Re-post: Marriage and Money

On June 9, 1947, When Kathleen and I agreed to marry, we hadn’t even talked about money. There really wasn’t much of it to talk about. She would be leaving a teaching position that paid $100 a month and I was a student and part time staff at Lorne Park College near Toronto.

For us, it was not love at first sight – but close. We both seemed to know from the beginning that we were meant for each other. We were committed Christians and had a strong sense of providence in the matter. But there were questions to be faced.

I had left high school at sixteen years of age to attend and later graduate from Moose Jaw Bible College. Afterwards, I traveled in Canada and parts of the Eastern United States as a  singer and song leader. Now, as an adult I was doubling back to make up the deficit in my high school education.

Because Kathleen knew that I was on my way to the ordained ministry she knew that if she married me there would be several years of post-secondary education ahead. There would be the completion of a college program and possibly three full years in seminary. Because she was from a family that valued education, she was prepared for that sacrifice.

Kathleen had begun a teaching career two years earlier at the age of nineteen. At that time, five years in high school and one year in Normal School were sufficient for her to begin to teach in the public school system. But back in the forties of the last century it was not so common for a wife to support her husband financially in school. Female teachers were expected to retire from teachers once married. When children came along the husband would have to be the sole breadwinner.

So, there was the financial question to be answered: Where would the money come from to keep us afloat if I were in school through college and possibly through three years of seminary?

The question of how we would survive was not a big issue with me because I was adventuresome and entrepreneurial. I was increasingly getting modest financial returns for singing and speaking and I had sold books door-to-door. I was sure I could provide for both of us.

We married on December 20 of that year in the home of Kathleen’s brother-in-law and sister, Wes and Muriel Smith, in Niagara Falls, Ontario. It was a modest event. The day of elaborate twenty-to thirty-thousand-dollar weddings had not yet dawned.

There was also no premarital counsel for us except that one older minister took me aside and warned me grimly that “marriage isn’t all roses.” As I recall, counseling as an expected pastoral service to engaged couples came much later in the century. Back then, it was generally assumed that if two were getting married they were expected to know what they were doing.

In the first weeks of our marriage, I carried the money, as my father had done. He had a roll of bills in his left front pocket, held tightly together by an elastic band. I began our marriage taking the same responsibility for our cash.

But about two months into our marriage I became ill and was in bed for several days. Kathleen had to do the grocery and any other shopping on her own. During that period I discovered that she could make money stretch further than I.

In grocery shopping she was much more deliberate and selective; she was slower to decide on a purchase; she compared costs. In a word, I learned that she was a shrewd shopper. Money restraints in her family while she was growing up — though in many respects unpleasant and confining — had been disciplines to train her for life.

That revelation set us on a new course. We decided that she would take over the primary money management, which she continued to do throughout my years of active ministry. For example, in the early months of our marriage she set -– and adhered to — a grocery budget of $7.00 a week for many months. Only after I retired did it fall back on me to participate significantly in the keeping of our finances.

What were the circumstances I referred to that had trained Kathleen for this responsibility? She and her six siblings had been raised by a widowed mother on very limited means.

In 1933 her father died unexpectedly after a surgical procedure. She was seven years old at the time. The oldest of the seven children was thirteen and the youngest three months from birth. Their Saskatchewan farm was heavily mortgaged and that year the Great Depression dipped to its severest level. They were a family in crisis.

After one year her mother moved the seven children to Niagara Falls, Ontario, to come under the care of an unmarried brother, Uncle Oswald. Three years later when he died of cancer, she moved the family to a more modest dwelling across town and continued to raise this family on a widow’s pension of $60 a month.

The house where I visited Kathleen during our courtship was small for eight people but always well-kept and appealing. Though poverty was real, I detected no sense of it there. That is probably where I learned that poverty is first of all a state of mind.

Growing up, the financial limitations had made Kathleen resourceful. There was no money to buy clothes off the rack so Kathleen learned to make her own. She also made clothes for her mother and three sisters. If a room needed to be painted or papered there was no money for professionals so she and an older brother tackled the job, learning as they went. When she was 13 she began to babysit, and on Saturdays to scrub and wax floors for a wealthy family across town.

Later, in her teens, one summer she worked on a production line for canning peaches and another summer for assembling batteries. This money she saved to finance her upcoming one year of Normal School. Her masterful skill in stretching what a dollar would buy was just what we needed when we married.

So we launched our shared lifetime together. She was supportive of me as I studied to prepare for a life of ministry. We welcomed four children into our union, Carolyn (a teacher), Don (an editor and publisher), Robert (a doctor), and John David (our severely handicapped son).

We happily provided what the children needed. There were piano lessons for all three and a flute for one and a French horn for another. We settled their squabbles and held before them high standards of achievement. In the process we made our parenting mistakes for which the children freely forgave us.

After our first three-and-a-half years as a married couple, we left Lorne Park College, and during our two years at Greenville College in Illinois I began going out weekends as a singer and speaker. Then, during three years at Asbury Seminary, I served a student pastorate in the north end of Lexington. The denomination covered the cost of my seminary tuition.

