Morning by Morning

"The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward." Isaiah 50:4-5

Friday, July 15, 2016

Behold, He Makes All Things New

            When I was a very little child I lived with my grandmother and grandfather in a rambling Victorian mansion beneath the branches of mighty walnut trees.  There was a characteristic sound in that house, the chiming choir of several antique clocks all pealing Westminster, some early, some late.  Who but grandfather could ever tell if any actually ran on time?  The sound still chimes in my mind, but I cannot go back there again.

            There is in the memory a mingled joy and sorrow.  I was too young to see the pains that grandmother bore beside a silent and authoritarian man.  My memory knows only the light breezes of a mild Canadian autumn and the yellow stained walnut hulls lying in the grass.

            I am now my grandfather’s age and younger than I thought he was when I was five.  My own son is the age my father was that fall so long ago.  Grandmother and grandfather are gone, long gone.  The house is gone.  The walnut trees are hewn down and in their place a garish neon sign blinks over a fast food restaurant.  If you wish you can park your car where the dining room once was and order an all too ordinary cheeseburger, “Do you want fries with that?”

            Even if we wished we couldn’t turn back the years to hear the choir of clocks sing Westminster beneath the walnut trees.  Those moments are savored and gilded only in the memory.  Time passes on; it doesn’t stop to double back.  There is no point in saying “Let us go back to things the way they were” with the thump of a squirrel landing on the porch roof and the patter of its busy feet running to store one more autumn walnut in the gnarled apple tree beside the house.  For good, or perhaps for ill, we cannot go back there again.

            Instead, hear the promise of God as He says to you, and to you, and to me, “"Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

            The past, your past, my past, our past is hallowed, or perhaps in some cases dreaded, only in the memory.  All in all, it has no power over the future.  I am deeply grateful that the blood of Jesus cleanses all things and makes them new.  “Behold, He makes all things new!”  His mercy is new every moment.  Each day is a new day, a day of potential rebirth and gladness.  Let it be so.  

            Put down the fading photos of the past and look to His promise for the future, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).  Join hands together, old hands tough, young hands rough or tender.  Step into God’s future hand in hand.  There is a kingdom to be won.  There are the lost ones to be found. There is joy to be lived on the bright pathways of the kingdom of our God and Father. 

Monday, March 28, 2016




Shell Chrysallis
I shed thee
Spreading golden wings
For him to see.

Poor pupa
Golden pain
Springing joyous
Christening me.
Death’s baptism
Into life,
Into love,
In the midst of life.

Christo sunestauromia
Shedding only shell
My being ever living.
Ever living
Lives in me.

Sanctifica me,
Salve me,
Inebria me.
Christen me
with thine own self,
For thou dost know me
for what I am.
Thou knowest I need thee.

Deep-laid in a soft red womb,
Absconde me
Ne permittas me
Separari a te,
Intra tua vulnera!
Bring to me
third birth
beyond death,
Spreading golden wings
for Him to see.

He died,
He lives,
I died.
I will die again,
I will ever live.

Deo gratia!

[i] Notes:

Chrysos.                                             Gold              
Chrystus.                                           Christ

Christo sunestauromia                   I am co-crucified with Christ

Sanctifica me,                                   Sanctify me
Salve me,                                           Save me
Inebria me.                                       Inebriate me

Absconde me                                    Hide me
Ne permittas me                              Do not permit me
Separari a te,                                     To be separated from Thee
Intra tua vulnera!                            In your wounds!

Deo gratia!                                        Thanks be to God!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Personal Journey

Always on Holy Saturday I recall, with great thanksgiving, my initial encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Personal Journey    

            The book had been very inspiring in a negative sort of way.  The story, "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant," had been popularized as a Broadway play, and most people thought of it as a rather innocent fantasy about a man who sold his soul to become a championship baseball player.  I was eleven years of age, impressionable, and fascinated by the concept that there might be a power greater than myself.  It didn't matter that it was the devil.  What did matter was that there was something other, or should I say, someone!  I did what I thought was the logical thing.  I tried my first experiment in prayer.  I got down on my knees behind a chair in our living room and gave my life to satan.  There was no flash of black lightning, and on the surface I was mildly disappointed.

            In order to understand the significance of my experiment it helps to know that I grew up in a well-churched family.  Sunday worship, Sunday School, choir, youth group and all the other activities normal to churches were a regular part of our family life.  We were orthodox in our beliefs and conservative in our life style.  What was missing was a concept of personal faith.  We looked on ourselves as Christians, but it was something we did, rather than Someone we knew.  What I hungered for was that Someone to know.  That I was looking in the wrong direction never even occurred to me.

