Daily Archives: September 16, 2013
I would like to tell you a story about a five year-old boy, who had dreams as wide and deep as the Sea of Galilee. He was going to grow up to change lives for the better. As he would sit under the willow tree by his house he would fantasize about a more peaceful existence away from the private hell of living with a father with manic depressive schizophrenia. For this young boy it was like living with Dr. Jekyll one moment and Mr. Hyde the next. Like Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities that “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”, so that was true of his tortured life with his father.
Yet, even in those times of deep and penetrating inner pain when tears would flow upon his pillow as he would try to go to sleep, he would take time to remember those joy-filled times when he would go out with his father in the early morning in a yellow motor boat. He recalls with a deep love for his father how his dad would take him out on the choppy waters of Georgian Bay in the early morning fog .This dreamer of big dreams with hope still beating and burning in his young heart would smile at his dad when God allowed glimpses of the kind and gentle soul that was his father to come shining through.
They would laugh, sing and share in the beauty of God’s creation around them even as they felt the chill of the early morning mist their hearts were warmed by the sweet songs of a robin and the loud call of the seagull.
Their mission was to come home with some pike or pickerel to be fried in a pan. The child remembers the taste of that fish even today after forty-four years. That boy was me.
As I prayed to God about what He was calling me to share with you today the text of James 4:14 came into my mind. The Lord and I have been working with this profound piece of scripture written by the brother of Jesus. He has had me think about it, and ponder the depth and passion of its message. I pray that what He has called me to share with you will touch your heart in only the way He can.
The apostle James seems to ask a rather odd question in James 4:14 that would seem to have no encouragement or hope contained in it. He says in The New Living Translation, “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” Think about that question, really think about it. Do any of us know what our life will be like tomorrow? Do we have some crystal ball, which will tell us what our life will look like the next minute, the next hour or even the following day? Can we dare to find our own pathway?
I have seen Christians read horoscopes. I confess there are times I have done it too. I thought it was harmless. I would even laugh with others about how ridiculous it all was. I remember my brother and two sisters and me using an ouija board in our youth thinking it was just entertainment, but it was wrong and dangerous. It was the fad of the early seventies even amongst many who were Christians. People then were as some of you can remember seeking answers to the mysteries of life in all the wrong places.
Some had the idea that God could be found by living from the power within themselves. You can be the master of your own destiny. You and you alone are your own god. There were those who were even bold enough to say God was dead or that He never existed. When they died and had to face the judgment seat of God, I wonder if they dared to mock Him with their new age ideology.
Before we so easily judge and say we are not like them let us think again coming back to the question James asks. “How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?” It is often in the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring especially if it’s more illness or poverty that we reach out for a vague hope of joy that can be found in winning a lottery. How many of you have seen a show that profiles those who have won millions in a lottery? You would think with several million dollars in assets that these people would have thought they had found joy, relief from their debts and worries, and even the ability to buy all that they needed to improve their chances of a long life free from pain.
Yet, it is only in a minority of cases that lottery winners make the transition from either poverty or a middle class existence to a life of enduring wealth. Most lottery winners end up even poorer than they were before or develop a terminal illness like leukemia, that no amount of money in the world can save them from when Death comes calling for them. They are tales sadder than a Shakesperian tragedy.
How many of us here have bought a lottery ticket? How many of us have bet on a horse race? How many of us have gone to bingo games? It’s okay. I’m not expecting you to raise your hands. These are private questions I’m asking you to think about the answers to in your own hearts as you talk about it alone with God.
God comes calling often to us not when our sky is sunny and bright.
We often find Him in the fog.
Mother Teresa spent over fifty years of her life experiencing what is referred to as a dark night of the soul. This means that for over half a century she didn’t feel the active presence of God speaking to her heart. I am reading an excerpt from Mother Teresa’s biography on the web site entitled Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center Official Site.
”The whole of Mother Teresa’s life and labour bore witness to the joy of loving, the greatness and dignity of every human person, the value of little things done faithfully and with love,and the surpassing worth of friendship with God. But there was another heroic side of this great woman that was revealed only after her death. Hidden from all eyes, hidden from those even closest to her, was her interior life marked by an experience of a deep and abiding feeling of being separated from God, even rejected by Him, along with an ever-increasing longing for His love. She called her inner experience, “the darkness.” The “painful night” of the soul which began around the time she started her work for the poor and continued to the end of her life, led Mother Teresa to an ever more profound union with God. Through the darkness she mystically participated in the thirst of Jesus – His painful and burning longing for love – and shared in the interior desolation of the poor.”
