Useful to the Master

Quite a few years ago it was my privilege to help the work of the Harlows at Everyday Publications.

My association began when EPI (as it is known today) was located in the building on Glebemount Avenue in Toronto.

At that time Dr Harlow gave me a little book from which he read every lunch hour, and at which time the good Doctor would read one of the quotes, and then ask us to give the Scripture reference for the quote. The little book was put together that way: a title drawn from one of the verses of the day, and then a series of “related” verses following. The book title was “Every Day” and I suspect that Doctor Harlow chose it for that reason, at least in part.

Gael and I do two things at breakfast time, and before our time of prayer: read from a book like this one, and then a chapter in the Scriptures. For the sake of variety, we vary the “devotional” books that we use, and I believe that is good.

Today’s reading (May 12) had the title above: Useful to the Master; taken from Paul’s letter to Timothy.

The verses quoted were gleaned from a variety of places in the Scripture; from Jeremiah to Timothy to Ephesians; and they all had a similar thought of being “useful to the Master”. As we read them, a thought came to me: “yes, but…”. There is a significant difference in one aspect of these verses that has been running through my mind since breakfast.

In Jeremiah, it is the Master that is seen as the Potter, and it is He that is fashioning the vessel on the wheel, and it is He that sees something wrong with the clay, takes it off the wheel, works it again, and puts it back on the wheel to make a different vessel. Without going into all the details of the picture the Lord is painting through Jeremiah, we do need to keep in mind that it concerns the nation of Judah, and the Lord’s dealings with that nation; to bring it to the condition He desires. That is a big subject, and we see its process even today.

However, when we come to Paul’s letter to Timothy, we see a different aspect of the picture. As Paul writes (2 Timothy 2:14–26) he explains to Timothy that there are many vessels in “a great house”; and that some are for noble service, and some for ignoble service. We need to be careful not to be harsh in our differences with our various understandings of God’s Word; but it has often struck me (and even again this morning) that all the vessels are “useful to the Master”. Paul is not saying (in this passage) that some of the vessels are not useful; he deals with that subject elsewhere. In this passage he is telling Timothy that there are vessels that are for honour, and there are vessels for dishonour.

Allow me to give an illustration (not one of the usual ones): We are at a stage of life when “getting rid of things” is taking a larger role in our day-to-day experience. Recently Gael said to me: “Can I get rid of those things up there?” My immediate reaction was: “Here we go again!”. I looked up to where she was pointing, and saw on this little shelf in the kitchen, away up on the side of one of the cupboards, a silver beer stein (and some other things). Now you have to keep in mind that I have never used it for that purpose; it was an award given to me at an EIC sponsored debate in 1959 as a member of the winning team at that debate. It has a dent, and the silver is not as bright as it was that evening at the UofT. It has travelled a lot, and at one time was full of the petals from the roses at our wedding. Now, I realize that most illustrations that we use break at some point; (the Lord’s never do). We have many “vessels” in our house: from vessels for keeping sugar in, to vessels for gathering potato peels in, to dishes to set before guests at our table. So as to not get too far from Gael’s question; no, I could not, at this point, agree to getting rid of the stein. Why? For several reasons: the first being that I am somewhat sentimental, and it was a reminder of an event 58 years ago. I don’t even remember the topic of the debate; nor who it was that we (the class of 6T0 Mining Engineering students) were debating with. I don’t even remember if we were joined in the debate by one of the other classes. It is likely that we were. However, it is a vessel of honour in our house; I don’t want to see it go; just yet.

Now, my main point is this: In Jeremiah, it is the Potter who takes the clay and does the work on it; in Timothy, it is the responsibility of the vessel to cleanse itself.

Gael and I were at the Ontario Workers’ and Elders’ Conference this week, and one of the threads of the conference was the subject of preparing for succession. Several times someone approached me with the thought that we who are older must be doing more to “mentor”, “disciple”, “work with”, the younger brothers and sisters, and so on. All of this is true. But there is also a need for the younger to cleanse themselves to be in a condition to be used. The imagery in the two pictures (Jeremiah and 2 Timothy) is different, and I believe the Lord intends us to notice.

I’ve Got a Mansion…

I was with a friend a day or two ago, and in the conversation he related how he recently had a memory ‘flash back’ while driving; and a number of old Sunday School choruses were running through his mind; complete with lyrics and music.

One of the things he mentioned was how un-scriptural many of those choruses were. “Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, faces all a-glow.” was one; complete with actions!

