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, December 25, 2014


Birth moans
in strawed stable.
The King has come,
his lusty wailing
rends dark night.

Birth bloody
as his death,
the King has come.
His reality
mouth and mother's breast.

Birth starlit in musked air,
The King has come,
God swaddled in human need.
Jesus Son of God Most High.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo!


Lady laud your son.
Cast down your golden crown and worship him,
born a babe in stable laid,
who walked the hills of Galilee
with fisher folk and tax collectors
made of them a warrior band,
shocked the scribe and Pharisee
not less than priest and Sadducee.
No simple man, nor plain was he.
He has the power to call forth you and me.

Lady laud your son
whose death pierced your own soul
with grief too sharp to bear
fulfilling prophet's words in temple court
so long ago.  Proud mother of a little babe
with head bowed down,
you contemplate the way
he cast down the mighty from their thrones.

Lady laud your son.
You have given once again
as you have given many times before.
Resurrection joy, ascension parting mingled in your breast.
The old ways of holding him can never be again.
Lady laud your son.
Cast down your golden crown and worship him
in the circle of the saints, his sisters, brothers,
all your children now, all crowned like you
God-bearer, now for ever blessed
held in warm embrace by glad hearts everywhere.
Lady laud your son.

The Winding Centuries Have Come and Gone

The winding centuries have come and gone
Still the Christmas song goes on and on.
Some have loved the Babe, some still hate him;
Christmas joy is for hearts that welcome him.
Peace on earth, the thronging angels sing,
Throughout the heavens hear the merry chorus ring.
Simple shepherds on the hill rejoice to hear
The news that Almighty God has drawn near.
But Herod on his throne feels a deadly chill;
Any who threaten his power he will kill,
Wife, or son, or even little baby child.
There is no safety for child or mother mild.
Now Herod is dead; the years have come and gone;
Only Christ will come with the breaking of the dawn.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

When I was Nine Christmas was a Fizzle

The week before Christmas, my Norwegian stepmother Haldis’s sister Lucy arrived from Chicago with her formidable mother. Lucy and Haldis were Valkyrie blonds, tall, slender and haughty. With Lucy came Bestemor, the name means “Grandmother.” Bestemor was a large frightening woman, a savage Brunhilde who ran a fortune telling tea shop in Chicago. She was a dilettante in horoscopes, phrenology, and other skullduggery.

Several things happened that were to cast a pall over my childhood appreciation of Christmas. An occasion for jeering arrived in the mail. My natural mother Ruth had been divorced by my father when I was an infant, but now an unusual thing happened; she had sent me two gifts in the mail. The first was a very large glossy Audubon book of The Birds of North America, and the second gift was a silver cigarette case with her family crest embossed on the lid. The book was beyond the reach of a nine year old. I was too young and accordingly the book disappeared on the family bookshelves. The silver cigarette case provided an occasion for merry mockery for the two Valkyrie sisters. It was immediately taken from me and given to my father who for years used it as a box for cufflinks. What was a nine year old boy to do with a silver box? Besides, memories of Ruth were bad memories and Haldis always referred to Ruth as “The Flood” because all that Ruth left behind, after her divorce from my father, was like the debris left over by a receding tide.

The other thing that happened was that awkward thing about gifts. Like all children I had my own Christmas list, but at the age of nine I already had no expectation that there was a Santa Claus to grant the desires of my heart. Gift giving in our household was to be governed by the Valkyrie sisters; even I sensed that. That year, few days before Christmas, I wandered into the basement and discovered all my brother’s gifts stored away in the empty coal cellar. To my childish eyes the hoard looked like all the things that I would have wanted when I was their age. I hope you understand that it wasn’t envy of my brothers. I was already too big for a little tricycle. Rather than that it was a sharp perception that I was not valued. Christmas morning was humbling. I received a pale pastel shirt and a narrow knit tie with pale pastel stripes that I can still see in my mind’s eye. I was encouraged by the Valkyrie sisters to be a little man; an acceptable little man, and I was yet a little child.

The final blow to Childhood Christmas came a couple of years later when Haldis announced that she was tired of getting up on Christmas morning with excited children. From there on she informed us that we would follow the Norwegian custom of opening gifts on Christmas Eve. That of course made it difficult to attend Christmas Eve services, which from the viewpoint of Haldis was an added bonus. She may have had a point. We were Scottish Presbyterians and I do remember our dour Glasgow Scot’s minister William Black opening the Christmas Sunday service by proclaiming “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise;” which also misses the point of Christmas. Not that Mr. Black didn’t also have a point. After all it was a very difficult congregation and must have given him good cause for a broken and contrite heart on more than one occasion.

