my meat and drink

NorthWind and Diamond Willow


 

“Don’t dig up in fear what you planted in faith.”
Elisabeth Elliot

 

Diamond willow in the right hands can be carved and polished into objects of rich and fascinating beauty—walking sticks, candle sticks, furniture of all sorts. Those who enjoy working with wood especially appreciate the dramatic contrasting colours, the unique whorls, the honey-mellow grain.

But this beauty in the diamond willow is a deformity, cankers or sores that form because of an infection in the wood.

We all know, whether we like it or not, that so much of what comes out good and right in this life is the result of suffering. Beauty from ashes, character strengthened in the fire. Books aplenty, website collections of stimulating quotations, the messages of inspirational speakers and leaders, are replete with maxims for life and examples of those who are most admirable because they have made something good out of suffering or loss. Franklin Roosevelt. Terry Fox. Bethany Hamilton. Helen Berhane. Michele Cushatt.
 

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls. The most massive characters are seared with scars.”
Kahil Gibran

 
I was introduced to diamond willow on a trip through Canada’s taiga—the harshly beautiful land of our northern interior around the Arctic Circle—by Bera Ledua, a missionary fervently committed to taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to Canada’s most isolated, neglected, and vulnerable, the children and families of our Aboriginal people. At the time, the General Director of the mission was Arthur Dixon. I worked for him as editor of The Shantyman, our evangelistic publication that went out bimonthly as a witnessing tool and encouragement to our missionaries, supporters, and to many subscribers across North America and around the world.

We were at Eagle’s Nest Bible Camp, one of several properties owned by the Shantymen’s Christian Association, an organization founded in the early 1900s by men who took the gospel to the most wild, remote, and rugged places in this vast and lonely land.

Under Arthur’s leadership, the mission had three field directors and dozens of missionaries, and operated several summer camps for these at-risk children.

The camps have been closed by the new leadership of the SCA.

But God’s work goes on. With people like Bera Ledua and others, who have the strength and commitment and faith and passion to take up the formidable challenges and obstacles placed in their way.

Elisabeth Elliot, speaking of the time when she and four other wives (widows, though they didn’t know it yet) waited for news of their missing husbands who had been speared to death in the Ecuadorian jungle, said she learned from this overwhelming, impossible experience of loss and bewilderment:
 

“When you don’t know what to do next, just do the thing in front of you.”

 

That’s what Bera Ledua and others are doing.

They have formed a new registered charitable foundation, NorthWind Family Ministries, and they have negotiated to purchase the camp land known as Eagle’s Cove, near Thunder Bay, Ontario, from SCA.

The price demanded by SCA is $500,000. NorthWind Family Ministries have been given a deadline of May 31, 2017, to raise the money.

They are also praying for an additional $50,000 for startup costs.

There are people, loyal supporters, volunteers, missionaries, who have given tirelessly and generously to ministry here for years. They have seen, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, the things they gave their lives to broken, and they are stooping to build them up again—not with Kipling’s “worn out tools”, but with the prayers and—let’s be straightforward here—the dollars, of those faithful Christians who will rise to the challenge of rebuilding, and building a ministry of greater scope and hopefulness than ever envisaged before.

 

What is NorthWind Family Ministries?

 

NorthWind desires to welcome Canadian Aboriginal families, hurting from emotional wounds and trauma, into a safe environment where they can find hope in Christ and experience whole-life discipleship. NorthWind has the opportunity to purchase the property known as Eagles Cove. It is 178 acres with 5,000 feet of lakefront. The property includes two large residences, a shop, garage, and four cabins. There are activity areas and equipment for paintball, archery, rock climbing, and crafts. There are six canoes, and two aluminum boats. This property is ideally set up for year-round ministry. NorthWind plans to use the property to provide three-week onsite crisis counselling and discipleship for families who are struggling; retreats for students; and summer camps for children, teens and families.”

