A Moving Experience

Son Don was kind enough to send this out to family and friends this week, and I thought I would share it with you, as Kay and I get settled in our new surroundings.

This note is to let you know about our parentsrecent move 40 minutes away from their home in Brampton, ON, to an apartment in the Walden Circle Retirement Community, Mississauga. The apartment includes a main room, a bedroom, and a den. Currently, their food is brought to them, because, courtesy of the Coronavirus scare, and the fact that they have come from outside, they are in isolation for two weeks. (I joked with them that they were under house arrest like Saint Paul in Rome, but with better room service.) 

My siblings and I are pleased that Mom and Dad are now in a safer and less isolated place. After their incarceration,” they will be able to take part in many activities and meet new friends. There is even a kitchen area where Mom can bake her wonderful bread, if she so chooses. Dad continues to work on his weekly blog, justcallmepastor.com, and both he and Mom keep in touch online and by phone with their children, seven grandchildren (plus six more by marriage), and thirteen great-grandchildren.

This move brings Mom and Dad full circle. Their first home after their wedding in 1947 was one room over a garage in nearby Port Credit, across the QEW from where they are now. Dad was attending Lorne Park College, a Free Methodist Bible school/high school. From Lorne Park they moved to Greenville, Illinois; Wilmore, Kentucky; New Westminster, BC; back to Greenville; Toronto; and then Brampton. Furthermore, the chair in Wesley Studies in their name at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto is funded by the Lorne Park Foundation, which is what the school became after closing in 1966.

Mom and Dad have had several health challenges over the past few years but did extremely well to live independently in their own home up to 94 years of age and are looking forward to getting to know their new community.

Some Counsel Regarding Covid-19

Our doctor son, Robert, has written an email to us about the novel Corona virus (Covid-19). It contains some good counsel, and, with his permission, I pass it along to you. I send it with prayers for all who suffer from this crisis, whether from anxiety, actual illness, or the stress of taking care of those who are ill.

Dear Mom and Dad (and family),

First of all, please don’t think me panicked or crazy.” We are in the Lord’s hands, and the hope is that, in a few weeks, the rate of new cases will have slowed. Still, the future is unknowable, and so discretion is the better part of valor… With this in mind, permit me a comment or two encouraging a bit of wisdom and hypervigilance. After all, many of us are older,” and we have some health conditions to boot.

As you know, the first thing for a people group to try when a threatening virus is identified is containment. In other words, identify those infected and all of their contacts and quarantine them, hoping to keep the disease from becoming widespread.

Containment is no longer possible here. This is because there are so many unexplained cases without recent travel or exposure to someone who is ill that the virus must be considered to have escaped” into the general population. And there is no herd immunity” to this virus since it is new.”  

The next strategy therefore is mitigation. That is, trying to avoid a dramatic spike of cases that overwhelms the medical system, causing shortages, for example, of ventilators for the gravely ill. Mitigation not only aims to reduce the height of the spike but also to spread the cases of infection across a longer time span so that needed resources can be cycled into use across time rather than all at once.

Possibly the most powerful means of mitigation is exaggerated hand hygiene. Another is self-imposed social distancing. That means actually staying six feet or more away from others when appropriate, but also avoiding crowds. The incidence curve in a population is really flattened and broadened if the population practices these things. And it is important for young people to practice this even if they feel no personal threat because the disease is routinely so mild for them. Young people who feel fine can spread the virus to their community, parents, and grandparents.

I’m not thinking the situation is all that urgent (at least for the moment) for us who don’t live near a cluster of cases. Don’t let me make you crazy… But it is projected that the number of clusters will increase quickly in the next few weeks. Consider that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife now has the virus. So do Tom Hanks and his wife in Australia. Apparently, there were exchange students who jumped” / disobeyed quarantine restrictions and spread the virus into the Australian population. And President Trump and Vice-President Pence had dinner a few days ago with a man who has fallen ill. He was sitting right next to President Trump. (The president did get tested, and does not have the virus.)

