Sunday, 5 April 2020

of Singing and Unity In Midst of the Pandemic

With most non-essential public gathering places now closed due to the Corona Virus (COVID 19) pandemic, including institutional churches, I imagine Sunday mornings have become a bit strange for many Christians. Perhaps it is even more strange now with today being Palm Sunday and the Easter season once again upon us. Who would ever have imagined church buildings being closed during the most holy of seasons in the Christian calendar?

Having left the institutional church about 17-years ago, closed churches is not really an issue for me personally. I have long since discovered life as a child of King Jesus outside of institutional church walls. Still, this morning I am mindful of my brothers and sisters in the Lord for whom this is a strange anomaly. I am reminded too of what an elderly sister once said to me many years ago when a church we both attended was about to permanently close the doors. She looked at me and said, "Where shall we go?"

My purpose this morning is not to debate the pros and cons of the institutional church versus the non-institutional church. There is already plenty out there on that subject that one can read if so inclined, including on this blog. I know that without that normal Sunday routine, and especially now with Easter upon us, there may be some mixed emotions brewing for many. My purpose this morning is simply to pray for you, my brothers and sisters who would normally be on that institutional church pew today, that in the midst of her closed doors, God might bless you and give you His peace.

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (Jesus; John 17: 20-23)

Prior to picking up my computer to write these words this morning, I found myself once again in my usual Quiet Place. As I was reading Scripture and meditating, with my faithful fur-baby lying by my feet, a classic hymn from yesteryear was suddenly on my lips:

"O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds Thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed! Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee; how great Thou art, how great Thou art! Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee; how great Thou art, how great Thou art!"

So my dear friends, today as it seems that we hear nothing but the constant rolling thunder of the current global pandemic, I pray that our precious Lord might give you a song of praise on your lips and an oversized measure of peace in your heart. May your soul also break out in singing, How Great Thou Art, and somehow therein, find peace.

No matter what this crisis holds for us next, may you and I rest in the knowledge that none of this has escaped God's knowledge, and though we may not understand it, may we know that God is still very much in control.

"The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make His face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn His face toward you
and give you peace."
(Numbers 6: 24-26)

Peace and Blessings my friends; God is still very, very good. 😊

Friday, 3 April 2020

The Baby Cuddler

Hello friends.

I was thinking today about God-given gifts. The Bible says, “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers(Ephesians 4:11); all admirable gifts, to be sure. However, I believe there are plenty other God-given gifts as well that are not even mentioned in the Bible, at least not specifically by name.

I believe that God also called me to also be a pastor for a season of my life. I even went to seminary and studied theology and all the usual pastoral courses. Many great memories and blessings in that season, to be sure; I don’t regret them for a moment. However these days, I think God’s calling on my life may have evolved a bit. These days I’m wondering if God hasn’t called me to be a …

Baby Cuddler.

Laugh if you will, but here in the twilight of my working years, with retirement coming closer and closer, I’ve been thinking a lot about retirement activities. There is all the usual stuff that some retired people do; they catch up on reading books, perhaps writing books, learning new hobbies, etcetera. I have all those on my bucket list too, but I also have another; become a baby cuddler.

One of my dream retirement activities is to volunteer at our local hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) as a baby cuddler. My wife and I have had significant experience in NICU’s between our own kids and grandkids. Unfortunately not all parents and grandparents are able to spend as much time in the NICU when their little ones are born as we were able to do with ours. Fact is, those precious little lives need cuddle time, but what happens when parents and grandparents cannot regularly be there to offer those needed cuddle times? The newborn suffers for lack of it. My dream volunteer job is to be a NICU Grandpa, sitting in a rocking chair, and cuddling babies when their families cannot be there. I cannot imagine anything more fulfilling. 

Becoming Opa.

Perhaps one of the ways that God has confirmed that dream NICU volunteer position is in the way He has also gifted and blessed me with the ability to calm down my own infant grandchildren to the point where they fall asleep in my arms. I was able to do that with my grandson when he was younger, and I can still do that with his little sister now. It’s a beautiful and precious gift that I am very thankful for.

If I were asked for the secret, I'd have to say that there is no magic formula, at least none that I am aware of; I am simply Opa. What does this Opa do to calm down a fussing baby? He holds them tight and rocks them in his arms. He prays over them, talks softly to them, and even sings to them. Then, it’s not long at all before that precious child naps peacefully in Opa’s arms. I wouldn’t trade that for all the world’s wealth! 

