Driving in New Zealand

Driving around New Zealand was quite the experience. It was exciting, enjoyable, and scenic. It was also a bit nerve wracking, difficult, and strange. First off, they drive on the wrong side of the road. (Obviously, the side we drive on is the correct side. After all, it is the right side!) Since the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car, it’s not really too difficult to figure out what side to drive on; just steer close to the middle of the road. Of course, it is possible to experience some difficulty in turning, especially turning right, and going into the correct lane, (not that this bothered me too much, just a dozen times or so.)

The Kiwi’s do not believe in building straight roads. Now, this is often made necessary by the plethora of hills, mountains, canyons and lakes, but even when none of these are around they still add curves. Guard rails and shoulders are also considered unnecessary luxuries, especially in the mountains. But the most interesting thing to encounter while driving in New Zealand is the bridges.

I can imagine a conversation that took place a decade or three ago between the Minister of Highways, the Minister of Finance, and the rest of the Cabinet. The Highways Minister approached his colleague to say, “I have the final estimates for our road building plans. We have determined that we need to build another ten thousand bridges.”

The Finance Minister was aghast. “We can’t do that. We can only afford to build five thousand bridges.”

“Well, what do you propose? We can’t have people driving into ravines or rivers.”

The Minister for Foreign Affairs spoke up. “That might be bad for tourism.”

“Mind your own business,” the Finance Minister replied before turning back to the Minister of Highways. “You’ll just have to think of something else.”

“Hmmm, well, what if we build ten thousand half bridges?”

“What?  Build them half way across a canyon? That’s hardly a solution.”

“No, no. We’ll make them only one lane wide. That way they won’t cost as much.”

“Won’t people notice?”

“Not until it’s too late. And besides, they’ll just be happy to have any sort of a bridge.”

The Foreign Minister couldn’t help himself. “But what about the tourists? Won’t they be frightened by a one lane bridge?”

The Minister of Finance just smirked. “No, we’ll just tell them it’s a new form of bungee jumping!”

“Works for me.”

 

The reality is we need bridges. Without them, whether one lane or four lane, we would be stuck on the wrong side; the wrong side of a river, the wrong side of a ravine, the wrong side of life. There is a chasm greater than anything you’ve ever seen. It’s greater than the Grand Canyon, deeper than the Mariana Trench, wider than the Pacific. It is the gap between us and God. It is the sin that separates us from God and from his gift of eternal life. Nothing we can do can bridge that gap. On our own, we can never cross the chasm.

We don’t have to. Someone else paid the price. Someone else bridged the gap. We only have to believe and accept.

“For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity–the man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5

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A Tent in the Storm

tent-in-a-storm

One evening this past summer we were out at the lake when a fierce storm arose. Heavy rain, strong winds and hail. We were very glad to be in our cottage and were concerned about anyone who might be camping out. A tent is not a good place to be in a storm.

I experienced that once. I was travelling with some friends through Wisconsin and late one evening we pulled into a private campground. The sign on the office said park anywhere and so we did. We found a lovely patch down the hill beside a grove of trees. We did not know that 50 feet away was a small creek. We did not know that this small creek would become a river if it rained for three days in a row. We also did not know that it had already been raining for two days.

I pitched my little pup tent and settled in for the night. About midnight it started raining hard, and after a bit my tent began to leak. I gave up and hastily retreated to the car. One of the fellows was already in the back seat so I hopped in the front and propped my feet on the dash. We were soon joined by our other friend. Just before dawn my foot slipped of the dash and made a strange sound. Sploosh. Water was coming in the car. I quickly started it up and drove further up the hill.

We stood in awe and watched this sudden unexpected river flow past us. Where my pup tent was the water was at least four feet deep, and I had to wade out to save it as it started to drift away. We weren’t sure if we should laugh or cry. We could only shake our heads and be glad that it had at least stopped raining and that the sun was shining. Within 24 hours the river was gone and the little creek was back to what it had been before. We recovered a few more items caught in the branches of the trees, dried everything out and went on our way.

These days it seems that a lot of people are worried that a storm is coming. It may be a natural storm, or it could be political, economic or social one. Whatever it may be, many are worried about where they will be when it hits. Will they be safe or will the storm wash everything away? The funny thing is when the coming storm hits, it won’t matter what you are living in, how much wealth you have, or how prepared you think you are.

