Sunday, 30 November 2014

The annual pilgrimage to Main Street, Waterdown

As the 102nd float inched by, followed by a team of horses and a man carrying a pitchfork and pail, my eyes continued their rolling motion toward the back of my skull. A dance school then passed by, then a company promoting its pumping prowess, then another marching band,  then a float with a blown loud speaker blaring 'Frosty the Snowman'. 'End it already' I quietly wished - not wanting my wife (who has not missed a Christmas Parade in her life except one) to hear me!  So, not being blessed with vertical length i.e. height, I casually stood as tall as possible trying to see where this parade would come to its merciful end! But, experience has told me that if I wait long enough I'll catch a glimpse of the end of this parade signified by a man known as Santa Claus. He'll shout 'Ho-Ho-Ho'. We'll wave. Kids will cheer. Then we'll walk briskly to the car and wait another 364 days to repeat this torturous pilgrimage. This is how it will end. Trust me.

Just like I thought it would happen. The anticipation was palpable. Tension was thick as the Burlington Young Red Coats inched forward. That's always the clue. Could it be true? Is he here? Can't wait...can't wait to walk home! Ah, there's the jolly man. Phew. It's over. I survived another Christmas parade. Can'

My view on Christmas parades must be in the minority because I think all of Southern Ontario was crammed into Waterdown's Victorian Village last night. Dutifully and very orderly, parade enthusiasts set their chairs up on reserved pieces of Main Street's real estate during the wee hours of the morning and afternoon. Pick up trucks and semi enclosed trailers, hot chocolate stands and popcorn carts all waiting for the action. Crowd barricades and car barriers set up to ensure public safety. Not a stone unturned in anticipation of the event. If you didn't know any better, you'd think someone REALLY important was coming to town.

I'm not totally anti-parades and I suppose I could refuse to go . I have watched 19 of them. (Yes, I'm counting!) Honestly, I did come away with something. While I was searching for some meaning to this yearly trek I noticed that on the back of the Youth for Christ/Youth Unlimited float there was a banner that read, "We see the hope and potential of every young person." And there it was. That's what's going on. It was about hope. There was anticipation in the crowd. For most parade goers there was hope that Santa would appear. There was certainty that he would be part of the grand finale. And, they didn't leave disappointed.

Walking back to the car, I thought of the crowd's hope and anticipation to see Santa. I thought what if Jesus was at the end of the parade. Would we line the streets four or five people deep? Would we put out our chairs at 7AM in the morning? Would we race through town hoping to get a good parking spot? Would we put on flashing lights and sell candy floss in hope, in anticipation?

Is that how I actively hope for and anticipate Jesus' return?

Just thinking...

Now, where did we park the car?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

" what I long for"

Hot ‘n ColdHot ‘n ColdHot ‘n Cold. Eventually the heaving of the frost will force the asphalt road to buckle and crack. At our worship service this morning, that’s how our pastor compared God’s relentless pursuit on our lives. God’s warm and irresistible grace eventually penetrates our cold and distant hearts. God sharpens and sharpens and sharpens our character until we ‘crack’ and allow the Holy Spirit to further seep in and continue His work shaping our lives.

I’ve often felt ambivalent about Romans 8:28. In my suffering – through bouts of physical temptation and periods of mental agony – how have these experiences been for my good? And why should I even rejoice in them? As written in previous posts it’s becoming clearer to me every day. Through God’s sharpening, I’m looking forward to see what God has in store for me. I’m looking forward to seeing a smile on someone that only suggests God’s grace and goodness is living within. I’m looking forward to wiping a tear from someone just coming to know God’s love. I’m looking forward to walking the road to Emmaus and sharing God’s story of redemption. I’m looking forward to looking in the manger next month. I’m looking forward to the day when my faith shall be sight.

This hasn’t happened overnight. This has taken me 46 plus years to only begin to understand and appreciate. Our sense of urgency and time is linear. God’s time is eternal. In the book of Genesis, we read that Joseph – son of Jacob – spent almost 30 years in a foreign land before God fully revealed His purposes in Joseph’s trials. He even spent several years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit! When the Master Weaver pulled the last strings, Joseph was able to witness that it was God who wrote – and wove – the story.

The following poem is attributed to anonymity speaks of God’s mysterious working in our lives.

‘When God Wants a Man’

When God wants to drill a man and thrill a man and skill a man…
When God wants to mould a man to play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart to create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall praise,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

How He ruthlessly perfects whom He royally elects; how He hammers and hurts him,
And with mighty blows coverts him into frail shapes of clay that only God understands.
How his tortured heart is crying and he lifts beseeching hands....
How He bends but never breaks when His good He undertakes.
How He uses whom He chooses…. with every purpose fuses him;
By every art induces him to try His splendour out
God knows what He’s about!

When God wants to take a man and shake a man and wake a man…
When God wants to make a man to do the Father’s will;
When He yearns with all His soul to create him large and whole…
With what cunning He prepares him… how He goads and never spares him!

How He whets him, He frets him and in poverty, begets him…
How often He disappoints whom He sacredly anoints!
With what wisdom He will hide him; never minding what betide him…
Makes him lonely so that only God’s high messages shall reach him…
So that He may surely teach him what His heavenly Father planned.

