“Our once great western Christian civilization is dying. If this matters to followers of Jesus Christ, then we must set aside our denominational differences and work together to strengthen the things that remain and reclaim what has been lost. Evangelicals and Catholics must stand together to re-establish that former Christian culture and moral consensus. We have the numbers and the organization but the question is this: Do we have the will to win this present spiritual battle for Jesus Christ against secularism? Will we prayerfully and cooperatively work toward a new Christian spiritual revival ― or will we choose to hunker down in our churches and denominationalisms and watch everything sink into the spiritual and moral abyss of a New Dark Age?” - Mark Davis Pickup

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

WHEN DESPERATE PRAYERS SEEM UNANSWERED

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" It was in his terrible agony of being crucified, Jesus cried those words of abandonment.[1]  Christ was abandoned by his friends -- except John and, of course, his mother. He was abandoned by the fickle crowds that -- one week earlier -- heralded his entrance into Jerusalem with jubilant shouts of "Hosanna in the highest!" Then the one who lived in perfect fellowship with God felt alienated from God.

Christ cried those heart-breaking words because he felt abandoned by God at the very moment he needed his Father most! Why? Because Christ took on the weight of the world's sins.[2]  In God's perfect holiness, He had to turn away from the great body of human sin, even when borne by His only begotten son.

Abandonment 

Do you feel abandoned by God in your pain? Does it seem that God does not answer your desperate prayers? Christ understands. He has been there. God does not turn away from us, although it certainly may seem that way at a critical moment of crisis.


I think we can begin to understand why the door to God's comfort and consolation seems to have slammed shut when our need for Him is most desperate. The key lies in the word "desperate."

C.S. Lewis wrote about this aspect of grieving. He explained that in
most things, we can't get what we want if we want it too desperately, or at least not get the best of it. Lewis used the analogies of not being able to see clearly when our eyes are filled with tears; that really delicious drinks are wasted on a ravenous thirst. I think he was right. It is the drowning man, flailing frantically in wild panic, who cannot be rescued, lest he drags down the rescuer and himself. 

We've all heard accounts of firefighters finding bodies of victims piled at the exit of a burned out building. The chaos of panic prevented orderly evacuation. Everyone perished beneath the exit sign. 

Sleepless nights

I know the stark terror of sleepless nights. I remember (more than 35 years ago now) the feeling of being abandoned in my anguish, staring out the kitchen window at 3:00am, while everyone else in the house slept peacefully. The fresh shock of being told I had an incurable, degenerative disease filled me with a strange mixture of numbness and panic. The only sound was the steady ticking of the mantle clock in the living room. As I looked into the backyard bathed in silver-blue moonlight, I was struck by the contradiction of the tranquillity around me and the terror within. I wanted to run away. But run where? The terror was in my own body!

My future had stretched out ahead of me, full of promise. Suddenly, it was all in ruins, or so I thought. My desperate prayers were unanswered, or so I thought. I felt deserted and alone. I remember looking up at the ceiling and saying to God, "If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them."

Do you see the problem? This was no way to approach the sovereign God of the universe! I was angry that my agenda had been derailed. I demanded to be delivered back to my former self (disguised as a prayerful petition). God was only welcome on my terms. (I suppose Christ could have rightfully responded, "If this is how you treat your friends ... ."

Pray another prayer

I needed to place my sorrow before God, and honestly, humbly pray another prayer, with a different heart. In the hours leading to his crucifixion, Christ prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will."[4] Christ asked three times that his cup of suffering be removed, and yet each time qualified his request with a willingness to submit to his heavenly Father's will, whatever that might be. Christ's request was not granted but an angel was sent to strengthen him in his suffering.


If God had granted Christ's earnest prayer request, the stain of humanity's sin would have remained. Even now, centuries later, it is only through faith that Christ's blood shed at Calvary has paid the penalty for our sins, are we reconciled in repentance to God.

Jesus spoke of people opening the door of their hearts at the sound
of his voice.[3] But how can a man hear Christ's voice if he is screaming in terror, confusion, desperation or anger? The man is pounding on the inside of a door only he can open.

Sometimes the most effective prayers are not what we say but how we listen. Sometimes God wants us to be still so he can calm our hearts. Only then can He speak to us at our deepest level. God wants us to utterly surrender every corner of our being to Him. He wants us to trust Him regardless of our circumstances.

