The Morningstar in Your Hearts

Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-21; Mtt 17:1-9)

Feb 26, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White
If we follow the Church Year, with more than just Christmas and Easter, we find days like today: Transfiguration Sunday!  What is the Transfiguration?  That shining moment of Jesus up on that hill.  What Joyce just read, from Matthew 17.  

It is kind of a turning point.  After Peter and James and John see Christ shining there, talking with Moses and Elijah, their pathway is really towards Jerusalem.  There, Jesus will face His rejection, His pain, His death.  My New Testament professor, Dr. Allison Trites, calls the Transfiguration a Hinge of Holy History.

Jesus is the Light of the world, we say… we sing.  God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.  (1 John 1:50)  Yet Christ also called us the light, or, called the light out of us.  You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid. (Matthew 5:14)

But not everyone feels like being a bright light.  Many, many people think they are dark and sinful, down deep inside.  The soul has to stay hidden, even from God, who is so holy and who can’t stand sinners.

In his 2001 book, Toxic Faith, Stephen Arterburn has a chapter called, ‘Twenty-One Beliefs of a Toxic Faith.’  First on his list is Conditional Love.  God’s love and favour depend on my behaviour.  Toxic!

Arterburn tells of a young man who came to see him.  He felt extreme guilt over paying for a girlfriend’s abortion.  Before that event, he believed he had a great future and that God wanted to use him.  After the abortion, however, he doubted God had a place for him.  He felt like a complete reject.  He began to focus on his behaviour rather than on God’s love.  He worked and worked to resume a place of favor.  But no matter how hard he tried, it was never good enough.  He kept coming up short.  He asked Arterburn, “Will I ever know God’s love and acceptance again?”  (p. 36)

Sin really has power.  It can have the power to convince us: God no longer loves us, we really are evil at the core of our being, and we will never be good enough.  Yet God loves us, so called, ‘guilty sinners.’ God finds us lovable and good, deep inside.

My recent study of Genesis 1, 2 & 3 drew me to a book on my shelf I’d not read, by Philip Newell.  He writes about Celtic Christianity, an ancient tradition that we might best know from the stories and prayers of Saint Patrick.  There is much more.  Newell writes:

Too often in our Western religious traditions we have been given the impression that sin has had the power to undo what God has woven into the very fabric of being.  Redemption in such models of spirituality is about light coming from afar to shine in what is essentially dark.  In the Celtic tradition, on the other hand, redemption is about light being liberated from the heart of creation and from the essence of who we are.  It has not been overcome by darkness.  Rather, the light is held in terrible bondages within us, waiting to be set free.  (J. Philip Newell, The Book of Creation: An introduction to Celtic Spirituality, 1999, p. 12)

This gets me wondering about some of the biblical phrases. Like today’s words from 2 Peter 1: You will do well to be attentive to [the prophetic message] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. God’s light shines deep within, in our souls, might we say?  A star rises in our hearts!  

In the very creation stories of Genesis, we find that humans were created, and God saw that they were good.  The psalmist sings to God, I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are Your works; that I know very well.  Early in 2 Peter we are reminded of so much God gives us so that we may become participants in the divine nature! (1:4)

And even in the early chapters of the book of Romans, with all its talk of everyone sinning and falling short of God’s glory, it proclaims God’s love. God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (5:8)   Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (8:39) Why do you think God loves you?  You truly are valuable to God, beautiful to God, precious to God, wonderful to God. Made in the image of God; made to live life with God.  God and God’s love are so close at hand.

One teacher of Christian meditation, James Finley, writes:  God is already here, all about us and within us—the very source, ground, and fulfillment of our being. [But subject to the limitations of ego,] we tend not to experience the divine mystery of who we are, created in the image and likeness of God. We do not directly realize the God-given Godly nature of ourselves in our nothingness without God. This is why we meditate: that we might awaken to God’s presence all about us and within, as Saint Augustine phrased it, closer to us than we are to ourselves.  (James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God, 2004)

God loves us, and loves to enjoy us.  The LORD takes pleasure in His people, says Psalm 149.  Have you experienced this?  
Just a few weeks ago I had a sudden awareness of this, right back here…
OK, so it’s choir practice on a Tuesday night.  This was back in January sometime.  We’d spent an hour, already, going over a number of anthems and songs.  It is now ~7 pm.  Cairine is trying to keep us rehearsing.  Bill is chatting about singing the bass notes.  Carol is asking to go over a few measures on page 4 because, well, probably because some other soprano has not got it right yet.  Eddy is mumbling that we’ll be fine without going over that yet again.  Linda and Mary are trying to mark with pencil where they sing and where they don’t sing.  I have not noticed the altos; they are very quiet whether they sing or they talk.

