It Started at a Ford Dealership

Yesterday I took my car to the Ford dealership for a scheduled transmission fluid change. This dealership is about six miles across the city so I needed shuttle service back to my home.

The shuttle driver and I quickly fell into conversation. He had emigrated to Canada from Lancashire, England, 37 years earlier. That’s the county my parents came to Canada from more than a century ago so we had a connection.

When I told him I was a minister he began asking my opinion about a 39-year-old son who lived with him and his wife. He described conduct that I knew immediately needed professional treatment if not full committal to a special treatment center. There had been bouts of violence in the home. They had had to call the police more than once.

Yet, outside help was not an option because, he told me, this son steadfastly refused professional help of any kind. He believed it was the professionals who were beaming the trouble into his head. They had sinister designs to harm him. Recommending seeing a doctor or further treatment was out.

We worked our way through traffic as he talked. When we arrived in my driveway he turned the engine off to continue. Later in the day when he came to pick me up and take me back to the dealership he resumed the conversation where he had left off. He and his wife were retired and were in great distress. No relief seemed at hand.

I inquired about their religious background. He had none. His own father had been Catholic only by name. Neither of his parents had ever gone to church. I asked if he had a Bible in his home. He thought so but he had never read it. I encouraged him to find it and read from the Gospel of Mark, the shortest Gospel account. He might find some comfort or hope there. God says of his word, “My word … shall accomplish that which I please” (Is. 44:28)

Then, not long after I arrived home Kathleen and I were on a long distance call with a couple who are battling the slow devastation of Alzhiemers. The care-giver husband is worn down by his task. And I expected another call from a man who has lost his marriage and family to an unwanted divorce. He intends to come to our city to visit us.

It all makes me think of the life motto of a Nineteenth Century minister in England: “Be kind; everyone you meet is having a hard time.” Indeed, there is a thin veneer of materialistic sufficiency across our land (and we thank God for the abundance of modern life) but beneath that sufficiency, there is the reality identified by the ancient Job, “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7)

This is the state of the world God has placed his people in. We must often ask, of what help can we be?

Years ago I was perplexed about two verses in Galatians 6. To cite the King James Version, first Paul writes, “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Only three verses later he writes, “Every man shall bear his own burden” Gal. 6:5). They seemed contradictory.

Then I read the J. B. Phillips paraphrase. First he writes, “Carry one another’s burdens and so live out the law of Christ.” Then he writes, “For every man must ‘shoulder his own pack.’” Like soldiers in war we all have our own packs to carry, and often they are very heavy. But we must not let them keep us from lending a hand to someone nearby whose burden may be even heavier. This, Paul writes, is “the law of Christ.”

All this is good enough reason for us to keep the Christ-life in us healthy. For believers, life is so much like a soccer ball. It’s the abundance of air inside the ball that determines the quality of its usefulness. If it is half inflated, every kick makes it wheeze and gasp and it only flops a few yards distance. But, fully inflated, that is, reinforced from the inside, the kicks still hurt but the ball rises higher and flies farther in spite of them.

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