There are times when suffering has a far greater benefit than deliverance from it. We must quieten our hearts, humbly seek God, and submit to his will, whatever that might be. Perhaps it is at the apex of suffering, and the door to God seems to have shut, that the seed of real faith can germinate. It is when all evidence of God's presence seems to have vanished that we have a unique opportunity to cry out with the great family of sufferers throughout the ages: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me" -- yet still choose to believe and obey.

MDP
____________
Notes.
[1]Matthew 27.46.  Cf. Psalm 22.1.
[2]See Isaiah 53.5; 2Corinthians 5.21; Galations 3.13; 1Peter 2.24, 3.18; 1John 3.5.
[3] Revelation 3.20.
[4] Matthew 26.39


Friday, July 6, 2018

THIS IS MY FATHER'S WORLD


"Was not this narrow enclosure, with the sky for a background, enough to enable him to adore God in his most beautiful as well as
in his most sublime works? Indeed, is not that all, and what more can be desired. A little garden to walk, and immensity to reflect upon." -- Victor Hugo



That is the case for me, except I can not 'walk' in my little garden.  
Still, I can tend to my enclosure with a tall hedge that gives a place of solitude, my little sanctuary, to adore God.

Be content with your life. Blossom where God plants you. He is our consolation, the final reality.

Although I am in the autumn of my life, the perpetual summer of God's love glows in my heart. This is my Father's world. See video below courtesy of Fountainview College.




Saturday, June 23, 2018

CHRISTIAN TRADITIONS PROVIDE CONTEXT FOR LIFE

[NB: Although this post deals with Catholic Christian traditions, I encourage Evangelical followers of this blog to read it. It may provide some context to understanding the mindset of your Catholic brothers and sisters.] 


St. Vital Church
I worship at a French Catholic church dating back nearly 100 years: Saint Vital on Beaumont, Alberta. Situated on the western Canadian prairies, it harkens back to a time when the church was the center of the community. And that's exactly where Saint Vital is situated in my town: Smack-dab in the center of town, perched at the top of the hill the town is named after. Houses spread out from there. There is a sense of history and French Catholic tradition that seems to emanate from the church. You can see the church from miles away.

Faith, family & community

Saint Vital was built by hardy French Canadian farmers who came
to western Canada from Quebec to homestead the rich land in the area. Their lives revolved around a common faith, family, and a deep connection of interdependent community -- in that order. That is the way its supposed to be. Those pioneers endured, survived and thrived. The original church was destroyed by fire and the new church was built of brick. A walk through the graveyard at the back of the church bears silent and powerful witness to that history and those people.

When my grandchildren were little, they loved to go to "Papa's church" as they called it. In their vocabulary, I'm Papa (don't ask why. It's a convoluted story). Sometimes we would go there when the church was empty. I talked to them about God and the parish history. They loved it. Even as pre-school children, they seemed to desire a connection to what went before.

Catholicism is historically oriented. The Holy Scriptures and Traditions of the Church provide a basis for preserving Christ's teachings, as revealed to the Apostles. It is the basis of revealed truth (cf.  John 1.14, 14.6). It is the root of understanding.

Train up a child 

Proverbs 22.6 says "Train up a child in the ways he should go, and
when he is old he will not depart from it." Some parents have mistakenly thought this is an iron-clad promise from God. I sure did. I thought that if I did my parenting correctly there was a binding promise from God to save my children. The problem with this notion is twofold: One is hard-pressed to find such a guarantee in the Bible (including this verse). The other problem is the issue of free will. Proverbs 22.6 is a proverb, not a promise.  No matter how godly a parent may be, it is not a guarantee of faithful or godly children. Each generation is responsible for its own relationship to God.

Participation with God

I understand that now with the hindsight of an old man. Proverbs 22.6 provides a general principle to be taken in divine balance. There's no magic to it and certainly no guarantees. God will not override humanity's free will of choosing to love him.

As a grandfather, I can only provide a supportive, secondary role to my adult children and convey some sense of the reality of Jesus Christ in my own life and point toward a personal relationship with him as the most critical decision any person can make. The Holy Scripture and Church traditions only provide a framework and context for that.

