Church Mouse

Call me a church mouse

Yep, generations of ‘em

Here, under the oaken arches

And that golden and blue glass.

Long quiet pause

Day after day

We like that

Place all to ourselves

Except for one singing woman

With a mop

And a quiet man in black

Sits on a bench with open book

Drops to his knees often

Down where we are.

Couple a’ times he near

Squashed me

But he didn’t know.

Seems gentle and trustworthy

Others before him

Mostly the same, my folks tell me.

…No, I take that back!

Couple of them struck real fear

Into some of the women and kids.

Those few with the nasty smirk

Never looked at the picture windows

Never sat in the bench

To get real quiet.

Sometimes I climbed

All the way up to that

One picture with those fluffy critters

And the kindly man with the staff

(Bearing subscription Ezekiel 34).

Did it twice when

The place was crowded.

Loud sounds, blended voices

Clapping hands, fun apparently.

Then all got real quiet

And the man with the black coat

Spoke, spoke long

And hard, and raised up that Book.

My siblings were busy out back

Sampling the cakes and fruit.

But I had the better portion

In this lovely quiet and focus

And that Book seemed to be

So very important.

He even pointed up

To the glass picture behind me

Thought I might get noticed.

Crouched down real low.

Nice people, mostly.

Somewhat confused.

They might come more often

If you ask me.

Moshe of Mars Hill

It’s all coming apart. Here I am in the City of Wisdom. Fairly successful dry goods shop. A few cousins recently arrived from the coast of Phoenicia. Putting them up until they see their opening.

I manage the noon hour talks about four times a week. They are about everything. Restless, intelligent men. Recently they have been trying to take strips off Paul, messenger of the new sect of Christ followers.

It is quite something to watch. He was once a religious leader of the Jews. Interpreting. Distinguishing. Rule making. And hounding non-conformists to prison and death. But he says that he had a revelation. Stopped him dead in his tracks and showed him the majesty of Jesus the resurrected one.

Released from the grave, just as He promised. Walking through Roman justice as if it were a mere inconvenience. Right around Passover. Now that IS majestic and other-worldly.

And this Paul, almost convinces me. The prophecies. A Virgin birth. In Bethlehem. Steeped in the wisdom of Torah. Rejected by His peers. Crucified. Placed with honour in a rich man’s tomb. Saved from corruption on the third day after burial. And it is said that He was true to the Law, Prophets and ceremony.

How brilliant of God. Taking a major detractor and turning him into the Chief Apologist for the life and teachings of the Galilean. And His incredible victory over death, fear and hate.

I am tired. Never a sense of conscience clean; of merit to stand before God free from shame. I want to get beyond culture and stifling repetition. What if the real Passover Lamb has now appeared ONCE to put away sin? Precious blood message.

A little group meets with Paul in the evenings. I intend to show up.

Open my eyes Lord. Make me undeniably free. And yours. And show me what to do about my own people, the Jews.

Come Here. I Want to See You*

Small-town Coldwater Michigan has been hit with an unthinkable phenomenon. People are reporting that they are getting phone calls from dear, departed ones; that they are getting insights into Heaven.

A real estate agent, a building contactor, a police chief, a day-care director, a dentist. All of them thrilled by repeated Friday phone calls expressing that Heaven is wonderful…no need to fear. Love is the grand pre-occupation.

Imagine what happens when the media gets hold of this and the internet. Churches, politicians and businessmen prepare for the onslaught. There is also a single Father grieving over the death of his wife while he was in prison. He can hardly tolerate these reports. Oh how he would thrill to hear her voice again. And so would his young boy Jules. But enough of that; just harmful sensationalism. “Sully” launches a mission to disprove the whole phenomenon. Some prankster with a strangely cruel streak.

I am only part way through the book “The First Phone Call From Heaven” by best-selling author Mitch Albom. In my estimation he scores another Grand Slam in inspirational writing.

I was sitting reading this very early at a McDonald’s. A well-dressed Englishman sat down beside me and flipped open his morning newspaper. Very business-like. Articles full of a recent provincial election.

I attempted to engage with him about this fascinating book before me. His demeanour indicated that he did not desire conversation, and particularly about some silly fable. After two attempts, I wished him good day. Pity. There was more of redeeming value in my read than in all of that rag of half-truths and advertising that had him so mesmerized.