And suddenly, as I am sitting back here, it hits me.  Without warning, I have this sudden clear thought, or deep feeling.  Or something.  This sense of joy.  That God is enjoying the Choir.  That very minute.  Jesus is really pleased, and laughing with us, and proud, and entertained, and happy.  The Holy Spirit is having a little holy hootenany in our Choir rehearsal.  

And I smirked, and felt real joy, and held on to the memory of the moment – it was but a moment for me.  It was Love.  This mysterious Deity we worship, really likes us deep inside, and thoroughly enjoys our company. A little light shines brightly from within each of us, and it is Jesus shining through.

 

So, I guess, we can stop and enjoy God too.
This Wednesday the western Church begins a season called Lent, that leads to Good Friday and Easter.  It prepares us to visit Calvary again, and the empty tomb of our Saviour.  This is tough love.
And it is a long journey. We have 40 days of Lent to remind us of Jesus 40 days of prayer and fasting, the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness, and so forth.  
Lent is a time for spiritual practices.  A season to make time for such things as: prayer, fasting, worship, meditation, sacrifice, contemplation, confession and forgiveness, or other activities.

The old tradition is to ask, ‘what am I giving up for Lent?’  This assumes the Christian will be fasting in one way or another.  And this is good.  Doing without a usual part of our diet or some other thing helps us devote ourselves to God in special ways.  

But you do not have to give up chocolate in order to observe Lent.  Me, I think I will give up a lot of my daily time on Facebook, and use that time for some silent Christian meditation every day.  You?  You could give up watching television, and take the time to read a lot of the Bible.  Or fast from correcting anyone and anything, and allow Christ to remould your inner critic.  Or, actually fast from food one day a week and use your meal times for prayer.

Any spiritual exercise we take on is for the sake of our daily walk with Jesus.  Oh how He loves His special time with each of us!  So, we do things to put ourselves in a place where the Spirit can do some soul work within us.  We take quality time with God, so our inner light can be set free and shine out.  And we can deepen our relationship with the Master.

My theme for the next five Sunday mornings will be Hearing God’s Voice.  We will spend time with scriptures that will tell us:

  1. We were made for a relationship with God,
  2. Knowing God’s voice inspires peaceful action,
  3. How we recognise God’s voice,
  4. Knowing the will of God still gives us freedom,
  5. What we ask & answer when we talk with God.

Monday Bible Study will also explore this same theme using a six week curriculum based on Dallas Willard’s book, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God.  This starts on March 13th.  

You are a beautiful thing, deep inside, precious to God, made by God.  Taking time to quiet down, and know yourself, and know the Spirit of God, is time well spent.  The light shines from within, the light God gives.  It shines in the darkness and beautiful things happen.  Healing.  Forgiveness. Spiritual growth.  Friendship with God.  Love.  Grace.  Peace.  Power.  

Jesus is the Light of the world.
You are the light of the world.  
May the Morningstar rise in your hearts.
AMEN.

Love Your Neighbour: the Vision of S. T. Rand

(Levit 19:1-2, 1-18; Matt 5:4-8; 1 Cor 3:10-17)

Feb 19, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White
Before I read our text from 1 Corinthians, I should let you know that I recruited a guest preacher for the sermon today.  I was thinking about the Holiday tomorrow, this year celebrating Mi’kmaq [Migmaw] Heritage.  I barely know any of these folks, but I thought of a man of European descent who might speak appropriately.

My guest today is a Nova Scotian Baptist Minister, born in 1810.  So he may sound rather old fashioned.  And he has now been dead more than 125 years.  But listen to what he says about ministry to his neighbours in the 19th century.  He was ahead of his time. He is inspiring.  

He might also tend to be long-winded, but today he will be brief, compared with how he was used to preaching in his day.  And when he is done, I may take time to answer any questions you may have.

Scripture 1 Corinthians 3:10-17

Hymn 213 When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

 

Good morning, dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  Allow me to tell you my story of Jesus’ grace to make me God’s servant thru many years.  You likely do not know me.  I am a Nova Scotian, of an old family, long in this fair province.  My name is Silas Tertius Rand.

My childhood was spent in the Annapolis Valley, and my faith in the living Christ awakened through various stages and struggles.  Never shall I forget the preaching of Reverend Richard Preston during that “reformation” and spiritual awakening that took place in Cornwallis Township when I was but 13.  And dear Father Manning, that great Baptist leader, was such a guiding influence upon me.  He served to baptize me in Billtown Lake in December of 1833, and later laid hands upon me in ordination to the Gospel ministry.

