Must We Get Along?

Hall clan...A month or so ago I attended the anniversary of a couple whose wedding I conducted 25 years ago. They came from two different cultures. In a day when the world is splintered into us and them, conservatives and liberals, democrats and republicans, straight and gay, white and black, Asian and African; to gather at an event celebrating harmony is wonderful.

It’s encouraging to rejoice in the life of two who love each other and talk to each other rationally while all around us people are shouting and yelling and calling each other names. Certainly, in politics and international relations, civility seems to have disappeared. Civility and respect is even rare on our highways.

The apostle Paul, echoing the example of Jesus Christ, has some advice about our need to get along. He writes in Romans 15:7; Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

How did Christ accept us? In Romans 5:8 we read that God demonstrates his own love for DSCN2805 (2)us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we are all sinners we should be able to accept brothers and sisters who share our faith in Christ. Where? On the ground beneath the cross. The cross where Christ died for our sins is the only really common ground beyond the fact of our shared humanity. Clearly, Christ received us before we could get our act together.

A high degree of wealth, education or power generate pride and foster exclusive classes of people. By contrast, Paul clarifies the raw material from which God created the Church. “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things Kashmirof the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things…so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).

Dumb, ignoble, poor, foolish, weak, lowly, despised; this is the raw material God chose to use in creating his Church. Truly, God saved us through Christ without regard to our station in life. Do we see any class distinction here? Any preferred race? Any colour of hair or physique?

Can we relate to this truth about you and me? Or do we feel that God is very fortunate to have us in his Church? Among those called in the early church we have fishermen, hated tax collectors, doubters, prostitutes, demon-possessed men and women, and legalistic, self-righteous men like Paul who had to be humbled by making him blind.

We need to remember who and what we were when called. We were accepted on the basis of the cross, not because of anything in us.

An astounding passage in Philippians reminds us to pattern our behaviour towards others after the example of Christ who left the glories of heaven, set aside the independent exercise of his divine attributes, and came as a helpless baby. He grew up among us so He could identify with us. He was tempted in all points like we have been.

His example exhorts us: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped [held onto] but made himself  nothing taking the very nature of a  servant, being made in human likeness…became obedient to death—ever death on a cross” (Phil. 2:3-8).

Shouldn’t we have the attitude of Christ when we consider those with a different political bias, race, degree of education, parental upbringing, or less financial success? All of us who are saved, are debtors not to the bank or the university but to grace. No wonder Paul writes; I am determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Ndscn1336-1ow, we must admit that some people have very annoying habits which make them hard to accept. And there are people who promote heretical ideas or a licentious lifestyle. Must we really accept everybody? Let me tackle that question in the next blog.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ––)

 

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Does God Speak To Us Today?

The host of a radio talk show asked his listeners, “Does God speak to us?” He was reacting to a sports celebrity who claimed that God spoke to him about his relationship with his girlfriend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs Christians we often assert; “God spoke to me,” or “God told me,” or ”God led me.” Non-Christians usually misunderstand us; they think we are either self-deceived or arrogant.

However, Christians rarely mean that they heard God’s voice audibly. Scripture makes clear that God can do that. “God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’”(Ex. 3:4). But more often God has either communicated directly with a prophet’s spirit or given him or her a vision or dream. “During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision”(Daniel 2:19).

The big question is not, does God speak, but are we listening? Are we even able to hear God? In our natural state mankind is hearing impaired. Jesus addressed this universal deficiency by quoting from Isaiah who had encountered the same problem. “Though seeing they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving’”(Matt. 13:13,14).

Of course, few humans admit their impairment, just as people who are hard of hearing often delay getting hearing aids, blaming their difficulty hearing on the way others speak.

To correct this hearing deficiency, we need God’s Technician to install a hearing aid and teach us to use it. That Technician is the Holy Spirit who alone can “give us ears to hear.” How? Through convicting us of our careless and unconcerned attitude to what God has clearly revealed in the universe around us, in our consciences, and in the Good News of the Gospel. When we admit that we have shut our ears to God’s voice but want to become hearers, the Spirit gives us spiritual hearing equipment, that is, a new heart. Through this conversion, we become believers, those with faith in what God communicates. “And without faith it is impossible to please God [or hear Him]” (Rom. 10:14).

