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Where have all the men gone?

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When I was a young child I remember a spring day when my father was planting our winter supply of potatoes. Being rural poor and with a lot of mouths to feed, planting and harvesting a good garden was really important to my mom and dad. As dad was getting everything ready for the planting a Jehovah Witness gentlemen drove up our driveway. Since we never ridiculed or turned them away we were on their visitation list. The gentleman approached my dad and asked; “Do you have time to hear about God and how He can help you?”

My dad answered; “Well, I have to plant my garden. Do you have time to help me plant my potatoes?” The gentlemen shook his head; “I’m sorry but I’m really busy so I don’t have time to help you. And I’m not dressed for dirty work.”

My dad looked the man and quietly said; “If you don’t have time to help me plant my potatoes, I don’t have time to listen to you.” The Jehovah Witness left and that was the end of that!

At the core of every man is a hard-wired need to ‘provide’; a need to provide sustenance and security for his family. Oddly, this ‘knowledge’ of the male ‘inner landscape’ seems to have been lost to our generation. Women have a need to ‘nurture’ and men have a need to ‘provide’. In our society’s rush to make everyone equal and the same, this duality was denied until it was all but forgotten. We now wonder why men don’t live up to their responsibilities. We now wonder why boys don’t become men. We now wonder why men don’t bother with church.

Douglas Todd reports in his Ottawa Citizen article, “As women rise, men vanish from churches” (Dec. 29, 2012); “The gender imbalance could be far worse. The minister at Mount Seymour United Church is painfully aware men have been quietly, but in huge numbers, streaming away from many of North America’s Christian churches. ‘I don’t think many of us have answers to why it’s happening,’ says Talbot, who has led Mount Seymour United for eight years while raising two boys in a same-sex relationship with her partner, Brenda. While Talbot wonders if many men have lost interest in the church because it no longer confers social status, another part of her worries men have been turned off by a church that might be reflecting the subtle devaluing of men that’s prevalent in secular culture.”

Most of the time I worship in a church filled with thugs, thieves, drunks and drug addicts. They are all male and many of them are from jail. Every man in this fellowship has had a hand out of his prison by Jesus Christ. Jesus got his hands dirty with each one of them. That is the Gospel preached there. The Gospel of Jesus for ‘bad’ men is hard-hitting, confrontational and ‘in your face’. No man there, would say Jesus didn’t have time to help them with their ‘dirty work’. Over the years that I have worked and worshipped in this church I have realized that there is little difference between the twisted broken men of my church and men elsewhere. We all have ‘dirty work’ that needs to be done. We all need Jesus to help us. Sadly, we often don’t meet up with that Jesus in mainline churches.

The people next door?

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How well do you know your neighbours? This question may well become a life or death question as our world continues to become more stressed and chaotic.

During the ice storm of 1998 in eastern Ontario, the people on the street that I live on started paying attention to each other in a way that we hadn’t before. We lost our hydro. Trees limbs were snapping making sounds like gun shots. Telephone and utility poles were giving way like huge dominoes. The roads were all but blocked by fallen debris. As our houses grew silent and dark we started wondering if the folks next door were OK.

We checked on each other, especially the older folks.  When the power came back on I was visiting an elderly couple.  The lights started flickering and quickly came to life.  We all cheered except for the elderly gentleman.  “Oh darn – it’s over”; he said.  “You can be serious!”, his exasperated wife said.  “I am”, said the old chap, “Since the ice came we started visiting and talking to each other and now it’s all going to stop just because the lights came back!”

How sad that it takes a natural disaster for people to make a point of getting to know their neighbours and making a regular habit of visiting together.  I can’t help but think that we have lost a lot over the last few generations.  As life has become materially easier we have withdrawn from each other.  Community seems to have gone the way of the family as a social force in our cities, towns and villages.

I work part-time in a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.  The program is built around the idea of a therapeutic community.  Often I ask the young men in the program if they have ever lived in a community where they knew and cared about their neighbours.  Few understand the concept.  Many have experienced the jail community which is a cruel parody of what true community is all about.   We work hard to encourage the residents to become part of our community and engage in our collective values of right living.  The ones that do have a real chance at becoming sober and productive citizens.

