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

Thursday, April 26, 2012


What are the wellsprings in your life? 

It was very early in my relationship with my wife Diana that we drove up to Bass Rocks near Gloucester, Massachusetts.  We loved to sit there and watch the surf pounding on the rocks below.  We would take our bibles, read together and pray.  At that stage we thought we weren’t dating, just hanging out as friends.  I had a gallon jug of fresh squeezed apple cider and we shared, drinking straight out of the jug.  I still remember the expression on her face when I first passed her the jug.  My informality was obviously a challenge.

Years ago my wife Diana and I were engaged but separated by distance for several months.  Diana was in Massachusetts and I in New Brunswick, Canada. We would look into the western night sky and see Venus floating over the Moon.  In a way it was our “star”, a wellspring of comfort that came from knowing that we were looking at the very same thing on the very same night.

When we were first married we lived in a third floor walk-up furnished apartment in Toronto.  The whole apartment and all the furniture were in shades of brown.  We referred to it as excrement brown, only we weren’t that polite about it.  The only cheerful place was the bathroom with its white porcelain tub and toilet, and its horrible pink tile and turquoise trim.  We would sit for hours on the edge of the tub and talking.  St. Paul says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”[i]  We spent a lot of sleepless nights, just talking and getting adjusted to each other. Talking with one another has been a wellspring of joy over the years.      

Some years later we sat at the little table by the picture window in our cottage on Great Neck near Ipswich, Massachusetts.   It was a wonderful picture window.  Looking out in one direction we could see the varied shades of green marsh grasses and brown mud and the clammers digging for clams.  Looking in the other direction we could see Plum Island and the blue green ocean beyond.  There is a wonder in the shared beauty of God’s creation; and always, talking, talking and just being together.

Our friends Oon Chor and Peck Lim Khoo had just returned from the Philippines and lived with us in Watertown, Massachusetts for several months.  Tim had just been born and I remember Oon Chor changing him on the changing table.  Tim was babbling on as babies babble, and all of a sudden Oon Chor exclaimed, “He just said the Chinese word for “pork”.  So we had a Chinese pork dish for supper that evening.  Living together for those months gave us a wellspring of love that has lasted over the years and even to this day we each keep the other in our prayers and affection.

We were in England with the children; Tim was six and Julie three.  Near Winchester we stayed in a bed and breakfast at the home of Robin Anstey.  We had a classic English fry, eggs, sausage, fried tomatoes, and toast.  I looked out on their back porch and saw several bags of garden soil.  Each bag had been slit open and a tomato plant planted directly in the bag.  We went on to Wells Cathedral.  The children thought it was just a big play area, but when we came to Salisbury Cathedral they immediately went to a side altar, knelt and prayed.  There is a wellspring of joy in holy places and in shared experience.

We sat on the patio by the pool yesterday morning with our Prayer Books and bibles and prayed the Morning Office together.  It was Wednesday and in the evening we were starting a new study at Trinity in Dallas on the little book of Ruth.  Did you know that the name “Ruth” means friend.  Her friendship with Naomi was marked by commitment to each other, and by commitment to the LORD.  “Where you go, I will go, and your God will be my God.”

We live by necessity in the habitation of dragons; that’s just the nature of our world.  The Psalmist says, “[ii]Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.  As they go through the Valley of Weeping they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.  They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.”  We travel together hand in hand as pilgrims in a foreign land, with our eyes set on the goal of our heavenly home.  All along the way we have found wellsprings of joy and comfort.  Those wellsprings are marked by shared experience of trials and joys alike, by many hours of conversation, by the beauty of God’s creation, by our family and friends, by times of laughter, and often just by the quiet business of just being together. 

[i] Ephesians 4:26
[ii] Psalm 84:5-7   

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Qualities of Friendship
To many Protestant Christians the Apocrypha is a strange and somewhat suspect collection of Books.  Our Anglican tradition tells us that while we do not read the Apocrypha to establish doctrine do read it for “example of life and instruction of manners.”[i]  In short we can read the Books of the Apocrypha for devotional purposes and within its pages many secret treasures are hidden.

One book of the Apocrypha was highly regarded by the Early Church and that is the Book of Ecclesiasticus, written by Jesus son of Eleazor son of Sirach sometime before 180 BC.  Two passages from Ecclesiasticus, including the Benedictus es, Domine,[ii]are beloved canticles in the service of Morning Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer.

One of the most thought provoking is the following from the New Revised Standard Version:

Pleasant speech multiplies friends, and a gracious tongue multiplies courtesies.  Let those who are friendly with you be many, but let your advisers be one in a thousand.  When you gain friends, gain them through testing, and do not trust them hastily.  For there are friends who are such when it suits them, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.  And there are friends who change into enemies, and tell of the quarrel to your disgrace.  And there are friends who sit at your table, but they will not stand by you in time of trouble.  When you are prosperous, they become your second self, and lord it over your servants; but if you are brought low, they turn against you, and hide themselves from you.  Keep away from your enemies, and be on guard with your friends.
Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter: whoever finds one has found a treasure.   Faithful friends are beyond price; no amount can balance their worth.  Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; and those who fear the Lord will find them.  Those who fear the Lord direct their friendship aright, for as they are, so are their neighbors also.[iii]

The development of relationship with good friends takes time, testing, and the growth of trust.  Christian’s are required to treat everyone in a loving manner, but they are not required to trust everyone.  We are blessed in life if we find two or three very good friends with whom we can share everything.  There is a larger circle of more casual friends with whom we can share a lot on varying levels, but not the deepest secrets of our souls.  As for the rest of those whom we know, we can trust them to be themselves.

Even Jesus had circles of friendship.  John, was his closest friend, then Peter and James, then Andrew, then the rest of the twelve, except for poor old Judas who, in a graphic way, proved himself untrustworthy.  Jesus knew many other people but we are told that “he did not trust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”[iv]  Friendships take time, they take effort, they take patience and persistence.  Good friendships are a labor of love.

[i] “The Articles of Religion,” The Book of Common Prayer, BCP p.868
[ii] Ibid. p. 90
[iii] Ecclus. 6:5-17 (NRSV) 
[iv] John 2:24-25

Saturday, April 7, 2012

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.