My Help Comes From the Lord

Today, we said farewell to J’s father. I had the privilege of sharing a meditation at the service. What follows is the script of the message. Bill was a special man to many, a husband, father, opa, and great grand father. He will be sorely missed.

The texts chosen were Psalm 121 and Ephesians 3:14-21

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photostudio_1455803000581It seems more than a little unreal to be here today, celebrating a life, saying farewell. So many have said in the past days that they just can’t believe that Bill is gone.  It seems like death crept up on us, surprised us,  took us from the hope of the new lease on life that surgery promised, to the shock, and despair, of watching a beloved husband, father, opa, and great grandfather slip away from us. Death shocked us with its finality, as we watched last breaths, and final stillness, come over a once vitally active man.

We are left in deep sorrow, holding on to our memories, holding on to the legacy of love and faith Bill leaves behind.

It’s in this sorrow, this shock, that we turn this morning to scripture for a word of comfort, a bit of hope, some light to carry us through the coming days.

The Psalms are often referred to as the songbook of life. Every emotion, every human condition finds description in the words of the psalms.

Psalm 121, which we just read, was a psalm describing the journey of the people to the temple in Jerusalem, a journey that would take them, on foot, through rough country, through dangerous territory, through mountains in which robbers and ruffians, and wild animals could hide.

When the psalmist says I lift up my eyes to the mountains he is not looking at the mountains as a source of hope, as the place where God is keeping watch, as the place where God lives, has some sort of fortress, but rather as a place of fear, a place where trouble might come from, an unknown and wild place, a frightening place. As he looks at those mountains with fear, he asks the question: with all this wildness and uncertainty around me, all of the potential for a bad outcome, all of the opportunity for harm, who can I count on to save and protect me, who is out there who will watch over me in this journey, this journey to God’s house.

Over the past months, Bill’s life has lead him, and Grace, and the rest of his family, into a mountainous place. He had been in the mountains before, he had learned from experience the answer to the question posed by the psalmist. He knew his help came from the most powerful source imaginable, the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, the creator of all, the sovereign God

As he learned the diagnosis of clogged arteries, as he made the decision to submit to surgery to gain some of his old strength back, and even as he faced the final, insurmountable mountains of cardiac arrest and multiple strokes, Bill knew where his help came from, he knew that the Lord was walking through those mountains with him, that the Lord would not let his foot slip, that even as we slept, and he slept, the Lord was watching, protecting, watching over his life, his coming and his going, watching not just now, not just then, but forever more.

He knew that the Lord was walking right beside him and that whatever the outcome of his surgery, frightening though it was, he could go forward, though these mountains, through the darkest valleys, knowing he was safely in God’s hands. Knowing God was right beside him, protecting him.

Today we can take the same comfort. The past weeks have bought us unexpected mountains, we knew there would be uncertainty in surgery, but took hope as Bill began to walk the hospital halls, began to work with physiotherapists, and even though the future was still unclear, it appeared that we were coming out of the mountains, that we were looking forward to a somewhat more safe time in our journey. When suddenly, the earth shifted, Psalm 46 talks about such shifts, and a whole new crop of mountains lifted their heads, and we looked up and ahead, afraid for the future, afraid for our journey.

With the psalmist, and with Bill, we can say that no matter how ominous the mountains may appear, our hope comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Possibly the one of the last scriptures Bill heard, and responded to, was Ephesians 3:14-21. It’s the scripture that Pastor Ray left when he visited Bill in the hospital just after his initial surgery. Bill slept through Ray’s visit that day, but Henrietta, finding the note Ray left behind, read the text to her father later. She said, after she had finished reading, that Bill, who was that day, discouraged by the pain and the slowness of recovery, let out a sigh, relaxed into his pillow. It felt like he was at peace, she said. Scripture had done it’s work of comforting, of restoring hope.

This piece of Ephesians 3 fits really well with Psalm 121, extends it actually, building on to the picture of a protector, painted by the psalmist, It points us to the glorious riches offered by God from which we can gain strength. It points us to a God who is a protector, not because there is some responsibility to protect in the way perhaps that a paid baby sitter might care for your children, No Paul points us to Gods love for us through Jesus Christ, a love that he prays we would try to measure , to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and by trying to measure it to find out, to know, this love surpasses all knowledge. It is just too big, to huge, for us to be able to comprehend

It is this sort of love that accompanied Bill on his journey through his mountains, this sort of love that will carry us through the mountains that we face ahead of us as we journey on. This sort of love that Grace can rely on in the coming days, that Bill’s children, grandchildren and friends can put their hope in.