I wonder how many other people have the same paucity of experience when it comes to what community is all about?  The concept of community and how its presence or lack enhances or impoverishes our lives is worth exploring.  I would appreciate your help.  If you have experiences about how community helped you or your family, please share them.  Any thoughts and opinions about what is important to strengthen communities would also be appreciated.

The Word Wins

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Revelation 19:11-13 “I saw heaven standing open<sup class="crossreference" value="(AG)”> and there before me was a white horse, whose rider<sup class="crossreference" value="(AH)”> is called Faithful and True.<sup class="crossreference" value="(AI)”> With justice he judges and makes war.<sup class="crossreference" value="(AJ)”>  His eyes are like blazing fire,<sup class="crossreference" value="(AK)”> and on his head are many crowns.<sup class="crossreference" value="(AL)”> He has a name written on him<sup class="crossreference" value="(AM)”> that no one knows but he himself.<sup class="crossreference" value="(AN)”>  He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood,<sup class="crossreference" value="(AO)”> and his name is the Word of God.”

     We fight so many wars today.  There is the war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war on illiteracy and on and on and on.  With each new atrocity and tragedy some cry for stricter laws and government controls while others call out for more freedom to defend themselves.  The reality is that neither will defeat the evil that besets this world.  More laws just hem in the law abiding citizens.  Crooks and insane people pay no attention to them.  Guns and bullets just make victims of the defenseless and award celebrity to madmen.  Innocence is destroyed over and over again.

     The Bible tells us not to put our trust in human strength or legislators;  “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD.”  (Isaiah 31:1)  Indeed, scripture tells us that rulers and their organizations can be quite hostile to God; “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.”  (Acts 4:25,26)

     God’s Word tells us time and time again to trust in Him; “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psalm 20:7)  Defense by legislation or self-defense are lies that we have come to believe in.  A law has never stopped an insane person once embarked on their path of destruction.  No gun can ever take a bullet back once fired.  The Bible tells us:  “Blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.” (Psalm 40:4)

     Sadly, tragic events fire up all the debates about personal freedom against the need for more controls.  All of it a ‘chasing after the wind’ (Ecclesiastes 1:17).  Sadder still, is to see Christians defending either side of the debate because both sides have no basis in Scripture.  The Gospel is the only defence against the anarchy that threatens our families, our communities and our nation; “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”  (Proverbs 18:10)

     What the world believes is that by the strength of man – be it by force or by legislation it can win out.  As Christians we know (or should know) better.   Some have misplaced their faith on human legislation.  Some have misplaced their faith on their own strength.   Some are so  blinded by fear they forget to have faith in His name; “Therefore God exalted him<sup class="crossreference" value="(A)”> to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,  in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (Philippians  2:9-11)

     Jesus’ mission is to free us all; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised . . . ” (Luke 4:18)

     Jesus wins!

     Praise the Lord!

What can you say?

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Zechariah 4:6 “Not<sup class="crossreference" value="(I)”> by might nor by power,<sup class="crossreference" value="(J)”> but by my Spirit”

     The funerals continue.  They are a terrible reminder that we live in a fallen world.  Madness runs wild and children are gunned down.  It happens everywhere.  What can you say?

     Every year around this time I often think of my mother.  She loved Christmas and in the midst of all her preparation and efforts to make a great Christmas for her family she struggled with a terrible sadness.  My mother had something in common with the mothers of the children who were gunned down in Newtown.  She lost her son when he was a small child of four.

     My oldest brother was horribly burned in a terrible accident.  After a short stay in the hospital he died of his burns.  His broken, disfigured little body couldn’t keep his spirit any longer.  My mother lived with this tragedy all of her life.   She never ‘got over it’.  How do you ‘get over’ the loss of your child?  What my mother did was live through this tragedy.  The loss wounded her deeply – cutting into her joints and marrow.  The pain piercing her soul and spirit.   Every Christmas as she prepared a wonderful meal and evening for her family she must have been acutely aware of one little empty place at the table.

