Re-post: At Ninety-Five, I Remember My Father

Photo credit: jonboy mitchell (via flickr.com)

It is now fifty-four years since my father died at age eighty-one. And though I am now ninety-five, I still think of him nearly every day. Sometimes when I’m shaving I see traces of his visage looking at me from the mirror.

He was a little man, 5′ 4” and 125 pounds, but when I was growing up he was strong, and I never thought of him as other than the main man in my life. 

He (and my mother) came to Canada from the Lancashire coalfields, near Manchester, England, at the turn of the twentieth century. Long before I was born, he and my mother homesteaded in southeastern Saskatchewan. There, he was from first to last an immigrant. In his Lancashire dialect he could speak in one sentence about “the ‘air on his ‘ead” and in the next about “the hair in the hatmosphere.”

He did not finish even a year of formal schooling; quarantined in grade one due to a scarlet fever outbreak, he never returned to school, for reasons the family has never been able to explain.

At twelve, he went into the coal mines as his father’s helper. He told horror stories of those years — of fistfights underground with other boys over filled coal cars, of the hardship of going underground before dawn and emerging after sunset, thereby seeing daylight only on Sundays during the winter months.

Across his long life, he was a coal miner, a market gardener, a Watkins door-to-door salesman, a merchant, and, especially for me — a father.

You will understand that Dad was not a cultured man, but from his coal-mining family and village society he absorbed solid Victorian values that worked well then — and might add something worthwhile to our values today.

He was exceedingly motivated and worked hard. He stood by his family through thick and thin. He had vocational ideals for his children. For example, he told me that when I was born he envisioned that someday he might provide for me a little service station in town where I could pump gas for a living. I honor him for that long-distance plan.

Even though not an active believer until late in life, his values always included church attendance. Out of family solidarity, he sat with the family faithfully Sunday after Sunday. At sixty-one, he experienced a Christian conversion.

When, at nineteen, I made public that I would go into some form of Christian ministry, he was supportive of the idea; without any fuss, he put aside the plan he had made for me to manage a clothing store in our home town.

I don’t recall that he gave me a lot of time as a child, but he gave enough. I recall the time he took me north of town to the fairgrounds where he helped me fly my homemade kite. He took me and my younger sister out to the open spaces near the high school to play catch. 

He had done a lot of boxing in the coal-mining communities of his youth and in turn taught me a little about it, passing on what he himself was good at.  

I still think of him nearly every day because the importance of fatherhood has been cultivated in me through a lifetime of ministry. I’ve gone to the maternity ward of hospitals often to congratulate new parents and in some cases especially a starry-eyed father. I’ve visited in homes where things were not going well between a father and son. I’ve preached often on the Fatherhood of God and the light God’s fatherhood casts on human fatherhood.

Sadly, I’ve seen the fading of the vision for fatherhood in society and even in the church. From my perspective, young men who lack the courage to marry and embrace the challenge and responsibility of fatherhood suffer from a lack of imagination. At the same time, I’ve watched new fathers take over the assignment with inborn paternal instincts.

Experts might give my father a “B” grade by today’s standards. He didn’t do for me everything a father could do, but no father ever does. The point is, he did the things that matter. He showed me the value of hard work. He taught me early (and with some fear that the lesson wasn’t sticking, though it actually did) that “money doesn’t grow on trees.”

He valued honesty. He had respect for God. As I grew up and after I left home he showed quiet pleasure when I succeeded in getting the education he only vaguely saw the value of.

And for all of these simple reasons, even though he has been gone for fifty-four years, I revere his memory and thank God almost daily for what he gave me.

Photo credit: Jon Mitchell (via flickr.com)

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Re-post: Rediscovering Fatherhood

When David Blankenhorn published Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem (1996), he lifted the veil on the diminished state of fatherhood in the United States. His, sadly, is now only one of many books and publications documenting the absence of fathers in many homes, and the corresponding rise of single motherhood.  

“Scholars estimate,” he reports, “that before they reach age eighteen, more than half of all children in the nation will live apart from their fathers for at least a significant portion of their childhood.” Now, twenty-five years later, surely that number is significantly higher and still rising.

Students of the subject say that a clear vision of fatherhood has been fading for more than two hundred years. Some say this started with the Industrial Revolution. A father’s work and his family life were increasingly separated. With the loss of a child’s knowledge of his or her father’s work, participation in one another’s lives, and as a result emotional bonds, became weaker.