 

From the webpage of Wes and Sue Carlisle, Mission Canada Aboriginal Ministries Workers in Thunder Bay, Ontario

 

The Shantymen camps have a long and fruitful heritage. This is from a letter sent by a grateful father and camp counsellor, Frank Dyck, to the director of one of the camps started by Arthur Dixon (Hilbre Bible Camp):

 

“On the second night of camp after the lights were out, I told the Bible story of Lazarus and the rich man. Afterwards, I asked, “Are there any guys here who aren’t Christians?” Tyson said he wasn’t. So did four other boys. I asked, “Do you want to be?” and they said yes, so we put the lights back on. With my co-counsellor we explained the way of salvation and prayed with the boys. The Lord truly did a work in our cabin that night.

 

Tyson was back in my cabin the following year. We prayed again, but this time for assurance of his salvation. On Thursday of that week, Tyson’s parents came to take him to the Morris Stampede, but Tyson said he would rather stay at camp. (You didn’t know it, Tyson, but you made my week.)

 

In February 1993 we learned that Tyson had galloping leukaemia. Over the next eight months I visited him in hospital. On October 14, Tyson’s mother phoned to say Tyson wanted to talk to me. When I called the hospital the first thing Tyson said was that he was dying. I asked him if he was afraid, and he said no.

 

On November 10, I attended Tyson’s funeral at Fairford. It was a healing and comforting service for the family. God has done a marvellous work among His people there.

 

You people who pray, give, and work under the Shantymen will one day receive your reward as good and faithful servants.

 

Last summer I wondered why, at sixty-three years of age, I am still going to camp with all those young people who work there. A week later I got my answer, in a letter from ten year old Chris, who wrote to say: “Last week was the best week of my life because you were my counsellor.”

 

NorthWind Family Ministries is set up to receive donations or promissory notes.

Please visit their website to find out more about their work and vision: https://www.northwindfm.org

And please consider making an investment (tax deducible, of course) in the future of at-risk families, of children like yours and mine who need to know the freedom, the joy, the hope, that are found only in the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel of truth.

We all know another old saying: “Charity begins at home.” Canada, the United States, these countries may be our homes now, but they were the native lands of our Aboriginal people before us.

Much of their vulnerability, their fragility, is the result of our neglect.

Here through partnering with NorthWind Family Ministries we have a wonderful opportunity to adjust the balance. To give back the lives we owe to our great Creator God.

 

And they sang a new song, saying,

 

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:9-10

 

That day at the Arctic Circle, Bera cut me some diamond willow, and Arthur Dixon, a deft hand in woodworking, carved out of it a couple of walking sticks that I have used and admired ever since. They are a constant reminder that most often strength and beauty are spawned in the battle, amidst attacks and adversity.

Bera Ledua, in his latest letter of encouragement and request for support, writes:

 

“Studying Walter Brueggeman’s writings, I was equally struck by this statement, ‘Where there is interventions on behalf of the powerless, the holy, covenanting God is at work.’ We see God working, evidenced by transformed lives. He invites us to join in and intervene on behalf of the powerless.

 

Thunder Bay is in the throes of grieving the loss of two youth. Both went missing on the same weekend.  Both bodies were found in the waterways of Thunder Bay.

 

As we come alongside a people that are so wounded, continually facing tragedy after tragedy, we invite you to intervene as partners in this work. We petition for your prayers and support.

 

May God respond to the cry of the people!

May we willingly choose to be the vessels He uses.

May NorthWind play a role in faciliating a part of that healing!

 

Thank you all your continued prayer, support and encouragement. You have overwhelmed us with your care!”

 

A priceless legacy: some of the original “Kids for Kamp” and their counsellors

 

“Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.”
Psalm 66:5

 

Thanks for listening.

meg4811

Seasons of Clear Shining

Seasons of Clear Shining is a devotional book based on intensely personal hymns of worship and devotion. Our title is drawn from the opening verse to a hymn by William Cowper:

Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in his wings.
When comforts are declining, he grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.

