his death was never solved.

In Lahore, a kerosene explosion badly burned the leader of the Operation Mobilization team. He spent long, painful days in hospital before his wife could arrange a flight. Mary Helen sought to encourage them by visiting with tempting foods and cold water.

Then rabies struck. The evangelist working with a German missionary contracted rabies from his dog. That meant a long course of uncomfortable shots. The evangelist visited our home every morning for ten days to allow Mary Helen to administer the shots.

Next came Zafar’s mother being admitted to hospital with breast cancer. As a loving son, and according to custom, Zafar spent every night in hospital with his mother. This meant shelving his PACTEE responsibilities.

Meanwhile the voices of ultra-orthodox Muslims became more strident demanding the wholesale imposition of Islamic law. The government called in experts from Saudi Arabia and Sudan to assist in this process. Oil money began to flow into the country. Headlines appeared in newspapers:

Islamic law to solve Pakistan’s ills

Interest-free banking to be announced soon

Thief to have hand cut off

Crowd in stadium watches sentence of lashings carried out.

Unrest spread, with serious clashes between opposing groups; orthodox Muslim students on one side and left-leaning students on the other. The nominally Christian president of Forman Christian College was attacked at his office and home by AK-47 wielding students demanding his ouster and the installation of a Muslim president. Christian students were caught in the middle. Unfortunately, most Christian denominational leaders were preoccupied with their own problems caused by disunity within the community at large.

Islamization would not come easily. The Pakistan constitution still guaranteed freedom to profess and share one’s faith. The influence of the West and other secularizing trends had rendered vast numbers of the Pakistani elite and middle class adverse to accepting a narrow Islamic interpretation of life. At that time, commonwealth missionaries still did not need visas to come to Pakistan.

On a personal level, in September of 1979 we were on our way to Murree when tragedy struck. A young girl suddenly dashed in front of our car to avoid a bus coming down the hill on the other side of the road. I jammed on the brakes slewing the car almost sideways onto the shoulder, but to no avail. We hit the girl injuring her terribly. The girl’s mother who had been beside the road began to shriek in grief. The bus stopped and several passengers, including a member of the MCS staff got out. All testified that there was nothing we could have done to avoid the child. Their witness kept the situation from becoming a riot against foreigners. But that hardly assuaged our agony at seeing a little life near death, one which we learned later was the only daughter of the family.

We rushed her to the hospital but she died there. We tried to comfort the parents and gave them money to cover funeral costs. But how could we deal with our own anguish in being the source of this grief. The Muslim hospital staff, police officers, and a business man sought to comfort us with the fact that there was nothing we could have done. Another missionary also comforted us by sharing a similar experience.

We retreated to the quiet of a Murree cottage. In that quietness, the Lord brought comfort through His Word but the sting and anguish of being the instrumental cause of a death lingered for a long time.

Shortly afterward, Mary Helen received a telegram that her mother had died. She immediately arranged a flight to South Carolina to be with her father and sisters.

Throughout this period, we were forcibly reminded that every step of Gospel progress would be contested.

Nevertheless, he could not stop the spread of Christ’s gospel-love. The sales of Christian books and Bibles, and enrolment in Bible correspondence courses continued to climb. We heard from different parts of the country of men and women becoming followers of Christ. Church growth among the half-million Hindu tribals—Marwaris and Mengwals—also grew apace.

For the next two years PACTEE made steady progress. TEE centres in Lahore grew to five. New centres were also opened in Karachi, Bahawalpur, Rawalpindi, and Larkana. Russ Irwin finished his course on Genesis. I enjoyed immensely working on two courses that led students on a survey of the Old Testament. (Just recently I learned that after 40 years they are still in use in Pakistan!)

A TEE class at FC College

We often saw encouraging spiritual growth among TEE students. For example, on the last day of a Lahore TEE centre where the course was, “Talking With God,” we gathered in a circle and rehearsed the specific prayers and answers we had seen. What a joy that was!

There is nothing new in this missionary saga. Every inch of gospel progress is contested whether in west or east. But through it all God will not be thwarted. His Church will be established. And His work in us, His servants, will continue.