When subtraction equals multiplication

dscn3701-2We find ourselves in this 55th year of our marriage extremely wealthy. Oh, we don’t own a yacht, or many stocks and bonds. We are struggling to fulfill the conditions for one small mortgage on a little condo. We have a car from 2004—which runs very well, by the way. We don’t winter on the Riviera nor take round-the-world cruises; but we are extremely well-off.

How is that possible? Let me go back a few years. Back to when we were about 19. When Mary Helen and I didn’t know the other existed. We separately, a thousand miles apart, were moved to faith in Jesus Christ. We confessed our sins, bowed to the Lordship of Christ and were born again.

My growth was slow; two steps forward and one step back. But early on, due to the godly mentor-ship of more mature Christians, I was led to become a committed follower of Christ. Although different in detail, Mary Helen’s experience was similar.  Both of us independently felt the call of God to give up our secular pursuit of success and prepare for overseas missionary service. (This, of course, is not the experience of all Christians, many of whom He calls to demonstrate godly discipleship in secular occupations. He doesn’t call all to missionary or Christian service.)

But in our case, he led both of us to go to Columbia University in preparation for missionary service among Muslims. It was there we met, sensed our similar callings, and fell in love.

In the course of our Christian walk, we both had been confronted with the challenge of Jesus Christ. “If any man would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross DSCN1448daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That means subtraction. All genuine Christians have to learn subtraction—to subtract from their lives a passion to fulfill the desires of the world, the flesh, and the devil; to subtract selfishness; to subtract choices that contradict God’s revealed will; to subtract a determination to follow a course of life that leads us to our own glory…and so on. We cannot be followers of Christ without serious subtraction.

Like other disciples, Mary Helen and I independently and together, repeatedly sought to surrender our wills to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Surrender, subtraction, was often a struggle. It scared us to think of leaving North America as missionaries but the burden would not leave us. We often failed to be courageous and submissive to his leading. But ultimately, he led us to serve in Pakistan and then later in Ontario in a pastoral and writing ministry.

That meant we had to give up the dream of a home and retirement plan. But God had other OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAways of providing for us. An English woman, who had offered my father hospitality during the First World War when he was pilot, included us in her will with a small bequest.  When we were led from missions into pastoral ministry, we discovered that my mother had left us the family home in Toronto knowing we would never be able too own one. God provided in a multitude of ways.

God is no man’s debtor! As Paul reminds us in Romans 8, “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:32)?

As we look back now, we realize how much Jesus’ principle has proven true.  Jesus said, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29,30).

We have received many times more than we could ever have expected. What a return on a tiny investment. We enjoy connections with a huge missionary family. Love for Pakistan, a beautiful but needy country. Pakistani friends. Scores of friends in Australia, England, the US, and Canada. Wow, we are wealthy. In the kingdom, subtraction does mean multiplication!

 

Our Plans–God’s Surprises

dscn3446After serious downsizing to fit into an apartment, we got notice to vacate from what we thought would be our last move before the Lord took us home. The owner wanted to sell the condo. Agh…! And we had loved the location, near Cobourg’s waterfront and harbour. Why did this happen? What to do?

We madly scrambled to find other rental accommodation. Cobourg’s vacancy rate stood close to zero, and with some mobility problems, we needed a one-floor apartment in a building with an elevator. We madly searched the town, taking down contact phone numbers–to no avail. Some of those we did find were so small that our bed wouldn’t even fit into the bedroom.

Lord, you have cared for us down through 55 years. What do you want us to do? Should we move away from the town where our daughter lives? Should we move further away from our doctor and the local hospital? Somehow that doesn’t make sense.

From seeking a rental we moved on to searching for a small two-bedroom dscn3623bungalow or condo, that we could buy with our limited resources. Three or four times our hopes were raised only to be dashed. When friends told us about a lovely little one-level condo coming available, we were sure this was it. We made an offer that was a little higher than the asking price to be sure it would be accepted. But no, with multiple offers, the winning bid came in at $27,000 more than ours. We hadn’t figured on Cobourg’s red hot real estate market fuelled by empty-nesters selling their inflated homes in the Greater Toronto area and buying up bargains in Cobourg.

Through this period we kept on down-sizing even more than the year before. I cut my library by another half. Negotiations with the landlord to extend the deadline to vacate were unsuccessful. The weeks slid by.

The promise of another ideal condo, made by our real estate agent, had been deferred again and again for weeks and weeks. And hope deferred makes the heart sick. Lord, please show us the way. We want your will, but darkness and puzzlement obscure the way ahead.

Our daughter reminded us that the Lord has always provided for us–often very special accommodation–even during our 18 years of missionary service. Just trust Him. Yes, but we are so tired. We’ve had 27 or so main moves, plus every summer in Pakistan we had to move to a home near the kids’ boarding school–hardly minor moves since we had to set up house-keeping for them during the summer.

dscn3692I guess we’ve earned our PhD in moving…but with energy depleted, we thought we would settle down!