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word,
Opa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird.
And if that mockingbird won’t sing,
Opa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.
And if that diamond ring turns brass,
Opa’s gonna buy you a looking glass.
And if that looking glass gets broke,
Opa’s gonna buy you a billy goat.
And if that billy goat won’t pull,
Opa’s gonna buy you a cart and bull.
And if that cart and bull fall down,
You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.

Suddenly nothing else really matters. The stressors of the workplace suddenly drop off, the bills piling up on the dining room table are forgotten, and the incessant ding of social media notifications is scarcely even noticeable.  Now what was I getting all worked up about again? Hmm. Whatever it was, clearly it wasn’t as important as these precious moments.

God as Cuddler.

As I thought further about that, it occurs to me that those moments are a lot like the way God calms us down when we get a little fussy. One of my favourite verses out of the prophets is Zephaniah 3:17, which reads,

“The Lord your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
He will quiet you with his love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

In these troublesome times of global pandemic, job losses and uncertainty, a lot of us get a little tense and fussy too. But like a loving Opa quieting his unsettled grandchild with singing, our loving God quiets our troubled spirits with singing too. Have you ever thought of God as singing over you? I love that image! Ever wonder what song God would be singing to us? After all, He knows all the greatest of songs; even wrote some Himself through the psalmist. Maybe He would start by sing this favourite of mine,

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow;
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living just because He lives.

Yes, our world is on edge right now, but there is good news. In the midst of this sickness, God is still our resident NICU Grandpa, our “Abba, Father” as Jesus referred to Him (Mark 14:36). He is creator God, Abba, Daddy, NICU Grandpa - the Lord our God - yes He. Meditate upon that again: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

None of us really knows how this whole pandemic will play out, but that’s okay; we don’t have to know. While we may not know what tomorrow holds, we can know Him who holds it: Almighty GOD. Can you feel His love? Can you sense a more calm spirit within you? Can you hear the melody God is singing over you right now as He gently rocks you in His arms? Can you feel a peaceful nap coming on?

So do yourself a favour; turn off the news and social media for a while and rest in His love, and know that because He lives, you too can face tomorrow. Yes, rest in that.

Peace and Blessings, friends; God is good. 

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Grace: The Text Message Not Sent

"Love covers a multitude of sins."
(1 Peter 4:8)

Good morning, friends; hope all is well in your corner of the world.

This morning I want to share an event that ruffled my feathers a bit. I won't bore you with all the details, but rather I'd like to focus on the peace that came to me afterwards.

In this particular event I came away feeling slighted and hurt by something that someone else had done. I suppose in retrospect that it wasn't really a big deal, but it sure felt like one at the time. I was annoyed, and ready for a little retaliation. No, nothing violent or illegal; just a simple little text message to complain to the perpetrator to let him know that I thought he was being a little bit of an ass in how it all played out. (Perhaps my tone in writing this sounds like my mood is still a little off; maybe it is, though I hope not).

Rather than retaliate, however, I took a step back. I needed a shower anyway, so that gave me the chance to also take the event to the Lord. What came to mind were these two verses:

"The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means that you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers." (1 Corinthians 6: 7-8; NIV)

Now in my situation, I certainly wasn't thinking of a lawsuit! Was I wronged? I thought so. Was I cheated? Again, I'd have to say, yes. However, if we really want to be honest with ourselves, there is nothing unusual about that. Ever since the fall of mankind, human history has a plethora of examples of the way we wrong and cheat one another. I guess this fact then begs the question, "Why am I surprised?"

Having said that, I'm glad that I took a step backwards and said nothing. If I had not, then there is probably a very high probability that my retaliation would have been equally bad, and the second part of the above Scripture, "Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers," could have applied to me. God have mercy!

Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when He said,

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6: 27-31; NIV)

Back to my ruffled feathers. The person in question was certainly not an enemy, and I know beyond the shadow of doubt that he does not hate me. I also know that it is very likely that he has no clue that I was even offended, and perhaps that's just as well. So why do I even bother mentioning any of this?

I mention this primarily as a Note to Self and as a personal reminder that things aren't always as they seem. Maybe, in my tired stupor, I completely misread the events. Maybe my responding could have created an incident where there really wasn't one before. Maybe my dear mother-in-law was right when, many years ago, she wisely counselled, "When in doubt, do nothing." Maybe in saying that, she was really paraphrasing Jesus. Maybe … (and the list goes on).