That conversation set a train of thought in motion. Another chorus we used to sing was: “I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop…” Just what was our Saviour telling His apostles when He said: “In my Father’s house are many mansions…”? What images come to mind when we read those verses in John’s Gospel?

The Greek word rendered ‘mansion’ in a number of our English versions simply means a dwelling place. It is actually only used twice in the New Testament. The other instance is in the same chapter 14 and in verse 23 where it is rendered ‘home’.

Perhaps we can see a clue in 2 Corinthians 5 where Paul is relating for the Corinthian believers his contentment with a prospect of death. We know, of course, that Paul tells us that “to live is Christ, to die is gain.” In 2 Corinthians 5 he uses some figures of speech that we undoubtedly are familiar with. In fact, I have recently heard various ones referring to their “tent” very clearly as a figure of their physical body.

I remember quite well the process of striking tent in preparation for the remainder of the journey. First you loosen the pegs in the ground, slacken the ropes, and step by step the tent is collapsed, folded, and stored. In my youth we often had to wait for the sun to dry the dew on the canvas to prevent the moisture from mildewing the canvas; but there was a routine involved. Paul uses this imagery to point to the temporary nature of our earthly bodies. I recently read a catchy little line: “I thought getting old would take longer.” Those of us who have had multiple birthdays know the feeling. Little by little we see the process in our body that reminds us that we will soon “strike tent”.

But Paul does not leave the subject at that point. He tells us 2 more very important aspects of this process. First, he tells us that it is not the putting off, but the putting on that we look forward to. In other words, we don’t look forward with longing to our physical death; but to what follows. That is a major thought in this chapter: that we look forward to a new body, prepared for us in heaven. From the late verses in chapter 4 through the early verses in chapter 5 Paul presents us with a number of contrasts. I’m going to try to put these in a way that will emphasize the contrasts:

outward man is perishing : inward man is being renewed
light affliction : exceeding … weight of glory
affliction, which is but for a moment : eternal weight of glory
things which are seen : things which are not seen
temporary : eternal
earthly house : a building from God
at home in the body : absent from the Lord
we walk by faith : not by sight
absent from the body : present with the Lord

How, then, does this relate to John 14? I’m inclined to think that our Saviour was not telling His apostles that what was being prepared for us in the Father’s house were a whole bunch of little mansions, complete with moat, drawbridge, portcullis, parapets, etc. but a new, heavenly body; as Paul describes for us in 2 Corinthians 5.

Gael and I have often discussed how this all fits together. How does the Rapture fit in? What about the Millennial Reign? What about the Resurrection at the end? And so on. I’m not confident enough in my own thinking to plot out a time line with different colours showing the various stages of the changes we will face. But I do know that what the Father has prepared for us will be beyond our imagination. May the Day Star arise in our hearts!

Daniel and the Resurrection

I have just finished reading “Against the Flow” by John Lennox. Actually, that’s not quite correct; I haven’t finished reading the 5 appendices. They will have to wait.

It is a worthwhile book. One of the things I have appreciated is the way Lennox relates the events and prophecies of Daniel to our own times.

In the chapter “The Time of the End” he deals with Daniel’s understanding of the resurrection. I quote:

“This passage on the resurrection near the end of Daniel’s account is consistent with that supernatural dimension. The God that spans history in his knowledge, and can reveal things to come, is the God who will raise the dead. Daniel did not, of course, know what we know: that the molecules in our bodies are in constant flux, so that they undergo total replacement every seven years or so, while each one of us remains the same person. There is a pattern somewhere that defines and holds each individual human in existence. And if we grant the reality of God and the supernatural, it is surely not hard to think that God himself holds those patterns in memory. He can re-use each pattern to fashion a resurrection body in the future.” (page 343)

I found this paragraph particularly encouraging. I have been thinking a lot about the original pristine character of God’s creation, and the downward slide as sin entered with all its effects on our genetics and also other aspects of his creation.

As it relates to the resurrection, the pattern that God holds for each one of us would undoubtedly be the original perfect one. No corruption or defilement of any kind. Of course, that is what the Apostle Paul writes: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42–44)

Someone might raise the question about the pattern that corresponds to me right now. If my puny little computer can keep an incremental backup that has the original file and each and all changes to it across its little life; how much more God and my pattern!

These thoughts somehow connect in my mind with Peter’s first letter where he places so much emphasis on our “pilgrim” character. This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through.

I await the resurrection!

For we walk by faith, not by sight.

In 2 Corinthians 5:7 Paul tells the Corinthian believers “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

It is interesting that this statement is ‘declarative’, not ‘imperative’. He is not saying that we ought to walk by faith, but that we do.