We closed out the eight years of educational effort and left Kentucky for our first full-time pastoral assignment, in Western Canada — with no debt! This was partly due to my additional summer experiences here and there as a youth speaker and partly due to Kathleen’s skillful management of finances.

Along the way, the denomination taught us well that money is a trust from God and must be managed accordingly. It’s called stewardship. Kathleen and I, in spite of our sparse income, tithed the first money we owned jointly, setting aside ten percent for the Lord’s work. That wasn’t always easy. And several times across the years Kathleen has reminded me that she tried to treat the remainder of our funds with care because she remembered that they came from the Lord’s people and in some cases were from sacrificial giving.

After seventy-three years together, we believe that one of the most unnoticed but important challenges of pastoral ministry is that of managing money to the glory of God. Because we took the challenge seriously, we are comfortable in our retirement. But how well we have done this will only be disclosed when we “all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Image info: Alan Cleaver (via flickr.com)

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Why Tom Came Back

Happily, the church I was pastoring was attracting young couples with little children, along with many other age groups.

Among these couples were Tom and Nancy. But after they had come to Sunday worship with their children for three weeks, Tom was absent on week four. 

As Nancy gathered the children to depart that fourth week, I asked her if Tom was ill. Tears filled her eyes as she told me of a decision he had made. He didn’t need to go to church, he had said. He could manage his life without it. 

I learned that Tom had a good job and was providing well for the children, and his Sunday golf game was with new friends whom he enjoyed. Sunday church was in the way and therefore taken off his schedule.  

As I recall, perhaps it was the next Sunday I asked Nancy to be away from home the coming Thursday night. I told her I wanted to visit with Tom alone.  

After getting the two children into bed she went to the mall for the rest of the evening. When I rang the doorbell, Tom, who was expecting my visit, met me at the door with his engaging smile. He was a cheerful and self-confident man. 

We sat down together and our conversation was easy and mutually affirming. Toward the end of the visit I mentioned that I had noticed his absence from church recently and asked if he would share with me the reason. (My interest, of course, was his eternal destiny, support for his wife, and his influence on his children above all.)  

Tom responded to my question but never lost his smile, and his decision seemed fixed. Before leaving his home I took an index card from my pocket and holding it in hand I asked if he would do me a favor.    

Seeming mildly amused as he received it, he said he would try. 

I asked if he would agree to read the card at least once a day for two weeks; and then I would come for a second visit. I offered a prayer, we exchanged respectful farewells, and I went to my car. 

When I went to his home the second time, the man who met me at the door was different. He was warm again but there was no smile. He moved almost urgently to the subject of faith. 

In a very short time we were kneeling together at his bidding. With tears, and before the Lord, he was confessing and asking forgiveness and resetting his values. 

What could have stirred such a change? It was the simple but penetrating word of our our Lord Jesus Christ printed on the card I had left with him:

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 8:36,37)

It was not I but the Lord who had arrested his attention. The Spirit of God, working through scripture, had penetrated his consciousness. 

This story illustrates what Christians everywhere believe about the power of God’s word: “… for the Word of God is living and active.” And also: “It divides even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow” (Hebrews 4:12,13). 

Sometimes, even with Scripture, it takes repetition to let the light in and illuminate the soul.

That conversation and prayer took place more than 60 years ago. I heard recently that Tom’s wife had died. I phoned him across the country. He wept as we talked. He was still serving the Lord.

(Names and some details changed to maintain Tom’s privacy.)

Image info: Justin See (coming back) (via flickr.com)

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On Loss and Life’s Meaning

The world is too much with us: late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers …

These are the first two lines of a sonnet by William Wordsworth, English poet of the nineteenth century. As a poet of the romantic era, he believed the clank and roar of the Industrial Revolution with its belching smoke stacks had smothered the beauty of the natural world.  

Sprawling factories, and the obsession of making profit from man’s labor, had so captured the attention of the masses, he seems to proclaim, that they had obscured Nature from human wonderment, a bitter loss

In a much more ancient era, the wise man who wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes goes further than Wordsworth, with a penetrating summary not merely of Man and Nature but of the whole drama of life in both its temporal and eternal dimensions. 

And speaking even more directly to eternal matters, our Lord Jesus asks, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul, or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:26). 

There is more in Ecclesiastes and our Lord’s words than in Wordsworth: not only the loss of Nature’s beauty but also the loss of the soul. The aged writer of this book summarizes his findings about life’s meaning with these words: 

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Image info: Thales (via flickr.com)

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In the Eyes of God and Man

Ten years ago, I wrote a blog based on episodes in which people were carelessly overlooked by highly trained professionals. No doubt these episodes were the result of their own distraction, busyness, or routine.  

For example, I recounted a story of a dentist and assistant who hovered over my open mouth while having a conversation as though I wasn’t even there. Another experience was of my ordering and paying for my fast food order while the employee serving me was talking in an uninterrupted stream to her coworker.  

My wife, Kathleen, heard a conversation while being prepared for cataract surgery to the effect of, “Let’s hurry and get this done so we can get out of here early.” Sedated less than they realized, she responded with a pleasant and wry comment, leading the surgeon to pause, come over to her, and reassure her that she would get excellent care, which in fact she did.