MDP

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

FAIRNESS IN JUSTICE & GRACE OVER REVENGE

Ted was an anti-Christian bigot.

He took great pleasure in depicting God as a vengeful Being -- ready to pounce on poor humanity for the slightest infraction against His holy law. Ted would attack God and Christianity based on this caricature; he would contort his face like an ogre in mock imitation of this caricature and hiss, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth!"

Biblical Ignorance

One day, after hearing this tiresome routine for the umpteenth time, I asked Ted if he knew where in the Bible that passage is found, or if he could complete the verse. He could do neither and flew into a fury at having his biblical ignorance exposed. Ted did not know the Bible. He merely regurgitated snippets of Scripture he heard somewhere in his past in order to bolster his case against God and his prejudice against Christianity.  I doubt he even owned a Bible.


The actual Scripture is found in Exodus 21 and must be taken in context:


"If men fight and hurt a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman's husband imposes on him; but if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.*

Lex Talionis

This Scripture deals with Lex Talionis, or the principle of tit for tat. It was meant to do more than enforce strict justice; it was also meant to prevent greater penalties than crimes warranted, or punishments that exceeded the injury. This is different from exacting personal revenge.


For example, we read in Genesis 4.23 that Lamech bragged to his wives: "I have killed a man for wounding me, even a young man for hurting me." That was distorted revenge, not justice.

Under God's guidance, Moses placed judgment for wrongdoing under the authority of judges. The "tooth for a tooth" statement was meant to call judges to be absolutely fair in their rulings. 

Christ spoke about the principle of a tooth for a tooth: "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." (Matthew 5.38-39. Cf. Proverbs 20.22, Luke 6.29, Romans 12.17, 1Corinthinians 6.7, 1Peter 3.9) Jesus exhorted Christians to forego legality for the sake of love not hatred, grace not revenge. In doing this, Christians give a powerful and disarming witness to the love of God.

Several years ago, Ted died from a heart attack. As far as I know, he went to his grave cursing God and His Church. (I must be careful about conjecture.) What happened in Ted's last few moments on earth are between him and God. What I do know is that God does not want anybody to die in their sins. 

"As I live, says the Lord, I swear I take no pleasure in the death of a wicked man, but rather in the wicked man's conversion, that he may live. Turn, turn from your evil ways!" (Ezekiel 11.33)


The Apostle Peter said that God is "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." (2Peter 3.9).

We are all called to repentance, through faith in Jesus Christ. How we respond, ... well, that's up to us. Yes, that is up to us. God will not make us love him.

MDP

___________________
NOTE:
* Exodus 21.22-25, cf. Leviticus 24.17-20, Deuteronomy19. 

NB: Abortion advocates have occasionally used this passage to try and show that the unborn child has less value than the woman. But that's not what it's saying at all. In fact, one biblical commentary makes the follow the comment about verses 22-25:

"Of special interest to many Christians are verses 22-25. Unfortunately, most translations leave the reader with the false impression, which has led in turn to the wrong application of the passage to the abortion issue. In short, this law deals with the results of a pregnant woman being struck (accidentally) by two men who are fighting. The result of this unfortunate attack is a 'miscarriage' according to most English translations. The text continues: "[If] there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined. . . . if there is injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye . . ." (v.23). This has often been interpreted to mean that a miscarriage occurred. Then the issue becomes how the mother was affected -- the implication being that the fetus really did not matter; it was not considered a human being and the focus of attention was the mother. This passage is often used by advocates of abortion to say that since God did not demand punishment for the loss of the child, then the fetus did not have image-of-God status.

However, the Hebrew of 21-22 literally reads, "and hit a pregnant woman so that her child(ren) come forth, and no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined." Here the King James and New Internal translations are helpful. The Hebrew word for miscarriage is not used here. Our text portrays a woman being struck then delivering prematurely. The very passage used for some to support abortion, in fact, goes in the opposite direction. In this case, the woman is accidentally struck, but if she or the child dies as a result, the guilty party could be sentenced to death. This is the only instance in the Torah where involuntary manslaughter calls for the death penalty. Generally, the guilty party was to receive refuge from the 'avenger of blood' and was not to be put to death (Deut. 19.4-10). Injury to the unborn is the only exception. The reason seems clear enough: God places high value on the unborn. The law always expresses concern for those least able to defend themselves." (James K. Hoffmeier,  "Exodus" in Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: BAKER BOOK HOUSE, 1989) P. 56.)