My preaching began in my twenties.  I began studies at Horton Academy, but the setting was too distracting.  I was a better student alone, on my own.

So it was in those early years I spent much time ministering near the Parrsborough Shore, and travelled widely.  I once served as Pastor at Windsor, at the other extremity of this fair Valley.  I had also been at Liverpool.  While I was pastor there, I had a “renewal” in my life, a “real conversion” in which God graciously granted me a mystical vision.  “Joy unspeakable and full of glory!” came to me one day with that hymn you sang earlier, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.  Every line, every word seemed to pierce and thrill my very soul.  Always be ready, dear friends, for a fresh moving of the Spirit.  As a believer, you are a Temple of the Holy Spirit.

My mystical experience there I would call my “4th conversion.”  Yet my ministry at the Liverpool Church did not end well. Once I moved to Charlotte- town my mission to the First Peoples of this land began to blossom and grow.  God gave the increase.  Salvation is for all peoples, of every race and place.  Christ is the Master Builder, and will use everyone in His glorious Church.  Including the Mi’kmaq peoples.  

Ah, I remember so well one day, near my abode in Liverpool, meeting along the road a person of what you now call First Nations, who was on his way to Annapolis.  I fell into conversation with him about his speech, and his soul.  There and then, I commenced the study of his language, and learned the meaning of several words and obtained some knowledge of their method of inflecting pronouns and verbs….  

Considering his soul as immortal and as valuable as my own, and believing the Word of God to be the appointed means of regeneration, I read to him out of that precious book, and made such explanatory remarks as seemed necessary to convey the meaning and enforce the truth.  He listened with attention, appeared interested, and I parted with him with an earnest wish that we might dwell together in that bright world, where all the little distinctions which exist among fellow worms will be laid aside, and the Indian, the African, and the white man… will unite for ever in praising and adoring His name.  (The Christian Messenger 2 August 1839)

Does not the scripture say (Acts 17:26) that God  has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell
on all the face of the earth?  

As the years progressed, by God’s almighty providence, I studied well the language of these people, and they became my friends.  What joy and sense of achievement the Master afforded me when, at last, I produced my first translated text into Mi’kmaq.  Do you know what scripture verse it was? John 3:16, which, as you well know contains the essence of the Gospel, the marrow and fatness of Bible theology. (CM, 26 March, 1847)

And out of this great Gospel we find good news for every person and every circumstance of life.  Do not forget, brothers and sisters, that God cares for the body and soul, the society and the mind.  All peoples are made to be temples of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus is the Cornerstone, and we, all, His living stones, are being built together, as Peter said in his First Epistle.  How sad, how unjust, how lacking in compassion our treatment of the people who first lived in this beautiful and verdant land by the sea.   

As I declared, in my 1854 lectures, in Halifax:

Shame on us!  We invade the territory of men, made like ourselves, and fashioned in the image of God; bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh — we treat them as though they had no rights.  We seize upon their country.  We rob them of all they hold dear and sacred; we deceive and defraud them — we violate the most solemn treaties made with them; we impoverish, degrade, despise and abuse them.
(CM 15 March 1855)

From earliest days, humanity has been warned to treat all strangers as neighbours.  Does not the Law of Moses declare:  You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; but we have done that very thing.  You shall not render an unjust judgment; yet we have not let justice roll down like waters.  You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: but we have lived on in our white privilege, with daily favouritism.

Who are the poor at your gates in Digby now?  What generations are far, not only from the Saviour, but from you, the adults and seniors?  What needs are unmet by your society today?  Only you can answer that.  With the guiding vision of our Almighty Maker.

So, I say, look for your ministry in your own neighbourhood!  How could we send missioners across the globe and ignore our neighbours who first were here on this land?  At our Baptist Association meeting in 1846 I appealed to my brothers and sisters:  Shall the wandering tribes of India be pitied! shall the degraded [of Africa] awaken our sympathies! and shall the story of the distant Islanders, perishing without hope, most justly call forth the energies of our souls!  … and shall the wandering tribes of our forests – the rightful owners of the soil… be permitted to dwindle away in neglect, and perish, unpitied, unheeded, and unblessed by that gospel… which we profess so highly to prize! (CM 10 July 1846)

The support for a mission grew, thank God.  A mission to the Mi’kmaq.  We Baptists seemed always poor; I became weary of my travels to beg for money. (I pray it is not so for you in your century!) But mission to all peoples draws together all Christ’s servants. So it was that our mutual concern for the “advancement of the truth of God” brought together Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists to support the Mi’kmaq Mission.  In those early years this truly was “an evangelical alliance in miniature.”  