With this spiritual “hearing aid” in place, and faith to receive God’s Word, the Spirit begins to teach us how to interpret what God is saying in life and providence. “No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God”(1 Cor. 2:11). Just as simultaneous translators interpret a foreign speaker and beam the translation into the ear of delegates to the UN, so the Spirit becomes our interpreter.

Learning to interpret God’s voice requires us to go through a training process. Sometimes we misinterpret God’s voice. In a subsequent blog, I’ll discuss the process whereby the Holy Spirit trains us to interpret God’s voice accurately.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright        Twitter @EricEWright1)

Of Family Reunions and High-Tech Talk

We’re just back from a family reunion. This get-together proved once again that texts and phone calls, letters and pictures don’t stack up to face-to-face communication. Among family, friends, neighbours, colleagues or even in our churches nothing cements relationships better that sharing time with people in person. Around a dining table, across the room, in a coffee shop, or across a neighbour’s fence.

The ostensible reason for our gathering was Mary Helen’s 80th birthday and he 50th wedding anniversary of Mary Helen’s youngest sister Annie Pearl and her husband from Tennessee. Another sister from Charleston, South Carolina came too. Two of Mary Helen’s sisters together after years apart! Sadly, a third sister couldn’t attend.

Our family joined the party. Our oldest son, Stephen and his wife Catherine came from Atlanta. Debbie and her family came to John and Shona’s home in Mississauga enjoy the memories. Missionary colleagues, Hugh Gordon and his family also came.

With Annie Pearl holding court, conversation never dragged nor laughter from her fund of apocryphal stories about Mary Helen’s childhood. Her other sister, Colie, filled in any lulls with her fund of anecdotes and jokes. Any one who knows Mary Helen, realizes that she has no problem conversing. These three sisters must have all eaten off the “talking beans” tree growing up. If only we could discover the secret and include it in chlorinated water. Society would be changed.

My point, however, concerns the power of face-to-face connection. Each person projected a persona that is missing from a text or phone call. We heard new stories. We came to understand each other better. As time passed conversation opened new insights into the work and ministry different ones were involved in. We even learned about the health challenges some of us face.

The few words in this blog cannot articulate the facial expressions, the emphases, the gestures of those who sat across from us. There is no substitute for time spent face-to-face with others.

Business and industry must learn this reality to rise above the cold technology that so many depend on for communication. Churches especially must realize that communicating to congregations sitting in rows side-by-side is not enough. Genuine discipleship will take place only as Jesus conducted it—in person, face-to-face with a few persons at a time. Jesus, although the Son of God, concentrated his main energies on twelve men. Despite their detractors, small groups can be an effective way to get to know people and inspire them to become effective disciples of Christ.

I’m sure I spend too much time on Facebook and Twitter, but I also participate in an early morning Bible study with six or seven men. It is a wonderful time of study, laughter, and fellowship. There is no substitute for face-to-face fellowship. It’s interesting that the current issue of Christianity Today, July/August 2018, contains two articles that make this point.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ––

A Hug A Day Keeps the Darkness At Bay

We live in a lonely age. Multiplied newspaper articles highlight this reality. Our community newspaper recently discussed the prevalence of depression and suicidal thoughts among teens and young adults. A major part of the proposed solution involves face-to-face support groups. And yet every young person I’ve ever seen is perpetually using a phone to connect with peers on Facebook, Instagram, etc. However, technological connection is part of the problem. We need face-to-face human contact.

Another article discussed research that showed that exposing children under the age of four or five to screen time with tablets, phones, etc. led to problems later in life. One might have naively thought that substituting sophisticated programs geared to kids would be a proper substitute for parental absence. But no, more so that anyone, young children need face-to-face time with parents and other children. Like all humans they need hugs and touch and chatter.

Given the communication marvels we take for granted, one might have thought that this period of history would be the ideal time for God to reveal Himself to the whole world. Not so. “But when the time was fully come, God sent his Son born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). Jesus was born at just the right time. But that period was so low-tech!