It will all depend upon relationship.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” – 2 Corinthians: 1-10

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Renovation Wars

renovation-cartoon

A couple years ago, we were away on holidays and received a frantic phone call from our daughter. Saskatchewan had been having one of the wettest summers on record and that week Moose Jaw had about 6 inches of rain. The end result was an overwhelmed storm system and water and sewage backing up into basements, including ours.

Fortunately, we had insurance and were able to get the basement redone. Everything looked great—until the next summer when the rains came again. There wasn’t as much this time but the storm drains and sewers were still not up the task and once again many homes in our area got flooding. Once again we were faced with needing to repair a damaged basement.

Insurance would still cover us but we knew it would be the last time. Indeed, our insurer advised us that another claim would only be honored up to a small limit. We decided we needed to do some other changes first to try to prevent more flooding. A couple of interconnected sump pumps and a complete upgrade of drainage around the house, including sixty feet of pipe on each downspout to carry away rainwater, and we were ready to proceed.

By this time we had found an excellent contractor, our son Jared, who after finishing the sump pumps proceeded with the renovation of the basement. This is when I started to see one of the problems with renovations—they’re addicting. My wife got excited about what was happening in the basement and started getting more ideas. Out with the dated green carpet on the second floor and in with hardwood flooring. New light fixtures. A new bathroom mirror. Maybe redo the closet? I’m starting to think about taking her to shoe stores just to get her off the hard stuff.

I’ve been through some renovations myself. They were very hard and very easy at the same time. Very expensive and totally free. And completely worth it.

“A new heart I shall give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from you the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

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Enough already!

assault rifles

When will enough be enough?

We started the week with yet another news story of yet another mass shooting in the United States. It was the biggest yet with fifty people killed, including the gunman, and another fifty-three wounded. One man armed with a legally obtained assault rifle and pistol was able to walk into a crowded night club and murder a mass of innocent people. Is it ever going to stop?

I heard an interview in which someone said that they hoped things would change now, that this latest tragedy would cause people’s viewpoint to shift. I don’t have a lot of hope.

Things didn’t change after the Colorado theatre shooting. They didn’t change after Sandy Hook. They didn’t change after Columbine. Why should we think things might change now?

America seems to have a love affair with guns and violence. It was established with the concept that everyone has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately the pursuit of the latter two seems to require the right to bear arms and this has come into direct conflict with the first, the right to life. (It’s also quite a contrast to a Canadian’s promised rights to peace, order and good government!)

Lately, every attempt to reduce or curtail the gun culture in the States has resulted in howls of protests and angry accusations that the government in infringing on citizen’s rights. Now, I am not anti-gun. I grew up on a farm surrounded by hunters and I still love the taste of venison. I think that Canada’s now defunct long gun registry did nothing to improve public safety and only put an unfair burden on farmers, ranchers, and legitimate hunters. But I cannot fathom the need for automatic or semi-automatic assault weapons with fifty round clips. These are not for hunting. At least, not for hunting animals.

So, when will it be enough? When will things change?

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:3-4)

That’s when things will change. Then and only then. Until then . . . .

Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD. (Isaiah 2:5)

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Physician assisted suicide

Medical poison

Of course, we don’t call it that anymore. Now it’s Medical Assistance in Dying. The problem with this new name is that physicians, and nurses, and other medical professionals having been giving assistance to people who were dying for thousands of years. We’ve been giving comfort, care, treatment and sometimes hope. We were not always trying to cure—often we knew that was not possible—but we were never causing the death.

That’s what this is about. It’s not assistance in dying—it’s assistance to die. There is a big difference. The former is called palliative medicine, and, though it is woefully underfunded, the medical professional involved in this do everything possible to ease pain, to give comfort, and to bring peace to a terminal illness. They do not kill.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Canadians have the right to commit suicide and have the right to ask for medical help in doing so. It is suicide. It is active euthanasia. In the minds of many it is wrong. One of the most basic founding principles of medicine—dating back all the way to Hippocrates—is do no harm. Do your best. Use the resources available. Try to cure, to save. But do not intentionally harm.

Now we are being asked to cast that principle aside. Indeed, some wish not merely to ask but to command. Some want to force medical professionals to abandon their own morals and ethics and just do without question whatever is asked of them. Including kill.

At present, it looks like the law being proposed by the federal government will only allow medical assistance in dying for adults in whom natural death is reasonable foreseeable. The proposed law would not allow for assisted suicide in children, the mentally ill, or on the basis of an advanced directive. However, even before it is proclaimed, some are planning to challenge these restrictions in the courts. They want no restrictions at all.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. We live in a culture that values possessions above people; lust over love; power over peace. Increasingly, it is a culture of violence, and is becoming a culture of death.