     As an adult, I often wonder what you can say to someone, to a mother, who has lost her child?  What words can console a person who has experienced such a tragedy?   I don’t know.  What I do know, is what I said to my mother when I was a child so many years ago.  I said; “I need you.”  Not in words but by being there, by depending on her and by loving her.  My brothers said the same right after the tragedy and my sister when she was born did the same.  Somehow my mother found the strength to continue.
 
     Where did my mother find the strength to go on?  How did she get through each day afterwards?   Who was there for my mother when she needed someone to make it better;  “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of my people been restored?” (Jeremiah 8:22)

     As a man of sixty years, I have so many unanswered questions about my mother. She did go on and she raised five successful children.  I also remember that she had a deep and abiding love for God’s Word.  She studied the Bible often.  Her Bible was underlined, cross referenced and had many bookmarks in it.  She wasn’t a religious ‘church type’ person.  I once saw her chase a minister out of our house.   Mother put the fear of God in that smug self righteous little man – boy did he run!

     How did she do it?  How did she go on?  Not by might.  The horrible tragedy stole her strength.  Not by power.  The empty chasm her loss opened up in her soul drained every bit of personal power she had.  She was bereft, broken and beaten down.  I know she found strength in His Word; ” . . . He turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud<sup class="crossreference" value="(E)”> and mire; He set my feet<sup class="crossreference" value="(G)”> on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song<sup class="crossreference" value="(I)”> in my mouth, . . “(Psalm 40:1,2,3)  By His Spirit, she overcame day by day.  Not perfectly but she overcame.

     She often told me that God would complete her healing when she died.  I now know what she meant.  She would see her son again.  She believed in His Word; “I am<sup class="crossreference" value="(V)”> the resurrection and the life.<sup class="crossreference" value="(W)”> The one who believes<sup class="crossreference" value="(X)”> in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing<sup class="crossreference" value="(Y)”> in me will never die.” (John 11:25)  Because she chose to believe this I was born, so was my sister.  Her faith to continue stopped a horrible tragedy from stealing my life and my sister’s and the lives of our children.  Because of the faith of a broken, grieving, desolate woman new lives came to be.

     All I can say to the mothers of Newtown is to share this testimony about my mom.  After sixty years of living and raising my own children with my wife I will say this to my mother. “Thank you and thank you Jesus!”

     Praise the Lord!

    

Give us our daily bread

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Proverbs 30:7-9 “Two things I ask of you, Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.  Otherwise, I may have too much and disown<sup class="crossreference" value="(L)”> you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
<sup class="crossreference" value="(N)”>
    An abundant life is a life where needs are met on a daily basis.  It’s a wise man who knows that too much and too little are two sides of the same coin.  As the world determines wealth, lots of money for some requires poverty for many more others.   Only God can provide the good things we need; “Every good gift and every perfect present comes from heaven; it comes down from God, the Creator . . . ” (James 1:17)  Jesus came to provide for our daily needs; “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life,<sup class="crossreference" value="(A)”> and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

     ‘Falsehood and lies’ arise out of too much as well as too little.  How easy it is for us when everything is going well and we have lots of money in the bank to congratulate ourselves on our success.  We forget the help we have had from family and friends.  We ignore the blessings we have received from working in good jobs with benefit plans as well as good wages.  We take for granted good health and the physical abilities health entails.  We begin to think we did it all by ourselves and strut about in selfish pride.   Our sense of community dwindles as the ‘me first’ attitude grows. Too much makes us forget our neighbours  who may be in need.    Too much makes us false towards God as we indulge the lie of our sufficient selves.

     Poverty  cripples and twists the mind with anxiety and fear.  Poverty cripples and twists the body with malnutrition and disease.  A lack of basic necessities can drive people to abandon God’s laws and social relationships of the most basic kind can break down.  Many horrors are perpetrated on a stage set by poverty;   “Poverty can lead to high levels of stress that in turn may lead individuals to commit theft, robbery, or other violent acts.” (Poverty and Crime)  Too little makes people ignore God as they bitterly fight to take what they perceive is denied by others.