My point only is that the fewer people we come into contact with, the less likely we are to contract this illness. Obvious measures (which we are already taking, particularly meticulous hand-washing and avoiding touching your face) include:

  1. No handshaking. Elbow bumps at most.
  2. Stay six feet or more away from people when possible when out in public.
  3. Stay away from anyone you see blowing their nose (even though this is not a major symptom of Covid-19) or especially if they are coughing.
  4. Sanitize carts at stores (if you must go there) and be extremely aware of your hands and where they have been. Sanitize hands very frequently especially when out and about. Probably six times during/after any necessary shopping visit.
  5. Consider having on hand a week’s worth of canned or frozen food. And, yes, you can easily live on buttered pasta or oatmeal and canned peaches for a few days so no need to empty out the supermarket.
  6. Consider just staying away from any group activities. That actually includes church! And hospitals and primary care doctor’s offices. How about we ALL move to the basement!
  7. Humor has a role, even if the gallows variety.

Again, we of all people should not panic, because, to paraphrase the song slightly,We know who holds the future, and we know who holds our hand.”  

The Power of Prayer

I am sorry not to have a new blog post for you this week. I have just been discharged from Brampton Civic Hospital, where I was treated for a virus and pneumonia. I am glad to be home and expect to make a full recovery. Lord willing, I will have a full post for you next week, but, in the meantime, you might want to think about these words from three great thinkers and church leaders:
“God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.”
— John Wesley
“Pray, and let God worry.”
— Martin Luther
“The desire is thy prayers; and if thy desire is without ceasing, thy prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.”
— Saint Augustine

John Wesley’s Adversity Training

Some years ago I was thinking about how adversity can produce character, and particularly “grit.” One example, though couched in a larger passage about judgment, comes from Isaiah 30:20: Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. 

My mind jumps here to John Wesley, 1703-1791, a man of extraordinary strength and persistence I had been reading and writing about at that time.

I began to review what prepared him to lead with such perseverance and conscientiousness in the widespread ministry he was thrust into later in his life.

Consider first his education. There were the five years of excellent home schooling under the watchful eye of his mother, Susannah. Then there were six years at Charterhouse school. Finally there were about five years at Oxford University.

The grim experiences he had at Charterhouse may be one key to Wesley’s future competence and capability. Charterhouse was a well-regarded school for boys in London. One hundred years earlier a man of great wealth had established the school so that select boys could get the best possible education there in preparation for university.

There was no money in the Wesley household to pay the tuition for such instruction, but Samuel Wesley, John’s father, managed to persuade the Duke of Buckingham to nominate John. So, before he was eleven, Wesley left the well-regulated and prayerful environment of the Epworth rectory (parsonage) to enter the tumult of a public boarding school. W. H. Fitchett writes that “the Charterhouse of that day was a school with great traditions and a decent standard of scholarship.”

However, there was one feature of this institution that leaves modern students of its history perplexed: the practice of high-handed student-on-student food theft. When the rations were given out at the cook house, the older and stronger boys took the meaty portions from the smaller boys. It was a daily experience. During those years Wesley practically lived on bread.

Fitchett writes: “A boy trained in the severities of Epworth parsonage, however, could easily survive even the raided meals of the Charterhouse School.” But what were the officials of this great school thinking in not stopping the thefts? It is hinted that such treatment developed humility or self-restraint. More likely, if one responded to it nobly, and without descending into thievery oneself, it developed a toughness of character, the ability to make do with what was available and to fend for oneself without the benefit of warm and nurturing guardians.

Wesley himself mentions another potential benefit of his time at Charterhouse. When his father sent him to the school he gave him instructions to run around the school’s large playing field or garden three times each morning. In other words, to stay strong and active. Wesley obeyed and later wrote that he believed (and we might at least in part disagree) that this exercise and limited diet contributed to his sturdy constitution as an adult.

Many years later, when Wesley was deeply involved as leader of the Methodist movement, he experienced all sorts of adversity. He faced mobs, endured storms, traveled tirelessly mostly by horseback, wrote copiously in defense of the Gospel and for the instruction of new converts, and often preached as many as three times a day.

