Sunday, 30 August 2015

Hold on to these words

"The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. Psalm 103:15, 16

With arms slightly out stretched, he harbored himself between two symbols that time can never erase...and today it only seemed even more appropriate. His left hand was on the baptismal font and his right hand rested on the pulpit that holds a carving of a cross. His back was turned to the congregation as he sang the words to "10,000 Reasons" that were printed on the screen at the front of the church. On one occasion, I noticed he reached into his pocket for a cloth to wipe away what I can only imagine to be tears. I don't know if this was his usual stance with  his arms extended outwards resting on symbols of Christian sacraments as if to give him support. But on this occasion - his farewell sermon - Pastor Paul anchored himself to two undying truths: the cleansing water of baptism and the saving blood of the cross.

As a visitor at this morning's service at Dundas Calvin Christian Reformed Church (the church of my youth and teenage years), I was blessed to hear Pastor Paul Vanden Brink's plea to "remember the cross". After 10 years of service, and probably close to delivering 1000 messages, all filled with equal measures of urgency and passion I'm sure, he implored his 'flock' to remember Christ's sacrifice for you and me; to remember the cross. We were reminded that at the end of our earthly days, the cross is the only thing that matters in life - not your job, career, family, house - or anything that you take pride in. It's not how religious you are, how faithful you've been to your spouse, how good of a parent you are to your children, how 'vice-less' you are, or how you never cheat the tax man. If you don't know the bitter taste of the cross, you'll never savour its sweet message of hope. If you haven't heard your own voice accusing Jesus as he hung on Calvary's cross, you'll never hear his welcome, "Well done, good and faithful servant". Christ's death equally and without prejudice atoned the sins of the repentant hooker and the pious 'habit' wearing nun. This - Christ's death and resurrection - is the ONLY thing that lasts forever. Forget everything else.

It's this matter of 'passing things' that's been on my mind lately. Like the verse from Psalm 103 above, we're reminded that we are here for only a short time. Yesterday, on my birthday, God in his mercy blessed me with another year. I think it's only natural that as we get older we start looking back and evaluating our life. Do I have unfulfilled dreams? What will my legacy be? Have I been the son, brother, husband and father that God wants me to be? All these questions inevitably and invariably end with feelings of regret and failure. Because, after I die, and my great-grand children's grand children are nipping at the heels of their parents, no one will either think of or remember me..or you. That's true for 99.99% of the population. I hope this isn't a revelation to anyone! Really.

So, I can spend lots of time trying to create a 'perfect life'. I can buy the latest toys, live in the nicest home, create precious moments by the vacations I take. I can build an irresistible online profile that everyone would admire, have a high powered career, or even be a devoted homemaker. But it's like the flower - here today and gone tomorrow. Poof. Gone. Finished. What then?

It's the 'what then' question that was still floating in my thoughts this morning as I prepared myself for worship. And in a moment what felt like divine providence I saw the symbols that Pastor Paul positioned himself between. The refreshing, cleansing water of the font where I was baptised as an infant and the empty cross where my Jesus once hung. That's all I have...and that's all I really need.

"But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children—" Psalm 103:17

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Oh, the great plans I had for my new pet fish

"Call me Ishmael." For I was optimistic and full of hope!

It was 1980 something. And, as any teenage boy worth his salt I drove my Mom crazy by 'hanging around'. It wasn't so much as 'hanging around', but I suffered from the common affliction what was then known as being #bored (without the #). It wasn't so much as being bored, but it was problem of finding something that would hold my attention for longer than 2.5 seconds. Today, psychologists might label me as being mildly ADD with a slant towards 'inattentiveness'. Back then, however, my Mom would just say I was being 'vervelend', which is the Dutch word to describe someone who is causing an irritation or an annoyance! I didn't exactly know what the word meant then, but I knew that when she used it I wasn't being very lovable.

So, with a grand - and rare - idea conjured up, I jumped on my metallic red, Canadian Tire 'Super-Cycle' and rode the 3km trek to Waterdown's one and only pet store to buy a gold fish and a bowl. (To this day I'm not exactly sure why I thought this would hold my attention, but I was going with it and I wasn't going to argue with myself!) After selecting the fish with the perfect shade of orange, and locating a glass bowl that looked like...well...'just like home' from a fish's perspective, I made the precarious trip to our Robson Road address. With a fish - in a bag of water - in one hand, and my new fish's home in the other, I was thankful that long before I learned to steer my bike and its curved handle bars with my knees. Step 1 was complete.

Step 2: Transferring the fish and its water from the bag to the bowl went exceedingly well. I executed flawlessly - neither did I spill a drop nor cause a near death experience to my unnamed fish. In good fish fashion I like to think he raised his gill as if to pump a fist and say 'thanks' for rescuing him from being the next dinner item for the neighbouring Tetra fish.

