I Was a Prodigal Son

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Who Am I?  Part 11

The book of Proverbs in the Bible is exactly what it says it is, a book of many short pithy, or proverbial saying that provide a quick insight into life.  They are meant to help those who read these proverbs, to guide the reader into making good decisions in life, not bad ones.  Many of these sayings are only one verse long, but when they are put in poignant poetic form, they can have quite a punch to them.  Consider this one from Proverbs 14:12,

There is a way that appears to be right,
but in the end it leads to death.

Many of the proverbs are couched in a contrastive nature, such as the rich vs. the poor, the diligent vs. the lazy, and the wise vs. the fool.  This verse above carries extra weight with me, seeing as I played out the part of the fool back in 1988.  In the last article about my personal journey in life, “A Pivotal Year”, I talked about how devastated Jill and I were at the loss of our first pregnancy.  Read that here.

We were able to carry on that year in our ministry effort of planting a new church.  But some of the joy of living and the hope and faith of seeing God bless everything we were doing began to wane in light of this tragedy.  (In some ways, we had even allowed the idea to take root in our hearts that God had “caused” this great loss.  I would say more correctly that God allowed it to happen, as we do live in a broken world, but God is not the author of death and despair.)

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By the early months of 1988, it seemed fairly clear that our church plant efforts were not going to be overly successful.  It certainly did not help to have the sexual scandal of Jimmy Swagart break out in Louisiana just six hours drive from where we were living.  Imagine what happened often when I would knock on doors in the neighborhood and say, “Hi, my name is Norm and we are starting a new church nearby.”  And people would say, “Oh, and I suppose you are just in it for the money too, right?”

The second major concern for Jill and me was more personal and more critical.  In July of ’88, Jill was able to become pregnant again, which was wonderful news for both of us.  But then we began to wonder and worry if something might go wrong with this pregnancy, just like our first one.  If that happened, not only would that be emotionally and spiritually devastating again, but we probably would not be able to afford the financial crisis of continual monitoring of the pregnancy or another loss of a child.

With both of these heavy responsibilities on our shoulders, we made the decision together that we should stop the church planting ministry and we should return to Canada to be able to covered by the universal Canadian Health Program.  We had to then pack up everything again, load it all up in a U-Haul and head back to Canada.  We had barely been in the States for one year.

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Now here is the place where we needed clear guidance as to where we should go from Texas.  Jill and I spread out a map of Canada and looked at our options.  I had heard many stories of the big booming economy that was just happening then in Ontario, so I said to Jill, “We are heading to Toronto.  We will have the best chance of getting a job there.”

It was quite a sight to see us pulling a large U-Haul, our station wagon full of stuff up to the windows, plus our two dogs, and even Jill’s mother (who came down to help) squished into the back seat.  Out trailer hitch was only about 2 inches off the ground.  And on the first day, going through downtown Dallas, right where President Kennedy was shot, we broke our muffler and I was under the car tying it up with wire.

We did make it to Ontario.  Jill went on to Prince Edward Island with her mom, the dogs, and all our belongings while I tried to find us a job.  And yes, within a very short time, I was hired as a security guard at the Canadian Tire head office building.  And when Jill joined me, being about 4 months pregnant now, she was hired by the same Security company as a secretary.

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This all sounds wonderful doesn’t it.  Except if you had been with us during the six months that we were in Toronto, you would say otherwise.  We lived in less than a shoebox (we stepped over the bed to enter the kitchen to to heat our shoebox by lighting the stove which was later condemned as hazardous).  And during the frigid New Years weekend, we lost hot water.

The worst part was that I got sick, starting with a cold, which went to bronchitis, which went to pneumonia.  Then I was given a drug which I was allergic to (didn’t know at the time) and I developed severe abdominal problems with colitis like symptoms.  I actually thought I was dying, and said more than once to Jill, “You’d be better off without me!”  (Boy was I delirious.)

Needless to say, my folks back in Alberta told us to come out to Calgary before Toronto killed me.  I slept on a mattress in the back of our station wagon in this delirium while my 6 month pregnant wife drove, pulling another U-Haul through one of the worst white-out blizzards of that winter.  We even had to sleep one night in the broken down vehicle while up on a hoist in the mechanic garage in the middle of western Ontario while the roads were blockaded by the RCMP.  Whew….