Finally, we returned to a new development of small condos in a neighbouring town for the third time and providence unfolded a special opportunity. Unknown to us, the man we had been talking to about the units and their availability was the actual owner-developer. He told us to wait while he got a key and then to follow him. He showed us a unit that he had used for his daughter while she waited for her house to be built. It was wonderful with extra upgrades! “I can make this available to you in mid-October,” he said. He quoted a price much less than similar units he had built in Cobourg. Yes, we almost shouted. This is it.

And so, while we are nomads for 6 weeks, we are no longer potentially homeless!

Throughout our lives, God has surprised us again and again and again with a direction or
provision much better than wedscn3701-2
had planned. How true is Proverbs 16:9 as preached by our pastor (David Daniels), “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” We plan, we imagine, we ponder, and sad to say,
we often worry…but God sovereignly modifies our plans to bless us in a place and time of His choosing. Blessed be our Triune God, our shepherd, our rock and high tower!

Woodland Therapy?

A recent article in the Globe and Mail confirms the value of forest therapy. Now,Sugar Maple that’s a value I’ve always treasured, but when I express something similar, folks look at me strangely. I can see in their eyes the query, “Are you some kind of weird woodsy throwback? What about all the mosquitoes? Just tell me where to find the nearest Starbucks.” Ah, but wait.

Cassandra Szklarslo writes about “the forest-bathing movement…which is a cornerstone of preventive health care in Japan.” Forest-bathing?? Weird. The article explains that they’re not talking about bathing in water but “immersing SummerWalkEricDukeoneself in the healing properties of trees.…A walk in the woods can be great for boosting your mood.…A burgeoning group of nature enthusiasts say it can do much more—including strengthen immunity, lower blood pressure, increase focus, and ultimately lower health-care costs if done regularly.”

Data collected in Japan and Korea found that “forest-bathers” had an increased number of “immune system cells that combat disease.” “It involves simply walking—quietly, slowly and deliberately—in a forest, and taking in the sounds, DSCN1325scents, colours, forms and general vibe of nature.”

I’ve always loved the outdoors, from the fields near our home to the creek that gurgled through a nearby valley. Probably it was that love that led me to study forestry in my undergraduate years. I’ve never understand why some declare; “If you’ve seen one tree, you’ve seen them all.” Every tree enthrals me; from the stately umbrella-shaped American Elm to the majestic White Pine.

I’m not surprised by the article. Many people appreciate the natural world. But OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwhat deepened my love was an experience with the Creator of that world. In my second year of university, He sent a gospel shaft of conviction into my heart. I became a simple follower of Jesus. It was as if I unexpectedly was fitted with a hearing aid; or as if a light went on in the dark room of my mind. Suddenly it seemed as if “all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres,” for “this is my Father’s world!” “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1).

As this Psalm reminds us, it’s not just trees that should cause our mouths to drop open in awe and our hearts to sing God’s praises. No, it’s stars and clouds, birds and flowers, the roll of breakers on a beach, the colours of pebbles on a shore, Mute Swansnowflakes and rainbows. It’s more; even the undulation of sand dunes in a desert, the giggle of a child, and the smile of a wrinkled senior. For He made them all.

Oh, I know, there is trash in the ocean and war among nations. We are doing our best to ruin God’s world. But beneath and beyond all that disturbs, if we have redeemed eyes to see, remains the matrix that displays the creativity and artistic genius of Almighty God. This matrix reminds us to breath deeply of God’s love and grace and point people to the beauty intrinsic to the world we live in.
Besides we live in hope! “He will make all things new.” In the meantime, “all the trees of the field will clap their hands” whenever God reclaims territory in our ruined world by the spread of his spiritual kingdom in human hearts. (See Isaiah 55:11,12).

So this summer, let’s take time for a walk in the woods. Then we will return Honey bee on fall mumsrefreshed and more able to practice holy love wherever God places us.

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

Does Anyone Love the Lonely? – Attributes of God, #6

DSCN2176 - CopyCrowds attend celebrations such as Canada Day and the Fourth of July. But millions are lonely, feel unloved, estranged, nervous, alienated and fearful. These words describe too many in our day. What a strange anomaly at a time when we are more connected than ever through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, texts, and by 24-hour news updates.

In an article by André Picard entitled; “In spite of everything, pundits tell us that we have never felt more alone.” Picard writes that, “an estimated six million Canadians live in isolation. Social researchers are now calling it a hidden epidemic.”

Don’t be a lonely statistic! There is someone who is closer than our own skin; someone who loves us with an everlasting love despite our sins and foibles. God has described his care and concern for you and me in dozens of metaphors. Consider a few.