            While there were no overt manifestations of the evil one, circumstances were to provide an answer of sorts to my offer.  A friend of mine began working at a local store and began to steal from the cash register.  I was glad to share the spoils. The thefts from the cash register continued on a weekly basis for almost two years.   Those years were to see an increasing involvement in petty theft and vandalism.  School, always difficult at that time in my life, became almost impossible.  By the time that I was eighteen I had spent three years just getting through grade ten.  My school career ended with a conflict in my home that forced me out of school and into the Royal Canadian Navy.

            I enjoyed the discipline of boot camp and reveled in the physical challenges but that six month period was only the calm before the storm.  Immediately on being assigned to a ship in a Canadian port city I took up with the heavy drinkers on board ship.  From the very beginning of my drinking I knew only one possible reason for the use of  alcohol, and that was to blot myself out.  Whenever the ship was in port I spent my time drunk, or planning to get drunk, or begging in order to get drunk and became involved in petty theft and violence in order to sustain the ability to get drunk.  I drank away trade ratings and promotions and thought nothing of it. 

My ship-board career ended when I was working on a live electrical box and failed to warn the Electrical Officer before he stuck his hand in the box to correct my work.  Within twenty-four hours I found myself assigned to a shore hospital.  They really didn't know where else to put me.  Being confined to the hospital interfered with my drinking so I went AWOL in order to spend an evening drinking.  That act transferred me from a hospital room to a cell in solitary detention.  In order to keep track of me they assigned me to duty as a guard at the brig.  During this time came my second and more constructive attempt to pray.  I had spent an entire night drinking and had been unable to get drunk.  That failure to get drunk put me in a state of sheer panic.  I remember rolling over in my bed and crying out, "Oh God, help!"  Shortly after that I found myself with a conditional discharge and was told that if I stayed out of trouble with the law for a year they would give me an honorable discharge.

            Here is where the miracle began.  When I arrived home several things happened.  First, God temporarily removed both the opportunity and the desire for alcohol.  It was an act of sheer grace.  Second, I went to lunch with my father who leaned across the table and asked me an utterly incomprehensible question.  He said, "Have you asked Jesus into your heart?"  I didn't even know what he meant, but in the following conversation he shared with me that he had asked Jesus to be his Savior at a Billy Graham Rally in Toronto.  I was enrolled in a special school designed to help people who had not finished high-school to take two years of schooling in one year.  I discovered that several of my classmates, all young people who had been out in the work force and were returning for an education, were more different than I could have imagined.  They had a light about them, a radiance that came from the personal knowledge of Jesus and from an openness to His Spirit.  I began to attend evangelical meetings and began to hear the steps of salvation clearly for the first time. 

Several times I earnestly sought repentance, but one thing always held me back.   That was the theft from the cash register so many years ago.  Finally on an Easter Saturday I read a chapter in a book that bore the heading, "Repentance and Restitution."  The Holy Spirit confronted me with the fact that God, in my case, made a very clear connection between confession and going to talk to the shop-keeper from whom we stole the money.  I got down on my knees in my bedroom and began to pray.  "Father, I can't confess this to you, because If I do, then I will be arrested and then what good will I be to you?"   It was at this point that I heard the voice of God.  Not inwardly, but outwardly with an audible voice!  He said, "Go ahead, son."  I said, "But I can't, because my friend will become involved, and I don't have the right to do that."  He said, "Go ahead, son."  I came up with four or five more reasons, but each time He patiently answered, "Go ahead, son."  I got up off my knees and walked to the corner store and took the owner aside and told him my part in the affair without identifying the other person or giving the date when it happened.  The owner merely asked, "Is it all right in your heart now?"  He gave his forgiveness without lecturing or preaching and in so doing gave me a most precious gift.  I went down the street after our meeting with a tremendous feeling of my burdens being rolled away.  For the first time I felt an immediate sense of the presence of the Father and of Jesus without an accompanying sense of guilt.  But the miracle was not over yet.

            A few weeks later I knelt in a humble living room with a small group of people praying.  It was my first experience of an actual prayer meeting.  The meeting was so dull that the person kneeling beside me kept turning the pages of Life magazine.  Every time he turned a page he would say, "Amen," or "Hallelujah!"  I took a look at that strange performance and turned to God and asked Him, "What am I doing here?"  With that He poured out his Holy Spirit on me with the waves and billows of his love.  I lost all awareness of my surroundings and became only aware of Him.  I stayed under an intense anointing for what seemed like hours.  During all of that experience He was making me anew.  How precious those moments were when He let me know that there was a Power greater than myself and that He Himself loved me.

Easter Saturday is the anniversary my saving encounter with God the Father through Jesus Christ my Lord when I was twenty years of age.  It is a personal testimony of what God can do for even the most reprobate.  If you have either the courage or the curiosity to read this, say a prayer that those who are lost may be found.