Cowper suffered from bouts of extreme depression throughout his life, and tried several times to commit suicide. And yet, he was a prolific writer who gave us some of the finest, most comforting, truthful, and poetic verse in all of the hymnody. You can read the full text of this hymn here.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, herself swept out of a life of loneliness and illness by the love and encouraging support of her husband, Robert Browning, reflected at Cowper’s graveside about the great man’s spiritual struggles, and in a few pithy lines gave us a deep insight into one of the purposes of the Lord Jesus Christ’s terrible cry of dereliction from the cross:

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Matthew 27:46

We know that Jesus was quoting only the first line of the 22nd psalm, a psalm that would have been well known and recognized by the Jewish witnesses to his crucifixion. We know that they would have filled in the great Messianic lines of the rest of the psalm in their own minds, and wondered at what was transpiring before their eyes. And some would have believed, because the psalm contains among the greatest words in all of Scripture:

For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
Psalm 22:24

Jesus was on that bloody cross voluntarily giving himself for his people, and God the Father heard him. In this truth we can shout “Hallelujah” and praise God forever, but that doesn’t negate the journey the Lord went through for our sakes.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin,
so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

There was nothing false in His cry of forsakenness. And Elizabeth Browning wrote weeping beside Cowper’s grave:

“Yea, once, Immanuel’s orphaned cry his universe hath shaken,—
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”
It went up from the Holy’s lips amid his lost creation.
That, of the lost, no son should use those words of desolation…”

You can read all of E.B.B.’s poem here.

We hope you find a moment or two for personal reflection on what Jesus has done for you, in reading these brief thoughts on some of the greatest words of worship penned though the history of Christian saints on earth.

The title of this book is also intended as a tribute to the fine Canadian hymnist and writer Margaret Clarkson, who granted us permission to use two of her compositions for devotional study.

Seasons of Clear Shining is available for order now. Click here for details.

Plastic trees and fleshly hearts

charlieplastic

Where did the snowy palm trees go?

In my old Roman town of Antibes, on the French Riviera, the “alpine Christmas village” was a comforting tradition for many years. At the beginning of December, electricians and carpenters would descend like so many thumping Santas upon the Place Nationale, evicting the daily tenants of the parking lot to erect little chalets under the patient, ancient plane trees.

The trunks of the towering palms were sprayed with artificial snow. Speakers strung impossibly from on high filled the sun-split skies with French carols and popular Christmas songs. The air was redolent with the smoky earthy smell of chestnuts roasting on rusty old metal barrels, with the sweet allspicy steam of mulled wine that you could buy at a “chalet” and sip along the festive alleyways, always on the alert for a darting child sticky and pink from their barbe à papa (candy floss).

Sure, it was hokey. But it was definitely French, and it was definitely fun.

This year North America has taken over the marketplace. Spruce trees “ready snowed” from the factory. Shops that once proudly sold traditional clay “santons de Provence” now flog “Made in China” ornaments that say “Merry Christmas” and “Seasons (sic) Greetings”. Not a “Joyeux Noël” or “Bonne Fête” in sight. Even the Christmas cards are all English. And you’re more likely to hear Adele than Francis Cabrel in the air.

If it weren’t for the nailing Mediterranean sunlight (so incongruous on those “snowy” spruces) you could be in Toronto or Toledo.

Well, perhaps not quite. At least it’s still unashamedly Christmas, though the grim-faced National Guard patrolling ceaselessly with their machine guns at the ready are a constant reminder of why we might fear being so bold.

But it’s not French.

I don’t know if it was the British Indie writers’ champion Nick Stehpenson or his buddy Mark Dawson who first coined the term FOMO, but I’m sure I first heard it from them. Fear Of Missing Out. It’s like a Millennials’ remix of “the grass is always greener”: I won’t make a decision now because there’s got to be something better that I haven’t seen yet. A better restaurant, a better contract, a better school. A better place to spend my vacation. A better property to call home. A better person to give my life to…so I won’t commit to anyone.

We say “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Jesus said the only place a prophet is without honour is among his own people.