What is the point? All of those childhood Christmases spinning down through my childhood years were focused on family and gift giving. The often painful family dynamics always overshadowed the transient joy of gift giving. A favorite Christmas record in our household was Yogi Yorgesson singing “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas.” The last line sticks in my mind, “In the corner the radio was playing, and over the racket as Gabriel Heater was saying, Peace on Earth, Good will to men, and yust then someone slugged Uncle Ben.” In a way, it was funny, and not so funny. Not so funny, because the whole point of Christmas was missing.

            Christmas is for little children. Love and bless the little children you know, and do your best to add to their joy. Too soon they will be adults and look back, with either with longing or sadness, on the business of Christmas. And what about you this Christmas?  Christmas will be a lot easier, and ultimately more joyful, if you keep it in historical perspective. It is all about the birth of the Christ Child.

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased" [Luke 2:8-14]!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Swarming of Bees

The Book of Psalms was the prayer book of the Early Church and the prayer book of Jesus. One of the Early Church fathers introduced a verse from Psalms saying, “In the Psalms, where the Holy Spirit speaks to us, it is written . . .”

Most mornings when I rise I prayerfully sing a few Psalms as a way of listening to the Holy Spirit. So very often the words of the Psalter speak out of the conflicts and joys of the human heart. I usually prayerfully sing three to five Psalms, depending on their length, and systematically work through the Psalter. This morning as I picked up The Book of Common Prayer Psalter I felt battered about by a number of pressures that I am faced with this day; not the least of these pressures are the alarming news events which press upon us, that and a thousand other things that beat on the doors of my mind seeking admittance. What I found was this.

“In the Psalms, where the Holy Spirit speaks to us it is written,

8    It is better to rely on the Lord *
            than to put any trust in the flesh.
9    It is better to rely on the Lord
            than to put any trust in rulers.
10  All the ungodly encompass me; *
            in the Name of the LORD I will repel them.
11  They hem me in, they hem me in on every side; *
             in the name of the LORD I will repel them.
13  They swarm about me like bees;
      they blaze like a fire of thorns; *
            in the name of the LORD I will repel them.
14  I was pressed so hard that I almost fell, *
            but the LORD came to my help.
15  The Lord is my strength and my song, *
            and he has become my salvation.

All of those thousand anxious thoughts were swarming about me as bees. Most of us have that experience from time to time. In Psalm 71 verse 21 I find myself praying “You strengthen me more and more; you enfold and comfort me.”

When I was a little boy I had an alarming experience:

Little Robin Redbreast
Was running through the meadow
Looking for adventure
That would please him best.
Near a woody dell
Down a deep dark hole he fell,
Where buzzing bees, all black and yellow
Angry swarmed, and made him yell.
His summer camp was just a torture
And not a time for fun adventure.

In times of stress decide to rest in the Lord. It takes a decision. The Lord is our strength and our song, and He is our salvation. There is an old song that says, “Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin, The Blood of Jesus whispers peace within.”

As I begin to rest in the Lord, I pray in the words of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier in his poem Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,

O still, small voice of calm.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

With the pending destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah observes that the Old Covenant did not work. He says, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant” [Jeremiah 31:31].

Both the Old and New Covenants are based on blood sacrifice. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” [Hebrews 9:22]. Nothing less than an atoning death can wash away the stains on the human conscience that says, “I feel so guilty I could die.”

The Old Covenant was only skin deep. The author of Hebrews says, “For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” [Hebrews 9:13-14]. The promise of the New Covenant in the Blood of Christ comes with the promise of a new grace that reaches deep within the rebellious human heart, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” [Jeremiah 31:33].

That is why we can pray, “For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we delight in your will, and walk in your ways” [BCP p.360]. It is by faith that we are able to seize the promise and trust that He will do as He has said.

Here is a hidden danger. There are spiritual sociopaths who are so dead that they do not know that they are guilty. Jesus didn’t come to call the self-righteous sociopath; but only the sinners who knew their guilt. But know this; even dead sociopaths can be awakened by the proclamation of the Gospel. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Prayer: Heavenly Father over the years I have often said, “I am an Anglican first, and an Episcopalian second.”  That declaration and awareness has comforted me in the past, but what if the Anglican Communion itself is torn asunder?  I am saddened, but not shaken by the prospect, because the fact is that my roots are sunk even deeper than the few centuries of our specific Anglican history.