The moment I had been waiting for was soon to arrive. I would place Nemo, (not his real name) and his new glassy confines on my dresser in my bedroom, which was located on the second floor of my home. The only barriers in my way to a state of bliss were a flight of stairs...a tight corner to navigate...a slight elevation of the bowl to the top of the dresser...and I was all set to be entertained for the rest of my life. Or, so I thought. I cautiously cruised up the 13 stairs that separated my known worlds of the awake and of the asleep. With only 5 feet to go and my dresser in sight I cut the corner too tight at the top of the stairs; my shoulder brushed up against the wall...and...crash. My bowl and its proud occupant slammed onto the floor triggering a small tsunami as shards of glass flew this way and that. And, there on cold floor, with a glass spear impaling him through his tiny abdomen, Nemo looked at me with mournful eyes as if to say 'Et tu Brute?" Then his gills no longer gilled and his fins finned no more.

With all my great planning I didn't account for the phenomenon known as condensation. Somewhere between transferring Nemo from the bag to the bowl and placing Nemo's home on its final resting place, a layer of condensation formed on the exterior of the glass. As I walked carefully through my home, my hands were releasing their tight grip and I could feel the bowl being heavily influenced by gravity. My enemy was time...and I ran out. Nemo paid the price. I've never owned a fish since that fateful day!

All this gets me to the abbreviation: D.V., which we would see printed in our church's bulletin every now and again. No, it didn't refer to my Dad's or my brother's initials as we chuckled about whenever we saw it printed. It was the abbreviated form of "Deo Volente" translated as 'God willing' based on the teaching in James 4:13-15. In the early 1900's and later in the century, D.V. would often follow a publication of wedding banns or other official announcements and when you saw it you would know that it meant: "We plan these things, and if it's God's will, then they'll take place."

So, I have two questions - A: was it God's will that Nemo didn't swim to see another day, and B: can James' statement be directed at teenaged boys transporting fish? A: I really don't know. B. I highly doubt it! But, I do know, that if we think we can do anything on our own power and steam without acknowledging Him as the author and finisher of all things, then all our plans are for nothing - broken, shattered, and impaled forever to a world of emptiness and loneliness. As Proverbs 16:1 says, "We make our plans, but God has the last word."

Sunday, 2 August 2015

One of the reasons why I'm assured that faith, hope, and love will always remain

We received this card from an unknown
 flower customer in the dead of winter.
I could go on a rant about the absurd #justiceforCecil petition going around in comparison to ISIS' crimes against humanity. Or, I could write an exposé on the bare breasted rally in support of women's right to go topless held in Waterloo, ON; or, even have an over inflated discussion of Tom Brady's 4 game NFL suspension for allegedly deflating footballs in what is known as 'deflategate'. But, it's a long week-end in Ontario and I'm going light on words, heavy on substance, and hope to generate a few smiles!

This may not come as a surprise to you, but writing this blog is strictly volunteer! I do it because I love to share my life and faith through the wonder of a pen, or pixels in the case of the Internet. So, in order to "put bread (and the occasional steak) on the table", my wife and I own and operate a small, cut flower farm in southern Ontario. In addition to selling cut flowers (mainly dahlias) to wholesale florists we also set up a self-serve flower cart on most days during the growing season. Being a seasonal, self employed 'farmer' (I use that term loosely) who relies on a 3 month window to earn a wage that's supposed to last for 12 months, I've really come to appreciate the phrase 'cash is king'! The grocery money that comes from the cash box is usually well received and well timed! Good will and good intent are nice ideas, but the bank doesn't accept them in lieu of money. Head scratcher.

Sometimes, it's not the money in the box that causes us to smile and breath a sigh of relief. It's the occasional note from our regular customers.

Like this note that arrived this past Thursday:

"I.O.U. 15 cents. I will be back"

We sell our flower bunches for $5 each and, on most days, the dollar amount in the box matches the total number of flower bunches sold. Like I said - most days!

Many times, we've been asked by customers if most people are honest, and if we've ever had money stolen. I can say categorically YES...and....NO respectively! We're of the opinion and belief that if someone went through the hassle and risk of removing the cash box, then they probably need the money more than we do. And, if they wanted a free bunch of flowers for their table, or give to their girlfriend, then hopefully they'll enjoy them a little less than if they had been paid for!

Then on Friday (the following day), we were welcomed by this note:

"I'm back. Only have 25 cents so Y.O.M. 10 cents. Just kidding. I love the flowers and look forward to seeing them at the end of your driveway each year. Thank you for having faith in people's honesty."

These notes are rare, but very much appreciated! This person took the time to prepare a hand written note and meticulously wrap it around a quarter so that it would fit in the coin slot of the money box.

Would we have noticed if this person didn't pay the 15 cents owing? Truthfully - no. And, it certainly wouldn't have deterred us from selling flowers at the end of our driveway.

It made me think though - our intention was not to show that we have faith in people's honesty by having a self serve stand. (It's really because we can't afford to pay someone to attend the road side stand full time!) But, by having a self serve stand, someone felt honored and respected that we would place our trust in them, a stranger.

In today's society, suspicion, anxiety, and fear rule our lives. We encounter security cameras, armed patrol officers, drug smelling dogs, drones, and other invasive 'eyes in the sky' on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this is the norm and it goes mostly unnoticed. Occasionally though, small things are pointed out like this kind note from a stranger and we smiled. And, we're refreshed knowing that in the end, God reigns. And, because we know we've been made in God's image we're assured that things like faith, hope, and love will always remain. 1 Corinthians 13:13