By definition, nothing we know well can be great. So we hold out for the new, the different, the untasted.

But, as Spock said to T’Pring and her hard-won lover in the old Star Trek show “Amok Time”, when get what you think you would die for, you find that the wanting was better than the having.

Is this homogeneity inevitable just because we live in the so-called “Global Village”? Is it such a good thing, that we can’t tell what country we’re in from the signs or the dress or the speech of those around us?

Trying to minimize our surface differences, with plastic baubles decorating our lives, plastic music polluting our ears, isn’t doing a thing to help with our fundamental, dangerous differences.

How much of the bloodshed and brutality in our world is caused by FOMO? This fear that what we have isn’t as good as what “they have over there”. So either we take what “they” have by force. Or we so terrorize them that “they” can’t enjoy what they have.

In the midst of all this eye-scratching bitterness, today we who call ourselves Christians celebrate the Incarnation, the taking on of human flesh by the Great Equalizer, the One who created us from and through and in the vastness of his love, and who lays all of the wealth of who he is at our feet.

Jesus Christ stands alone among all the religious figures and formulas of the world as the only One offering, not a way of life, but The Way to Life. Real life. Forever life.

He did not come to make a people conform to a rigorous law of behavioural standards. He came to free people born in slavery to their own selfish desires. To give ultimate liberty to his children—liberty to realize their individual gifts and to share them, without restraint, without borders.

God made a promise to his children, his chosen people:

And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
2 Corinthians 3:3

The apostle Paul contrasts this with the letter of the Law—an externally applied set of rules for conduct that is necessary to exert control over people when there is no change in the inner person.

Unlike other religious leaders, false prophets and false teachers, Jesus did not come to make bad people behave better, or to suffer the sword if they misbehave.

Jesus came to raise dead people to life. And in doing so he writes his goodness in our hearts, so that, as his children, we not only long to do his will but we are given power, through the Spirit, to accomplish it:

Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Corinthians 3:4-6

Only when we are so changed inwardly—when our hearts of stone are replaced by Jesus Christ with living, fleshly hearts—only then can we be free to express without fear our individuality, to be happy and content for who and what we are. Because “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)—not plastic Christmas trees that all come out of the same box, or plastic music or plastic smiles that hide a hating heart.

I inherited from my dad a wonderful collection of WWII songs by his childhood “sweetheart”, Vera Lynn. Being British-born myself, I can’t listen to “The White Cliffs of Dover” without getting teary-eyed:

There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after,
Tomorrow, when the world is free.

But the world isn’t free. One form of evil gives way to another, and then to another.

There can’t be freedom as long as there are laws about when and how we should pray or dress or eat. Laws that enslave and allow the degradation of women. Laws that settle matters with the sword instead of with grace and love. Laws that want to conform us into a particular mould designed by just another sinful man or woman, rather than by the almighty, all-gracious, all-kind, Creator who is God.

There is no freedom apart from a living faith in Jesus Christ.

Many of us, even those with no particular faith, “pray” for peace on earth on this day, on Christmas Day. That peace is only possible if it begins with peace in individual, fleshly hearts. (Remember the old song, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me”?) As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn so famously noted, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being” (The Gulag Archipelago).

Have you seen that dividing line in your own heart? Have you struggled to find peace and contentment in your life when all around you is pressure to be better, to do better, to have more, to want more? Have you looked at the hatred and terror-mongering of others and said, “It’s not fair” or “How could there be a god if he allows such things”?

Do you look at the images of a baby in a manger and say, “Well, yeah, cute and all, but so what? He’s just a baby. Useless. I can have my Christmas tree without him. And hey, my tree is real, not plastic, so I’m doing okay…”

Jesus didn’t stay in the manger. He grew to be a man who called others to follow him to a cross. He came to bring light to a dark world, and to pass that light on to his children. Light and life, life full and rich, abundant, complete.

With or without the baubles.