But Paul doesn’t stop there, he goes on to describe Christ as the one who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.

And what do we have to do for all of this assurance. What was it that Bill did to be able to trust in God to take him through the mountains?

These passages would suggest we really don’t need to do anything more than believe.

The psalmist, in Psalm 121 does a wonderful thing with words. You’ll notice that there are no demands made at all by the Lord, the Psalmist never says because I did this thing or that thing, or made a big donation, or sacrificed a whole lot of lambs, the Lord is now my helper, my protector. All of the verbs, the working words, in the Psalm belong to the Lord. All of the watching, the keeping, the shading, the wakefulness, all of the work is done by the Lord. The Psalmist asks nothing of those who are seeking protection. It is a free gift.

 

Paul in Ephesians only asks that his readers have the power to grasp how great God is, not to earn favor, just to stand amazed.

 

Because that is the way God works isn’t it. God, in our lives does all of the heavy lifting. God gives us more than we can ask or imagine just because of love. We don’t always feel very comfortable with that, because we think that we should likely do something to earn our way into God’s favor, to earn our salvation. We feel uncomfortable when we get things for free, when we can’t pay our own way.

 

The Heidelberg catechism though tells us that instead of being uncomfortable in God’s graciousness we should find deep comfort in it when it asks: What is your only comfort, the only thing you can count on, the anchor in your storm, in both life and in death? If there is one piece of the catechism many of us can recite it is this answer, this statement of faith.

 

That I am not my own,1
but belong—

body and soul,
in life and in death—2

to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.3

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,4
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.5
He also watches over me in such a way6
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven;7
in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.8

Because I belong to him,
Christ, by his Holy Spirit,
assures me of eternal life9
and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready
from now on to live for him.10

 

Do you see how the catechism echoes the psalm and the epistle. God does all the work, all the bleeding and paying and setting free, all the watching and assuring, in fact, even the living for God we do is inspired, and motivated, through Christ’s Holy Spirit.

 

What a freeing experience! The experience of finding ourselves in God’s love, under God’s protection, living in a way where the only responsibility in front of us, the only work to be done, is trying to measure God’s love for us and praising God when we find we can’t, when we find ourselves overwhelmed again by the height and depth and width of that love. Assured that even in the mountainous places of our lives God can and will do more than we ask or imagine.

 

It’s with this assurance that we can face death with hope, where we can face an uncertain future with a sense of calm, where we can say, around a bed in the Caridac Intensive Care Unit

“My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.”

And he can, and will do more than we can ask or imagine.

 

The battle over sin and death has been won not by our strength or our work but by the work of our great God. In Jesus Christ, our future, Bill’s future is secure.

 

He would want you to know that today. He knew it and if there was one gift he would yet want to give, one thing he would like to pass on to his children, his grand children, and his great grand children it would be the great sense of peace and security that comes from belonging to a faithful savior, protector, Jesus Christ.

 

We give thanks today for Bill, for his place in our lives, we also give thanks to God, the God who sustained Bill in this life and continues to sustain him, now and forevermore,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Semi-Retired?

It seems surprising, but. mostly by accident, I seem to have become semi-retired over the past months. My work as an interim pastor came to an end in May, followed by a bike trip that needed to be cut short in July. Since then, even though I am working on a number of opportunities, work responsibilities with a paycheque have been a very small part of life.

I’m not complaining. The lazy mornings, the book reading (for fun), the long bike rides with friends, the freedom from schedules and responsibilities have been nice. Its given me a glimpse of what it might mean to be retired. I’ve actually been able to accomplish quite a few things.

A year and a half ago, J took over my shop in the shed. She hired a contractor to insulate and finish it so she could move her pottery in. I was left with one wall and a shelf for my tools and hardware, but, she was jealously eyeing that space as well, providing all sorts of “helpful” suggestions for other places this stuff could go.

I started the process of moving, just to the other side of the wall. The first thing needed was a new work bench since my old one is now a pottery table. I also needed to come up with a neat and tidy way to store the tools that were hanging on the wall. So, with plans and lists, I went off to the lumber yard with my trailer.

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I’m pleased with the result. The new workbench and cabinet are both on wheels 0D8F769E-30E1-47CF-A945-D1F3EF43ADD2so the space is easily changed to allow the tractor and snowblower access in the winter time. I will admit, if I buy many more tools, I’ll need to build another cabinet.