     Can too much coincide with too little within the same individual?  We know it can within the same community, city, nation and planet because we read our newspapers and listen to the news.  Some people have too much, others too little.   Is it possible that too much and too little can work within the same person.  If such conditions beset enough people can social behaviours and dynamics be affected?  Can we see evidence of this kind of condition in our communities?   In nutrition, we see people who get sick of too much sugar and  too little vitamins.

      Abdu’l-Missagh Ghadirian  points out: “People often complain of an emptiness which no material possessions can fill. In the midst of plenty, they are spiritually hungry, unhappy, and in despair – the modern symptoms of discontent. Consider – and it is just one small example – the anorexics, fashion models, actors, and ballet dancers who feel obliged to change their weight to comply with standards which take no account of their inner struggles or their health.”  In the midst of plenty many in North America starve for fulfilling meaning in their lives.

     Spiritual poverty can drive people to steal even if they have more material goods than most people on this planet.   How many tragic events in the news are created by spiritually impoverished souls gone completely insane because they have no centre, no meaning and no hope.   Our innocence is stolen; children are gunned down in the violence of madness.  The vacuum of an empty spirit creates a maelstrom of pain, anger and chaos;  “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned” (Yeats)

      Jesus tells us that our spiritual side must be nourished for us to live; “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)  The writer of the proverb knew this well. His wisdom was to ask for enough to cover his needs. Too much on the material side is bad, we forget God and ignore His glory. Too little is also bad, we blame God and steal His glory.   Our spirits need to be nourished on His Word so that we can contend with the vicissitudes of this life.

     Jesus taught us to pray; “Our Father<sup class="crossreference" value="(I)”> in heaven,  hallowed be your name,  your kingdom<sup class="crossreference" value="(J)”> come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.  And forgive us our debts,  as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

     Let that be our prayer today and every day!

     Praise the Lord!

Church growth – a modest proposal

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Rev 3:15,16,17  “. . . you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!  But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!  You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”

     I knew a retired Presbyterian minister who often said that he would rather have started out with ten ‘sold out’ people for Jesus in his church than one hundred self satisfied ‘good’ Christians warming his pews.  He had watched year after year his church age and dwindle in numbers until only a few were left to spend their obligatory hour every Sunday going through the motions.   He knew why the church was declining – the people had lost touch with their own condition.   When we lose touch with why we go to church in the first place we lose the church;  “Where there is no vision, the people perish . . .” (Proverb 29:18)

     Do we pin church decline on the preachers or do we look deeper?  Some would say better preachers would have grown the church.  I don’t think so.  Somehow, we in the church have fallen into a complacent attitude about our spiritual condition and salvation.  We’ve forgotten who and what we are – broken people living in a fallen world.  This has made us too self righteous and too self reliant.   We sit in our pews convinced that the other guy desperately needs Jesus if only he would see the light.  We have become too good for our own good!  
 
     If  we fall into the trap of feeling that we’re basically good and do no wrong we shouldn’t go to church.  We could stay home and admire ourselves in the mirror getting just as much out of our Sunday morning as going to church to sit smugly through yet another one hour service.  We would not take up space in the pews that a person who really needs Jesus could be sitting in.   Nor would we be there to scare off people with our pious looks.  That way the Holy Spirit can minister to those who need Jesus and not have to search pew upon pew looking for a real sinner.  But a lot of the pews are empty  – perhaps people are doing this already.

     But where are the broken people?  Why aren’t they coming in droves?  Has the  anti-gospel has gotten out – sick, twisted, addicted, hurting people won’t find relief for their suffering in church?  Sadly broken people have more chance of finding Jesus in jail today.  Sick people go to the hospital for healing because  many churches don’t preach, teach and practice this part of the gospel.  Sinners are driven out of church by condemnation.  Twisted people aren’t welcome because they don’t fit in with the few remaining straight laced upright holdouts.

     Serena Woods writes: “For some, the word “Christian” does not conjure up visions of warm people with inviting arms. It conjures up visions of cynical judgments and cold shoulders. It’s damaging when you go to church thinking that you can find a community that won’t crush you with what you’ve done wrong, but find a community that won’t let you be an active participant because of your failures. It’s like finding out that the One who will always take you back, won’t. It feels hopeless in condemnation. It feels like a message of complete rejection from God.”