When God wants to name a man and tame a man to do His heavenly best….
When He tries the highest test that His reckoning may bring…
How He reins him and restrains him so his body scarce contains him…
When He fires him and inspires him, keeps him yearning,
Ever burning for the tantalizing goal.
Lures and lacerates his soul… sets a challenge for His spirit;
Draws it highest, then he is near it!
Then makes a jungle, then he clears it;
Makes a desert that he fears it, if he can…
So does God make a man!

Then to test His Spirit’s wrath, He throws a mountain in his path,
Puts a bitter choice before him and relentlessly stands o’er him…
Climb or perish, so He says…. But watch His purpose, watch His ways!
God’s plan is wondrously kind… could we understand His mind?
Fools are they who call God blind!

When his feet are torn and bleeding; yet His Spirit mounts unheeding…
Blazing newer paths and finds....
Lo, the crisis, lo, the shouts that would call the leader out…
When the people need salvation does he rise to lead the nation;
Then does God show His plan… and the world has found its man!

Author Unknown


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Can you handle the truth?


In case you didn’t hear me, let me say it again – a little more loudly and closer to your face. Uncomfortably close. In your space close. A ‘Jack Nicholson – “You can’t handle the truth!” close.

Before you answer me, let me explain something. I’m not asking in the sense of a customs agent’s question to a nervous traveler, or kid in the playground probing the unassuming visitor who has boldly climbed the jungle gym. I’m not asking for the name on your birth certificate or passport. I’m not even asking for the name on the sticker that says, “Hi, My name is _______”. That name is a label. Something your parents gave you when you were born and it just happened to stick.

My question goes deeper. It goes beyond the surface stuff that we politely engage in when meeting people for the first time or even the thousandth time when we can’t seem to remember names. It’s a ‘peel the onion back’ answer. The answer that conjures up emotion, either laughter or tears or nothing at all. The answer that opens your soul and forces you to answer the question yourself: “WHAT. IS. MY. NAME?”

As a teenager, I cringed when I was asked my name. I was embarrassed because I felt ‘Henry’ was an old man’s name – it was my grandfather’s name. For a brief period of time, I even tried to change it but it didn’t stick because when people used the name I didn’t respond! It wasn’t who I was – it wasn’t my identifier. In 1992, standing at the side of my dying grandfather, it was only then I felt proud and honoured to named Henry. It spoke loudly within me. I just had to grow into it. So, that’s what people still call me. Henry’s my name on my driver’s license. It’s who a telemarketer asks for. It’s what our pastor called me on my wedding day…”Henry, do you take Wendi…?” You get the point.
But hang on. We’re peeling the onion back. Eight months ago – or so – I started to read a biography by Eric Metaxas called Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Six months and 542 pages later I finished the book. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran minister who was eventually executed in the final days of WWII for his participation in the famous and unsuccessful Valkyrie plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer saw his efforts to undermine the Nazi regime as a cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. And if death was the penalty, then death was just the beginning of life. According to Bonhoeffer, being a disciple of Jesus was and is costly. Bonhoeffer’s opening in his book The Cost of Discipleship reads “Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.”

Getting closer. One more layer peeled. In reading Bonhoeffer, I’ve been challenged to reflect on my own life and answer the question: “WHAT. IS. MY. NAME?” In other words, if I’m being truthful, then who does God say that I am? Has faith in Jesus defined who I am and has faith in Christ cost me anything? Am I Jacob – a deceiver? Peter – a rock? David – beloved?  Names in the Bible were not just a label as they are today. They are descriptive and telling. (Just read Hosea and see what God told him to call his kids!)

Well, about a month ago one morning, the onion was finally peeled. The tears flowed. In my prayers I was asking for God’s free gift of grace and peace and he kept asking me my name. Sometimes in my face.  But always gently. For many years, I’ve known my true name and identity but I wasn’t going to admit it and He knew it. I was holding on to something that got in the way of grace and it was going to cost me to fully embrace and enjoy his gift. Henry might mean ‘ruler’. But, my name was ‘broken’ on that morning and I was the furthest from being noble.
That day, God wrote the cheque. Jesus paid the price and, I cashed it through the help of the Holy Spirit. I couldn’t be wealthier. Today, my name means restored, recovered, revived, and renewed. And, I know it’s not going to end there because God’s giving me new names every day.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

What's in a 'dash'?

Carpe Diem!
Nanu Nanu!

Seize the Day!

O Captain, my Captain!

Good morning, Vietnam!

These phrases were echoing in my mind for a short while after I heard about the death of one of the most gifted comedians that I’ve ever heard and seen – Robin Williams at the age of 63. These were also the words that reminded me of his career. Social media sites were also full of these famous quotes taken from an assortment of Williams’ TV and movie appearances.  Newspapers, radio and television were all clamoring to shed light on Robin Williams’ brilliant acting profession and the struggles he had most of his adult life with depression and substance abuse. And every time I saw the year of his birth, 1951, and the year of his death, 2014, I saw the same thing over and over between these two dates. A dash. Just a 2-3mm dash.