I have thought a lot about this statement recently; particularly as it relates to the context of chapter 5, which is the resurrection body prepared for us in heaven. I don’t think he is saying that we will only have it in heaven, but that it is heavenly in its making.

Paul (in the ‘definitive’ passage on the resurrection) tells us that our resurrection body will be a ‘spiritual’ one. I have wrestled with that for many years, and listened to a number of explanations, that it will be spiritual in the sense that our Lord’s resurrection body is; but that doesn’t answer the questions in my mind. Does that mean we will be able to interact with the physical in the same way He did; appearing without warning, entering a room without opening the door? I don’t know.
We receive eternal life upon believing. Is that eternal in the sense of its duration, or in the sense of its quality? Perhaps both?

Recently I read this passage in 2 Corinthians at the graveside of a dear sister who had gone to be with the Lord. The undertaker had offered me a little bottle of material to sprinkle on the casket. For some reason it struck me as comical. What would that little gesture have meant? What would those standing around have taken it to mean? I declined.

We walk by faith. What does it mean? I would suggest that it has a variety of thoughts: we walk not seeing the reality of what God has prepared for us; we walk confidently in the dark; we walk with the full assurance of the Word of God (the One who cannot lie).

But implicit in Paul’s statement is the thought that there will be a moment when ‘faith will give way to sight’. Job spoke of that:

“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

Job’s next statement is precious: “How my heart yearns within me!”
I wrote a time ago about “…the daystar arising in our hearts” and perhaps this is what is implied in that statement by Peter.

My Role and Ministry

I was commended to the Lord’s work with my wife Gael in 1967. Our commendation was from the Gatchell assembly in Sudbury, and endorsed by the Larchwood assembly near Levack, Ontario.

Following that we spent 7 years in Colombia, South America; mostly serving as the Regional Director for the Emmaus Correspondence Courses in a significant part of the country.

Following the birth of David, our second, we returned to Canada, and continued with a similar ministry; adding to it an itinerant preaching ministry among the assemblies of “Christian Brethren” in Ontario (primarily).

In 1990 I was asked to join MSC Canada as a member, and served both as Assistant to the President and Secretary. It has also been my pleasure to assist with the daily administration. During those years Gael and I also were involved in the planning and instruction of the Missionary Orientation Program carried on jointly by CMML and MSC at Greenwood Hills in Southern Pennsylvania in June of each year.

I am now retired from these aspects, but continue with service for the Lord as an itinerant; preaching and teaching in a variety of assemblies in Ontario and beyond.

“Who Moved the Stone?”

Our family recently experienced several days of “excitement”. Before that took place we had planned for supper and an evening with a sister and brother-in-law, and because of those events, thought to cancel. However, we decided to go ahead with it, and as they were leaving later that evening; on an impulse, I offered a copy of a little book I have enoyed to my brother-in-law. Since then I have been reading my other copy, and thoroughly enjoying it.

Lee Strobel, in his foreword, writes: “Morrison’s stirring intellectual exploration of the historical record proved to be an excellent starting point for my spiritual investigation.”

Some of the aspects of this little book that have made it special for me (not in any particular order) are: Morrison’s attention to the small details of the narrative in the four Gospels; his careful reading between the lines to flesh out his understanding of the events of the week; and the care with which he puts before his readers his confidence in the written record.

I am an advocate of reading good books multiple times. In fact, there are some books I have read possibly a dozen times. Fortunately I read fairly quickly, but it is always true that a second, third, or fourth read invariably brings to mind little points I had focussed on before, but come again to mind with renewed clarity. There are times I will find myself reading in an early chapter, and saying to myself, “Ah, that is why the author says … in a later chapter. I find my grasp of the big picture is enhanced by multiple reads.

Of course, that is true also as we read, and re-read, the Scriptures. The more we read, the more we see and understand the big picture.

I would recommend this little book. I purchased several copies on Amazon, and I am confident it is a book that would increase your understanding of that eventful week that culminated in the stone being rolled away.

Hearing and Not Doing

Our breakfast reading this morning was in Ezekiel 33, and I was impressed by the statement from the Lord to Ezekiel in verses 30 to 33.

As a sidenote, we have been impressed in Ezekiel with the number of times the Lord says “they shall know that I am the Lord”. If my count is correct, it is in the neighbourhood of 67 times that this clause is found in this prophet.