God knows what we really need, both as humans and as sinners. To reveal Himself to mankind, He came in the flesh where we could see Him in person, touch Him, watch Him heal and listen to Him talk. It wasn’t enough for God to communicate third hand through angels or prophets. No! “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, …full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18). His disciples could see in His actions, His speech, and even on His face—grace and truth.

John later comments; “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).

Eternal life is found through connecting by faith on a personal level with Jesus. He was no phantom; no angel. He had flesh and blood like you and I. He died an agonizing death on the cross for our sins. By connecting with Him for salvation we then find ourselves adopted by God into His family. And in that family, we find fellowship with other believers in a local church.

It is not enough to be a successful business man, a scholar, or a whiz on the computer. All of us need personal connections with others. For that we need face-to-face time with friends and family—in the same space. We need to see them. We need to be able to touch them. We need to be able to listen to them and see the inflection of their faces. God created us to relate to one another, not to live our lives in isolation.

Please don’t continue living a lonely life. Join a local, Bible-believing church. Join a Bible study group. Develop friendships with others in the great family of God. And remember that even if other Christians disappoint, Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always.” We can always have a heart-to-heart talk with Jesus. And let those of us already connected through a local church, commit ourselves to banishing loneliness in those who come.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter:@EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ) 

Our Plugged-in Lonely Age

Life is full of paradoxes. Consider the contrast between our hyper-connectedness on a digital level and the epidemic of loneliness that pervades our society. We have smart phones with scores of apps that connect us instantly to a myriad of platforms where we can interact with scores, no, hundreds of ‘friends.’

But we wander through our cities and towns as lonely souls. An aged widower sits on a bench and stares at the waves lapping the beach with tears leaking from his eyes. A teen lounges at a lunch table with five or six of his friends. All are glued to their cell phones. But back home in his room he contemplates suicide. A subway car crammed with passengers hurtles toward the next stop. Silence reigns. People avoid eye contact. Each seems lost in a private world.

Throughout the western world, loneliness is epidemic. In Canada, a commonly quoted figure indicates that 1.4 million elderly people experience feelings of loneliness. “Sixty-six per cent of Canadian university students admitted to feeling isolated in the previous year.”

Loneliness has damaging health effects. John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago is a pioneer in isolating the harm loneliness does to our health. “He and other neuroscientists determined [that loneliness] could be life-shortening in extreme cases.…Loneliness can increase levels of stress hormones in an individual [and in this] increasingly individualistic society was fraying social connections.”

Because of the damage caused, Britain appointed a minister for loneliness. The Dutch government is investing 26 million euros to combat loneliness in its elderly.

Professor Cacioppo suggests that we think of loneliness not as a failing but as a biological signal like hunger. If so, we need to find some way to satisfy its craving.

The degree of loneliness in our societies is a sad commentary on how far we have fallen from the biblical ideal. When God created man, He said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). From this beginning we see the development of families, clans, and communities.

The coming of Jesus Christ as a man demonstrates how much God values communication and fellowship on a personal level. God could have sent His son into the world in a period such as ours when communication would have been instantaneous around the world. But no, the cold, distant communication that occurs through video, facetime, texts, FB posts, tweets, even phones cannot alleviate loneliness. Nor can it really communicate feelings and essential personal truths.

The communicator from God, Jesus Christ, was born like us, grew up in a family and chose 12 disciples to be with Him. Imagine the companionship of that group of disciples! Imagine the communication that went on! Imagine the feelings of love and acceptance generated. No loneliness there.

It is not enough to be a successful business man, a scholar, or a whiz on the computer. All of us need personal connections with others. For that we need face-to-face time with friends and family—in the same space. We need to see them. We need to be able to touch them. We need to be able to listen to them and see the inflection of their faces. God created us to belong, not to live our lives in isolation.

Please don’t continue living a lonely life. Join a local, bible-believing church. Join a Bible study group. Develop friendships with others in the great family of God.

(Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright ––Quotes in this article are from Being Alone Together, Elizabeth Renzetti, The Globe and Mail, April 7, 2018)

Wildflower Week

For winter’s rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins;
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.1

Several years ago I wrote about the onset of spring in words that still resonate in this corner of Northumberland County, Ontario.