God doesn’t call many of us to such high levels of sacrifice, but maybe He should. I don’t think I’ll ever win a Nobel Peace Prize like Mother Teresa. That was part of her life lived in faith and dedication to God. If I was to ever possess even ten percent of her sacrificial spirit, I would consider myself a blessed man indeed.
I can share with you though that like that great Scottish Presbyterian minister Peter Marshall who in the movie A Man Called Peter, was called by his Commander-in-Chief in the fog just as he was about to fall off a cliff, God called to me in my spiritual fog. It was as I was choking to death from an anaphylactic attack in 2009 at Toronto General Hospital that the Lord had me give him the answer to two very important questions. I was certain that this time my life with my beautiful and intelligent wife Karen, who has a deep faith that challenges me to a deeper faith in God was over.
I was not unaccustomed to that messenger of death coming to me. God had brought me to the very edge of life itself so many times before that I thought I was prepared to release myself into His loving arms, and embrace the sweet gift of eternity in Heaven. Yet, I wrestled with my very real human fear of giving my very physical life to the Lord if He required it of me. I stubbornly refused to give in. I would not submit myself to that degree of sovereignty over my life. So, God called me on it. He would accept nothing less than complete obedience.
Karen was with me that dark day as a team of nurses and doctors worked in panic to save my life. I remember with burning clarity the deep sadness in her heart that after multiple intubations where a breathing tube was put down my throat and I was put on a ventilator, that this time she felt she was saying a final goodbye, as she held my hands with tenderness through those mournful tears streaming down her face. Fluid was accumulating in my throat drawing me further away from life, and closer to death.
The medical team refused to let me go. They wanted to win this struggle between life and death, but that didn’t matter one bit to God. He only wanted my answers to two questions. My answers would change the course of my life with Him forever.
The hospital chaplain asked me God’s questions. Kevin, are you willing to release your life to Me? By this time I was gasping for breath. I hovered on the edge of consciousness. The fluid had accumulated so much that I couldn’t speak. I nodded my head to Karen and the chaplain that I was willing to give my life to the Father.
Kevin, do you trust Me to look after Karen and her son? A nurse started suctioning out the masses of phlegm from my throat. I again nodded to Karen and the chaplain, that I would let go of my fear Karen and Joe wouldn’t be cared for.
The second I answered God’s questions, my blood oxygen saturation started to go up. The nurse kept suctioning out the phlegm until an entire large container was filled with it. I was still in rough shape. I still spent a few weeks after that in the hospital recovering. I spent more time than that at home recuperating. The danger was over for then. I had with stubbornness finally submitted to the acts of obedience required of me.
I had prepared myself for death, but not life. I had made my peace with God. I had thought that sometime soon He would reward me by taking me home to be with Him for eternity. I felt cheated of that beautiful gift of eternity without pain or sorrow, without this daily mortal coil. I had enough. I wanted out. I had enough of living in poverty. I had enough of going with hat in hand to my friends and asking for help to pay for medications the government wouldn’t cover. I had enough of deciding what bills would remain unpaid, so we could scrape by on the meager funds given out by the Ontario Disability Support Program. I had enough of deciding which medications I could have for my health, and those I would have to do without. I wanted nothing more to do with living in the hopelessness that poverty brings.
Yet, it was as God called me close to death many times over these last few months being diagnosed with mastocytosis(mast cell activation) that He has brought me back to life in Him again. This extremely rare condition that according to a research paper from the University of Toronto affects 1 in every 500,000 people in developed countries, has resulted in me having anaphylactic attacks and severe asthma attacks. Yet, I can stand before you today and say to the Lord and you in deepest sincerity that a life-threatening illness has been used by God to bring me back to a greater sense of purpose and direction to my life unlike ever before.