Traditionally, for Christians (and adherents of other faiths), fathers are to play four roles in their children’s lives: as (1) irreplaceable caregiver, (2) moral educator, (3) head of the family, and (4) family breadwinner. Viewing it from a Christian perspective, one might add: (5) spiritual guide, or priest of the family. Each role deserves its own essay, and many might not agree with these roles.

Even though the traditional roles described above may need nuancing for life in the twenty-first century, it might be helpful for dissatisfied fathers to discuss with their wives the above list of roles and to ask three questions together:    

(1) Do I cultivate an emotional bond with the family? Do I talk to my children regularly on their level about their concerns? If a nine-year-old son were experiencing bullying on the playground would I become involved with him in seeking a solution? When something is bothering my children, do I notice? If a twelve-year-old daughter is having her first crush on a boy in school, would I have something to say to help her through it wisely?

(2) Do my children know my basic convictions about right and wrong? Have I taught them how to be moral and upright? Even more, have I shown them by my behavior how to be a person of integrity?  

(3) As a Christian, do I talk about Jesus? See that the family attends church? Pray on a regular basis? During family devotions? At table? At bedtime? When serious problems arise? In the Christian family, this responsibility should not be left solely to the mother, though it all too often falls on her shoulders.

Pondering these questions and establishing a plan for remediation where appropriate could rebuild family life and the role of father, one home at a time, until the world is changed.  

Photo credit: JeffS (via flickr.com)

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Re-post: Trusting God, 24/7

The writer of Psalm 34, King David, begins with a resolution to “extol the Lord” (praise him highly) at all times. We might call that a 24/7 pledge, to praise Him day and night, in good times and bad. 

Is that kind of 24/7 attention to praising God possible in today’s world? Our pace is super-fast, troubles abound, and the distractions of life are innumerable. And we get little encouragement from a non-devout culture. Rather than focusing on God in Christ, our culture is largely secular, defined as “of this age only, wanting no underpinnings of the divine in life’s superstructure.”

Another definition might be “if God exists it doesn’t matter.” That’s not the same as atheism, meaning “there is no God.” Or agnosticism, meaning, “He may or may not exist; there isn’t enough evidence to be sure.”

Many do not deny that there is a God; they simply think he’s not important enough to pay serious attention to. 

He’s like a big red engine at the fire station. If our house is on fire we are glad to have it come screaming to our aid, but we wouldn’t want one parked in front of our house day and night. God, like a fire engine, is only for emergencies.

Psalm 34 was apparently written after emergencies. David had narrowly escaped death at the hands of King Saul (1 Samuel 21:10-15). He sought refuge by fleeing to Gath and offering himself in the service of Achish, Gath’s king. Then he learned that his life was in danger there, too. So, he feigned insanity in order to be driven off and thus escape.

It can seem strange that in a time like this, David would respond with a commitment to praising God at all times.

All of this engaged my interest, and with my pencil I began to shade every reference to God in this psalm, both nouns and pronouns. The page now looks as if it has the measles. 

Listen to David’s testimony: “I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” And this: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

He even indulges in a burst of instruction: “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear [honor, respect] of the Lord.” And, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

How do testimony and instruction like this relate to trusting God 24/7? A continuous trust in God means not only that we call on him in desperate moments but that we seek to live in accordance with his righteous standards at all times.

We may praise him with words, and we acknowledge his reality 24/7 as well when we live in accordance with his righteous standards at all times.

This psalm is richly nourishing to the spirit, and is a precursor to the promises of our Lord himself. To his distraught disciples Jesus said, in John 14: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” And, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

I’ve learned from both Scripture and experience that in order to know the assurance of King David’s psalm, and to embrace the additional promises of our Messiah, Jesus, we must follow the right sequence.

It is not: (1) experience his goodness in all sorts of ways and then (2) eventually trust him; it is rather (1) trust yourself to him, and then (2) experience his goodness and care in all sorts of ways.

Image info: Kevin Dooley (via flickr.com)

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Repost: Eating Grapes at Walmart*

Kathleen and I were standing in the express line at Wal-Mart waiting to pay for two items. The line was long.

As we waited, Kathleen whispered to me, “Look at that man up ahead. He is eating grapes out of his bag before they’re weighed.” 

A woman ahead of us overheard Kathleen’s comment. She, too, had seen the man snacking as he waited. She turned and said, “I suppose you’d call that stealing.”

Then she added, “Maybe stealing doesn’t matter for an older person like him in the way it might for someone younger with a fresher conscience.” But, after a pause, she corrected herself. “You’d think it would matter more because he’s closer to the Judgment.”