My friends, I have to confess that these sorts of things haven't always turned out this way. Unfortunately, I have often opened my mouth only long enough to change feet. This morning I just want to say how thankful I am, that even when I mess up and am unfaithful, God remains faithful. This morning I just want to say that I am thankful for having taken a step back and holding my tongue. This morning I just want to say how thankful I am for God's grace, and for the text message not sent. This morning I just want to say, Thank you Jesus.

Peace and blessings, friends; God is good.

"Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?"

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Raising Crowns: Joy in the Next Generation

"Children's children
are a crown to the aged."
(Proverbs 17:6)

I love that verse! What a beautiful image; our children's children are our crowns. Wow!

What comes to mind when you think of a crown? I think of royalty and wealth. I think of priceless jewels imbedded in the crown. I think of hymns of praise we've sung to our God,

"Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne; hark! how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own! Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee, and hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity."

Grandchildren, crowns; a priceless gift from God that I wouldn't trade for all the riches of the world! My bank account may have little more than cobwebs in it, but with the crowns that God has blessed me with, I am rich beyond measure. The only thing that makes my crowns sweeter still, is knowing that their parents have publicly dedicated  my crowns to the Lord and are seeking to raise them to love Jesus too. Life just doesn't get any sweeter than that! Children's children; crowns! Truly the psalmist was right when he wrote, "Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them" (Psalm 127:5).

Peace and blessings, friends; God is good. 

"Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation."
(Joel 1:3)

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Does the World Seem A Bit Blurry Right Now?

"Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you."
(Hebrews 13:5)

For some reason this semi-blurry picture of this morning's sunrise instantly reminded me of this verse from 1 Corinthians 13:12. It also reminded me of our current global pandemic. Wouldn't you agree that here, in the midst of COVID 19, pretty much everything seems a bit blurry? How bad will this thing get before it's finally over? How long before they find a cure? When will it be safe to travel again? There is so much uncertainty!

We know part of the story. We have lots of little pieces of information, but unfortunately there is also lots of little pieces of mis-information. It's all a cloudy and dim picture at best, as if we're looking at  ourselves in the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning with sleep still in our eyes. Or perhaps it is, like my commute this morning, like looking through a dirty windshield with the sun just off the horizon half-blinding us as we drive. Sometimes it's rather unclear what we're actually looking at. Certainly it's a dim and messy picture at best.

Like all unknown things in life, however, I am thankful for my faith that says that none of this has caught God by surprise. Yes, COVID 19 has created a big mess right now, and there are more questions than there are answers, but that's OK; my God is bigger than COVID 19. Like everything else pertaining to this world and the next, I believe that everything that I need to know, I will one day fully know. For me, God's promise in that regard is enough; I can rest in that.

I don't believe that God has abandoned us to this pandemic or any other global crisis. In Jesus, my eternity is secure, "even as I have been fully known." So, my brothers and sisters, regardless what still lies ahead in the pandemic's unknown, let's rest in the fact that we are "fully known" by our great and awesome God. Now we may only "know in part," but the blurry horizon will one day clear up, be it in this life or the next. Here too, I can rest in that.

So be encouraged, friends, and fear not. No matter what the world says, God is still in control and will see us safely through the blur of this pandemic. Peace and blessings. God is good.

"So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
(Isaiah 41:10; NIV)

Sunday, 22 March 2020

of Martin Luther, Black Plague, and Today's Pandemic

It's been said that, when life gets too hard to stand, maybe we should kneel. Maybe now's that time.

It seems that, in these days of our global COVID 19 pandemic, some have rediscovered the thoughts of Martin Luther (1483-1546) on Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague. Is there a nugget or two from Luther's take on his tumultuous times that we can apply to our current pandemic? I think so.

First, however, a brief look at history. According to Wikipedia, the Black Death claimed an estimated 75-200 million lives, or 30%-60% of Europe's population between 1346-1353. Various outbreaks continued right up to the early 20th century, well beyond the days of Martin Luther. Simply a horrible time in history that I cannot even begin to fully imagine.

Thankfully we aren't anywhere near those kind of numbers in our current pandemic, and Lord willing, we never will see such things again. Still, there is a lot of misinformation out there on COVID 19 creating all sorts of uncertainty, panic, and even conspiracy theories. What are we to do with it?