Monday, June 11, 2018

LIFE AFTER DISABILITY ONSET

I became disabled with multiple sclerosis (MS) at the age of thirty. It was a terrible shock going from healthy and athletic to life with mobility contraption, house adaptations and ever-increasing restrictions on what I could do. My career with the Canadian government ended when I was unceremoniously put out to pasture before the age of thirty-eight. Serious adult-onset disability is a harsh reality. We can either let it make us bitter or better. If we are open to God's leading, we can find life after disability can be as vibrant and fulfilling as before.

Below is a video of a remarkable young woman who suffered a spinal cord injury. Her resilience is a testament to the human spirit as she explores the parameters of her new life. If she hasn't yet met Christ, I pray she will. With Him, she can transcend her circumstances.   


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

CHRISTIAN RESPONSES TO EUTHANASIA IN CANADA

In the months after Canada legalized medically assisted suicide, the Archdiocese of Edmonton held a series of presentations, under the guidance and leadership of Archbishop Richard Smith, about this new national reality.  Canada's courts and parliament have chosen this radical departure from its Christian origins as a nation. It is the beginning of a dark chapter in our history.

How then should Canadian Catholics respond? What are Christians to do? Below is a link to the fifth in the Archbishop's series addressing this question. I presented a disability perspective, palliative care physician and evangelical Christian, Dr. Anna Voeuk gave a doctor's perspective, and Archbishop Smith presented the Catholic perspective. It should be noted that since this presentation in 2016, more than 2,000 Canadians have been euthanized; the most common reasons are cancer, ALS and MS. 


See below for my contact information.  

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"COINCIDENCES" OF THE LIVING CHRIST

Many years ago, my wife and I rescued a woman from an extremely abusive husband. The man was a sheer brute. He was filled with bluster and threats -- ruling his household by intimidation and fear! Perhaps I have met worse men than Leo but I can't remember when. The rescue was planned for a day when Leo was supposed to be away for a few hours.

We took the opportunity to get his wife out of their apartment, along with her clothes and a few cherished belongings. Having multiple sclerosis, I couldn't make it up the stairs to the apartment so my wife and the woman worked feverishly to vacate the place when Leo came home early! They lied through their teeth to get out of the apartment building. The two women made their way across the parking lot to the car. I was gunning the engine ready to whisk them away. Being disabled, I was hardly able to deflect a physical altercation with Leo.

I was praying even harder than revving the engine. I Knew the Lord
has a heart for the oppressed. Psalm 103.6 says "The Lord does righteous deeds, brings justice to all the oppressed." Elsewhere in the Psalms say "He upholds the caused of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, ..." Surely this woman was oppressed! Surely she was a prisoner in her own home!

Suddenly an enraged Leo appeared at the front door of the apartment building. "Please heavenly father" I prayed, "deliver us!"
Without prompting a police car screeched around the corner of the street and stopped behind my car. A policeman with a puzzled look on his face walked to my car. I could see Leo shrinking back into the apartment building at the sight of the police officer.

I rolled down my window for the policeman. "Did you call the
police?" He asked. I responded "No officer, but it's sure good to see you." By this time my wife and the woman were piling into the car. "Did you call the police?" I asked them. Both said No. Leo must have thought I called the police because he disappeared out of sight. The confused policeman went back to his car wondering who called him to that location. I drove away with the image in my rear-view mirror of a bewildered policeman mumbling to himself.

Coincidence? Perhaps. The problem is that there have been too many "coincidences" in my life throughout the years. Too many for them all to be "coincidences." They can't all be coincidences or they would not be coincidences. 

Am I saying that God intervenes in the lives and affairs of
humanity? Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying! He certainly has/does in mine, just as He has in the lives of millions upon millions of people throughout the ages.

What happened to the woman rescued from Leo? She divorced him and started a new life. In subsequent years, she too felt the hand of God in her life. She passed away peacefully a few years ago at the age of eighty-two.

Millions of people (including me) know the reality of the resurrected and living Jesus Christ. The Joy Behars of this world simply do not understand. They can but they don't ... yet.

MDP