So, in good retired fashion, I’ve spent more than a week getting ready to do something. But now, what to do? While we are nowhere near living in poverty, the lack of a regular paycheque does slow one down from just running out and buying more stuff, even if it is retirement project building material.

In the purge from J’s shop, a cupboard her dad had made as a dresser ended up sitting outside the door on its way to the burn pile. It was made of plywood, painted, covered with stickers and the scribblings of more than one kid. I “rescued” it, broke it down, and re-purposed it as a bird house. 20151008_090934

I know this stopping place is only a temporary state. While I am a little anxious to get the next stage of the journey underway, there is something rejuvenating about this time of being between things.

The birds might be happy too….

Entering a Season Reluctantly

11217677_730617237070690_4552454273693892669_nYesterday we attended another funeral. My aunt, my father’s oldest surviving sister, passed away on Tuesday. It was only seven weeks ago that she attended my mother’s funeral, frail and old, but still very lucid and aware. Now, she too is gone, taken by death, unexpectedly, even though in many ways, it was expected.

I haven’t written very much about the grief experienced this past summer. It’s likely because my words just couldn’t do it justice, couldn’t accurately describe the emotions, the loss. How does one properly describe the feelings that flood in when the phone call to come home, quickly, is received; the intimacy of family gathered as a last breath is quietly drawn, holding our own breaths waiting for the chest to rise again; the touch of the still warm forehead under my hand of blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you….”?

How does one describe the feelings of support from friends and family in the midst of trying to properly accompany, and honour, a loved one from death bed to a final resting place under towering maple trees?

How does one describe the reluctance felt as we appear to be entering into a season of funerals, a season of grief wrapped in the clothes of celebration, as both of my parent’s siblings age, each sorrowful gathering already anticipating the next.

Yesterday’s funeral tugged at the scab that has formed over my grief, exposed some of those bits not yet healed over, maybe never to be fully healed. While this experience was different it spawned memories of the same.

It is indescribable, really. Words typed on a screen can’t do more than describe the edges, always falling short of fully articulating the experience, failing to honour the subtle nuances of the time, the place, the person, the experience. It needs further wrestling, further work, so much so, that when you ask how we are doing we’re most likely to answer with an “I’m fine”, not because we necessarily are, but because we don’t know how to describe, in a way that you would really understand, how we really are.

We know we are not without hope, but even with hope, loss is is still keenly felt.

A Disjointed Time

Its now more than a month since we loaded our bike in Thessalon and came home to walk mom’s last days with her. If we had finished our ride we would have returned to Ontario last Tuesday, but those plans were just not to be.

The unplanned month at home has left us feeling a little disjointed, a little lost. We are people who work closely with our calendar and are likely most comfortable with a rather full one. For the past month, the calendar has been empty. There have been lots of things to do, a funeral to plan, visitors to entertain, invitations for meals and fires, a dog to baby sit, coffee to drink. J has done a couple of days in her pottery. I’ve built a new work bench for her and installed a kitchen sink for washing up her clay spattered tools. I’ve picked up a bit of consulting work, visited some farms, balanced some rations. A quite a number of books have been read and some naps taken.  But until this past weekend the calendar was pretty much empty.

Its a weird place to be, to get up in the morning with nothing scheduled, the day ahead with no firm plan, no commitments, no deadlines. Almost like we are still on some sort of pilgrimage, in a liminal place, neither here nor there, an in between time.

11907367_10153537011289464_4163995848782596250_nThis past weekend I officiated at a wedding on Saturday and preached at a church looking for an interim on Sunday. It was good to preach again, good to feel like there was some purpose in life, something to rush about for.

I don’t think I’m ready to retire yet.

Lost and Found (Guest Post)

While J reads all my posts before they go up, mostly for grammar, but also for her input which I crave, she usually doesn’t write here. Today she has something to say which doesn’t really fit on her blog Beyond Donnybrook. Enjoy!

It is traditional in the Christian Reformed Church to present a newly married couple with a Bible.  It’s more of a symbol than anything else, after all, these (usually) young adults more than likely already have more than one bible in their possession. But there’s something special about this first gift.  It represents a faith passed down from generation to generation.  It represents the hope that this new family unit will be grounded in a faith holding them together through both the good times and the not so good times.  It reminds everyone that this new marriage is not just about two people, but about a God who is in every part of our lives.  It also gives a strong sense of community, this is not a gift from an individual but from the entire church; a community in which at least one of the main characters grew up in, a community which cares about these people and really wants to see this new marriage thrive.