Well the quick and easy answer is to bury our heads in the sand and turn off all media, as I alluded to in another recent tongue 'n cheek post on my other blog. If you're so inclined, you can read it here. But in all seriousness, that's not the answer; my other blog is, after all, primarily a humour-based blog and for the most part is not to be taken too seriously.

"Love your neighbour as yourself"
(Jesus; Mt.19:19)

But this is serious. In reading Martin Luther's letter to John Huss, I was left thinking that perhaps the first line of defence is really as simple as LOVE. This may include self-isolating. It may include taking a few risks to be there and help our neighbours when they need our help. It also may include cooperating in community and government-led initiatives to try and slow down the spread of the virus. That's one of the reasons why I enjoy working in a healthcare setting; yes, I may be putting myself at risk, but I am also helping my neighbours. Isn't that what true Christian LOVE is all about? Yes, we follow strict hygiene practices, but we're also there for others in their time of need.

Martin Luther wrote,
"Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God."
What do we do with that? Does Luther's take on the Black Plague of his day still resonate as applicable to our COVID 19 pandemic? What can we take away from it for today? In all fairness, the above quote was just a small excerpt of a larger letter. I would encourage you to read the full letter through the link below to get a better sense of the context of what Martin Luther was saying. After personally reading the full letter, I suddenly found myself revisiting Jesus' parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25: 31-46). Does that surprise you? Think for a moment of the connection. Has Martin Luther not essentially paraphrased Jesus' parable, at least in part? I think he has.

The blessed sheep in the parable are those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless, clothes to the shivering, visitation to the sick and to those in prison. They are commended because in doing these things for their neighbours, they were really doing them for Jesus. The cursed goats, on the other hand, were recognized (and punished) for their failure to do as the sheep had done. They did not feed the hungry, they did not give drink to the thirsty, they did not provide shelter for the homeless, they did not provide clothes for the shivering, and they did not visit the sick or imprisoned. In other words, they did nothing for Jesus.

Maybe the point in all this is, no matter what the crisis, no matter what the plague or pandemic; our Christian calling to "Love your neighbour as yourself" hasn't changed due to the current circumstances. Yes, we must take care of ourselves, but that has not diminished God's call to also take care of our neighbour. The question is not if but rather how to best do that in these difficult times.

Maybe this is the time to kneel.

Yes, we're in a pandemic. However, history has shown that we've had pandemics before, and I'm sure that unless the Lord returns soon, we'll have them again. Still, as serious as all that is, I would hope that we include genuine LOVE for our neighbour in our pandemic defence plans. In the end, illness or not, I would hope to be counted with the sheep rather than the selfishness of the goats. That may not be the most popular response from the world's perspective, but I think it is from God's perspective. In the end, is that not what really matters? I think it is. As the human race, let's remember that we're all in this together. Yes, maybe this is the time to kneel; and in so doing, we may be surprised at just where we see our Lord's face.

Peace and Blessings, friends. Stay safe, but don't forget your neighbour.

Read Martin Luther's full letter to John Huss here.

First Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons
Second Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons
Luther Source: Luther's Works Vol. 43, Devotional Writings II, Letter written to John Huss: "Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague."

Sunday, 8 March 2020

A Prayer for the New Workday

"Holy Spirit, think through me till your ideas are my ideas."

Among some of the many books that I have in my personal library is the Eerdman's Book of Famous Prayers: A Treasury of Christian Prayers Through the Centuries. It was compiled by Veronica Zundel. It is a beautiful little illustrated book that I have looked at time and again over the years.

Recently I came across another prayer online, albeit this one anonymous. As I reflected on it, I was reminded of how much I have to be thankful for, especially in my workday. Yes, those days can sometimes be very trying and nerve-racking, but they are a blessing too. To help me to remain mindful of that, a printed copy of this prayer resides on my office wall.

Lord, as I start the day, let me remember how blessed and lucky I am to be in my job. Remind me to be grateful for the work I do, the people I meet and the wage I receive. Keep me cooperative with my colleagues and friendly to the people I serve. If I have to complain, make me think of the common good and later of my own welfare. Help me to be honest in my dealings and responsible in the task assigned to me. Make me aware that in my work, I bring your work to completion. Amen.

Peace and Blessings, friend. God is good.

Photo Source: Adamo George; Flickr Creative Commons
Prayer Source: Unknown