A mad motorcyclist shattered the country quiet with the thunder of his exhaust. Oblivious to spring beauties blooming along his path, he thundered through the woodlands. Ar-h-h-roa-r-rs echoed through the waking valleys. Awakening himself from winter’s siesta, he threw himself at the steepest parts of the hill below us. I caught a glimpse of his red helmet as he rocketed over the crest scattering gravel to the four winds. Scars on the path and a flung beer can marked his passing.

We now had an answer to our spring ditty; “Spring has sprung. The grass is riz. I wonder where the motorcyclist is?”

Dirt bike jockeys were not alone in feeling the stir of hormones. Our phone and email account went berserk. After cruising through winter in low gear, semi-hibernating Canadians felt an adrenaline rush. Why? I wondered if it was the thought of the approaching summer. Perhaps they realized that in order to enjoy the lazy, hazy days of summer they had to race through a catch-up spring. But why couldn’t people schedule conventions in February and meetings in March? Didn’t they realize that spring is wildflower time?

She comes with gusts of laughter, –
The music as of rills;
With tenderness and sweetness,
The wisdom of the hills.2

Delicate brush strokes of spring green had begun to touch the dead fields and naked trees. Flowery pendants hung from aspens and soft maples. Rainbow trout fought their way up the Ganaraska to hurl themselves at the fish ladder. A rose-breasted grosbeak visited a feeder. Robin and Robinette ferried straw to their secret nest. All the signs pointed to wildflower week. The time had come to cancel appointments and head outdoors.

Wildflowers would soon peek through the warming humus in a race to flower before the forest canopy closed out the warming sun. Bloodroot was the first to unfold their white petals to the sun. Soon after, clusters of delicate spring beauties and then pink and white hepaticas fringed the forest pathways. Shortly, dog-toothed violets carpeted the rich soil below the maples with blades of spotted green before they gathered strength to unveil their shy saffron flowers.

But society seemed determined to distract us from this spring pageant. Marketing types turned up the pressure. Merchandising flyers littered our mailboxes. Malls planned massive sales. Real Estate agents moved into high gear.

The house needed spring cleaning. The lawn cried out for attention—rolling and aerating and fertilizing and cutting. The flower beds beckoned accusingly whenever I glanced out the window. [We now live in a condo where this is taken care of.] A flood of frantic activity engulfed us—just when we ought to have been taking a break to walk in our woodlands.

Every year we tell ourselves, “Next year we’ll make sure we take time for an unhurried stroll through a fairyland of nodding Trilliums.” And every year the demands make mincemeat of our firmest resolves.

The woodland wildflowers that carpet our hardwood forests in the spring bloom only during the narrow window of time after the warming sun brings them to life and before the overarching trees throw out a leafy curtain to shut out that selfsame sun. We have, perhaps, two weeks to enjoy one of God’s greatest displays. The timing will vary from year to year, depending on the weather. It could be really early, an El Nino spring in late April, or a delayed spring extending into mid-May.

Whenever it comes, we should call a halt to our madness and declare one whole week: “Wildflower Week”! Then everyone could take a holiday from work and shopping to walk the woodland trails. The experience might change our whole national psyche! Natural beauty might wean us from our consumer habits. We might regain perspective. Even marriages might be healed if husbands would walk hand in hand with their wives and children through a sylvan cathedral strewn with wildflowers. Children might be weaned away from cyber-fantasy to develop a taste for the glory of creation. Most important, the Creator might break through the defenses we have thrown up to shield us from pondering the great questions. Who? What? Why? How? How long?

Wishful thinking? Perhaps. After all, Mary Helen and I hadn’t done too well ourselves. But that year we were determined to take time to watch spring steal over the hillsides as we walked the trails. Timing would be crucial. When all the signs proclaimed, “Its wildflower time,” we’d ignore the phone. Allow the e-mail to pile up. Leave letters unanswered and bills unpaid. We’d ruthlessly cancel our commitments.