Well, perhaps there should be laws about what people can do to the outside of their homes in the “spirit” of Christmas…(sometimes “different” does mean worse!).

antibesxmas

Or perhaps there shouldn’t be. When we see our neighbour’s egregious taste, shouldn’t we be grateful we live in a culture and society where such expressions are greeted with groans and perhaps chuckles, rather than machinegun fire?

There definitely should be a law about keeping mulled wine and roasting chestnuts going in Antibes!

But there should be no law about what we believe. Only the freedom to echo the call to life and liberty:

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Romans 10:9-11

Now that’s a gift to unwrap and keep. On Christmas Day and forever. Not made in China. Made in heaven.

Joy to the world! the Lord is come: let earth receive her King.Let every heart prepare him room,and heaven and nature sing…

Body is a four-letter word

manger-body

Christians have always warred with or wiggled their way uncomfortably around the idea, the reality, the thought, of “body”. Heresies have taken root in the denial of the greatest mystery of salvation, the hypostatic union—the holy God entering his creation, clothing himself in human flesh. A body.

The tenth chapter of the book of Hebrews explains the necessity of the Saviour taking on a real body:

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you [God] have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:4-10

The Lord Jesus, in this passage, takes over King David’s words from Psalm 40:6-8 and applies them to himself. If you compare the two passages you will see how Jesus claims the authority of God.

Each Person of our triune God was intimately involved in our Lord Jesus’ earthly body:
the Father prepared and designed it;
the Holy Spirit fashioned it;
and Jesus assumed it.

Consider the exchange between Mary and the angel Gabriel, who was sent to announce to the young woman the plans God had for her: she would become pregnant and give birth to a son, whom she would name Jesus, because he would be the Son of the Most High, the everlasting God:

Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
Luke 1:34-35

Jesus’ human body was physically baptized with the approbation of the triune God:

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Matthew 3:16-17 (emphasis added)

(A side note: the word “baptism” was imported into English from the Latin and Greek by early Bible translators because it meant “immersion”, and the ruling practice was to sprinkle babies with a few drops of water, not to immerse confessing converts to living faith. In other words, “baptism” was coined to save embarrassing the clergy and the church. In fact, to be baptised is to offer our physical body to God in obedience and faith.)

Jesus needed a physical body to enter, fully, his creation, to live as a man in a particular place and time in history:

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
John 6:14

For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Hebrews 2:16-18

The Lord Jesus also needed a physical body because he was to be a sacrifice. Not just any sacrifice, but the ultimate sacrifice, the perfect offering who would put to an end the sacrificial system of the Jews that he himself had instituted as a shadow of the perfection to come.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Hebrews 2:14-15

The bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the one fundamental, unshakable, non-negotiable conviction of Christianity. Even in this obscenely liberal age of the (in particular Western) Church, the Christian faith stands or falls on the resurrection of the crucified body of the Lord Jesus Christ:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:17-23

Jesus’ rising from the dead is described as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [meaning died]” (1 Corinthians 15:20).

Not only he but we Christians will be a multitude with heavenly resurrection bodies.

By his death he “perfected for ever a holy people”.

Up to now we have considered the word “body” as a noun.

But Jesus also used the word as a verb. “The Word became flesh,” that is, “bodied forth”—a move from what appears abstract to that which became material.

God bodied forth Creation.

God bodied forth the birth of Jesus.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, also (and perhaps one might say, more immediately!) bodied forth the birth of Jesus.

He bodied forth in his physical baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. This action, in the body, by the Son of Man, is to be the pattern for all believers, in:

1. the public declaration of faith by a physical act, as we body forth into the waters of baptism, symbolizing the death of the old creature, and the resurrection to new life. Though we remain at baptism in our sinful flesh, in God’s eyes we are already glorified, sanctified by the atoning, sacrificial death of Christ in his sinless body on the cross; and

2. our bodying forth with the gospel to a lost world, witnessing to the truth through our experience and the word of God, and then hearing in our bodies the confession of new converts:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew 28:19

Even unbelievers may body forth. They have been blessed, though they do not know it. They too experience the reflected light of God’s love in this world, which, whether we recognize it or not, is kept from the evil that might reign by the restraining power of the Holy Spirit:

In him [Jesus] was life, and the life was the light of men.
John 1:4

The results of this light are seen in the physical, the real, embodied, as it were, in art, in music, in literature, in all of life. The abstract moves to, and must inevitably find its expression in, the material. Joy, hope, grief, ecstasy, horror, love, pain…

Franz Schubert said:

“My music is the product of my genius and my poverty, and that which I have written in my greatest distress is what the world seems to like the best.”

