Thursday, April 01, 2021

Lofty Goals by Eleanor Shepherd

  


       The day has come around again for me to post my blog. This is Holy Week and today is Maundy Thursday, the day when we remember Jesus humbly washing the feet of His disciples, as an example to us.

         

Ironically today is also April Fool’s Day, that in some ways seems to be the extreme opposite as it is a time when we play tricks on each other that seem anything but authentic.

 

As I sat down to try and figure out what I could say today and which of these extremes to choose, my attention was drawn to the preamble provided at the top of this blogspot. It includes the comment that, “We share the goal of wanting to entertain and inspire you to be all you can be with God's help.”

 

Wow! I was reminded again of why I write this blog and felt the weight of my responsibility.  I don’t really consider myself an entertainer, although I do love to share stories that I find interesting.  Is that what it means to be an entertainer?

 

What I strongly relate to is the desire to in some way inspire you to be all you can be with God’s help. However, to do that, I need to have some idea of where you are now and where you envision yourself to be when you discover that you can become all you can be with God’s help.

 

Are we being realistic when we set such lofty goals for ourselves as blog writers? 

 

One way I might discover a little bit more about how to do this, is ask myself the questions I want to ask you.

 

What kind of stories entertain me? I like stories about real people who face real problems and overcome somehow. For example: Last night at the regular Zoom Bible study from our church, a friend shared a story with us, that I really enjoyed.

 

Several years ago she was walking to the Friday Bible study at our church. On her way she passed through an alley where there were lots of young people hanging out. When she saw them, her heart went out to them and she began to pray for a way to make contact with them so she could tell them about God’s love.

 


Suddenly, she tripped on the slippery gravel and fell down flat on the ground. She is a large woman and could not easily get up. She had the attention of the children as they called their parents to come and help. Her hands and knees were bleeding and her face was scratched from the gravel. Quickly the neighbours gathered and began to care for her. A kind man picked out the pieces of gravel, embedded in her hands from the fall. One lady gave her a towel to blot her bleeding wounds and told her to keep it.

 


           A couple of weeks later, still marked by the bruises from her fall, she went to the Bible study through the same alley again. She asked the young people where to find the woman that had given her the towel. In the meantime, the church had printed off several invitations to kids’ activities to distribute. Meeting the kind woman, my friend learned she was the leader of a community group and was delighted to give these invitations to the children.

 

Consequently, many of the young people came to the programs at the church that summer where they had a chance to memorize the words of John 3:16 from the Bible.

 


(From Google Images)
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.”

 

My friend realized that God answered her prayer by letting her fall flat on her face and instead of pain, when it happened, she felt joy.

 

Her story inspired me once more to become all that God created me to be, especially someone who shares His love. Maybe by sharing it with you, I may in some small way be reaching for the lofty goal that we have set ourselves.

Word Guild Award 
2018

Word Guild Award
2009
Word Guild Award
2011

  

Thursday, March 11, 2021

In Suspense

 

I’ve just read an article from BookFox about keeping readers engaged. Being both reader and writer, this title intrigued me—writing cliff hangers for the end of a chapter.

As a reader, I want to know what happens next. I have set some books aside that felt too harsh. I’m a sensitive reader and don’t tend to pick books that portray violence. An exception to that rule, for me, was The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway, because the writer does not focus on the 1990s siege  itself, rather the evidence of it, where people stay inside out of fear, where there are line-ups for bread at certain times of day, when it’s unsafe to go out.

 I might not have picked up that book on my own, except that I was on the book review team for our local newspaper at the time, and that was the book the editor sent to me.

The dust cover showed destruction, and I knew which war it was about. That it was far away mattered little, but I learned as I read that the writer focused on the people and their lack of hope. Sure, there were signs of war that had been all around them and gunfire still in the hills around them. Yet Galloway shows sensitivity to all that has happened and that one lone cellist who bravely sets up his music stand and chair, opens up his cello case and gets ready to play. Though I do not hear the music, I know the piece and can sense the calming effect it has on people watching. I read it to the end.

What does that have to do with us where we are now, in the holds of the pandemic? Oddly, we’re in suspense too, just before the page turn, leaving us hanging. In our minds, we question how things will look, wondering about those also who’ve had so much to lose, whose situations may have already been precarious before the pandemic was declared. And we wonder about the vaccine too (without sowing more seeds of fear).