We’d search out that hushed valley where a meandering brook gurgled its way past wild ginger and jack-in-the-pulpits. We’d hunt for tiny stands of dutchman’s breeches or squirrel corn. We’d kneel down to smell the violets. We’d rest on a log while we feasted our eyes on a hillside covered with waving trilliums. We’d search for their red cousins. We’d try to find starflowers, toothwort, bellflowers and solomon’s seal.

But then, like every year before, the demands of society besieged our plans. We fought valiantly to break free—and we did manage to set aside several days to wander in the woodlands. We discovered a new flower and we tasted tranquility!
We would like to propose a new holiday—Wildflower Week. It would revolutionize western civilization!

It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sear:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night–
It was the plant and flower of Light.
In small proportions we just beauties see,
And in short measures life may perfect be.3

[An excerpt from Through A Country Window, Eric E. Wright, chapter 24, p170ff. For more information or to buy a copy see http://www.countrywindow.ca. Print copies available in Northumberland County, Ontario, email your order to wrightee@eagle.ca  Ebooks available through Amazon, https://www.amazon.com/Through-Country-Window-Inspiring-Stories/dp/1554528062 ]

1.Algernon Charles Swinburne, Atalanta in Calydon, 1865, st. 4

2. Bliss Carman, “Over the wintry threshold”, Smart set, April 1913

3. Ben Johnson, quoted in The Book of Virtues, p. 431

How attitudes intensify or moderate suffering

We all face difficulties of one kind or another. Job loss. Accidents. Disease. Rejection. “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward”(Job 5:7). However, the attitudes with which we face troubles will profoundly affect our ability to cope victoriously; either intensifying or moderating our anguish.

Alice and Elsie and Marci, not their real names, routinely intensify their own pain. Alice wallows in unhappiness while blaming her employer and the government for the misfortunes in her life. A cheerful greeting to Elsie triggers a recitation of grievances that reflect her bitterness and anger. Marci not only looks sad and troubled, she is.

The attitudes of these three intensify their emotional distress. Consequently, they will endure greater pain than that of others who tackle life with an uplifting outlook. Their corrosive emotions may even affect their physical health. For our own wellbeing, as well as to glorify God, we need to get rid of dark and hurtful emotions such as: sadness, worry, doubt, discouragement, fear, envy, hopelessness, bitterness, wrath, discontent, wounded pride, hatred, and the like.

The New Testament uniformly teaches that faith in Jesus Christ, and obedience to his teaching, delivers us from bondage to these emotions. (I’m not denying that in some cases there are physical causes for depression.)

This does not mean we should cover up our anguish. The Psalms of lament show us the pattern of David. “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord…all night long I flood my bed with weeping”(Ps 6:3,6). “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?”(Ps. 13:1). But notice that David brought his pain to God and underlying that pain was faith. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Ps. 13:5).

A huge part of the Christian process of sanctification involves replacing dark attitudes with those that are uplifting. This process doesn’t happen overnight. But the apostle Paul explained that through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, the transformation is certain. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control;” the very emotions that moderate suffering.

According to Jesus, happy are they who have the right attitudes. (See Matthew 5:3-12.) He taught his disciples, “Do not worry” (Matt. 6:31); “Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me”(John 14:1).

There isn’t room in this article to touch on the power of prayer, the transforming effect of thankfulness, and the uplifting outcome of worship and praise. And surely, I don’t need to mention that we engage in these activities not for therapeutic reasons, but because we have touched the hem of the Infinite. That touch makes us want to lift our hearts in praise. We have been transformed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ and that change makes us want to express thankfulness. The positive effect of praise and thankfulness—joy—is incidental to the reality of salvation, but very real.

I have no doubt whatever that the Christian faith has contributed infinitely more than we can imagine to human health, social wellbeing, and international harmony. How do I know this? I know it from the teaching of the Bible, observation of others, my own experience, and the testimony of myriad Christians, some of whom suffer indescribable persecution.

Do you have doubts that Christian attitudes moderate suffering? “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Or as Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).

In a later blog, I’ll write about the role of encouragers in helping those who face trials.

(Further articles, books, and stories at: http://www.countrywindow.ca Facebook: Eric E Wright Twitter: @EricEWright1 LinkedIn: Eric Wright )