In recent years, Ken has often been asked to present the “wedding bible”.  He’s been honoured to do so and has done it willingly.  For many of the young couples, Ken has been their youth leader and catechism teacher; it fits that he would be asked.  However, I’ve felt slightly uncomfortable with it. Not because he can’t talk in public, not because I thought the entire presentation was a bit silly (quite the opposite).  It’s because we lost ours.

We lost ours!!!

How does one lose their wedding bible!?  For years it lived on top of fridge; used for family devotions after meal time.  Occasionally it would be used for some bible study or other, but it always came back to its home.  One day, I noticed it was gone.  I’m not exactly sure when it happened.  Meal time family devotions didn’t happen after the kids got older and started moving out and the wedding bible didn’t get used every day.

We’ve got other bibles–I’ve never counted them all, but there’s multiple versions and duplicates.  In recent years we’ve added electronic versions.  We didn’t need that particular book.  But it bugged me.  I searched everywhere.  I’ve checked every pew bible in the sanctuary at church.  I’ve searched every closet in the church building. I’ve asked friends to check their house. One of us must have taken it with us and left it somewhere, but it was no where to be found and I gave up.

I do not know why I looked at this particular shelf one day last week.  Why did I shove aside a pile of children’s books and comics?  Why did I look at the row of discarded text books?  I have little interest in the “structure of meat animals” or the “breeding and improvement of farm animals” or even “animal reproduction”.  At one time, these books were important, I spent hours with them; now, they are simply sitting there, waiting for me to have the courage to toss them.  But on this day, I did move some books around and I did look at the back of the shelf.  There it was!

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Nine years ago we moved.  There was only one book to pack in the kitchen but many to pack up in the “play” room.  Obviously, our wedding bible got packed with the old textbooks and in the flurry of unpacking it got shoved onto a shelf to be completely forgotten. The devotion book stuck in the bible is from February of 2005, about the time I started packing and purging for our move off the farm.

Looking at the book now, it’s nothing special.  Just a little bit larger than a pew bible and showing signs of wear.  The inscription inside makes me angry.  No one, absolutely no one, ever calls me Mrs Ken deBoer!!!  There’s no place to record family history, this will not become a family heirloom.

But I’m happy to have found it back!

A Pergola

This week, between office days and ration building, we built a pergola.

When we came to this house, just over nine years ago, it had no deck. The doors to our bedroom and the sunroom opened to a four foot drop.

The empty deck

The empty deck

 

We built a deck, but since it was on the south side of the house, found it really too hot to use during the summer months. We’ve tried various sorts of shade, umbrellas, and a canvas gazebo, but since the deck is exposed to strong west winds these solutions mostly ended up on the lawn in a tangle of cheap tin.

photo (2)

Its handy to have a helper to get things level and square

photo (4)

The finished product

We’ve moved most of our outdoor lounging to the shaded patio on the east side of the house, but, its not handy to the kitchen for eating outside, and the deck looks a little forlorn with nothing on it.

A pergola seemed like it might be the answer so we got measuring, and figuring, and looking at pictures on the internet. By Monday I had a material list and by Tuesday night the basic structure was in place. It wasn’t where we had
originally planned to put it because of issues with the roof line of the house and the placement of posts and windows. This one went so well though, and really adds to the deck, so we’ve decided to build a second one and cover the entire deck.

Once it stops raining we’ll go out and set the posts.

Isabel’s Baptism

Today we baptized Isabel. She is all of 26 days old and already has gone to church twice. This time she got really wet (and not the diaper kind of wet) in front of a whole church full of people. She was very brave too and only cried a little when the somewhat cold water hit her little head.

20140720_112751Baptizing Isabel is one of the cool side benefits of being ordained, a pastor, in the Christian Reformed Church. Since M and J, Isabel’s parents attend a CRC, and their pastor was away on holiday, it was like I was doing their church a favour by coming to lead their service today, but really, I was the one winning on this deal.

Every baptism is special, but spilling water from the baptismal font on a grandchild, saying those words “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”; putting my hand on her little head and pronouncing a blessing on her; it just doesn’t get much better.

In it all is the deep symbolism of God’s love for us, covenant love. Isabel came to churchisabelwater today, loved and accepted, was marked, wearing the same gown my mother put on me almost fifty five years ago. The same gown my grandmother put on her sons. The same gown our children wore as J and I made much the same promises M and J made today. Baptism ties us together, in God’s faithfulness. We felt that faithfulness again today.

It was a day of celebration. The morning rain cleared and great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends enjoyed a day with Isabel (rather than a campfire) as the center of attention.

A gift.