I am on the Canterbury Trail to the defaced shrine of the Holy Martyr Thomas á Becket.  Well he understood the problems of royal privilege and its potential for contaminating the Church in England.  As an old colonial boy I find it frustrating that the royals and parliament have so much say in the life of the Church, but you know I love the pomp and ceremony, the skirl of pipes and the rumble of drums

My roots reach back through the long history of the English Church, through Milton, and through Blake who prayed, “And did the Countenance Divine Shine forth upon our clouded hills?  And was Jerusalem builded here Among these dark Satanic Mills?”  Through John Jewel and “ the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost and the Manifold Gifts Thereof,”  through Cranmer and the Book of Common Prayer, through Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, through Walter Hilton and Richard Rolle, through blesséd Anselm who teaches me that the strength of my salvation is the strength of Christ.

My roots reach further back through Augustine of Canterbury, through Saint Benedict and the ancient Monks of Nursia, through Antony of the Desert and the wild-eyed desert hermits.  My roots reach back through Canterbury, past Roman paving stones to ancient Celts and Britons by their smoky fires smouldering in the damp of an English spring.

My roots reach even further back through wandering missionaries, Christian tradesmen, and Roman soldiers who bearing the cross on their hearts first tread upon the soil of the land of my forefathers. 

My roots reach even further back through the long and dreadful glorious history of the martyrs of the early church, through the letters and missions of Paul and Peter, Jude and James and John and all the Gospellers now radiant in glory.  “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-20).

It is actually that last declaration that binds together the whole of this tumultuous history of the Church catholic and militant that I have loved, and still love with every fibre of my being.  My Father it is immersion in your Spirit, poured out upon the Church through the hands of Jesus our Head that makes sense of the whole.  It is one of your miracles that the Church in all its brokenness over the centuries still survives. 

Time and time and time again you gather the broken shards together and craft again a golden vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the Master of the house, ready for every good work (2 Timothy 2:21).  I find that instead of grieving or despairing, I am excited by the shaking of the foundations of our beloved Anglican Communion.  When “the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the well” (Ecclesiastes 12:6), nothing less than your holy hands are at work.  My Lord, let me see!  Show me the new golden vessel as it rises like the Phoenix from the ashes.  Break us, mold us, make us, fill us again most glorious Lord and Father.  We are yours, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nice Sermon Reverend!

Phillips Brooks, a great preacher of the truth. Brooks became the Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston during the Civil War era, and the author of “O little town of Bethlehem”.

     Nice Sermon Reverend! 

     He said, “Nice sermon this morning Reverend,” like someone who says, “Lovely hat, Mrs. Jones.” 

     The preacher responded, “Did you like this morning’s sermon? Should I really care?”

     Jeremiah receives a little advice from the Lord, “Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD” [Jeremiah 1:8 NKJV, Hebrew and Septuagint]. St. Peter, who was actually a very sensitive guy, observes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God” [1 Peter 4:10-11]. Those who are only connoisseurs of preaching may not understand the terror and delight of preaching.

     In an hostile environment Jeremiah is commanded, “Thus says the LORD: Stand in the court of the LORD's house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the LORD all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word” [Jeremiah 26:2].

     A Sunday morning sermon is not to be judged like a lady’s hat, for it is in danger of being a word of God to you. Ezekiel says, “Moreover, he said to me, "Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears.  And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, 'Thus says the Lord GOD,' whether they hear or refuse to hear” [Ezekiel 3:10-11]. 

Isaiah says, “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]. 

Saint Paul says, with some relief,  “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you,  for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” [Acts 20:26-27].

Monday, May 26, 2014

Lincoln and Lee on the Terrible Nature of War

 Among the treasures at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa is a small but significant collection of memorabilia from the period of the American Civil War that is tucked in among a marvellous selection of Fredrick Remington bronzes and paintings by Charles Russell and Thomas Moran.  Two exhibits side by side are quite striking; one the life mask and hands of Abraham Lincoln, the other a picture of Robert E. Lee accompanied by the following quote from a letter from Lee in 1861 to his sister:

“With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hands against my relatives, my children, my home.  I have therefore resigned my commission in the Amy, and save in defense of my native state, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never need be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword. . . “

One of the tragedies of the American Civil War is that it pitted Christian against Christian in one of the most savage conflicts in our history.   Despite Lee’s sincere hope he was inevitably drawn into the conflict, and but for his skill and determination as a military leader the war would likely have been considerably shorter.  The time would come when General Ambrose Burnside would stolidly and stupidly send his Union troops in a feckless assault of the Confederate positions on the heights above Fredericksburg.  On December 13th, 1862 Lee made the following remark, “It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it.” 

