Friday, November 11, 2005

Poppies, Remembering and Canada...

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. For those of you who don't know, here is a little history on the poppy directly connected to the Canadian war effort in WWI:

Colonel John McCrae, who was Professor of Medicine at McGill University in Canada before WW1 (joined the McGill faculty in 1900 after graduating from the University of Toronto), first described the red poppy, the Flanders’ poppy, as the flower of remembrance.
Although he had been a doctor for years and had served in the Boer War as a gunner, but went to France in WW1 as a medical officer with the first Canadian contingent.
It was impossible to get used to the suffering, the screams, and the blood here, and MAJ John McCrae had seen and heard enough in his dressing station to last him a lifetime. As a surgeon attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, MAJ McCrae, had spent seventeen days treating injured men -- Canadians, British, Indians, French, and Germans -- in the Ypres salient.
It had been an ordeal that he had hardly thought possible. MAJ McCrae later wrote of it:
"I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days .... Seventeen days of Hades!At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done "(1).
One death particularly affected MAJ McCrae. A young friend and former student, LT Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, had been killed by a shell burst on 2 May. LT Helmer was buried later that day in the little cemetery outside McCrae's dressing station, and McCrae had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain.
The next day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the Canal de l'Yser, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem. At the second battle of Ypres in 1915, when in charge of a small first-aid post, he wrote in pencil on a page from his despatch book a poem that has come to be known as "Flanders’ Field" which described the poppies that marked the graves of soldiers killed fighting for their country. The major was no stranger to writing, having authored several medical texts besides dabbling in poetry. In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches in that part of Europe, and he spent twenty minutes of precious rest time scribbling fifteen lines of verse in a notebook (2).
A young soldier watched him write it (written May 3, 1915 after the battle at Ypres). Cyril Allinson, a twenty-two year old sergeant major, was delivering mail that day when he spotted McCrae. The major looked up as Allinson approached, then went on writing while the sergeant major stood there quietly. "His face was very tired but calm as we wrote," Allinson recalled. "He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer's grave." When he finished five minutes later, he took his mail from Allinson and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the young NCO. Allinson was moved by what he read:
The poem was exactly an exact description of the scene in front of us both. The word blow was not used in the first line though it was used later when the poem later appeared in Punch. But it was used in the second last line. He used the word blow in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene (3).
In fact, it was very nearly not published. Dissatisfied with it, McCrae tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer -- either LTCOL Edward Morrison, the former Ottawa newspaper editor who commanded the 1st Brigade of artillery (4), or LTCOL J.M. Elder (5), depending on which source is consulted -- retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. "The Spectator," in London, rejected it, but "Punch" published it on 8 December 1915.
McCrae's "In Flanders’ Fields" remains to this day one of the most memorable war poems ever written. It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915.

In Flanders’ Fields
In Flanders’ Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields.

COL McCrae was wounded in May 1918 and was taken to one of the big hospitals on the coast of France. On the third evening he was wheeled to the balcony of his room to look over the sea towards the cliffs of Dover. The verses were obviously in his mind, for he said to the doctor "tell them, if ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep." That same night COL McCrae died.
Each Remembrance Day the British Legion lays a wreath on his grave – a tribute to a great man whose thoughts were always for others.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Haldane House - The Start of Something Great?

Haldane House
I am far from being an expert on matters of the west, but am delighted to see the cowboy beginning to pull together a new concept in theological training for that region of Canada.
If you know of men out west that are interested in pursuing theological studies but find they cannot re-locate to other centres, then by all means have them contact Clint via this blog.
Let's the rest of us pray!
You can also check out Clint's blog here.

HT: Tim Challies

Pastor: Do you preach to the children?

Confession: I hate “Jr. Church.”

One of the joys of preaching is having little 4 and 5 year old kids look up at you and expect you to say something they can understand and think about. I try to make it a point in every sermon to address the children directly – sometimes 3 or 4 times. In my mind, a sermon that cannot be understood at a basic level by a 5 year old (i.e. the main point of the whole thing) is no sermon at all!

Children need the Truth. Like us, they are “idol factories” at heart and have all sorts of whacky conceptions of God. Where we got the idea that it was the sole responsibility of a “Sunday School” to teach children is beyond me.