Some people are quick to predict certain outcomes, according to their belief system. Others are afraid and anxious, and if I’m honest, I find myself there too, from time to time. 

I believe that God is with us in our celebrations, when life treats us well, and in our times of fear and anxiety when we don’t know which way to turn. We read, “Do not be afraid” as angels spoke the message to a young virgin chosen to be Jesus’ earthly mother, to shepherds in the field witnessing spectacular things in the heavens, as well as to others in the pages of the Bible.

We turn that next page in our history now with a sense of mystery and suspense. The story is not over yet; there are more chapters, I'm sure. And we can almost hear those words to us, “Do not be afraid.” And we wait.

 

Carolyn Wilker, author, editor and storyteller

https://www.carolynwilker.ca/about/

 



 

 

 

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

A Blast of Awe by Rose McCormick Brandon

God pulled back Heaven’s curtain for Daniel. What he saw turned his face pale and drained his strength. He gasped in amazement as the Ancient of Days sat on His throne. Daniel is the only Bible writer to use this name for Jesus. He uses it three times. The number three shows completeness, as in the Trinity.

As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated and the books were opened. Daniel 7:9,10

Writing of Christ’s birth, the prophet Micah describes Him as one “whose coming forth is of old, of ancient days” (Micah 5:2). Hundreds of years before Christ’s birth in Bethlehem, Daniel saw Him, not as a babe, but as One who is timeless, without beginning or end, One who has seen ancient times and lives eternally in the past, present and future.

Humanity creaks with age, stiffens with years and wrinkles from sun exposure. Jesus is ageless, undying, changeless, the same yesterday and forever (Heb. 13:8).

A blast of awe struck Daniel when he saw the Ancient of Days. The only appropriate response was to worship. Worship the One who takes the fear out of death, the Holy Ancient One, who was, and is, and is to come (Rev. 1:8).


O worship the King, all glorious above

And gratefully sing of His wonderful love.

Our shield and defender

the Ancient of Days,

Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.

Robert Grant

Ancient of Days, we are awed to the core when we think that we, like Daniel, will meet you face-to-face in your heavenly kingdom. 
* * * 

Rose McCormick Brandon lives in Caledonia, Ontario with husband Doug. An award-winning personal experience and inspirational writer, Rose contributes to denominational publications and devotionals. She writes and teaches Bible Studies, authors biblical essays and is the author of the Canadian history book, Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children. Her book, One Good Word Makes all the Difference, contains stories of her personal journey from prodigal to passionate follower of Jesus. She is the mother of three adult children and grandmother of four.

Monday, March 01, 2021

A COVID REVERSAL by Eleanor Shepherd

        On Friday morning, as I was listening to Daybreak on CBC radio, I heard an interview that gave a different perspective. 
         
         Most mornings there have been concerns expressed by both broadcasters and listeners who respond to their reports. They talk about the way that young adults who are attending colleges and universities are suffering from the lack of social contact by having to do all their courses on line. 

       Many young people interviewed other mornings expressed their feelings of depression and isolation engendered by having to attend  classes this way. Their concerns are certainly legitimate. However, the COVID reversal that arrested my attention was the assertion by two young people that they have found things better for them since the university provided their courses on line. These folks, a man and a woman are both disabled and they explained that with courses on line they have not had to miss one class.

http://i2.wp.com/www.asamnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Concordia-University-Montreal.png

         The problem for them in normal times is accessibility. Not all classroom can accommodate to those with mobility issues. I was surprized to hear the young lady say that when she tried to explain to the professor that it was difficult for her to come to class because of the challenges of trying to get into the classroom, the professor suggested that she take another course instead. That does not seem fair. 

        The young man told how that because of accessibility issues he frequently had to miss classes and thus his grades were lower in those courses that he would normally receive. I could not help but be astounded at the difference between the experience of these young people and that of our son, John who three years after he broke his neck and became a quadriplegic was able to return to Harvard Business School to complete his MBA. 