Even the editors of our esteemed Baptist paper, The Christian Messenger, were compelled to ask the readers, in 1849:  When will all the true followers of the Redeemer so far lay aside their less important points of difference, and strive together for truth and the salvation of immortal souls upon these broad and general principles in which they are confessedly all of one mind…?  May the prediction that all Christ’s people shall be one, both in spirit and in practice, be speedily realized in its fullest extent! (CM 9 Feb 1849)

Be ready, dear friends of Christ, be ready to work with all believers who claim His name.  It is a team that God builds for the work of the Kingdom.  

When you have a heart of love for people in your community, the work becomes hard, dear friends.  You must know your people – their ways of speaking, thinking, storytelling. Their culture.  The young have their own culture and habits you do not understand?  Get to know and understand them!  Newcomers from the Middle East become your neighbours?  Get to know and understand them.

So it was for me with my Mi’kmaq brothers and sisters. What an amazing language! What a tremend- ous library of legends and stories that had never been written down.  Let me give you one example.  

One legend is that of “The Ice King.”  This fable of the elements tells how a man removed a huge cake of Ice lodged in the river.  At his lazy bludgeoning of it, the cake spoke saying that the man had done him a great kindness, but that he would return the next winter.  The man prepared for this next visitation.  Steadily the presence of ice began to be felt everywhere.  The Ice King moved into the wigwam and sat down opposite the man.  A large fire blazed and to this the man added more fuel until finally the Ice King escaped, saying that the man had beaten him twice, and was now his master.  So to the man, summer and winter both became alike.  From now on “he could go bare-headed, bare-handed, and bare-footed all the year round.”  The moral of the fable… is that a wise person will learn from past experience… will provide in summer for the rigors of the winter.  Resolution and perseverance will conquer all difficulties, and one victory paves the way for another.  “Alas, for those who do not in time make provision for eternity!  Let us be wise today.” (Lovesey, Dorothy May, To Be a Pilgrim: A Biography of Silas Tertius Rand, 1810-1889, Lancelot Press, 1992, p.163)
The time and effort you spend in the culture of your neighbours is well spent.  

But you will find opposition to your ministry, even the quiet work behind-the-scenes.  
When I was translating the Bible into Mi’kmaq, all did not go smoothly.  You might think that working with Greek and Hebrew scriptures in my study, and developing my Mi’kmaq dictionary was a peaceful occupation.  No! What some called the “Indian War” broke out over one little word:  Baptidzo, in Greek, what we call Baptism in English.  Some of the non-Baptists wanted to fight over how to put it into the native language.  Dip, immerse, plunge, submerge, sink – so many ways in English – what to do in Mi’kmaq?  Ohh, what a struggle it was.

Now, in your age, I do not know what your mission work is.  Whether you outreach to people of every race who are your working poor, or to the single parents and broken families in your villages, or to the senior citizens of your society; there are long days and hours of work ahead of you.  You must remain faithful. Only the Living Spirit of God can sustain you, when it is all said and done.

Having said that, I had many hard days – hard years – and found the work to be arduous.  I was verily discouraged for long periods of time.
I slaved for years to complete the Mi’kmaq dictionary, and the Scriptures; to transcribe their legends, to build bridges between us. Only our Almighty God can declare the final benefits and successes of this ministry that filled my life.

I remember, through my many years in Hantsport, how the Mi’kmaq Mission there developed.  Not everyone was in favour; not everyone was a supporter.  Be ready, dear saints, to carry on and persevere.  My relations with the Mi’kmaq deepened & were blessed.

I once reported:  You will be happy to know that amidst all the opposition we are called to contend with, we have much to encourage us.  There are Indians even here who will not be deterred from coming to see me – they will not be inducted to turn me away, when I visit them – they will not believe that we are seeking their hurt.  I am constantly in communion with them, endeavouring to lead them to the Saviour.  (CM, 2 June 1853)

Remember always, brothers and sisters, that friendship with your neighbour, with your friend, with your enemy, is the open door for the Spirit of God and the Word of God to have a Gospel impact.  Remember the words of Longstaff’s hymn that was not written till the end of my own lifetime, Take Time to Be Holy:
Make friends of God’s children,
help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing
His blessing to seek. (c. 1882)

Every friend you make is a being who can be a Temple of the Holy Spirit, a living stone in the Temple of Jesus, a brother or sister in Christ.
Love your neighbours.  Amen & Amen.

God’s Building

(1 Corinthians 3:1-9)

Feb 12, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White

Allow me to offer a few thoughts on our scripture today: a very short sermon.