2012 copyright, The Rev. Canon Dr. Rob Smith

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Toasted Cheese Sandwich

Sometimes life is more simple than we think!

There is a marvelous sequence in one of C. S. Lewis’s books.  An old tramp and a younger man named Mark are held captive in a situation fraught with danger.  Mark points out that they are in considerable danger.  The tramp offers his solution. 

“Ah,” said the man approvingly, “I got a plan.”

“What is it?”

“Ah,” said the man, winking at Mark with infinite knowingness and rubbing his belly.

“Go on. What is it?” said Mark.

“How’d it be,” said the man. . . . “How’d it be if you and I made ourselves a nice bit of toasted cheese?”[i]

The situation is not one that either the tramp or Mark could do anything about.  Mark is a well-educated young man concerned with the potential danger.  The tramp, a simple man, was more concerned with the immediate present and making the best of a difficult situation. 

I would not counsel passivity in the face of things that we can do something about, and our Christian faith is not a faith of passivity; nor is it a faith that ignores the reality of the present.  On the other hand the tramp has a point.  His main thing is to enjoy the present and make of it what he can. 

While we can learn from the past if we will, there is no point in trying to relive the past; that never works.  The future is not something within our grasp.  What the tramp does, is live in the present.  There are times when planning to make a toasted cheese sandwich is just the right thing.

There is a Zen story about a man who is being chased by tiger and leaps over the edge of a cliff to escape.  As he falls he grasps the branch of a tree and hangs dangling over a precipice.  Then he spies a strawberry growing out of the craggy side of the cliff.  “My, how sweet that strawberry tasted.”

If we try to live in the griefs of the past or live in fear of the future, we will miss the simple joys of the present.  The philosopher Pascal would remind us that we have pain in the present.  And so?  Should that prevent us from accepting those moments of love, of joy, of beauty that flow to us in the present moment; the purr of a cat, the happy wagging friendship of the family dog, the love of a child, or a parent, or a friend, the beauty of a sunset, the wonder of a balmy day in the middle of winter or the wonder of cold crisp winter day. 

St. Paul counsels us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”[ii]  Sometimes a toasted cheese sandwich is really just the right thing.

[i] C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, (New York: Scribner, 1974) p. 309
[ii] Philippians 4:8   

Friday, March 4, 2016

Once When I Was Very Young: A Memoir

Once when I was very young I was running along a sandy shore, swooping and dodging and laughing with an exuberance known only to children and very wise adults.  I darted from the grassy bank out onto the crusty sand along the beach.  What appeared to be firm was not.  Instantly I began to sink up to my chest in the mire.  I was screaming for help and flailing my arms in desperation, and help came.  An adult came running with a long sturdy branch that he extended to me over the sand.  Slowly I was pulled free from the ooze, which released me only with a regretful sucking sound.  I stood trembling along the shore, not even yet realizing the extent of the peril I had been in.  “You had better go home,” a voice said.  I trudged up the hill to my home.  My father met me at the door of the garage and few short questions sized up the situation.  “Go to the garage and take those clothes off.  I’ll bring you something else to wear.” And “Don’t tell your mother.  She worries too much.”

            Now that I am older and have enough years to have a perspective of my own, I recognize a simple truth.  There are other times in my life I have darted from the grassy bank out onto sinking sand.  Sometimes it has been careless, but other times, just one of those things.  You do the right thing, in the right way, and at the right time, and you sink anyway.  That is part of what it means to be human. 

You also have had this experience.  Always it catches us unaware, when we are comfortable, perhaps too self-assured.  Suddenly the ground beneath our feet gives way and becomes sinking sand.  We are instantly out of our depth, wrestling with the feelings of helplessness.  Defenses leap immediately into action.  Fear and confusion begin to cloud our thinking.  We marshal the forces of defensiveness or anger, or we look for ways to shrink back into denial.  Not facing the reality of the quicksand that has overtaken us can be fatal.  Recognizing that we have been in this position before, and that rescue is possible gives us hope and makes it easier to cry out for help.  When we cry out for help, help comes.

Fortunately another part of human experience is the discovery of love.  Very often in those situations a branch has been extended to me by someone more mature in faith than me.  In a few amazing events One who loved me and gave Himself for me simply walked out over the surface of the crusty but unstable sand, extended His hand, and drew me from the mire.  Always he has taken my filthy garments and clothed me in white.  Never once has he said, “Don’t tell.”