       The person who was responsible for Student Affairs at the business school took the time before John returned to find out what his schedule would be. Then she went to every one of his classrooms to discover the accessibility and the best place for John to place his wheelchair when he came to class. She had the maintenance people attach a plaque to the designated place indicating that this was reserved for John Shepherd. It was one of many thoughtful measures that were taken to ensure that John was able to function to the best of his ability, given his disability.
 


      Our local universities have unknowingly done a great service for those with disabilities by making the courses available on line. Many other kind things that have been done for others both knowingly and unknowingly during this pandemic. Perhaps we have all become a little more aware of the needs of others as we try to cope with the challenges of the adjustments, we have each been required to make. 

      Is there a life lesson here for me to learn? Seeing quadriplegia up close has given me a much greater appreciation of how our society functions for the able-bodied. I have discovered so many obstacles for anyone who is disabled. Might this not be relevant beyond the scope of physical limitations? Maybe I need to become aware of the obstacles of those who have limitations imposed by the economic lack they have suffered, or by the opportunities they have been denied by not being part of the privileged majority. 

     Hopefully the time for reflection about these things, that has been afforded me by the coronavirus, will help me to ask questions. These may help me find ways to be kinder and more understanding of those who do not benefit from all that I have. If so, the pandemic leaves me with a positive takeaway for which I can be grateful.

Here is the link for the interview: 

Word Guild Award
2011



Word Guild Award
2009 

Word Guild Award 
2018

Monday, February 01, 2021

WHEN GOD COMES NEAR by Eleanor Shepherd



                     During this pandemic, many of us have discovered that while we are not able to meet together in our churches, as always, God is present in unexpected places.  We don’t usually anticipate meeting Him in the midst of hustle of traffic on a downtown street of a busy city, but I can tell you He is there.

Recently, reading a book, entitled When Mothers Pray by Cherri Fuller, I recalled the incident. I was reading her chapter about relinquishing our children to God, one of the most difficult things to do. While I was reading, the tears were flowing, when my husband came into the room and asked what was wrong. As I told him what I was reading, he understood.  “You have had to do it at least twice, haven’t you?” he asked, referring to traumatic times in our lives. 


            “I have had to do it hundreds of times,” I recalled again the recent significant time when it occurred. It was last winter. I was visiting with our adult son in Toronto who lives in a wheelchair.

John took the dog in his chair and went for a walk.  He went to a park where the dog could run and cavort in the snow.  The day before, the mild weather had turned the snow to slush. The power wheelchair got stuck in the snow. 

 

I had stayed at John’s apartment to do a few things to help him.  In the midst of a cleaning project my phone rang.  It was John.

          “Can you come and try and help me?” he asked. “My chair is stuck in the snow and the dog is shivering with the cold.”

“I’ll come right away.” I promised.  Donning boots, coat, hat and gloves, I set out for the location he gave me. Now I am past 70, I don’t walk as fast as I used to but I pushed myself to get there as quickly as I could.


 

When I arrived, I saw how helpless the situation was.  The tires of his 300pound chair holding his 200pound body were well ensconced in the hardening slushy snow.  Even pushing with all my might, I could not budge the chair two centimetres.

Just then a sweet oriental lady came by and said, “Can I give you a hand with that?” She looked quite frail, but I was desperate. “I don’t know if together we can move it,” I said dubiously. “But I guess we can try.”

                           

           With one of us on each side of the chair, John turned on the motor again and somehow the chair moved and came up out of ruts on to level ground. I hardly had a chance to thank this kind soul before she was gone. 

           With John and the dog both now shivering with cold, I sent them home ahead, since Iknew that I could not keep up with the speed of the power chair. 


At my more normal speed, I began walking down Bay Street on my own and the emotions that I had been holding in began to emerge. I found tears streamed down my face as I cried out to God. “I just can’t do this anymore! Please send someone to help me.”

 Hearing my tearful, “Hello,” he asked, “Are you okay?” I told him what was happening and silently listening, he then offered support. My tension decreased as we conversed. Our conversation was interrupted when my phone indicated another call. We hung up and I my daughter was on the line, just checking on how I was doing.  I knew who prompted the calls and I was not alone.

           By the time I got back to John’s apartment, I was at peace.  He was safe and I was assured that I could again leave him in the hands of a loving Heavenly Father who cares for him and will also look after me.

