Sermon from a Garbage Bin

2013-07-19 00.15.56The title may sound funny or even slightly irreverent.  Read on, we may re-learn the art of keeping our eyes, ears and minds open to scenes, relegated to the ordinary folder.  Moses found it out with his second look at the burning bush! See my blog post Earth is Crammed with Heaven, dated 5 August 2013.

Here is what happened to prompt this post.  Grace and I normally take Bristol Road in Newmarket to do our grocery shopping.  On the north side is John Denison Public Secondary School.  Within the school property, close to the curb, is a garbage bin.  Its four sides are painted in large black letters the following lines:

Side 1,  “Wisdom’s worth more than jewels”

Side 2,  “Live simply so others can simply live”

Side 3,  “Calm seas never made a skilled mariner”

Side 4,  “And the Truth shall set you free”

I did not make much of it the first time.  Since it is not a private or a Christian school, I thought the authorities would sooner or later scratch it off or paint over or even replace it.  Yesterday on the way to Walmart, I meant to check it out and took my camera.  You guessed it; it is still there and I got my four points for this post.  Don’t worry, I will stay within myself imposed limit of 1000 words or there abouts.

2013-07-19 00.15.17First we have “Wisdom”, the quote is from Proverbs 20:15.   The Bible has a lot to say about it.  In fact, in the Canon, books accepted and included in the Bible, two books are almost wholly dedicated to Wisdom and subjects close to it.

The Book of Proverbs with 31 chapters is accepted as the best Old Testament example of wisdom literature.  King Solomon, known to have spoken 3,000 proverbs is the principal author.  On a lighter note, students will do very well to read Proverbs 31:10-31.  It may become handy when time comes to find a future spouse!  Our daughter Lalitha and son-in-law Jeremy, preparing to join the Celebrant Singers many years ago, took a course by Institute for Basic Youth Conflicts by Bill Gothard.  They said the course had a lot to do with Proverbs.

The other “Wisdom” book – Ecclesiastes – with 12 chapters, also written by Solomon by ascription, is more philosophical.  Our second daughter, Vin Lawton, took as her text for her Huron Heights High School Valedictorian speech, “There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

St. James wrote “If any lack wisdom let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him“.

2013-07-19 00.15.31Second, “Live Simply so Others can Simply Live” is a quote from Mahathma Gandhi.   I grew up in India during the nonviolent independence movement led by Gandhi.  I admired his simplicity.  Already an old man during the struggle, he did not depend on youthful personality or charisma.  He owned very little except a pair of eye glasses, which he kept together with a wire.   Seldom he gave long speeches and did not claim any healing gift.  He disliked long introduction, and no fanfare or drum roll.  Compare his simplicity with today’s leaders, politicians and even religious leaders.  Yet he moved millions. That is the real power of simplicity.  I believe Gandhi learned a lot from Jesus by walking and not talking.  Please read my post “Dynamic Simplicity” dated 25 July 2013.

I am no good at jokes.  My preacher friends have a joke among themselves.  It is called the KISS principle: keep it simple stupid! Some substitute the word simple for short.

2013-07-18 22.57.12Thirdly, “Calm Seas never made a Skilled Mariner” is an old English proverb.  Three pictures come to my mind about stormy seas and sailors.  The first is the actual experience of the disciples caught in a storm crossing the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:37-41).  The storm was so fierce that even the experienced fishermen feared they would perish.  Jesus gently rebuked them of their fears and calmed the sea.  He still calms our storms of life.

Then there is this famous British artist Holman Hunt working on a sketch of St. Mark’s version of the storm of Galilee.  As an artist, I believe, he added in the passenger list, besides the disciples, a woman and a child.  This, I believe, ironically drew some controversy.

The third picture is by a modern artist, Warren Sallman.  The background again is a stormy sea, with a young man at the helm and Jesus guiding him from behind.  One can conclude Jesus, instead of removing the storm, guides us through it, teaching us to hone our skills and gather valuable experience .  I like the old hymn, “Jesus Saviour pilot me. Over life’s tempestuous sea, Unknown waves, before me roll. Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal. Chart and compass come from thee.  Jesus Saviour pilot me”.