Lee’s fierce right hand man Stonewall Jackson was a man of ardent faith, and fearless disposition.  Of his sense of security in battle Jackson said, "My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed.”  Whether or not one agrees with Lee and Jackson, or with Lincoln and Union Leaders like Joshua Chamberlain their faith should be taken seriously.

On the opposite wall at the Gilcrease is a quote from Lincoln at the Philadelphia Sanitary Fair in June of 1864.  A Sanitary Fair raised funds for the medical and practical care of soldiers by auctioning art, curios and memorabilia.  In his speech Lincoln said,

“War at its best, is terrible, and this war of ours, In its magnitude and in its duration is one of the most terrible . . . it has carried mourning to almost every home, until it can almost be said that the ‘heavens are hung in black.’ Yet the war is continues.”

            Individual Christians from time to time find themselves in opposition to each other, but that is the nature of the fallen world in which we live.  Only the very naïve would make the mistake of thinking that the conflicts of the past, of either the American Civil War, or of the past of each person can be fairly evaluated by hind sight.  In the midst of the conflicts of life it is not always so easy.  There is perhaps even a reason for war, as God’s way of teaching his hard hearted people the ways of faith.

Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan.  It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before” [Judges 3:1].

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Under the Rainbow Bridge: A Family Tragedy

Late in 1941 three things came together: the new Mustang, the newly constructed Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls, and a young fly-boy named Nelson Perdue. The Mustang was a small fighter plane that out performed the Spitfire and was destined to take a major role in the war. The Rainbow Bridge had some strong romantic connections as the replacement for the Honeymoon Bridge, which collapsed due to an ice jam in the Niagara River. The new bridge had a marvelous view of Horseshoe Falls. Put those two tempting items together with the newly engaged Nelson Perdue and a sunny day in the fall of 1941 and you have the stuff of family legends. The tragedy is that Nelson was lost somewhere over Germany later in the war, leaving only the sparse legend surrounding his name. My aunt, now in her late eighties, lost the most, and the event colored her life for some time to follow.  The rest of the family barely knew him. I never met him. Now sixty-five years later I know only the brief legend which was always told with joyful admiration, “Nelson flew under the Rainbow Bridge!”

What comes to mind is the admonition of a 8th Century Saint, John of Damaskos, “All human affairs, all that does not exist after death is vanity. Riches vanish, glory leaves us… every man born of the earth troubles himself in vain… by the time we have gained the whole world we shall be in the grave, where king and pauper are one.”[1]

What is truly important? What is it that exists after death? Certainly if God is our one true Love, all other loves and relationships will exist in him. Here I want to raise a very important question for those of us in The Episcopal Church today.  Sixty-five years from now what will remain of the conflicts, vested interests, and personalities of the crisis within the church today? The simple answer is not much!

In 1771 conflict arouse in the Church of England.  250 clergy who were deeply affected by the spread of Unitarianism submitted a petition to parliament.  British Statesman Edmund Burke responded: "These gentlemen complain of hardships: let us examine a little what that hardship is. They want to be honored as clergymen of the Church of England … but their consciences will not allow them to conform to the doctrines and practices of that Church. That is, they want to be teachers in a Church to which they apparently no longer belong; and that is an odd sort of hardship. They want to be paid for teaching one set of doctrines, while they are teaching another."[2] Today’s conflict is only a variant of an ongoing debate between the orthodox and those who, like the second century heretic Marcion, refused the authority of Scripture and the Church wherever either disagreed with him. 

Marcion we know, because the theologian Tertullian named him, but who are the 250 clergy who petitioned Parliament in 1771? Their names are lost to posterity and they are only an obscure footnote in the history of the Church. At least my family remembers that it was Nelson Perdue who flew under the Rainbow Bridge.  Karl Barth said something to the effect that it is one of God’s miracles that the Church still exists. For twenty centuries, battered and bruised, the Church, the Bride of Christ rises from the ashes of conflict and opens the door to Salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

From the perspective of history, there is nothing novel, or particularly earth shaking in the current attempts to deny the authority of Scripture in faith and practice.  Roseanne Roseannadanna was right, “it just goes to show you, it's always something! If it's not one thing, it's another!” Of course it is. St. Paul clearly warns us, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”[3] So what’s new?