Our Shepherd: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Is 40:11). Celebrate the gentleness with which our divine shepherd protects us, provides for us, and carries us close to his heart. This wonderful image is repeated often from Psalm 23 through Isaiah to John 10.

Our Father: Far from being inscrutable and indifferent the true God reveals himself as a loving, concerned, involved Father both in the Old Testament and especially in the New. “You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior” (Psalm 89:26). “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10) And so we pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). He loves us, not as a group, but individually, personally, practically. He listens to our prayers.

Our Provider: Feeling empty and unsatisfied; longing for something more? “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost….listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me” (Isaiah 55:1-3) If we digest the biblical message of the invisible God, our besmirched souls will be cleansed and our hungry hearts will be satisfied as with the choicest foods.

Our Shelter: In a setting where the sun blazes down on people without mercy, burning their skin and blinding their eyes, people seek shade and protection. The Psalmist writes, DSCN1325“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Better than venturing out in the blazing desert of life without God we would be wise to daily abide in God’s presence.

Our Canopy: We know about huge circus tents and wedding tents. We can picture the tents used by desert nomads. In this metaphor, the sky is a tent! “He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.” (Is 40:22) Yes, God sees earth’s goings-on; God sees your heart-ache and mine and He is strong enough to do something about it.

Our Friend: Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants…I have called you friends.” “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” To prove his loving friendship, Jesus laid down his life to atone for our sins. “ ”Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15: 15,14,13). Imagine having the Son of God as your friend!

Our spiritual Husband: “For your maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is His name—the Holy One of IMom's wedding picsrael is your Redeemer…God of all the earth” (Isaiah 54:5). Spoken originally of Israel, this metaphor astonishes us with the closeness and intimacy, the love, care and provision that God, like a
good husband, provides to his wife. The book of Hosea tells us that God seeks us even when we fall into deep depravity.

Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know
Spirit breathing from above, thou has taught me it is so!

Have you found a friend in Jesus? Do you know God as your Father, your shepherd, your spiritual husband, and your provider? Are you assured of his love? Let your loneliness dissipate as you draw close to him.

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

Word Pictures of God as Our Helper – God’s Attributes #5

Beneath the beauty and bounty of our world, millions face trauma. Orphans long for love. scan0010Single mothers struggle to hold everything together. Unemployed cry out for a job. The poor cannot find housing. The exploited and abused live in fear. Refugees flee horrific atrocities. Our governments try to help but fall short. At times, even our families cannot help. Where can we turn?

The Nazarene offers an invitation. “Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Throughout the Scriptures God has illustrated his desire to help us in a series of vivid metaphors. The coming of Christ in human form is the most concrete Pattan Minara towerproof of his love and care. Here are a few other examples.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Prov. 18:10) Pursued by evil men or calamity, those who have been declared righteous by faith in Christ, seek God in prayer for safety and help. The towers men build crumble like this illustration, but God is changeless, eternally able to help.

Is your life being shaken? “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:10) The eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Pompei; earthquakes shake the Himalayas and the Rockies. Although the most stable things we know change, God’s love for His people never changes. (Just review John 3:16!)

Don’t know where to go for protection? The Psalmist cried, “I have no refuge” (Ps 142:4). At least 23 times Scripture responds, “The eternal God is your refuge” (Deut.33:27). God loves to care for and protect suffering people. Canada and others countries offer refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq the safety and security they need. We who follow Christ are involved OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAin that effort, but we long, as well, to point them to eternal refuge from the consequences of evil through faith in the suffering Saviour.

Feeling alone, unloved? “Hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Ps. 17:8). David imagines himself as a young bird hiding under the wings of an eagle or some kind of great raptor. Jesus comparing himself to a protective hen, laments the rejection he received from the inhabitants of Jerusalem. But the offer stands. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Luke 13:34)!

Greece, ParthenonFeel threatened; unsafe? Up until modern times, threatened people fled for safety to castles and fortresses. Hence, the Psalmist describes his sense of God’s protection from evil and danger in these words. “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress” (Psalm 91:1,2).

In danger? Fleeing for his life from his murderous son, Absalom, David affirms, “you are a shield around me, O Lord” (Psalm 3:3). ”You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). Not just a shield on one side, but above and behind and beside, God can protect His children from all evil. And so we pray, “Deliver us from evil.”DSCN2541

All those who have been born again by God’s Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ have become children of God. As such, the Triune God is very serious about protecting us. All the followers of Christ learn early that the first place they turn for help is God; our strong
tower, an unshakeable mountain, our refuge, a sheltering bird, our fortress, and much more. Lord Jesus help us to remember that your ear is ever open to our prayers. And help us to make your churches on earth to be a reflection of your concern and care.