 

Word Guild Award
2018
Word Guild Award 
2011

  

 
 
Word Guild Award
2009

Thursday, January 14, 2021

A Prescription for Preventing Hardening of the Heart

This past summer, in the middle of a pandemic, I underwent open-heart-triple-valve-repair surgery. That experience has led me to frequently considering the state of my heart, not just the body's blood pumping organ, but also the state of my other heart—the heart of the soul—the heart at the core of my affections and dreams. 

The Bible has a great deal to say about that heart. The prophet Jeremiah states, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it" (Jeremiah 17:9)? 

This devotional, which will appear in Volume II of Psalms 365, speaks to the 'heart' of the matter. And yes, it offers a cure if we will only take heed. 

Reading: Psalm 95

(Verses 7-11)
Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
    they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
For forty years I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest’”
(NIV).*

[cperson holding baby s feet Photo by Andreas Wohlfahrt on Pexels.com

Reflection
Long before we knew about the medical condition known as hardening of the arteries, there existed another condition called hardening of the heart. Hardening of the heart is not a deadly medical condition; it's a deadly spiritual condition. Those who suffer from hardening of the heart have a hard time hearing God, and when they do hear God, they tend to stop their ears, or they do their best to pretend that God hasn't spoken. 

Although we can safely say that this condition has existed since the human species stepped out of Eden, the first reported case of hardening of the heart occurred about 3,500 years ago. In the Book of Exodus we read that Pharaoh developed a severe case of hardening of the heart. But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said (Exodus 8:15).

Time and again as the ten plagues ravaged Egypt, we read that Pharaoh hardened his heart and he would not let the people of Israel go. In several instances we read that the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart. But let's be clear about this condition. Heart hardening only happens with the willing participation of the individual. Don't go about blaming God for your hard heart. Hearts harden due to our willful disregard of God's Spirit and His laws.

Neither should we presume that heart hardening only happens with a certain type of person. We are all prone to develop this spiritual malady. Our ancestry or genetic makeup offers no protection. The Egyptian Pharaoh developed a heart, but ultimately the Israelites—the people that the LORD pried free from Pharaoh also developed the same condition. That's why the psalmist issues this warning: Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,  where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did."  

The key to avoiding a hard heart is hearing and heeding the voice of God. It's just that simple.

Response: LORD, give me ears that hear your voice gently speaking to me. Give me a heart that is quick to obey. I want a tender heart that reflects your love for me and for others. I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Your Turn: Does a hard heart toward others result in a hard heart toward God? What are your thoughts?

* New International Version, Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica

The first volume of Psalms 365: Develop a Life of Worship and Prayer by award-winning author David Kitz is now available. For a closer look at this 262-page daily devotional book click here.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

General William and Catherine Booth: The Blood & The Fire

 


By Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird

-previously published in the August 2020 Light Magazine

 


Cholera. Everyone’s fear, and it was happening again. William and Catherine Booth were there to help feed, clothe, and care for the sick in the stinky, rancid streets of East London.  It was 1866. 

The incoming tide from the Thames River dumped sewage into East London’s water reservoir. Almost 6,000 people died.  Two years earlier, Catherine and William Booth had started the Christian Mission in this part of London.  This is where the poorest of the poor lived.

Charles Dickens commented: “I consider the offensive smells, even in that short whiff, have been of a most head and stomach-distending nature.” The smell from the Thames was so bad that people became violently ill.  The Great Stink was not completely dealt with until 1875. 

Catherine, because of scoliosis curvature of the spine at age 14 and incipient tuberculosis at age 18, was often forced to spend weeks lying in bed.  Nothing however stopped her passion to make a difference in the lives of lost and hurting people.  She was always kind to everyone and never told a lie.

She had a strong Methodist upbringing, reading the Bible through eight times before the age of 12. As a preteen, she became concerned with the effects of alcoholism on the community, serving as Secretary for the Juvenile Temperance Society. Her father, while part of a total-abstinence league, used to periodically fall off the wagon.

At the home of Edward Rabbits, in 1851, she met William Booth, who, like Catherine, had been expelled by the Wesleyans for reform sympathies. He was reciting a temperance poem, “The Grog-seller’s Dream,” which appealed to Catherine.