Ears to hear, my Lord. Ears to Hear.

Next over to Walmart for some breakfast items. I mentioned the book again to the woman at the cash register. She listened through a good synopsis. No people in line behind. And then her response:

“Sir, I was in a coma after a car accident. Vehicle totally flipped over. Should have died. While unconscious I distinctly heard my dead Mother’s voice saying it is not your time Sweetheart. You will return.”

Her face indicated that she was somewhat stunned at having shared the treasured experience with a total stranger. But it felt good.

We thanked one another for the shared thoughts, and went about our business.

…how much Coldwater had changed since the miracles. There were complants, head shakes, more complaints.

But there was also talk about heaven. And faith. And God. There were more prayers said than in years past. More requests for forgiveness. The volunteers for soup kitchens far exceeded the need. The mattresses at churches far outnumbered the weary. (at page 178)

(* first words by telephone from Alexander Graham Bell)

Let ‘Er Go

She was shaking with rage and hurt as she reviewed the awful exchange of moments before with that neighbour. There had been no cause for the outburst and damage to property. Other neighbours had seen it, and they were shaking their heads.

It had been all she could do to retain her temper and not to lash back. But now in retrospect she was boiling. Her husband later got the whole story as he perused the damage.

Why do people do this? Where is the cancer inside? Should she press on for justice, for retribution and some kind of punishment. Then came the nasty ideas and the imagined “snappy answer speeches”.

She couldn’t eat her supper and her stomach and head felt terrible. Just more collateral damage.

Her Husband looked at her with a curious sort of smile. He said, “I will not fear. For Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

One full minute’s silence. Then both began to laugh, and heartily.

“Let ‘er go, Hon.”

It seemed like a good time to go out back and clean up the mess. Self-imposed monkey no longer on anyone’s back.

The Man from Glengarry

 

Hilary has had some good talks with other patients on the ward.

One young man is Aaron. He has faced a number of tragedies lately; obviously intelligent and kindly disposed. This morning he opened up a talk about Jesus. He has had many problems with the presentation of the Church but he has great admiration for the Carpenter of Galilee. In our outing this afternoon Hilary loosed the “hound of used book stores” on a mission: “Doug find something with a very direct salvation message. This man is close to the Kingdom” Funny how you get a definite opinion about some people some times.

I gave a wry smile when I found a handy copy of The Man from Glengarry by Ralph Connor.

Consider one of my posts from years ago:

This is a classic of Canadian literature written by a prairie Presbyterian minister using the pen name Ralph Connor.

It traces the growth of a young Christian man in the Townships at the eastern end of Ontario and near the Ottawa River. The protagonist goes to work in a lumber operation and rises in the organization as he acquires quite honourably the favour of the owners.

It has been a long time since I read the book. The part that sticks in my memory has to do with the forest logging and the treacherous river ride of the cut logs in a huge mass contained within a boomed perimeter.

A French Canadian is heralded as the master at riding the logs with sturdy boots and gaffed pole. A severe workplace accident is described in detail as the man becomes isolated on a section which comes into furious rough water. Eventually he loses his balance and falls between the wooden monsters and is crushed and drowned.

We then come to the logging camp funeral where the superintendent is called upon to say a few kind words. He mentions the years of dedication, the tireless effort of each work day and the happy esprit de corps. Surely the good logger will be missed. God rest his soul.

But that is not all. An old Scot who has been with the Company longer than most is the reputed spiritual mentor of the men. Always a willingness with sincere and appropriate prayer. Always a facility in saying a good word in season from the Book of books. But his countenance now is troubled. He must be entirely honest before the men for sake of their own souls. He speaks bracing words:

“Aye, and the gewd Jacque*  wull trewly be messed. But ah must say men that a’am lewkin’ fer the signs – signs of peace made with ower Holy Gawd. Signs of a broken an’ contrite sperit, havin’ gone threw the Vale o’ Repentance. A’ve seen it not, an’ ah moost warn ye men that a gewd disposition and a hearty desire to dew one’s best wull not do the busness of salvation. One moost ne’er be too certain of oneself.

Ah pray trewly that there’s summat a’ve messed. The judgment is the thing I’ll be warnin’ ye of. Bless all yew fine men.”