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

Are Manners Passé?

Monarch butterflyI returned from a walk the other day only to discover a wad of gum stuck to the bottom of one of my shoes—a new shoe! Who would be so thoughtless as to throw their gum onto the sidewalk?

This incident got me thinking about other acts of thoughtlessness. My mother taught us that we should always wipe our feet carefully on a doormat when entering a house, store or mall. But this happens rarely today.

Last week at the mall, I held the door open for a young man who sailed through without a nod or a thank you. My mouth hung open in astonishment.
When we drive in a city, which I won’t identify, I find myself lapsing into aggressive mode. I soon join the horde driving as if chased by a demon. That is, until Mary Helen reminds me to be civil and not let other drivers determine my mood. Okay.

How about store clerks—or is that term politically incorrect? Have you been totally ignored by sales persons who chat with each other or are engrossed by their cell phones?

Do people around you say please and thank you? When was the last time you sent or received a thank you note for a gift or a kindness? Are you or your grandchildren absorbed by your cell phones during meals…or have you declared the dining table a no-cell phone zone?

Do you find conversation one-sided? Do friends and acquaintances regale you with their latest adventure, trip or operation without giving any thought to Summer walkengaging you in the conversation? Nowadays, few people express interest in the lives of others, despite the fact that everyone has an interesting story or an urgent concern. Monopolizing conversations is another reflection of deteriorating manners.

Actually, all societies could be measured by the degree of civility with which its members treat each other. Great societies are mannerly. Great societies breed thoughtfulness. Great societies inculcate respect for others.

Good manners are the practical outworking of a determination to, “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” Jesus left us a pattern expressed by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than ourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:3-5).

Fortunately, we live in a fairly polite and thoughtful small town. Most people DSCN2541thank us for holding open a door for them. Cars often pause to let us cross the street if we are walking, or join an orderly queue of cars on a street if we are driving.

I was reminded by the gum on my shoe to deny my innate propensity to think only of myself. As a selfish teen, I might have laughed at my parents’ attempts to train me to be mannerly. But they were right.

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

Beauty for Ashes

DSCN2359A few weeks ago, I noticed some very tiny flowers in an uncultivated flower bed—weeds, but very pretty. Later in another part of town, I spied a cheerful carpet of mauve flowers on a lawn. Alas, they too were weeds. These tiny flowering weeds got me thinking.

In many ways, the world in which we live is very dark. People are losing hope. An advertisement for a new book professing to solve all human probDSCN2535 (2)lems is a symptom of this malaise. No, it doesn’t ask us to “love God and love our neighbours as ourselves.” Evidently, forgetting the dismal record of the last 200 years, the solution proposed is scientific and biological. Vain hope. But at least its analysis of our condition is relatively accurate. We live in “a world facing complete breakdown from terrorism, refugee crises, corrupted economies, polarized politics, family disintegration, rampant mental illness and ecological devastation.”

DSCN1650No wonder doom and gloom occupy most writers these days. Yes, but what about God? “He makes all things beautiful in his time” (Eccl.3:11). As the One who is altogether lovely, whatever he touches becomes beautiful. David’s longing was “to gaze on the beauty of the Lord…all the days of my life” (Psalm 27:4). The antidote to ugliness and evil, is God.

Have we failed to notice indications of God’s glory scattered prodigiously throughout the earth? What do I mean? I mean those silent witnesses to the beauty of God and His salvation. Every beautiful thing in creation points to its Creator and whispers, hope. As Isaiah prophecies of Jesus; “The Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes…a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:1,3).

DSCN2541The beauty of a baby’s smile. The fragrance of lilac. The beauty enshrined in a grain of sand or a snowflake. The rainbow reflected from a drop of dew. The infinite shape of clouds. The loveliness and variety of myriads of flowers. The shape of trees. The magnificence of mountains. The splendour of the sea. The magic of sunrise and twilight. What about butterflies and birds; diamonds and dandelions. Lord, the earth is full of your glory!

Have we failed to notice God’s beautifying touch? The refugees who shout hallelujah after being saved by Jesus Christ. The drug addict in Brooklyn totallyRainbow delivered from addiction. The abuser becoming gentle and loving. What about myriads of men and women from every tribe and nation who have seen their fear and despair replaced by joy and peace and hope?

DSCN2373 (2)Oh, yes, the cataclysm produced by the fall of mankind into sin, produced thorns and thistles, hatred and war; and probably mosquitoes, volcanoes, tornadoes and earthquakes. And yet, God has not left us without witness. If we would but look, we would find glimpses of beauty from the hands of the Creator at every turn. And that beauty bears witness to hope in seemingly hopeless situations; hope through bowing in faith to Jesus Christ, the Lord. Then we will revel in beauty and worship God in the “beauty of holiness”.

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