But is it just a dash? What if all you ever thought and did was compressed into that little dash? So, that if the dash was magnified hundreds or thousands of times over, it would reveal your life’s story. Or, what if the dash was replaced by a phrase – a few words – of how you lived your life and what your memory will be for generations to come? Would Williams’ have read: 1951 “A comedian like no other” 2014 or 1951 “Depression knows no social boundary” 2014?  Perhaps, the dash, when magnified, would reveal what Williams said in an interview when asked what would God say to him when he died. And, according to Williams, in his customary lightning-quick fashion, God would have said, “Mr. Williams, there’s seating in the front!”.

Truthfully, I was saddened by Robin Williams’ death. He was one of those comedians who dominated the airwaves when I was growing up and again later in movies over the past several decades. I’m not completely sure why I felt so impacted by his death. It was the same mental nudge, although not as strong, as when I read the daily obituaries and scan the lives of people I’ve never known.  Maybe it’s because the little dash I see between birth and death years reminds me of my own life’s story. And I wonder, what will the dash between my years of life and death say about me?

Will my dash be a long soliloquy, an elegant reflection of my life’s accomplishments and record a long list of my progeny? Or, will it be summarized by a few words or even a single word? My wise neighbor, whose garden puts many gardens to shame said that to be remembered like King Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26:10 as a man “who loved the soil” would be a very wonderful and noble thing.

When we are born, our dash is virtually non-existent. Not much can be written in the first few years of a person’s life. But as we grow and as God graciously allows us to live longer the dash grows. Layer upon layer of life’s intricacies are added to the dash. Sometimes our dash will be only a few words like King Uzziah’s or it will be several hundreds or even thousands of words in the cases of written biographies.

I hope my dash will read… no wait… I’ll try to live a life that’s remembered for making an impact on those whom God have placed in my path.

And then I’ll leave it to others to find the words - or word as it may be.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

"Creed" on the World by Steve Turner

The more I follow the news, the more I read public opinion, the more I listen to our political leaders, the more I see a culture becoming increasingly devoid of absolute values. We decry the brutal violence perpetrated by ISIS against innocent men, women and children. But, we say it's a woman's right in Canada to abort a full-term pregnancy. Where is the absolute? Who defines this? The courts? If we believe life is sacred, then surely the baby's life is just as important as the innocent victims of ISIS. Our society boasts of pluralism - to each their own - is its mantra. So, naturally, my preference of blue over green is at the same level as my preference for pizza as is my preference for life over death. Or, is it?

Steve Turner, an English journalist, wrote this satirical poem in 1993. I think it's brilliant in how it captures today's modern mind.

We believe in Marx Freud and Darwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.
We believe in sex before, during, and
after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.
We believe that everything’s getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.
We believe there’s something in horoscopes
UFO’s and bent spoons.
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,
Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher though we think
His good morals were bad.
We believe that all religions are basically the same-
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation,
sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens
they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then its
compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps
Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn
We believe in Masters and Johnson
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.
We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and
Americans should beat their guns into tractors .
And the Russians would be sure to follow.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
We believe that each man must find the truth that
is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth
that there is no absolute truth.
We believe in the rejection of creeds,
And the flowering of individual thought.
If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky
and when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

The 'Witnus' Cloud

Meteorologists will tell you there are four main types of clouds: cirrus, nimbus, stratus, and cumulus. If you've read Hebrews 12:1, you'll agree that a cloud type could be added i.e. "the witnus cloud".
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1
This is one of those verses in the Bible that makes my mind swirl with imagination as I picture loved ones cheering me on. I haven't run a race in many years, (I used to run x-country in high school believe or not), but one of the memories I do have was the line of people cheering me from the sidelines. It almost gave me an extra boost of energy to hear the cheering and the encouragement. "Keep going." "You're almost finished." "Don't slow down." Sometimes, in the quiet of the day, I'll imagine a cloud of witnesses encouraging me in my run of life.

This verse often comes to mind when I'm struggling with life's demands and questions of uncertainty fill my thoughts. And then I'll recall what the author states as fact: we're surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Grandparents and parents, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters - all who have run before us and who crossed the finish line. They didn't just get a participatory ribbon - 'a thanks for coming out' ribbon. No, they got first prize: a crown of salvation. And, as I imagine that as Jesus handed out the awards an anthem is played - Heaven's anthem, Glory to God in the Highest. And if you listen real close, you can hear "Ere zij God"! I can picture my Dad singing like it's Christmas Day.

At home, we have a table in the living room that's filled with pictures of family. Some are still with us, and others are "in the cloud". When I look at my grandparents, my Dad, and Wendi's Mom I'm not na├»ve to think that it was easy for them. Their struggles were as real and probably a lot harder than what I deal with. But I'm thankful for every person in those pictures and when I stop to look at them I can faintly hear "Keep going, Henry." "You're doing well." "Your crown awaits."

A stumble, a tear and a rainbow

Greeted by a surprise rainbow on Mom's birthday! It was at a dressed up gravesite that 40 or 50 people gathered around last Tuesday,...