It was an unexpected comment. And it identified her immediately as someone whose thinking was shaped by Christian truth. Though strangers until that moment, we shared the conviction that our conduct in this life will come under judgment in the life to come (Revelation 20:11-15).

Even hundreds of years before Christ, the Preacher of Ecclesiastes wrote:

God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed. (Ecclesiastes 3:17)

Not all Christians think that way. Some believe Christ’s death for us at Calvary gives us a complete pass as to any final judgment. And in one sense that is indeed true (Romans 5:9,10). By faith in Christ we are justified — that is, we are cleared of the penalty for our sins.  

But there is another side to this truth. The Apostle Paul reminded young Christians in Corinth, a city notorious for its moral laxity: 

… we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

His use of the word “all” includes believers. If we take his words to heart, they mean that, although we are justified, we will nevertheless be judged for the quality of life we have lived as Christians. That is one of several reasons why Christians take the commandment against stealing seriously. 

Not just taking a few grapes, but stealing on tax returns; failing to pay debts; not returning library books; “stealing” answers on a test.  

On this matter, the Apostle Paul did not absolve himself. He said in his defense before the Roman Governor Felix in Caesarea that believed at the end of time there would be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. “So,” he went on, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16).

Our brief conversation with a stranger in a check-out line was good for us. It made us freshen our thinking on the relationship between believing in Christ and behaving as Christians ought.

*I am reposting for a few weeks as I prepare more extended material for a writing project, which I will be telling you about soon.

Image credit: Thorsten Hartmann (via flickr.com)

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Re-post: A Lesson in Patience

I’m ninety-five years old, yet I remember the summer of 1943 well. At age eighteen, I spent four months working on a farm in Saskatchewan. That experience was one of the most life-shaping of my early years.  

The growing season is fairly short at that latitude in Western Canada, so when it came time to sow the fields, the equipment had to be ready with the seed on hand, and every hour was made to count.

My boss, Harold, went out to the fields shortly after four in the morning, filled up the planting drill with seed, and, as dawn broke, mounted the McCormick-Deering W-40 and began sowing. At eight, I went out to relieve him; he came back to the field at one; and I returned at six and continued sowing until dusk, near ten. In about two weeks, the fields of the 1200-acre farm were sown.

As fall approached, and with it the time to harvest the grain, the workdays were similarly long — sunup to sundown.

Self-propelled combines, tractors, and trucks were small back then, requiring many more back-and-forth passes per acre. It felt almost frantic to pull up the short-bed, two-ton GMC truck to the combine, take on a dump of wheat, race for the granary a half mile away, shovel off the load into the auger, and be back at the combine again twenty minutes later for another load.

This schedule included meals on the run, brought to the field in a non-insulated cardboard box.  

But between the spring days of sowing and the fall days of harvesting, the farmer had to wait. He waited patiently with his eye on the skies. A hailstorm could flatten his ripening grain. An early frost might damage his crops. Lack of rain could reduce the yield severely.

But he was not idle. During that uncertain season, he worked hard at secondary chores, repairing sheds, servicing machinery, getting a few hundred chicks started, and milking three or four cows, all the while waiting in hope.

In my months on the farm, I learned why farmers can seem stoical and steady.  

After the seed is in the ground they must trust nature to be kind. They don’t start to harvest the day after they sow. There’s a long wait. And during that time, everything else they do is subordinate to the one event that makes all their work worthwhile — a coming harvest.

That must be why the Apostle James used the farmer as an example of the kind of patience Christians should have as they labor on. He said, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains” (James 5:7).

Like the farmers, we wait in hope, but we carry out our duties as we wait. The steadfast hope of the Lord’s coming keeps us actively patient.

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Image credit: Sir Mervs (via flicker.com)

Re-post: Luke’s Unique Telling of the Good News

Lamb1

While the four gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, give substantially similar information about Jesus, St. Luke gives us more detail than the others about Jesus’ coming.

The angel Gabriel made the announcement to the Virgin Mary; the birth took place in Bethlehem; the shepherds received the news from an angel, backed by an angel chorus; and the baby was blessed by two aged worshipers at the temple.

But after that abundance of information, Luke gives no more detail about Jesus’ childhood until he is twelve. 

At that time Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem for his first Passover. Luke’s comment after this trip is: “Then [the boy] went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them … And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (2:51-52). That is all we are told.