I am learning more and more each day how deeply blessed I am to have Karen as my wife. God has shown me through those endless nights as she laid her weary head upon my bed pleading with God to keep me alive, how much she truly loves me.. I have seen her yell at God and ask why. Lord, why all this suffering for my husband? Why did You allow the mastocytosis to take my husband away from me? Why did you allow my sweet darling to live in a fog in his mind for over forty-nine years? How could You be so cruel?
I share these private thoughts with Karen’s permission in the hope that you too will be real with God about the spiritual or emotional fog you find yourself in. Perhaps, you think you can deny the pain by working yourself into an early grave. I know I tried to do this.. In order to not think about the deep inner pain of the emotional and physical abuse of my father I filled my schedule with activity. I worked at least forty hours a week as a provincial rehabilitation counselor for the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services. I was taking a full course load at the then Ontario Bible College, which is now known as Tyndale University. I was seconded from The Salvation Army North York Temple to assist in the church planting work David and Evelyn Sears had begun in the Jane/Finch area of Toronto. This is a high crime inner city ministry to youth and adults. Many of them had been the victims of abuse and the vicious cycle of generational poverty.
I was put in charge of coordinating a junior church program. I helped Dave with hospital visitation. Dave taught me how to think critically, lead a worship service, and how to construct a sermon that both encouraged and challenged the congregation. I was part of a team at North York Temple that went into the infamous Black Sheep tavern talking to people about what was weighing upon their souls. In my “spare time” I wrote book reviews for our church.
Now, if you got exhausted just listening about all the ministry activities I was engaged in, I would join you in that feeling. I couldn’t nor would I cast any blame on officers of The Salvation Army for my dangerous unhealthy driven attitude. My stubbornness was killing my spirit. My dear friends, it was robbing me of the pure joy we can have as our possession in serving Christ. I was solely to blame for asking more of myself than God required. While I enjoyed everything I did, I was living my life out of balance.
James has no ambiguity when it comes to this driven kind of attitude. He says that our very life is like the morning fog or in other versions like the morning mist, that appears only for a short time, and then it is gone. Life is fleeting, temporary, just a brief journey before the Father calls us home to a life where we no longer have to deal with difficult people, who make our blood boil with anger at just how mean and spiteful they can be. No longer do we have to struggle with people who have nothing better to do with their life than bring you down into the pit of despair.
I beg of you as a servant of my Lord Jesus Christ don’t listen to the naysayers as I often have. Tell these back-biting, back-stabbing, spirit-killing, joy-stealing people that you are as the Psalmist David said using God’s Word translation,” I will give thanks to you because I have been so amazingly and miraculously made. Your works are miraculous, and my soul is fully aware of this” (Ps. 139:14).
My dear people, when you were born God made you as a perfect human-being in His eyes. I must confess that so so many people spoke death into my life and spirit. I have been judged by even some in my own family as one who asked to have a progressive neuro degenerative disorder called oliviopontocerebellar ataxia. This is just a fancy way of saying I don’t walk that well. I have times where my speech will slur. I have times when I have to drink a high vitamin and mineral drink like Ensure because the neurological damage causes swallowing problems.
I have been judged by some employers and people as being unfocused. This is because I have a learning challenge called dyspraxia, which originated at birth. My mom was over 36 hours in labour before I was born. Her doctor trying to deal with his very real fear that mom and I could die said, “June, hurry it up. I want to go away on my fishing trip.” He wasn’t being insensitive. He was being tender and caring. Her doctor didn’t want his terror on display, so he made a joke as many of us do.
The doctor was prepared to do a C section. He had wanted to do it many hours before. My mom was stubborn. She insisted on waiting longer. Her decision could have cost both our lives, but God was loving. He was kind. I entered the world I’m told with a yell. I think I was protesting. I was safe and secure in my mother’s womb. I really do think I wanted to stay there because my spirit knew I would be entering into a home filled with physical and emotional abuse. I had grown accustomed to my mom in the inner spirit that could hear of her singing Scottish lullabies to me. Even as a toddler I remember her singing those sweet and embracing melodies of the heart. One in particular stands in mind. It is “You Take the High Road.” Listen to that beautiful song. Picture the rolling green bonny hills. Smell the heather in your nostrils. Feel the wind whistling in the trees. Oh, as one whose bompa, that means grandfather, who was from Scottish parents, the Scot comes alive in me.