Conflict within the Anglican Church is like waves crashing against the beach.  No matter how many times they come in, they always recede again. In the meantime, what are we to do? First, and it ought to be obvious, don’t build your house on the sand.  Build your house on the rock!  This is precisely where Jesus presents a stiff challenge to today’s Church.  What is the rock?  The One whom we call the Rock says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”[4] 

The rock, very simply, is the self-revelation of God in Holy Scripture itself.  By definition, “In the name of Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.”[5]  The poet John Donne said it very nicely, “The Scriptures are God’s Voice.  The Church is His Echo.”[6] I am well aware that not everybody wants that to be the solution for the painful stresses within the Church today, but I’m afraid that it is, and I don’t see away around the rock except by walking on the sand. Stability in times of distress is a matter of basic principles firmly held. I have always enjoyed the seashore, but for some reasons which should be obvious, I wouldn’t insist on building my house on the sand.

The second thing we are to do is follow the advice of Jesus who said “Fear not!”[7] and “Love one another!”[8] Instead of worrying over things that are out of your control, put your trust in Him who is our steadfast love[9] and do the amazing thing he told you to do, and “love one another.” That’s a whole lot better than pushing and shoving and saying uncharitable things.

The third thing we are supposed to do you already know.  Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."[10] He didn’t mean for you to do it only on mild sunny days, but in all kinds of weather, even when it’s stormy.  The secret of Church Growth is this: Go and make disciples!  That is as simple as inviting people to Church.  How do I know?  Because that is the way most of us came to faith in the first place, somebody invited us.

[1] John of Damaskos, quoted by St. Peter of Damaskos in “The Fifth Stage of Contemplation” in the Philokalia, Vol.3
[2] Alfred Plummer, The Church of England in the Eighteenth Century, (London: Methuen, 1910), edited in contemporary English, Rob Smith 2006, p. 168
[3] Acts 20:28-31 ESV
[4] Matthew 7:24
[5] The Articles of Religion, BCP, p. 868
[6] John Donne, Sermons VI. 5-7
[7] Many places in the gospels, but for a helpful verse look up Psalm 64:1b
[8] John 15:12 etc.
[9] Psalm 144:2
[10] Matthew 28:18-20

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What Do You Do When You Are Tired and Worn Out?

“…Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.” ~ Bilbo Baggins

There have been times when I can identify with Bilbo.  He was a hundred and eleventy years old, and he had every reason to feel like butter that had been scraped over too much bread.  I suspect that most of us have been there at one time or another.

Even when you have doing your best, or perhaps, especially when you have been doing your best, that thin and stretched feeling can creep up on you.  There are several contributing factors.  Foremost among them is the fact that fallen humankind in a fallen world does not possess limitless energy.  Mind you, I think that limitless energy was part of God’s original plan in the Garden of Eden.  The curse Adam earned was, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat your bread . . . for you are dust and to dust you shall return’ (Genesis 2:19).  We run out of steam because we were meant to be connected with Life Himself, and when that connection was impaired, death, and the potential for exhaustion, entered our world.

There is another factor that cannot be ignored.  At the very beginning, that Arch Liar, the Serpent, fed Eve a bundle of half-truths.  The central fib she was told was that she could be like God by doing things in her own way, instead of in God’s way.  The only safe thing she could have said to him was, “Be gone Satan!”  Make no mistake we are still in that same battle, a battle that will take its toll on our energy, and on our very lives.  Jesus said as much when confronting the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).  There is an Enemy who seeks to drain us of all life and energy.  He is the Murderer of life, love, and joy.

There is a solution.  That solution is to continually, repeatedly, return to active fellowship with the God who loves us.  Isaiah asks us, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable.  He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.  Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;  but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31). 

The Hebrew word for “wait” also means “to hope, to expect, and to bind together.”  When we are bound together with the Lord by dwelling in His Presence in prayer, in listening for His voice in Scripture, in praise, and in fellowship with the saints, our energy gradually returns.  Experience teaches us that this restoration is positive, gradual, and energizing like the charging of a battery. When we feel stretched and thin, like butter scraped over too much bread; it is then that we discover the great truth that Emmanuel is “God with us”. Then we pray with the Psalmist, “When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength of soul” [Ps. 138:3].

Saturday, April 19, 2014

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 honourable 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.

2014© Copyright  The Rev. Dr. Rob Smith