His own opinion was that the ruggedness and deprivations of his early years — including Charterhouse — had made him equal to such a demanding life.

Re-post: An Exchange of Smiles at Walmart

It was mid-afternoon and I was pushing my grocery cart toward the exit of Walmart when a middle-aged woman entering the store flashed me a big smile. I suddenly realized that I had been smiling at some pleasant thought and she must have thought I was smiling at her. Or perhaps she was just saying she was happy, too.

My observation is that not much smiling goes on in grocery stores. After all, there’s a lot to think about while shopping, like comparing the costs of two brands of paper towels or two different grades of eggs, or checking the calorie count of whole-grain Cheerios. And while you are doing all this, you have to make sure your grocery cart doesn’t get in the way of other shoppers.

(Someone should do a study about smiles in a grocery store. What percentage of shoppers smile at fellow shoppers in any one afternoon? What is most likely to prompt smiles? Do people who smile spend more or less money on average? Some pollster could figure out how to frame the questions. Anyhow, news reports citing such statistics would be a welcome relief from the poll results for presidential hopefuls we are treated to daily.)

Maybe an additional reason I don’t smile enough when I work my way down a shopping list in the grocery store is that grocery shopping is a relatively new experience for me. I’m still awkward at it. I’ve taken it up only since retiring and I’m not as patient and discriminating about it as Kathleen is. I sometimes bring the wrong thing home (like apple juice instead of apple cider vinegar).

Back when I was an assigned pastor I had a self-imposed rule that I would not run errands like grocery shopping during working hours. Some of my pastor friends thought this was too rigorous but I had a reason. During working hours I was on duty. I knew that the high-school principal couldn’t take time off during the day to slip away to a grocery store for a couple of items she forgot the night before. And the vice-president of the bank couldn’t slip out for half an hour to get a dozen eggs. These people were on duty. Why shouldn’t working pastors consider themselves on duty also?

It is true that a pastor’s work sometimes beckons during hours when others are finished for the day. Even so, it may not appear professional to parishioners that their pastor is pushing a shopping cart at 10 a.m.

The context of my self-imposed regulation during pastoral days was my strong work ethic — not a slavish one, not a compulsive one, but one exercised with a robust joy in making time count and in letting my people know that I took my assignment seriously.

That same thought brings me joy in setting myself a working schedule during retirement years — though one not so rigorous — and that may well be why I was smiling as I headed out of Walmart.

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Photo credit: Rupert Taylor-Price (via flickr.com)

Re-post: Everybody Talkin’ ‘Bout Heaven Ain’t Goin’ There

Bloch-SermonOnTheMount

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Heinrich Bloch

In the flow of daily life we take seriously many behavioral restrictions: stop signs, red lights, legal notices, restricted crosswalks. It’s in our interest to do so. But do we pay attention to words of warning such as the ones Jesus spoke near the end of the Sermon on the Mount? He says:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers.’’ (Matthew 7:21-23)

Attention to that warning is more important to us than stopping at a million stop signs, for we neglect Jesus’ words to our eternal peril. When Jesus speaks of “that day” in the passage quoted above he means the day of final judgment. In the New Testament this is also called “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8; see also Philippians 1:6, 10).

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the young prophet and proclaimer of eternal truths, tells us that at the end of history and at the time of this final judgment he will know the hearts of all men and will have power to forever banish some from the heavenly kingdom, saying to them: I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers (Matthew 7:23).

Jesus proclaims here that there will be some who will be rejected even though they claim to have done great, even miraculous, ministries in his name. They will say in surprise, and maybe with reproach: Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles? (7:22)

Instead of accepting all, including this group of false religious achievers, Jesus makes clear there will be only one category of believers who will be received into the kingdom of heaven. It will be those who have paused to pay careful attention to the will of my Father who is in heaven (7:21b).

Heart obedience, it seems, is the key. That is, the heart’s obedience to the Father’s will, rather than general and especially self-directed service or accomplishment. That heart obedience will be the fundamental criterion for anyone’s acceptance into heaven.