2013-07-19 00.15.43Finally, “And the Truth shall set you free”.   This quote is directly from Jesus.  It begs the question, Freedom from what?  The picture is that of a person bound with chains of fear, despair or guilt.  If I can epitomize the whole gospel, the good news of Jesus into one line, I will write; “If therefore the Son (Jesus) shall make you free you shall be free indeed”.

Amazing Grace is perhaps the most famous hymn.  The main theme is, “I was once lost but now am found; was blind but now I see”. The writer of this song John Newton (1725-1807) was a sea captain and a slave trader leading a riotous living.  While returning to England on March 10, 1748 he encountered a fierce storm and hope for survival was dwindling.  It was then, this wretch (as he wrote about himself), whose mother was a pious lady, surrendered his life to Jesus.  Jesus set him free. He became a famous Evangelical Preacher of his time.

May the Garbage Bin in front of John Denison Public Secondary School with its quotations, become a blessing not only to the students, teachers and staff but also to the passers by on Bristol Road, Newmarket, Ontario.

God bless,   Danny Paul

When Opinions Differ

I am learning that writing an article and posting it in the blog is never the end.  The thought process continues and keeps coming back in different challenging forms. Referring to my last post, some readers felt the earth is crammed with everything but heaven. Then there were those who saw a silver lining on every cloud.  People see the glass either half empty or half full.  Are they both right? People differ; friends differ.  It is normal.  I suppose God made it that way.  Imagine if everyone agreed on everything!

I have close friends who differ with me; not all the time, thank God.  I have learnt from them. Let me give you an example and jump right into it, like the old saying, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. Recently I read two books.  One is called “Why I am not a Calvinist” written by Jerry Walls, a scholarly work, backed with Scriptures.  His readers will concur with the contents, well almost.  The other book is called, you guessed it, “Why I am not an Arminian”; a brilliant work laced with Scriptures.  His readers will go along with the author, almost!  (thanks to Ed and Ann Hopkins of Fort Lauderdale for lending me these books. They attend The Coral Ridge Church).
Can both these authors be right or wrong? There are many similar examples and they all have Scriptures to prove their points, leaving the honest enquirer confused.  It is not easy for the missionaries to explain these differences to the prudent converts.

I wish to narrate a true story which I heard from my friend Rev. Rob Meckley of Elkhart, Indiana.  Have patience, it is a true and long story.

arch james ussher
Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656)

Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) was an Anglican (Episcopalian) from Armagh, Ireland.  He had heard about Rev. Samuel Rutherford (1600 -1661), from the Scottish Presbyterian Church of Anworth, Scotland (Francis Schaeffer believed that Rutherford’s writings had reached John Locke and may have influenced Thomas Jefferson and indirectly the US constitution).  Ussher wanted to witness his Sunday Rituals and hear Rutherford preach.  Because of the then existing horrible religious intolerance (just imagine!), political violence and on-going wars, he decided to visit incognito, dressed as a pauper with a beard.  He requested lodging for Saturday night and attended Sabbath service next day.  He was given a simple meal and shown his room.

Rev. Samuel Rutherford (1600 -1661)
Rev. Samuel Rutherford (1600 -1661)

 

Mrs. Rutherford, following her custom, took the servants and the pauper to check if they were prepared for the Sabbath Service.  She asked the poor man how many Commandments there are in the Bible. When he confidently replied eleven, she was shocked and dismayed.  Thinking him to be ignorant, she told the servants later that even a six-year-old in their parish could answer that question.  Late that night, being wide awake, Ussher decided to go unnoticed to the church for prayer.  Rutherford always prayed most of Saturday night preparing for Sundays.  Rutherford, seeing the man engrossed in his prayer, waited for him at the church door.  Later, at the door, he instantly recognized him as Archbishop Ussher and insisted he preach for him.  Ussher agreed, provided that he would not disclose his identity as Bishop, but a visiting minister.  Ussher preached without his beard and the pauper’s clothes, taking John 13:34 as his text:  “A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another”.  What a magnificent example of mutual admiration overcoming their doctrinal differences.  Rutherford was for Calvinism and Ussher against!