And then there is another period of silence lasting 18 years. This silence is broken when Jesus begins his public ministry, at 30 years of age, according to tradition. Surely Luke, the careful historian, had access to details of these two gaps in the account of Jesus’ life. He must have had good reason.  

But then Luke gives us ample information about his three years of ministry: where he went; the followers he chose; his teachings, miracles, encounters with enemies, and friendships. So of the 24 chapters of Luke’s account of the Gospel, the majority are devoted to Jesus’ birth and the three years of his ministry.

It is striking that even greater attention is given to one particular week of his life (19:28- 23:56). It spanned the traditional Passover observance in Jerusalem when a lamb was sacrificed for the people’s sin, to the day Jesus, God’s Passover lamb for all people and all time, was crucified.  

The details of that week are where Luke’s story was pointed from the start of his gospel account. His earliest reference to the reason for Christ’s life appears in chapter 9 verse 51:  “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem [and his crucifixion].” The Message paraphrases Luke’s words as follows: 

He gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem.

It was not his wish to go. He knew what he would face. Yet he was resolute, on an appointed mission, to die under the Father’s judgment for the sins of the world.

During that momentous week, Luke reports, Jesus taught in the temple; ate the Passover meal with the Twelve; cautioned Simon Peter; gave instructions for the disciples’ ongoing ministry; prayed his anguished prayer on the Mount of Olives; and was arrested, disowned by Simon Peter, and given a contrived and flagrantly lawless trial and unjust verdict.

He was then brutally marched to Calvary where he was nailed to a Roman cross. Before sundown, he was hastily buried. So far as any of his followers knew, it was all over.

In summary, Luke clearly did not intend to write a biography of the life of Christ, giving equal attention to every period of Jesus’ development. Luke’s report was to include the fullest detail about his mission: he came into the world to proclaim the good news of his kingdom and to die a sacrificial death for sinners.

So, Luke’s kind of writing requires a special title. It is not a biography. It is not even a history, though we believe it is historical. It is a Gospel. It is “good news.”

And the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel account completes the good news. He who, so far as his followers were concerned, was entombed with finality on a Friday evening, was raised to life by the power of God on a Sunday morning. 

As the risen one, he presented himself to the unbelieving disciples. He ate with them, stayed long enough to help them overcome their very real uncertainties, then was taken up to Heaven.

Luke closes his account with these words about his followers: “And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God” (24:53). Hope for all believers had been born. It is hope for this life and hope for the next, sealed for us by our Lord’s resurrection!

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Image info: Agnus Dei by Francisco de Zurbaran

Re-post: The Scourge of Divorce

When one sees at close range the price many pay for the dissolution of a marriage, divorce can be accurately called a modern scourge. My last counseling contact before transitioning from the pastorate years ago to answer my church’s call to denominational leadership was with a woman who was not a member of the church but had been sent to me by her friends who were.

She reported that her husband had recently shocked her with the announcement that he didn’t want to be married to her any longer. He gave no other reason. Divorce proceedings began immediately. Since that traumatic day, she had lost more than 40 pounds, and even with her doctor’s help she could not seem to stop the loss.

I believe that local churches everywhere should be the first line of defense against this scourge. A substantial preaching ministry lays the groundwork for marriage.  So does Sunday school or small group ministry, if they engage with biblical truths that support marriage and family life. Here are four additional suggestions.

Godly example and/or testimonials. If there is a couple in the church who have been married 50 or more years and who still manifest a gentle love for each other, why not make a five-minute interview with them a part of a Sunday-morning or other service? Such an interview could be done twice a year, each time with a couple that is told in advance the questions that will be asked. (An off-the-cuff interview may be worse than none at all.) This could be planned for the early part of the service, when school-aged children are present; the seeds of successful matrimony are planted early.

Weekend retreats. Good things happen when people participate in a well-planned weekend retreat, undergirded with prayer. Such a retreat could be for couples, teenagers, or single young professionals. Outdoor activities, some competitive games, good food, laughter, and an effective Bible teacher can be used by God to reinforce biblical truths about marriage, renew hope, and set some who attend on a whole new course.

Counseling. Some troubled marriages will need a counselor. This person could be a pastor, staff person, or a respected older lay person. A member of one of my congregations said to me, “I’ve watched you for eight years to decide whether I could talk to you.”

Small groups. One pastor reported that when he divided his congregation into small groups the requests for his counsel diminished. It seemed that some people began to get the help needed in the intimacy and trust of small groups. Within such groups, there may be couples who can be carefully screened and equipped to give basic help to those in marital difficulty.