(Note: We have all attended funerals where the words have been kind and the preacher has attempted to celebrate a life and apply the hope of glory to that life. What must be the pain when the preacher sees no signs of grace in operation? I sent a copy of this book to a Canon of a nearby Anglican Diocese. He had been an old boyhood school chum. He never acknowledged receiving it.

Let us pray that this solid adventure book from days of timber around the Ottawa River will bear fruit.)

(*name escapes me)

Alone at the Helm, But Not Alone…

The Captain leaves the young mate at the helm as wind shrieks in the rigging and the lumbering craft takes on a terrifying list. Waves crash repeatedly over the starboard bow. Hold her steady Son. This is where you learn of the thrilling challenge of the storm’s fury, and the merits of quick and respectful ejaculations of prayer Heavenward. God boasts against this fury and He will bring the calm. You will be changed Matie. This humbling brings on the honest-to-goodness manhood. Should there be trouble I will not be too quick to return above-decks. This is meant to be a shining hour, and yours.

23 They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;

24 These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.

25 For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.

26 They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.

27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.

28 Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.

29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.

30 Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.

31 Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! (Psalm 107)

Shine

On the Monday following Easter weekend, and upon Karl’s insistence, Ted went out for coffee and a talk. The old German parishioner had sensed that Ted was tired and a little discouraged. Perhaps a lot discouraged.

“Zo da message yestaday had been goot, ant hit all da main points. But vat’s up Ted? You sheem down.”

Ted really trusted this old fellow. There had been prayer vigils and many house visitations together. He was tired. He felt that so often the people of the church just needed to be weaned off his supply. Did they spend their own time and quiet moments in the means of Grace? Prayer. Scripture. Heartfelt discussion. And don’t forget simply waiting upon God for His input.

He felt that he would burst if he had to attend one more fellowship meal or social night.

Sometimes he would breeze by a broadcast of one of the American mega-churches on television. They had the numbers, the happy faces, the publishing and recording branches. But you know it was largely ear-tickling and he knew it.

Forget the infatuation with the do’s and dont’s of Christian Living. Let’s just draw closer to Jesus and His Gospels, and receive as if by absorption, His life, love and sense of mission to lost, hurting ones. When might the River flow with Ted’s bunch? And where were the youth? And where were the anxious new faces on any Sunday morning? And where the brokenness in the flock?

Ted really didn’t know where to begin, but he took a stab at it.

…Forty-five minutes later Karl put his withered old carpenter’s hand on the Pastor’s on the coffee table.

“Zo, mein friend. Rezolve dat it ishn’t up to you. No, you are not anybotty’s canal horse here. Ztay close to da Mashta. Shine. In da goot report tank God. In da bat report pray to God. Use da name ov Jesus mit joy and fear, often use it. Ant da people vill draw closer. Ant da people vill pick up da reins. Amen.”

Among the Hogs

prayer in rain

Came to myself

And the sight was not pretty

Came to myself

In a mud-spattered mess.

Father had rendered

My share in the family

Knowing full well

That it scarcely could bless.

Friends had been fast

As I opened the purse-strings

Life had seemed sweet

In the dark rooms of sin

Wine is a mocker

And strong drink is raging

Feeling a king-pin

I sauntered right in.

Now I am working

A stranger’s foul homestead

Feeding his swine

This, a Jew’s strangest thought

Missing my Father

And joys at the Home-Farm

Cursed this condition

My own lusts had wrought.

Might I go back

And appeal now for mercy?

Yes, it seems wiser

Than all else around

Sensing a hope

That defies all description:

Dead might be raised

And the lost might be found.

 

Note: In my estimation the story of the Prodigal Son is the best in all of human invention. But of course it is Jesus’ story and transcends the images of limited, sinful scribes. A young man comes to himself; stops at “Wit’s End Corner” and sees the wreckage. He finds out that his Father/God loves to restore broken things; loves to hear the words “I am so sorry. You were right all along. Please forgive me Father.”

I don’t care where we are in our Christian walk, there is always one more thing for which we must repent. If you visit a church and over the front door see a sign which reads “Got-It-All-Together Assembly”, turn around (repent) and flee that place as if it held the plague. Better you kneel alone in a quiet room with Bible opened. And do real business and see real truth and gain real currency for use in a fallen world reeling from pain, unbelief and self-will…Doug

Like a Dog in the Park

Don’s wife had asked him how the Men’s Study Group had gone. She knew that they had just polished off the final chapter in some topical book. Job, she thought. He had come home week after week for ten weeks, saying very little.