Calvin, Arminian, or Darby, Scoffield, Canterbury or Vatican or the Synods or General Assemblies, however great as they may be, are all human beings with limitations and shortcomings.  If they differ, what does it really matter in the light of eternity?  Are we carried away with the total inability of man while we forget that we are also created in the image of God.  We know that image was damaged at the Fall; but God had made provisions for the fallen.   After all the books and commentaries, prophetic analysis and fictions are written, published and sold for a price by brilliant men and women, does it really matter if Rapture is pre or post Millenium, or the significance of badger skin on the tabernacle?  Are we going to even hint on any of these differences, except to laugh when we reach the Golden Shore, er, is it golden or something better?

The best of men only know in part.  I wonder sometimes if Western theology has gone too far to scrutinize and analyze God.  His ways are mysterious and past finding out.  Have we personalized the Holy God so much that we forget that He is like a consuming fire?  Did He not stop Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, near the bush fire lest he die?  Beloved apostle John, at the Revelation of Jesus, fell at his feet as dead.  Reminds me of Job when God Almighty, started questioning him “Where were you when I laid the foundation of this earth?  Tell me if you have understanding.  Who sets its measurements, since you know?  Or who stretched the line on it”?

Differences, many thought of, some even fought for, will evaporate like a morning mist as we walk in the light as He Himself is in the Light.   Here is my take on differences.  At ease, do not look at every difference as negative or a threat.  One could sit even at the feet of Gamaliel, sincere and yet sincerely wrong. Let me go farther, sometimes differences are even necessary for one’s own checks and balances.  Excess, even good out of proportion, is not moderation.  At rare times, accept differences as a blessing unawares from God as prophet Jonah found out.  Or did he?

I do realize the need for structure and foundation. We cannot be all things to all men.  There are factors where there is no room for differences, such as God’s holiness, love, provision for salvation etc.  But as a general rule of thumb, when opinions differ, think of the following quote from one of my favourite theologian/philosophers, St. Augustine, (354-430).  He was Bishop of Hippo, present day Algeria.  Many claim, including Malcolm Muggeridge, that he has greatly influenced Western Christianity.

“In essential, Unity

In non-essential, Liberty

In all things, Charity”

 

God bless,   Danny Paul

Ps. This is my 30th post and I thank my son-in-law Joel Lawton.  Without him “In Search of Moderation” would not have begun. He is my unpaid, forced volunteer, Chief Technologist, Chief Promotion Manager,  and Chief Editor.  Thank you Joey.

The Earth is Crammed with Heaven

For my last post titled “Idea Became the Movement,” I donned an imaginary philosopher’s hat.  Today I changed to a Poet’s hat and borrowed the title “The Earth is Crammed with Heaven.”  Sounds crazy when many hold the opinion the world is going to the dogs, doesn’t it?  Some linger on to prophecies of gloom and doom.  Following my blog theme of moderation, I wish to look at it from both sides.

My mind went back to 1953, to the Church Mission Society Boys High School, Trichur, and to my English teacher, Mr. Kochu Krishna Menon (my readers in Trichur, who are still kicking, will remember him).   He was a Hindu gentleman and he compelled us boys to learn this poem by heart.  Here it is:

elizabeth browning
Elizabeth Browning, 1806-1861

“Earth is crammed with Heaven And every common bush afire with God,  But only he who sees takes off his shoes The rest sit around and pluck black berries”

by Elizabeth Browning, 1806-1861.

Thinking all the time is a pleasant past-time for seniors like me, but remembering is a different story.  That’s when Google comes as man’s best friend.  To my surprise, of all the sources, the reference to this poem popped up from the Times of India daily news.  The columnist gave the following comment:

“Earth is crammed with heaven.  Sadly though, earning a living, raising families, and achieving success, most of us do not take notice of this.  It takes poets or those with poetic ears, eyes and tongues to reconnect us to this state of noticing.  Once we learn to see the eyes of the heart, or what the Islamic mystics have called chasm-e-dil, we begin to inhabit a world transformed by our seeing.  The bland or unattractive reveals hidden beauty, the ordinary becomes sacred, everyday events take on new meaning and depth.”