It would amaze you to know the kinds of things that kids can learn. I try to talk to one or two kids each week and ask them spiritual questions. We also allow for wide interaction in certain contexts and the kids will fire off some amazing stuff. My point is that they are not stupid. They can handle learning about the Trinity and the doctrines of grace and sin and hell and election and sanctification and justification... shall I go on?

It saddens me to no end to attend worship somewhere and see the children neglected. No wonder so many “church kids” grow up thinking church has nothing to do with them! It doesn’t – in that context. This is pastoral failure in my thinking.

Even men who do not have a lot of “kid sense” can still connect with the little ones through illustrations and stories – planted in the heart of the sermon... not in some silly “children’s story” (a.k.a. the “let’s get the kids up front and see how witty our pastor is and how funny these kids are” time).

I say, preach to the children. I have on several occasions taken a Sunday to preach a message just to the kids... the whole thing. If you cannot do that, then could you not at least find one spot in your sermon to look the little ones in the eye and help them to see how a text like Romans 9:1-6 applies to them? Challenging? You bet! But well worth it if we are serious about “preaching the whole counsel” to all men in a way that we are “not guilty of the blood” of any man... or little man, for that matter.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Do Troubles Determine Your Theology?

Greg Boyd and Brian Mclaren have one thing in common... both faced a crisis of faith prompted by extremely difficult circumstances in their life.
Boyd ended up an Open Theist – making God into a being so “relatio-centric” that He has somehow removed all knowledge He has of the future from His mind (to protect our freedom to choose). Mclaren has become the spokesperson for the Emergent Church, creating a worship context that accepts almost anything and only avoids determinative statements about things like the nature of God, sin and salvation.
I know there is much more to each of these men, and I don’t expect that either would be satisfied with the one-sentence description I have given, but I think it is worth noticing the common denominator. Doctrinal error is often more a result of “the problems of life” than an honest reading of the Biblical text.
We do this all the time. For example, troubles come into our life and we are tempted to think of God as something akin to Job’s friends’ description of Him (i.e. the god of the eternal scales, rewarding the “good” and punishing the “bad”). Without our minds being informed by the text of the Bible, we would then “create a god in our own image,” and worse, begin to live our lives based upon that knowledge. In this case, “god” could easily become a distant genie that needs to be pacified and coaxed into doing nice things for us.
When our minds are taught by the Word, however, and our understanding of say, divine sovereignty, increases... then how we respond in these troubles changes. We begin to view them as trials to grow in (James 1), or discipline to learn from (Hebrews 12), or the attacks of our enemy against us (Ephesians 6).
The most difficult path to stay on is the narrow one... there are so many bypaths and inviting side trails! We won’t go wrong, though, if we keep our minds in the Book and seek its Author incessantly.
Would that I did it better!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Critiquing Other Christians...

Last week I posted about Bono Vox (as he used to be called) lead singer of U2 and his published remarks on Christianity. The post created an interesting string of comments!

One comment suggested that I was wrong to speak about Bono since I had not gone to him first in private. That always sounds good, and I am not trying to discount the particular Scriptures that teach us to approach a brother, but in the case of the wildly famous, I don’t think it works. I mean, how do you get close to a guy surrounded by thousands of fans and not a few large security guards? Even if I could get within shouting distance, I doubt we could enter a meaningful conversation about spiritual matters!

Besides that, I have met a few famous people in my day, and they all struck me as being very wary of giving anything too personal away. I mean, how can they trust anyone since almost everyone trying to get close to them is only “in it” for personal gain. Frankly, I think it is a pretty sad life.

So, does that warrant insignificant people like me writing about them instead?

I don’t think so, if I am just out to bash and smash. There is no place for that.

But the church is always swayed by the culture in which she is placed by God. And one of the prevailing winds of post-modern Canada (dare I add America?!) is the veneration of celebrity. Oprah and Dr. Ruth often carry more practical sway in some evangelicals’ minds than Moses and Paul. So, part of defending "the faith once delivered" in our day and age is engaging the statements made by celebrity voices and comparing them to Truth.

My motive in quoting the article of Bono was not to bash Bono, but to point out where his statements did not line up to Truth. Why did I feel compelled to do this? So that good Christian people would not be swayed from that Truth merely by the power of personality.

Public statements should always be open to scrutiny (nobody seemed to mind scrutinizing mine!) and the goal of that examination must be to determine whether or not what is said is an accurate reflection of the Word.