There is an answer however. It is not physician assisted death. It is Jesus assisted life. Eternal life.

He is the answer.

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Repentance

Three crossed

As we approach Easter, that most important of all Christian holidays, I am reminded of the thing that makes Christianity different from any other religion. Other religions are about humankind trying to reach God. This may be through good behaviour, acts of sacrifice, ritual prayers, strict dietary observances, or other laws and rules. It all comes down to the same thing—somehow trying to make yourself worthy, to somehow be good enough to be accepted by God. But we will never achieve this. We can never be “good enough.”

Christianity is different. It is all about God trying to reach us.

The problem here, of course, is that we have fallen so low, turned out so bad, that God has to reach down very far to touch us. We have rejected God and tried to behave as if we belong to ourselves. C. S. Lewis points out that this means that we are not just imperfect creatures needing improvement, we are rebels. We need to lay down our arms, turn completely around and surrender completely. It is more than just eating humble pie. It means “unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death.”

Lewis goes on to point out that only a good person can repent, and only a perfect person can repent perfectly. But they don’t need to. The worse you are, the more you need to repent, and the less that you are able to do so. And, he states, “repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back . . . it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like.” Without it we cannot take the hand God hold out to us, but we cannot do it on our own.

What then? Is there no point to it all? No hope? Without God, that would be the case. But we cannot ask God to do it for us. God will not and cannot do something contrary to His nature. He can and does put love and reason into our beings because He loves and reasons. However, to surrender, to suffer, to submit, to die—these things are not part of His nature. Lewis concludes with this. “But supposing God became a man—suppose our human nature which can suffer and die was amalgamated with God’s nature in one person—then that person could help us. He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God. You and I can go through this process only if god does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man. Our attempts at the dying will succeed only if we men share in God’s dying, and He cannot die except by being a man. That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all.”

Jesus on the cross, crucified for me . . . . and for you.

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Lest we forget

Poppy

I had two uncles who fought in World War II with the Canadian Army. My father, the eldest, was needed to stay and work the farm but his two younger brothers enlisted.

Louis Dautremont was with the Canadian Scottish Regiment as they pushed their way through Holland in the spring of 1945 and he took part in one of the battalion’s last actions of the war, the clearing of the Dutch village of Wagenborgen. The regiment had taken part in the D-Day landings, and had advanced farther inland than any other unit of the British Second Army. As they continued operations in April of 1945, the commanders became somewhat complacent with their long and easy advancements through the Dutch countryside. A feeling had developed that the war was almost over. They were wrong.

“D” Company was sent forward on early on the morning of April 21st toward Wagenborgen. The terrain was flat, unobstructed by dense foliage, and criss-crossed by numerous canals and drainage ditches. Over the previous nine days, each encounter with the German forces had met only token resistance and a quick withdrawal of the enemy troops. On the 21st, things were different.

The men of “D” Company found that the roads leading in and out of Wagenborgen had been blocked, and covered by machine guns and 2.0cm anti-aircraft guns. The Germans also had support from mortars and artillery. The morning attack bogged down but was renewed just after noon with support from sections of the anti-tank, carrier and mortar platoons. The Germans had been reinforced however and they met heavy resistance and suffered numerous casualties. Among the fallen, was my Uncle Louis.

The next day, the Canadian Scottish attacked once more, but this time with three companies as well as tank support. Wagenborgen was liberated on the 22nd despite heavy counter attacks and declared secure on the 23rd.

Louis Dautremont died on April 21st, 1945 and was buried in the Canadian War Cemetery at Holten, the Netherlands.

My other uncle, Rene, survived the War. He had served with a different unit as a forward artillery spotter. He never spoke of the War and never shared what he had seen or done. He wasn’t the same man who had left Canada in his early twenties. Today he would have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He would have been treated and he might have gotten better. He did not.

Uncle Rene lived in the old farm house with my grandmother until she died. He had been hospitalized for a time on a psychiatric ward but with little benefit. He would come to family functions but seemed to spend the rest of his time alone in the old house. He never married and he never travelled. He seemed to have few if any friends. I used to go over to play chess with him and while he let me see some of his things from the War, he never shared anything of what he had gone through.

In many ways, both of my Uncles were killed in the War, it just took longer for Uncle Rene to die.

Lest we forget.

 

“In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Isaiah 2:2-4

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