Focus on marriage and family should not come at the neglect of single people, lest they come to feel like “second class citizens.” And those who have had a failed marriage, or are single parents, must not get any sense that they are being pushed to the sidelines, either.

The point is that the resources of the congregation should be marshalled to counter the divorce scourge and hold up marriage as a gift from God to be nurtured and, when necessary, healed. When this is done with devotion and in the power of God’s Mighty Spirit, the life of the whole congregation and society should feel the health-giving effect.

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Re-post: What Did the Apostle Paul Look Like?

Paul_Albrecht_Dürer

The Apostle Paul appears in 15 of the 28 chapters of The Acts of the Apostles. He is also the author of 13 of the 21 epistles in the New Testament. 

I find myself wondering what he looked like. Was he bearded? Tall or short, slight or heavy? Was his complexion clear, or pocked and wrinkled?  

A document from the middle of the second century AD claims to know. It is The Acts of Paul and Thecla, which was not included by church fathers in the New Testament. Yet it was read widely in the early church.

According to this ancient writing, Titus’s description of Paul was given to Onesiphorus, who was to meet Paul as he approached the city of Iconium. He was to watch for a man who was “small in size, bald-headed, bow-legged, well built, with eyebrows that met, rather long-nosed and full of grace.”

The Thecla in the name of the writing lived in Iconium, a young woman who at that time was engaged to be married. She was so fascinated by Paul’s message that she abandoned her engagement and declared lifelong virginity. In the early years of the church, contrary to now, some thought that virginity was holier than marriage.

The description of Paul’s appearance may have been kept alive for a century through oral tradition before it was written down. This description is still alive in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

But, whether true or not, this ample description of the Apostle can be used to illustrate the larger truth that we don’t know much about the physical features of most Bible characters because physical features are not the critical issue. So details are sparse.

In Genesis we are only told that Rebekah was “very beautiful” and described as nimble of movement (Genesis 24:15-21). We know only that Jezebel, Ahab’s pagan queen, “painted her eyes and arranged her hair” (2 Kings 9:30). Absalom was handsome in appearance with a generous mop of hair (2 Samuel 14:25,26). And we’re told that Saul, who became King of Israel, was handsome and a head taller than his fellow Israelites (1 Samuel 9:2).

In the New Testament, we learn of Zacchaeus only that he was short in stature (Luke 19:3); Bartimaeus was blind (Mark 10:46); and we infer that the Apostle John was likely slight of build because he was a good runner (John 20:3,4).

Remarkably, we have no description of any of the 12 disciples. We are not even given details about the physical features of Jesus, our Lord, even though we have detailed reports of his activities covering three years of ministry.

Though “attractiveness” has been shown to be an advantage in human life, it seems that what matters most about the Bible characters we encounter is not their physical features but their hearts (character) and their motivations. In the Bible, the heart is the seat of physical, spiritual and mental life. It is that aspect of our beings known fully only to God.

According to Jesus, the human qualities that bring us the greater and deeper happiness stem from the state of the heart. He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). For Jesus, the heart counts first and foremost.

None of this is to say that our physical features don’t matter at all. We do the best we can with whatever God has given us through our DNA – we may arrange our hair or powder our faces or wear elevator shoes.

But by current standards the Apostle Paul wouldn’t stand a chance. Few would want to be described as Paul was.  Except that what radiated out of him, giving symmetry to all else, according to the story, was this: he was “full of grace.”

“Full of grace!” That’s what we hope and pray can be said of us. Abundant grace of heart and character!  

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Mary Magdalene: A Post-Easter Reflection

During my recent careful reading of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection I was surprised by the large place Mary Magdalene holds in the story. Remember that she was possessed by seven demons when she first encountered Jesus. He delivered her. This is recorded in two Gospel accounts, Luke 8:2 and Mark 16:9.  

All four Gospel writers place her at the tomb on the Sunday morning of Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 20:1). In fact, the Gospel of John places her there twice, first when she discovered that the tomb was empty and ran to notify Peter and John, and again, presumably having followed them back, after these two had seen for themselves and then had left (John 20:1-2,10-11).

She is the only one the two angels at the tomb addressed directly: “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:13). Even more significantly, she was the first to see and speak to the resurrected Christ (20:14-16).

And then, she was the one who carried the good news to the apostles — that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. (20:18).

Consider the story in more detail.

On the first Sunday after Our Lord’s crucifixion, Jesus’ followers were in utter confusion. The Jewish sabbath was over. The feast of unleavened bread was still in progress. But Jesus, in whom they had lodged such hope, was dead and buried –- permanently, they thought. 