Whenever my mom sang it the pain of having an abusive father would melt away ever so short yet a healing time. I was at home. I was at peace. I was filled with such joy that I would often sing along being carried away to the land of my ancestors, the home of many of my descendants.
Just crowd out every thought, the to do lists, the deadlines and travel with me to Scotland as a young lad sings to your heart. I pray it will touch your spirit in the way God wants. Just close your eyes, relax and let your spirit be at peace.
Wasn’t that refreshing? Don’t you feel like your Lord gave you the gift of respite? My dear friends, this life is a mere pit stop towards the splendour and joy of praising and worshiping God in Heaven. Remember that direct question of the apostle James. Sear it in your mind. What is your life? It’s a simple straight forward question. We could put it another way. How do you define your life? What does your life mean to you?
So, I ask you all, What does your life mean to you? -Interactive questions for congregation
What is important in your life?
What do you spend your day doing?
What does what you do say about your spiritual life?
For me, life meant doing more than being. I hadn’t learned how to be still. I tried. Sometimes, I would succeed. I would schedule time to be alone with God. I would seek His wise counsel. Then, I allowed myself to take on far more than I should have.
I had been living my life as if I thought I had 10,000 tomorrows. I worked, studied, wrote, sang, preached, and visited the sick and infirm.Yet, I was denying the greatest wounding of all that was taking place right in my very own soul.
I thought God would protect me from working so hard for Him. I had given my life to Him in no half measure. I said He could have all of me, my gifts, my talents, everything. So, why was the Lord of my life letting me fall, and fall hard? Had I done something wrong to tick Him off? Was I weak in my faith like some people said I was? No, it wasn’t because of a lack of faith that He allowed me to suffer the agonizing pain of burnout. My Lord had allowed me to crash because He loved me. He only wanted the best for me.
You ask, How does it show God loves me to allow me to go down so deep for so long? What’s loving and merciful about that? Well, it was the best thing God could have done for me because it challenged me to get my priorities right, to stop living my life as if I had an endless lease on it. He allowed me to get ill, very ill, so sick that I was several weeks in bed, but not before taking on volunteering for Christmas kettles for several shifts.
It would take many years for me to realize that I was in an unhealthy competition with that haunting voice of my manic depressive schizophrenic father saying I would never amount to anything. I would always be the clumsy, lazy and stupid good for nothing he said I was. My brother Brian was smarter and stronger. He graduated from Grade 12 with an 82% average without even trying..I had gone him one Grade better and graduated from Grade 13 as an Ontario Scholar with an 80% average. I kicked myself for not getting a higher average. The undiagnosed mast cell activation combined with B12 deficiency had caused me to have so many nights in high school staying up past 2:00 a.m. pounding concepts, dates in history, facts and mathematical formulas into my head. Yet, for all my striving and aiming to please my father, I had gone down a dangerous path that could have cost my life.
Reverend James Vold, one of my favourite professors at Ontario Bible College, looked at me with the God eye one day as I asked him for an extension on an essay that was due that day. Seeing how ill I was he gave me more time to finish it.. As he looked into my eyes and saw the deep weariness in my heart and body, he said with concern but a spirit of boldness I will never forget,. “Kevin, are you trying to work yourself into an early grave?” His question set me back on my heels. I wasn’t impressing God. I wasn’t fooling Him.
It is only as I have examined why I did what I did that my life has got closer to a state of balance. The fog is lifting. With treatment on a mast cell regulator called ketotifen fumerate I am getting better. I am being given the gift of a sharper mind than ever before.. I am feeling more alive than I have in a long time..
If such awesome miracles from God’s own hand can happen for me it surely can for you too. The road back to emotional, spiritual and physical wellness could be long. To truly be healed within will take you to some difficult places you will hate. Yet, if we are to be truly all we can be for our Lord, we must go down that long and painful road to recovery.
There will be days when traveling to those horrifying places will take everything you have to give. You will cry. You will get angry. You may even shake your fist at God and say this journey He has you on is so unfair. Please remember that you are not alone. The Christ of Gethsemane, who gave His life for you, walks beside you loving you through the pain.
You just need to be real with God and those you trust. It is only through faith in the Christ of the Cross that you can have the Biblical promise of new life, new joy in Him.