Going back to verses 30 to 33, the Lord tells Ezekiel that “the children of your people” are enjoying and talking about the prophets pronouncements. This reminded me somewhat of what Paul writes to Timothy about people with itching ears going after pleasant sounding preachers. However, in that portion the preachers spoken of don’t appear to be true messengers of the Lord.

In Ezekiel’s case, it is clear that he is the Lord’s prophet. In spite of that the attitude of the people is to pay attention to what he is telling them, but only because they like the sound of it. They have no intention of doing anything about it in their lives of disobedience.

In comparing the two passages; one in Ezekiel, and the other in Timothy; I see a warning for today. In the one case, he was God’s messenger, and they loved to listen to him; and in the other, the preachers were not God’s messengers, and they loved to listen to them. However, the important thing for us is to “heed” the message from the Lord, and to act on it.

It is my prayer that God’s people of this day be found to be vessels of honour in the great household of faith; doing what the Lord would have us do.

Going back to old books

I bought a book in October of 1990 (at a Workers’ & Elders’ Conference in the U.S.) that I have often picked up and read a couple of chapters. It is not the kind of book a person could (or should) read from cover to cover at one sitting.

For one thing, it is quite a bit above my abilities to assimilate or understand all the author is dealing with. I know almost nothing about N.T. Greek beyond what I have read in commentaries or “word studies”. At this point in life I am not able to embark on new studies of the kind required.

However, as I was reading a portion again this morning, it served to remind me of how easy it is to fall into traps in my preaching. Allowing error in properly understanding the Scripture in all its perfection, accuracy, and precision; and in all the breadth of the wisdom of its Divine Architect.

The 2 sections I was reading deal with “grammatical fallacies” and “logical fallacies” in exegesis of the Scripture. One thought that stayed with me through these 2 sections is that we almost always bring our own pre-conceptions to the Scriptures. We, each and all, are the children of our time; but we ought to be very much on our knees to be sure we are doing all we can to approach His Word with an open mind and heart to hear what He is saying in His Word.

The book, which I do recommend, is titled “Exegetical Fallacies” by D.A. Carson.

Hannah’s Prayer

Our breakfast reading this morning was connected to this prayer given to us in 1st Samuel after the Lord had graciously answered her petition for a son.

Several years ago, a brother gave ministry at the Tavistock Conference on Worship and Remembrance, and he devoted significant time to this prayer. It is, indeed, a beautiful model for us to contemplate as we would come before the Lord.

I was reading the prayer again, and noticed that Hannah used the name of the Lord 9 times in this prayer. Her focus is on His attributes, actions, faithfulness, etc.

The devotional reading this morning focused on one aspect of the Lord’s character in verse 3 where we read:

Talk no more so very proudly;
Let no arrogance come from your mouth,
For the Lord is the God of knowledge;
And by Him actions are weighed.

How careful we must be of our speech at all times. It is easy to “fudge the facts” or exaggerate details when speaking to others; but we need to remember that He is the “God of knowledge”. He knows all things.

Our Saviour knew what Nathanael was doing under the tree; He knew what Thomas had said the week before his encounter with the Lord; He knew, and knows, all things.

Until … the morning star rises in your hearts

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; …

Sometimes a verse or thought from the Scriptures sticks in our mind, and we wonder where it came from. Some (materialists or atheists) would tell us that there will be a purely mechanical reason for this phenomenon; but over the last few weeks I have been unable to discover any purely coincidental fact that has made a part of the verse quoted above (from Peter’s epistle) stick so tenaciously in my mind.

Gael and I were on vacation for 10 days, and being a bit of a reader, I had taken my iPad Mini with me; with its Kindle app, and its iBook app; full of good books to read. I re-read the Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity, as well as a number of other books. Of course, the Scriptures also.

Peter seems to be saying that the prophetic scriptures are like a miner’s lamp that allows us to see in this dark place in which we find ourselves at the present time; but that there is a time coming when the day will dawn, and the morning star will rise in our heart.

The thought that has been a puzzle in my mind over the last while is the clause; and the morning star rises in your hearts. Historically, my thought had been that this was a reference to the appearing of our Saviour; that we will be encouraged to look forward to His appearing as the Morning Star. However, Peter writes that this rising will be in our hearts.

I have been doing some studying in the epistle to the Hebrews, and when we come to chapter 11, we find this account of many of God’s choice pilgrims who walked by faith; even though they did not (in this life) receive the promise. Could it be that Peter’s thought is similar in that the promise rose in their hearts; and that the Morning Star will rise in our hearts as we allow the wonder of the prophetic scriptures to fashion our thinking and walking.