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So what does all this have to do with Proverbs 14:12 above?  Well, did you notice a few paragraphs above that I was the one to decide to go to Ontario, where the economic fields were greener.  But you know what?  I never remember praying, and asking God where He thought we should go.  Hmmm….  Seems to me there was a direct connection between following the wisdom of man, and experiencing disastrous consequences.  So what should we have done?  Look at another wise saying in Proverbs 3:5-6,

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

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Entering God’s Sanctuary

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Psalm 15

A Psalm of David

1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, LORD?  Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?

2 Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts.

3 Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.

4 Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the LORD, and keep their promises even when it hurts.

5 Those who lend money without charging interest,and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.  Such people will stand firm forever. (New Living Translation)

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This Psalm of David has more meaning and significance for me now that I have worked on the book of Hebrews.  During the past month, I have been engaged in preparing and in checking Hebrews in the A. language, one of the local languages of Papua New Guinea.  I had read Hebrews many times in the past, but this was the first time that I had seriously studied the book verse-by-verse.

Sometimes when we are checking Scriptures we may go the other way and instead of  getting a good grasp on the big picture or main ideas in a book, we can get lost in the details of checking the meaning of a verse or phrase.  And yet, I think that even with our intense scrutiny of Hebrews, it was almost impossible to not get the main thrust of the book.

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This is very true as one considers the flow of the text from chapter 1 through chapter 10.  The author is very methodical, but very clear, that we are to see just how great Jesus is, our Mediator, our High Priest, our once-for-all sacrifice for sin.  From the cosmic (Jesus is better than the angels), to the simple (he shared in our humanity), from the earthly (from the line of Judah) to the heavenly (a great high priest forever), Jesus is the One through whom we can go to come into the very presence of God.

And yet, we as Christians today forget these great truths at times, and at other times we behave in ways that draw us away from God.  In reading again from my daily devotions, “Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“, I thought the writer of one devotion asked some very good questions based off of Psalm 15 which asks about who can enter in and worship in God’s sanctuary.  She writes:

If you are experiencing times of intercession and worship that are dry and difficult, it may be time to take inventory as David did in Psalm 15.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if any of the following are hindering your worship:

• Are you leading a blameless life and doing what is right? What about staying away from things that have the appearance of evil? (v. 2)
• Are you speaking the truth from a sincere heart? Any half-truths or painting yourself in a better light when recounting a story? (v. 2)
• Do you absolutely refuse to slander others no matter what? Do you refuse to harm your neighbors or speak ill of your friends or spouse? (v. 3)
• Do you despise persistent sin? Do you honor the bride of Christ in thought, word, and deed—including those from other denominations? (v. 4)
• Do you keep your promises even when it hurts? (v. 4)
• Do you want something in return when you do something nice for someone? (v. 5)
• Do you speak against someone when it is in your own best interest? (v. 5)
Holy Spirit, show me any areas of my life that are hindering my prayer life.  I desire to enter in with a pure heart!

–by Sandra Higley, author of A Year of Prayer Events for Your Church; Taken from an article that originally appeared in Issue 19 (July/August 2000) of Pray! magazine.

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And as I read these questions, I recognized my own failings.  I know that there are times, more often than I would like to admit, that I sin against God or against another person.  For the Israelites, they were required to come to the Tabernacle (later the Temple) where they would bring an animal sacrifice and offer up the sacrifice as a means of atonement for sin.  How sad it is when we read “again and again he (the high priest) offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”  (Heb. 10:11)

But praise be to God, when Jesus offered himself as a living sacrifice, even though he had done nothing wrong, had never sinned, “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”  (Heb. 10:14)  We are no longer under the old regulations whereby we deal with sins temporarily, but we are assured of eternal forgiveness.  And that gives us the great assurance that yes, indeed we can come into God’s heavenly sanctuary and worship Him.

And like a climax, the author says these inspiring words in 10:19-22

19  And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.  20  By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.  21  And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him.  For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

Isn’t that good news?  Yes, in fact it is fantastic news.  What we could never achieve on our own, Jesus has accomplished by dying on the cross and moving aside the barrier that once had separated God from mankind, and mankind from God.  Now we can come before the King of the Universe, bow before Him and worship Him, knowing that our sins have been dealt with, and we are found acceptable in God’s eyes.