For a small group of women who had supported Jesus’ ministries out of their own resources, all that was left was an emotional visit to Jesus’ tomb. There, they could finish the work of embalming and grieve together.  

Based on her history of deliverance from demon possession, Mary Magdalene had reason to love Jesus profoundly, and also to grieve deeply his brutal and shameful death.

John says that on that Sunday morning, she was first to notice the stone covering the opening to the tomb had been rolled to one side, and first to peer into the tomb, likely still by moonlight, and to see that the ledge where his body had been laid was bare. (See John 20:1.) 

What could this mean? She drew a mistaken conclusion and, likely distraught, hurried back into the city to report to two of the apostles: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2).

In the darkness and in her grief, the possibility of a resurrection from death would be the last thing to occur to her.

As the passage of John 20:11-17 tells us, after her return to the tomb a short time later, after reporting to Peter and John, a stranger materialized behind her and repeated the question the two angels had just put to her: “Woman, why are you crying?” and adding, “Who are you looking for?” Mary thought he was the gardener, and addressed him, perhaps with an edge in her voice: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

At that moment, the risen Lord spoke her name, Mary … and she recognized the voice and responded with great surprise, “Rabboni!”

Before she hurried off for this second time, this time to carry exciting news, Jesus gave her notice of his coming ascension to the Father.

Why would Jesus give her such attention? Women in Palestine in the first century were on the bottom rung of the social ladder. A shocking rabbinic saying went: “Blessed is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.” Another rabbinic saying goes: “Let the words of law be burned rather than delivered to women.”

The Gospel was ahead of its time. It elevated womanhood. Here is a woman whom Jesus had delivered from demon possession. Then to top all else, the Master had trusted her first with the Good News of his resurrection and coming ascension.

And she became the first human to bear this good news to others (John 20:18).

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Image credit: John Taylor (via flickr.com)

A Missionary’s Unexpected Petition

I have known many admirable missionaries across my 95 years, but one stands out especially. 

I was in my early twenties when I first met the Reverend J. W. Haley, a man known for his fervent prayer and bold faith. 

In 1902, he was appointed to serve in a developing missionary field in South Africa, leaving behind his pastorate in Westview, Saskatchewan. In 1933, by then an experienced missionary, he traveled from South Africa to the Congo in Central Africa to investigate a new opportunity for the Gospel. This trip opened a strong field in Free Methodism’s missionary efforts. 

Soon after the missionary’s work in the Congo began, God sent an unusual visitation of his Holy Spirit to that region. The Congolese people experienced a deep awareness of sin and a strong impulse to confess sins openly. This work of the Spirit went on for some time and many came to faith. 

Sometime in the middle of the 1940s Rev. Haley, now back in his homeland, visited Lorne Park College, a Free Methodist junior college near Toronto, where he addressed the students in a chapel service. I was a student and part-time staff, and afterwards I had a conversation with this unpretentious man whom I greatly admired. 

I mentioned my fundraising efforts for the college. I explained that took a singing group out to a congregation, had the group present special music and then I spoke of the ministry of the college and received an offering. Rev. Haley offered to make the school’s ministry part of his prayers.

Our paths crossed during the following summer when he was at the Maple Grove campground near London, Ontario, to represent overseas missions, and I was there to represent the college. I mentioned his promise of prayer, and he sent me to the missionary cottage where he said he would join me.

After a bit of conversation, he turned a chair around and knelt. I followed his lead. After a short period of silence, he began: “Lord, there is so much in us that needs forgiving.”

I was startled. I did not expect a prayer like that from a man of such spiritual strength. The opening sentence of his prayer remains word-for-word in my memory to this day. And I have come to see how acknowledgment of the need for forgiveness is appropriate in even the most mature Christian’s prayers.

With the passing of the years I believe ever more deeply that prayer is deficient if it does not have a note of penitence in it. After all, we are speaking to God, the Almighty, who is utterly holy, and lives in realms of light without a trace of sin. We may be his redeemed creatures, but even if we are filled with the energy of his Spirit, we need the benefits of the atonement continuously.

The Apostle John puts it this way: “My dear children, I write to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). 

In living out the life of faith, we can be certain of our redemption through faith in Christ Jesus. And at the same time, we grieve over human deficiencies and foibles that limit our influence for Him. 

Being certain of our Father’s help, we can pray each day: There is much in us that needs forgiving.

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Image credit: Alexander Baxevanis (via flickr.com)