To explain why that first group with apparent claims to heaven will be rejected, Jesus makes clear that in “that day,” even dramatic religious performance like the casting out of demons in the Lord’s name will not be enough.

This issue of heart obedience is addressed repeatedly in Scripture. Isaiah said of a very religious generation: The Lord says: “These people come near me with their mouth / and honor me with their lips, / but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13a). And in the closing hours of his earthly life, Jesus said to his closest followers: Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching (John 14:23a).

One needs to stop and ponder. In both Testaments, the obedience of the heart is the big issue. Even attempting wonders in Christ’s name will not count if the heart has not been open in submission and obedience to the Father.

There’s a line in a well-known spiritual that likely was inspired by these words of Jesus about the judgment: “Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven that ain’t goin’ there — O my Lord.” This should awaken us to examine ourselves for both inward and outward obedience to the Father. Only those who do the will of my Father in Heaven, Jesus says, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

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How the Apostle John Guided the Church in Truth

By the time the New Testament church had grown partly from a likely influx of second-generation believers, the integrity of the gospel had begun to fade in some quarters, and heretical elements were seeping into the ranks

The early Apostles were deeply concerned. They had governing authority over the church as given by Jesus.

When the beloved Apostle John wrote his first of three letters he exercised that authority. He was keenly aware of deviations from the truth of the gospel and he adroitly addressed them and called for repentance.

His first epistle reflects these facts. He opens his letter with a beautiful tribute to the wonder of the incarnated Lord.

I regard this manner of his address as a key element in his style of governance. The first paragraph is often called a prologue but I refer to it here as an anchor point. It was a call to first look beyond the present troubling issues that clouded the church’s faith and begin with a time of reflection to worship the incarnate Lord.

Thus, John’s anchor point: The Lord is from the beginning. He is forever. He enters fully into humanity. It was a miraculous manner of entering. Though he is eternal, the Apostles actually saw him. They even touched him. Both his deity and his humanity were celebrated.

As you will see, the Apostle proclaimed the Incarnation at the outset of his address. This proclamation was for one purpose, he says: to identify the sin in their midst leading to repentance and in so doing to renew the joys that come with genuine faith — this was his first leadership step (1 John 1:1-4).

As a second aspect of his leadership John addresses his readers with warm terms of endearment: My dear children (2:1), dear friends (2:7), dear brothers (3:13), and so forth. He was not coming to them as the sheriff. He addressed them with deep affection. Fifteen times in his first letter he identifies believers affirmatively in this fashion.

One might think that such gentleness of address to a group of faltering believers would show the Apostle as soft, shallow, easy to resist.

Not so. In fact, the third aspect of his leadership was his clarity with the truth and his directness in stating issues of life and death. In fact, in this third aspect, John continues his communication with a candor that is solemn:

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. (John 2:4-6)

He reveals his commitment to eternal truth as of issue above all else. In spite of his good will toward those who heard or read him, he was not there to bargain on truth itself.

What could he state more clearly than the following:

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth (1 John 1:5-6).

This must be called loving candor.

This gem of a letter is filled with such measured but penetrating words. But there is one more element in the Apostle’s directness that must be factored into his address in large measure. This measure was likely effective in facing the perilous disorder in the church.

The Apostle repeatedly reminds them of their status in faith: they are “born again.” That is, they are regenerated; they have received the gift of the Spirit; they have inner experience enabled by new life. All of this is implicit in the term born again. By this reality they are bound to the Lord and to one another. This puts them under obligation. Seven times he refers to their new birth (2:29; 3:10; 3:19; 4:8: 5:1; 5:14; 5:18). That emphasis cannot be without purpose.

He writes, for example: … for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith (1 John 5:4). Because of their “regeneration,” their flirting with the manners and inducements of the fallen world had to be repented of and had to cease. He identifies those inducements one after another in his letter and reminds them they are born again. 

The church in every age is tempted to drift from purity of heart and life. Heresy so readily reveals its deviant ways. This epistle is given to Christ’s church in all generations to identify and to correct its wanderings.

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Photo credit: Paul VanDerWerf (via flickr.com)