The poet was referring to Exodus 3:1-5.  The once prince of Egypt, now hired as a shepherd by his father-in-law, was pasturing his flock at Horeb.  He observed a bush afire, but unconsumed.   His curiosity got the better of him to rush to the bush.  “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said: “Moses, Moses, do not come near here, remove your sandals from your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Here is the main point. Bush fire is common place in the wilderness.  Moses could have totally missed this uneventful experience.   Yet it turned out to be one of the greatest historical turning points; the deliverance of the nation of Israel from Egypt and their journey to the promised land, Canaan.  Come to think of it, it is not that rare at all.  Almost all great events start with an idea that becomes an object or a movement.

For example, from what I read, Louis Pasteur ( 1822-1895) the French chemist and microbiologist, got  the break as a surprise with an apparent error by his assistant Charles Chamberland.  The culture that should have been changed was mistakenly given to the chicken suffering from chicken cholera.  The chicken initially got sick but recovered completely.  This insignificant incident led to the discovery of Pasteurization, immunization and vaccines etc!  Louis Pasteur wrote: “In the field of observation chance favours only the prepared mind.”

Allow me to quote two Bible references to fortify my thesis.  Elijah the prophet told his servant to go and see if any sign of rain or a cloud was visible after a severe drought.  There wasn’t any except a patch of cloud, the size of a man’s hand.  That was good enough for the God of Elijah to bring in a great shower.

jesus feeds 5000
Jesus feeds 5000

In another instance, the huge crowd was so taken up with the teaching of Jesus that they did not care or prepare for any lunch.  But Jesus cared.  Philip, as an accountant, calculated in his mind the cost of feeding will be two hundred denari, even if they ate a little.   Andrew found a boy with his lunch, consisting of five barley loaves and two fish.  A supposedly silly situation turned into a mighty miracle of Jesus feeding five thousand, with twelve baskets left over.

The point is, more than a miracle of an unconsumed bush, God was considering the preparation of a man to become a man of God “whom the Lord knew face to face.”  Besides the selection of pebbles for a sling shot, God was grooming an unknown shepherd to be the Psalmist king of Israel and the ancestor of the Messiah.  The fistful cloud becoming a mighty rain, God also cared gently for a prophet discouraged, perhaps even depressed.  Furthermore there were another 7000 prophets who did not bow down to Baal. Yes, the feeding of the 5000 was no ordinary miracle.  But the character building of future disciples, including Philip and Andrew, was equally important.  The people who saw it said: “this is of a truth the Prophet who is to come into this world”  (John 6:14).

Is the earth always crammed with heaven?  Reminds me of country singer, Lynn Anderson:

“I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden

Along with the sunshine there’s gotta be a little rain sometimes”

Remember singer, song writer Bobby McFerrin:

“Don’t worry, be happy, In every life we have some trouble

But when you worry, you make it double”

Go beyond the ditty.  Depend on what Jesus said: “In the world you have tribulations…take courage.”  He who overcame will also grant help and encouragement.  Trials are important to strengthen our character! The Holy Spirit promised to walk along our side – at all times – sun shine or rain.  Never forget that God also cares for the lilies and the sparrows!

Yesterday at the grocery store (No Frills at Newmarket, Ontario), a young mother was pushing her baby carriage to the check out.  My first reaction was to be silent like everybody else.  On second thought, I bent down and started talking to the baby.  The little one did not understand a word but she saw my heart and gave me a million dollar toothless smile.  The mother who at first was slightly uncomfortable at a stranger talking to her baby, saw her baby laughing her heart out. She proudly took off the baby’s hoodie for all to see.  Other purchasers standing in queue joined the laughing line!  Yes, the earth is crammed with heaven.  Look for it and you will find it – sometimes right in front of you!

God bless,  Danny Paul