I suggested ten years ago that this kind of interpersonal oversight might be uncommon, and yet the aim should be for it to never happen. That is because, according to Christian theology, every person bears the image of God, and deserves equal respect and dignity. 

And now, ten years later, living independently but in a different circumstance, a beautiful retirement-village-within-a-building, Kay and I have committed ourselves to “serving” everyone around us with utmost respect and consideration, even though we are often the ones being served.

Given that we’re both 95, our village staff does many things for us: cleaning, meal preparation for the dining room, hanging a clock on the wall, fixing our small refrigerator, and so forth. And with the strict quarantine of the past year much relaxed, we have contact with a larger number of staff persons, whether in the dining room, at the concierge desk, or in building management. And we are finally meeting some lovely neighbors in nearby apartments. 

In the cosmopolitan Toronto suburbs, we are in a United Nations of national origins, and with many young people. We work hard to remember names, some of which we’ve never encountered before. We telegraph, and occasionally directly indicate, that we are people of faith. We attempt to engage and affirm and respect deeply. 

I suppose one could say “That’s just good etiquette.” Yes, that is true, but for us, it is also more: It is that everyone we encounter each day is of equal value in the eyes of God, and therefore in our eyes.

Photo credit: (via Zdenko Zivkovic flickr.com)

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Money and Parental Influence

Last week I mentioned in my blog that my father had worried that I might be a spendthrift, based on my behavior towards money as a child. (I was not.) His interest in managing money well came right out of both of my parents’ life stories.

Both grew up in coal-mining families near Manchester, England, well acquainted with grinding poverty. Even after coming to Canada at about age 20, they initially lived close to destitution, despite being very hard workers.

During the Great Depression they did not have to appeal to the government for what was then called Relief, nor did they need to turn to the soup kitchens of the day. Instead, with a plot of land on which to grow vegetables, they relied on their own hard work and resourcefulness to stay a step ahead of hunger.

Though they didn’t rise above real poverty until in their thirties, they were never poor-minded. Even when impoverished through no fault of their own, they were the proud working poor who would be horrified to think someone else should provide for them. They were not paupers.  

My father stood 5’4” and my mother was about 4’11.” As homesteading immigrants from England to the harsh prairies of Western Canada, they had no savings to fall back on, and no family to rescue them. They knew that if they were ever to come to a place of basic financial security it would be by their own ingenuity and hard work.

They were not complainers, but occasionally they gave us glimpses into how exacting their pioneering life had been. Once my mother spoke of a time of drought early in their days in Canada when she walked three miles across the prairies to the nearest neighbor to exchange a few turnips for a few carrots so there could be some variety in their diet. All of this helps me to understand why they lived so carefully right up to the end of their lives.

In the summer of 1929, about 25 years after their arrival in Canada, and now approximately 45 years old, my parents moved from their small plot of land into Estevan, three miles to the north, and bought a stucco bungalow at the corner of Third Street and Souris Avenue. This was a part of my father’s long-range plan to become a merchant. He had already built a small bakery on Main Street, and my older brother, Wilf, had left school at age 15 to take a crash course with a baker on Fifth Street.

But only months later, the Christmas season of 1929 turned joyless with the infamous stock market crash in November of that year that ushered in the Great Depression. The situation was complicated by the serious drought that turned some parts of the province into what was called a dust bowl. That decade was often referred to as the Dirty Thirties. 

I was four that Christmas and there were no presents. One of my earliest memories is of the pall that seemed to rest on the family during that season. I learned later as an adult that my parents had feared they were going to lose the house, which in fact they soon did. And the bakery was under a similar threat. 

To face this crisis my father rented a vacant store up the street from the bakery. There he started a second-hand store. His hope was to make extra income to save the bakery.

Eventually, the store evolved into a furniture exchange. The bakery also slowly evolved into a small grocery store. But they never lost an awareness that poverty might return at any time. They never ceased to be frugal.

I review this family history because I know that in ways both conscious and subconscious it influenced my psyche. Kathleen’s story also includes a beginning in near-poverty; she and I are together careful with money but not as frugal as my parents were.

My father’s primary financial counsel was that one should always put a little aside for “a rainy day.” Five years into our marriage for the first time we had a fixed though modest income as a student pastor in Lexington, Kentucky. We then took this advice seriously and began a lifelong practice of saving something, however small that amount might be. Three years later, at our first church after seminary I remember committing to save $22 a month.

I wonder now if our parents’ history and example were training that made it easier for us to answer the call to pastoral ministry. Training in how to live modestly and to stretch a dollar takes away a distraction that might impede a life of ministry. I don’t recall ever asking a church we were going to serve what the salary would be. 

At the same time, how could Kathleen and I have guessed that from our humble but hard-working beginnings a calling to the pastorate would place us in fields of service both in Canada and the United States, and for brief periods in several other countries of the world? And we are indeed thankful to be in retirement years, living carefully but without financial worries and able to give some of our means even now to the Kingdom.

Photo credit: (via theritters flickr.com)

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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)