     The church needs more fornicators, drinkers, addicts, thugs and thieves! The church needs more people who know (and confess) they are sinners and are sold out for Jesus because their very lives depend on HIM! Jesus said; “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)

     Jesus, when he was dealing with a Pharisee’s judgment on a ‘sinful’ woman said; “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”  We need less pride and hard hearts in the church.  We, when we are smug self-righteous pretenders, need to stand up and call out under the conviction of our own hypocrisy;  Come Lord Jesus!  We need more love in the church – where are the forgiven sinners! 

     When I was a student in high school those who had done well in their classes were exempted from writing their final examination.  We had been judged good and had no need to go through the final exams.  We didn’t need to prepare ourselves  because we had already passed!  For us it was like getting into heaven.  Beautiful late spring weather and no worries about any examination.  We could even slack off as long as we looked like we were paying attention!

     What would happen if churches took up such a wonderful policy?  At the end of every Sunday service the preacher could say; “Those who feel they have been cured of their sinful tendencies need not attend next week. However, if you’re still a sinner in need of Jesus, feel free to come.  If you sin during the week and need to confess – come and confess!  If you’re broken and desperate, be here!  Come and be healed with the rest of us scum.”

     Let us make way for Jesus;  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, . . .” (Luke 4:18)

     Praise the Lord!

    

What is love?

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2 John 1:6 “And this is love:<sup class="crossreference" value="(J)”> that we walk in obedience to his commands.<sup class="crossreference" value="(K)”> As you have heard from the beginning,<sup class="crossreference" value="(L)”> his command is that you walk in love.”

     Love is a word that means different things to different people.  There is a lot of confusion about it.  For my generation, the movie “Love Story” defined love;  “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  When I was twenty one years old, holding the love of my life in my arms who was eighteen this definition appealed to both of us.  Today after thirty-nine years of marriage I know this definition was as false as it was appealing.  I’ve said ‘sorry’ many, many many times and worked through a lot of tough stuff with my wife.  Our love has grown deeper.

     When my wife and I moved into our new home over thirty years ago we had a neighbour who was a real character.  He was a man of many talents, deep faith and wore his dentures when he felt like it.  He and his wife had been married for years and sometimes we could hear them fighting.  He told me that marriage was like a house – it needed regular maintenance;  ‘paint and wallpaper covers a lot of sin.’  He didn’t cover up trouble in his marriage, he cleaned it up and started again.  When he painted and wall papered he always cleaned away the old and started from a fresh surface.  He loved his wife and she loved him.

      In the ‘old’ King James Bible the word for love is ‘charity’.  New translations substitute the word ‘love’ for ‘charity’.   If we look up ‘charity‘ we see that it can mean ‘generosity and benvolence’ toward others.  In another sense it means ‘indulgence and forbearance in judging others’.  In the Christian sense it means; “. . . love directed first toward God but also toward oneself and one’s neighbors as objects of God’s love.”  The closest neighbour any man will ever have is his wife.  Anyone who has been married will tell you that being charitable is more important that being ‘in love’ when it comes to getting along.  Cutting your partner a little slack in a rough spot loosens the rope around your neck.

     The Bible gives the best definition of love; “ Love is patient,<sup class="crossreference" value="(A)”> love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,<sup class="crossreference" value="(C)”> it is not easily angered,<sup class="crossreference" value="(D)”> it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil<sup class="crossreference" value="(F)”> but rejoices with the truth.<sup class="crossreference" value="(G)”>   It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)  Any marriage, any relationship based on that kind of love cannot fail!  Jesus knew that.  Jesus taught that.  Jesus commands that we walk in that love;  “A new command<sup class="crossreference" value="(A)”> I give you: Love one another.<sup class="crossreference" value="(B)”> As I have loved you, so you must love one another.<sup class="crossreference" value="(C)”> By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”   (John 13:34,35)

     Can we do it?   Can we overcome our selfishness?  Can we love?  Only by His strength (Phil 4:13)!

     Praise the Lord!

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