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Left Luggage

“If you are looking for a baggage storage service to take care of your luggage while you are out and about around London you have come to the right place when you come to Paddington Station. “When you arrive you can take a walk down to Platform 12 where you will find our Left Baggage Paddington service. Here you will be able to leave your luggage in our capable hands allowing you to further enjoy your London trip.”[i]

It had once been a splendid steamer trunk, bright blue with brass hinges, brass corner caps, and a brass lock.  But it has seen better days, the blue is faded and dingy, the brass badly tarnished, and one of the brass corner caps is missing.  Now it sits abandoned in left luggage in Left Luggage on Platform 12 at Paddington Station waiting to be reclaimed by someone who no longer wants or needs its musty contents and is perhaps embarrassed both by the sad contents, the rags and trash of a former life, and even more embarrassed by having packed it, brought it, and abandoned it.

When the steamer trunk has gravitated from left luggage to unclaimed luggage the Stationmaster flips through his great ring of keys, finds the right one and with a twist snaps the lock open.   Over the years the Stationmaster has opened many abandoned trunks; there are rarely any surprises.  This trunk, like many others, was stored in left luggage towards the end of a long trip.  What does the Stationmaster find?  Dirty laundry!  Dirty socks, dirty underwear, dirty shirts, dirty trousers; and adding a distinct aromatic bouquet, dirty sneakers.

What do you have in your old spiritual steamer trunk?  "Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  The wild beasts will honor me, the dragons[ii] and the owls, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people”[iii]

For us, the trunk doesn’t just go away.  There is no spiritual Paddington Station Left Luggage; instead we just go around dragging the trunk behind us.  It needs to be unpacked and the Stationmaster, Jesus Christ, does do laundry.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”[iv]  All those old images of the aging Old Year being replaced by an infant New Year were false.  Now half way through the Lent many are dragging behind them that old steamer trunk filled with last year’s memories and the memories of years before, all pressed down and shaken together.  It takes an act of will, a surrender of the right to open the trunk before the old can actually be made new.

[i] Left Luggage Advertisement on Paddington Station website
[ii] The Hebrew word is tan-neen, which actually means dragons not jackals, but modern translators don’t believe in dragons.  The Hebrew word for jackals is shuw`al.  
[iii] Isaiah 43:1120
[iv] 1 John 1:9  

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Hunter and the Farmer

      Current studies on people with a so-called attention deficit are pointing away from a negative diagnosis of attention deficits to a deeper underlying reality.  In our culture some of the new studies divide people into two basic groups.  The Hunter and the Farmer.  At the simplest level the Hunter constantly monitors the environment and is ever ready for a new chase to begin.  The Farmer is not easily distracted from the immediate task at hand.   The Hunter has some of gifts and weakness of the Hare, while the Farmer has some of gifts and weaknesses of the Tortoise.  Most of us mix the characteristics of the Hunter and the Farmer in varying degrees.  The story of the Tortoise and the Hare was incidentally written by a Farmer who had empathy with the Tortoise.

      That brings us to the very first pair of brothers in the Scripture.  Cain is a Farmer, slow and steady wins the race.  Abel is a Nomad/ Shepherd, a Hunter who follows the flocks and constantly monitors the environment for dangers.  The danger that he fails to recognize is the jealousy and resentment of his brother, Cain.  These dynamics occur many times in Scripture and come to light in the followers of Jesus.  Mary and Martha are a clear example.  Martha has her mind fixed on the mundane task at hand and plods through her preparation as a hostess, while her Hunter-type sister has dropped the dishes and is mesmerized by Jesus and his teaching in much the same fashion as the Hunter would drop the plow and go and chase a rabbit.  Both the Cain and Abel story, and the Mary and Martha story are written with an appreciation of the Hunter type and a caution given to the Farmer type.  On the other hand we need to recognize that when the crisis of death of Lazarus hits the family of Mary and Martha, it is Martha who rushes to meet Jesus on the road with a clear statement of her faith.  Mary is so overwhelmed by her grief that she remains in the house waiting for the call from Jesus. 

      A simple overview of the Apostolic band uncovers obvious Hunters like Peter, and his brother Andrew who is marked by a quieter and steadier approach to life.  What binds them all together is the person of Jesus.  He is the only thing that some of them have in common.  Jesus himself is an interesting study.  For the first thirty years of his life he lives as a farmer type methodically following the family business of carpentry.  It takes much more patience to finish a piece of carpentry than most Hunters possess.  On the other hand, at the age of thirty, like a true Hunter he drops everything and becomes an itinerant preacher wandering from village to village preaching the good news of the Kingdom and healing the sick.  Jesus combines in himself the perfect balance of Hunter and Farmer.  He is the complete man who attracts them both drawing the impetuous Hunter Peter into a deeper steadiness in following him, and challenging the less adventuresome Andrew to go out and preach and perform miracles.  For the love of Jesus they both rise to the challenge.  For the love of Jesus those who are Hunters within the Church and those who are Farmers are called to honour and respect each other, to complement each other, and to grow in grace in his image.