Don was now being called upon to summarize, and he was finding it difficult. Being with the guys was always good, but it seemed that there was never any room in the evening for spontaneity. The role of facilitator was passed around from chapter to chapter, but the underlying agenda was always to get through the assigned pages. His attention had been drifting this time around and he found that he could not accurately report to Becky, although she was truly interested. Some author that everybody said was good, but still second-hand information when compared to the Book of books.

Why did they persist in doing this? Running to some study guide with one man’s spin on things? Considering that in this fashion they were “doing their duty”? Was this truly fellowship? Two weeks ago it had seemed that it was on the tip of Brad’s tongue to let go with some personal problem. Something was eating at him. His face said that he was elsewhere. But there was that chapter to get through. The opportunity was lost.

Don was starting to suspect that the problem went beyond the Men’s Group at Crosspoints. It also put off the main body of the church from real engagement, real burden bearing, real examination of the scriptures. This was nothing like the thrill in his early years of faith when he had gobbled up the wonderfully consistent message of hope and of calling from Genesis to Revelation. Largely in his private time. Light gained which would never be forgotten. A true meeting with God, His thoughts and loving kindness. A true brotherly spirit with Jesus.

The next day at work, Don found himself musing on this predicament. Then suddenly, a recollection of something his father had said. Dad had been quite an exercise enthusiast, but eventually tired of the regimen. He said that he had come to know the total number of ceramic tiles in the bottom of the YMCA pool; the number of cracks in the sidewalk jogging around the downtown park. Then he got hold of a book from the military on aerobic exercise. The writer said that a work-out program should be as spontaneous and varied as the wanderings of a big dog in the park. Watch the animal. He will run uphill; sprint downhill; stop for a sniff at a tree; look overhead at some mocking crows; lope at an easy jog across the large playing field; walk while curiously examining some children at play on the swings; stop and catch his breath.

Could one’s faith walk possibly take on such a fresh approach? Could one’s willingness to go with the flow of the moment open up new opportunities in fellowship, in community, in fulfilling the Great Commission? Ask the Holy Spirit for refreshment, for guidance, for Jesus in the midst?

Something was wrong. He would have to take the risk and tell the guys.

Interstate

Ten-thirty PM and Rick was tired as he rolled into the gaudy and glaring service centre. Roads here in Indiana were very well kept and the “bears” didn’t seem to make a nuisance of themselves. Cruisers in these parts usually meant help and not harassment. Couldn’t say the same for the Home State.

Left her idling and stepped down for the prudent walk-about. Some funny noises from the back left had him a little concerned.

Concerned! That was an under-statement these days. A blizzard and a white-out had put him in the ditch up in Wisconsin six weeks ago. Insurance adjustment on the damage proved a real battle of second-guessing and pencil-sharpening. That didn’t mean that the payments had stopped; that the Boss or Dispatcher had shown any significant compassion or patience. And Rachel was showing the signs of stress while trying valiantly to bring in some sunshine.

He would have to phone her inside before taking some dinner. Wedding anniversary was only 3 days away. He just had to be home. There was one more leg and shipment on the inbound. Hopefully no complications or last minute changes. Last year he had been deep in the South picking up a load of fruit and had missed their day.

Now circuiting the truck with tire iron and checking inflation. He didn’t realize that he had picked the darkest corner of the lot. Probably just tended away from the glare.

Suddenly a tap on the shoulder from behind, and unexpected words “Hi Fella”. He whirled around and almost unintentionally swung out with his piece of steel. But NO…it was just a young girl in a short red skirt with a questionable smile on her face.

The smile got larger and she pointed over to three vans to the rear and right of his trailer about ninety feet. Two had doors closed but interior lights on. The third was dark. She pointed over with her thumb to that third one and muttered “Wanna play?”

Rick just stood there mute with a sense of the muscles in his face tightening and a lump in his throat. It seemed that he was thinking much too long about this. “Things have been rough Buddy. Who would know?”

And then one of the 2 occupied vans opened and a big man stumbled out giggling in a way that would certainly embarrass him in a fitter frame of mind.

Rick finally spoke. “No little girl…too much of the good back at home. But then I don’t suppose you know much about home. I’m sorry for that. Do you know that I just about clocked you with this piece of steel?”