Franz Liszt said of Schubert:

“Schubert has tones for the most delicate shades of feeling, thoughts, even accidents and occurrences of life. Manifold though the passions and acts of men may be, manifold is Schubert’s music. That which his eye sees, his hand touches, becomes transformed to music.”

The great, short-lived Christian writer Flannery O’Connor said:

“Fiction is about everything human and we are made out of dust, and if you scorn getting yourself dusty, then you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.”

Or consider the truth about art embodied as expressed by Fra Lippo Lippi, the frustrated artist monk in Robert Browning’s epic poem (from which our website takes its name):

…you’ve seen the world
The beauty and the wonder and the power,
The shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades,
Changes, surprises,—and God made it all!
For what? Do you feel thankful, ay or no,
For this fair town’s face, yonder river’s line,
The mountain round it and the sky above,
Much more the figures of man, woman, child,
These are the frame to? What’s it all about?
To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon,
Wondered at? oh, this last of course!—you say.
But why not do as well as say,—paint these
Just as they are, careless what comes of it?
God’s works—paint any one, and count it crime
To let a truth slip.

Tomorrow will be Christmas Eve. The time we particularly celebrate the in-body-ing of our great God into his creation. A time followed closely by the advent of a new year, and the making of many resolutions about bettering our lives in the next twelve months.

So what are the gifts through which you “body forth” your faith, and how are you going to stretch them this Christmas, and through 2017?

Bodying forth encompasses every area of life. Sometimes it’s doing the dirty jobs, the unheralded jobs.

Sometimes it’s being bodily extended beyond belief by the demands of family.

A couple we met recently are adopting a child. For Christians particularly, adoption is the most beautiful bodily expression of gratitude to God for his adopting us into his family.

We often meet people of nebulous faith who say, “We’re all God’s children, right?”

Not.

We are all the offspring of God. All made in his image. But we are only his legitimate children by legal adoption. And that is only possible through the finished transaction Jesus made on the cross with his Father.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Romans 8:13-17

What should you be doing to “body forth” your faith this Advent season?

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
James 2:14-17?

As Saint Flannery also said:

“The life you save may be your own.”

God rest you merry, gentlemen (and women!)…

Zut alors! this is for real

spain_stn-s

Thanksgiving thoughts from an incident on the Spanish border

I wanted to write a Thanksgiving note to some of my American friends, something that wasn’t just platitudes and clichés.

I looked at what I’d said last year this time, for comparison, and it was all about what had just happened in Paris, what the media was calling France’s 9/11. My son called, and friends, to see if I was alive, because I was supposed to be in Paris, but had decided last minute not to go.

Have you ever wondered how you’d react if you were caught in unexpected violence?

Paris on Friday the 13th, enjoying a glass of wine in a café, perhaps your first trip to the City of Love, and suddenly there is gunfire, mayhem, blood and bodies. Or Brussels airport, dozing over your knapsack, and a bomb goes off?

Or you’re on a sleek high-speed train, dozily reflecting, as Le Pas de Calais flashes by, on the WWI legend of the angels of Mons coming to the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force amongst the coal slagheaps on a hot August night in 1914. And this reverie is interrupted by a top-naked man emerging from the toilet, sporting a white taqiyah, waving a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Where are those angels when you really need them?

In the Thalys train incident, the “angels” were a couple of military men who charged at and subdued the terrorist, along with their buddy, a Brit, and a French man. Thank you, fellas!