As a vegetarian, she abhorred cruelty to animals.  If she saw a driver mistreating a horse, she would rush out onto the street and compel the driver to treat the horse more humanely.  Catherine, despite her natural shyness, would go to the slum tenements in East London, knock on doors, and ask them ‘Can I tell you about Jesus?” Some people say that she was a better preacher than her husband William.  She even wrote a 10,000-word essay, asserting equality for women in ministry.  Although William Booth had initially rejected the idea of women preachers, he changed his mind, later writing that "the best men in my Army are the women."  One of Catherine’s sons later commented, "She reminded me again and again of counsel pleading with judge and jury for the life of the prisoner. The fixed attention of the court, the mastery of facts, the absolute self-forgetfulness of the advocate, the ebb and flow of feeling, the hush during the vital passages—all were there."

Catherine Booth lobbied Queen Victoria to successfully support the "Parliamentary Bill for the protection of girls", changing the age of consent form 13 to 16.  Three hundred and forty thousand people signed her petition to end sex trafficking of thirteen-year olds.  Catherine Booth started the Food-for-the-Million Shops where the poor could purchase hot soup and a three-course dinner for just sixpence. On special occasions such as Christmas Day, Catherine would cook over 300 dinners to be distributed to the poor of East London. She became known as the “Mother of The Salvation Army”. Queen Victoria noted, “Her majesty learns with much satisfaction that you have with other members of your society been successful in your efforts to win many thousands to the ways of temperance, virtue and religion.”

William, originally a pawnbroker’s assistant, was a practical doer. In 1865, he used a tent on a used Quaker graveyard in East London.  His passion was for soup, soap and salvation. His motto was to ‘go for souls and go for the worst.’  Many of the local churches didn’t want William’s poor young converts because they would soil the seats.

In 1867, the Booths only had 10 full-time workers, but by 1874, the ‘Hallelujah Army’ had grown to 1,000 volunteers and 42 evangelists, all serving under the name “The Christian Mission.” In 1878, William changed the name to Salvation Army, with all the converts becoming soldiers or officers.  “Onward Christians Soldiers” became their favorite marching song.  In 1882, 669 Salvationists were brutally assaulted, with one woman dying.  During 1881 to 1885, 250,000 people were converted and joined the Army. More Londoners in an 1882 survey were worshipping with the Salvation Army than all the other churches combined.

Catherine designed the Salvation Army flag and bonnets which served as helmets to protect from rocks and rotten eggs.  The red on the flag symbolizes the blood shed by Christ, the yellow for the fire of the Holy Spirit and the blue for the purity of God the Father. The star contains the Salvation Army's motto, 'Blood and Fire'. This describes the blood of Jesus shed on the cross to save all people, and the fire of the Holy Spirit which purifies believers.  The Salvation Army uses this flag in their marches of witness, dedication of children and the swearing-in of soldiers. It is sometimes placed on the coffin at the funeral of a Salvationist.  Catherine had the Salvation Army flag brought into her bedroom as she was dying, saying “the blood and fire, that has been my life.  It has been a constant fight.”

Catherine and William revolutionized the match factories.  Women were earning a pittance for sixteen-hour days.  The deadly fumes from the yellow phosphorus rotted their jaws, turning their face green and black with foul-smelling pus.  Catherine pointed out that other European countries produced matches tipped with harmless red phosphorus.  The factory owners Bryant and May said that red phosphorus was too expensive to make the switch.  After Catherine’s death from breast cancer in 1890, her grief-stricken husband William opened a Salvation Army match factory, paying the workers twice the usual wage while using harmless red phosphorus. He organized tours by MPs and journalists to meet the yellow phosphorus victims, and to see the new alternative red phosphorus match factory.  In 1901,  Bryant and May buckled under the pressure and stopped using the toxic yellow phosphorus. 

Catherine loved the poor.  “With all their faults”, she said, “they have larger hearts than the rich.”  William said at her funeral, “She was love. Her whole soul was full of tender deep compassion.  Oh, how she loved.” Catherine believed that “if we are to better the future, we must disturb the present.” May the blood and fire of William and Catherine Booth’s ministry inspire us to disturb our present with love.



Rev. Dr. Ed and Janice Hird

-co-authors, Blue Sky novel

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