But we’re not all soldiers on leave. I’d wager that for most of us the sight of a real AK assault rifle, or anything like it, would be paralyzing.

I travel a lot on trains in Europe, and have been in small situations here and there. The Gare du Nord in Paris when it was evacuated for a suspicious suitcase abandoned on a platform, that did turn out to be a bomb. A train out of Avignon that was pulled to a remote siding because there had been a bomb threat and we were all taken off while dogs and stony-faced militia searched in and under the carriages.

But a couple of weeks ago it got a little more personal. I was travelling from central Spain to my home in Antibes, France, on a regional train. We were stopped at a station on the border while the train-gauge-switch-thing happened (pardon my technical jargon) so that the train could carry on to the French tracks. I was gazing out of the window, enjoying as always the bygone-era architecture of the station, when another train pulled in and suddenly there were explosions on the track. Flash boom and the night bright yellow, dark figures with weapons running crouched on the platform, machinegun fire. Movie stuff, but the smell was real.

We were told (I think) to stay on the train (in Spanish). It was all quite surreal, and I’m still not really sure what happened. Guys ran into our carriage. They looked like nasty perps but it would seem, since we’re all still alive, that they were on the side of good. They grabbed a couple of gym bags off the luggage rack and ran out again.

And after a while the train jerked and we went on our way, leaving a blaze of emergency lights and sirens behind, not much commentary from white-faced staff.

If I thought at all, I thought, this is it. I’m going to be one of those Fox News statistics. Maybe even CNN. And I thought about the fact that no one in the world knew where I was. Pretty inconvenient.

But later, past the first half hour, clattering along the French tracks, I was reevaluating things.

One is, I’m not sure I like how calm I felt. I don’t think it was a “Christian ready to face death” admirable calm. It should have been, but I suspect the greater reason was I just thought, “Good, I can be done with this lousy life. My will is in order. Heaven waits. No more pain. No more disability. No more loneliness. Bring it on.”

Not very noble.

With the delays (there’s a lot more to the incident sketched out here) I finally arrived home at two in the morning. Staring at me when I entered my little courtyard was the skeleton of my little olive tree, that had succumbed to neglect with my long absence. Now that was depressing. Olive trees are supposed to be the great symbol of enduring life, against all odds, all hardships. A dear friend, Jesse, had sent these words with the gift of such a small tree: “The truth of the olivier is in the grain of the wood. Whether it lives or dies, the grain shows all the twists and contortions of the years it has lived through.”

He was referring to the fact that I’m a well-known plant murderer. But perhaps also to the premonition of his impending death.

So when I picked up my dead olive tree, it shook me out of that kind of “Well, okay” dull state I’d been in since the Spanish border. It seemed so wicked not to want to fight for life when so many, my friends, your friends, dear ones, and strangers with their own dear ones left behind, have already died.

Life. Choose life. That has to be the greatest gratitude one can offer on Thanksgiving. Whatever the circumstances, whatever, choose life.

I decided I ought to make the dead wood of my little olivier into a tree of life.

I photographed it on the ramparts on a freezing sunrise.

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Now it’s inside, in my kitchen, with lights in the bare branches. My Thanksgiving to Christmas tree.

Choose life. But only God can make dead things live. Only he can give meaning to all these strange exigencies of life.

Maybe what I want to say on this Thanksgiving is, we don’t know, why someone is shot in Paris and someone lives, why some of us are more marked than others with a twisted grain, from things we’d rather not have experienced, or lost. We surely do know for certain that there is nowhere certain in this world, not one more breath in our body. But we can know that someone who knows everything has been that way before us, and he wants to show us his way.

Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16.33

Perhaps most of all we need, if we are to be thankful for anything in this world, to know that there is someone who has overcome the world, someone totally trustworthy. Because one day, one moment when we’re least expecting it, it will be for real. Our last moment in this life. Here’s a promise for which we can give all thanksgiving:

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

Zut alors! Now that’s for real.

Ask. Think. Pray. Give thanks for life. And for those who care that you live. Now, and always. Thank God.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 107:1