After Paul’s rhetoric about Church leaders planting and watering, and God giving the growth, he emphasizes the common purpose.  The common purpose of all God’s people.  Perhaps, to follow Paul’s imagery, we can say God’s purpose is to grow the Kingdom.  

So Paul ends this bit of his letter saying we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field…  But at the last second, Paul switches to a different image. You are God’s field, God’s building.

Paul goes on with this building idea in the sentences that follow. And others used the same illustration.  Such as the First Letter of Peter.  Chapter 2 says, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…  (2 P 2:5)

Look just across the street as you leave here today and see a new building going up.  A big building!  This past week the windows have been going in.  A few weeks ago, the Fire Department had a tour of this building under construction, to see its layout inside. From her firefighter’s perspective, Sharon said “It’s all wood!”  Well, there are a few layers of concrete, but, yet, it is wood, wood, wood, like most things around here.  

You are God’s building.  Like the concrete floors, wooden walls, glass windows, and all, being put together across the way, we human souls get put together into a building for God, a temple for the Holy Spirit, a Church.  

You likely noticed that the new apartments over there are upon a foundation that is much older.  The old Canadian Tire building was taken down, and this new put upon some of the older foundation.  

What our Master keeps building in His Church adds to the people who have gone on before us, and what they developed, what they accomplished, what they learned.  

And we are all part of one team, one building, with a common purpose.  So many people are strong structural elements of faith, not often seen from the outside.  Other people are also hidden away, like the wiring in a building, conveying a lot of energy to do good work – the ministry of prayer, perhaps?  Some Church folks are on the front lines – pastors and teachers and deacons and trustees and musicians – like the windows and walkways of a building – connecting the inside with the outside world.  

However we play with this analogy today, Jesus our Master Builder, would keep us in place together.  

This month we celebrate African Heritage, and all the Black History that is part of our local society, our story.  On Monday the 20th this year we have a day in Nova Scotia that honours Mi’kmaq heritage, our earliest human society on this land.  

In our province, and within Christianity, Christ has hopes and plans to build us together, layer upon layer, to do good.  To build peace and purpose.  To grow faith and hope.  To take us from milk to solid food – from the beginnings to the next steps.  

Keep listening to Paul’s words here, and hear our Master speaking.  Then we shall be made a more beautiful building for Christ.  

What God Has Prepared

(1 Corinthians 2:1-12)
Feb 5, 2017 – UBC Digby – J G White

Do you ever wonder what is prepared for you in the future? Your future?
Sci fi about the future and time travel has always interested me. As a teen I loved the British TV series, Dr. Who, and any other story about time travelers.
Last year Sharon and I happened upon a movie on Netflix called, “Time Lapse.” Three roommates in their 20s discover an invention a neighbour had built: a camera that automatically takes a Polaroid photo every day at 8 PM. It takes a photo of what will be in front of it 24 hours later – 8 PM the next day.
Well, naturally, the three friends start to make use of it. One, an artist, a painter, who has been stumped creatively, sees in tomorrow’s photo his next painting – so he paints it. One of the other roommates starts to put up, in front of the camera, the winners at the races – so he will know what animals to bet on the day before.
Of course, this gets the three friends into trouble, serious trouble, as they fool around with this magical way of glimpsing one day ahead in their future.
Thanks be to God that we do not have any such glimpses into our future – be it one day, one year, or one lifetime. Yet we sometimes wish we could know. We are, at least, curious.
As we often are about our children. Today we celebrate and bless Hannah, for instance. What shall her future look like? We do not know. But we do our part to bless her future. We realize we have a lot we can do to bless her. We prepare good things for her.
Today, the scripture says: 1 Corinthians 1:9
“no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”
We know what it means to prepare. Before Hannah arrived in September, the home was prepared. Because you loved her before she was born. There are things about her future that her family has prepared for her.
Our commitments today speak of good things we will prepare for Hannah’s future, because she is part of our faith family here. We used words from the hymnal. We promised we would teach, serve and love this child. Actually, all children within our ministry.
Well, of course, I planned this, and made you state these promises. I put these words in your mouths. But I have confidence in you as people who can teach children, who can serve them, who do love them.
You teach Hannah, and Samuel, and Gabriel, and others, each Sunday in how you behave around them. You also teach them when they meet you at Wal-mart or at a beachside picnic table. You teach them when you get involved in Sunday School type things for them in the future.
You serve them as you invest in a facility and resources that are right for them, and their families. You serve them in years ahead when you recreate your Church – a Congregation – that includes them and is reorganized for them and their generation.
You love them when you value and respect these children who will sometimes express their spirituality differently from us when we were young. You love them when you take seriously the things that will be important to them, and learn to let go of our traditions that won’t matter so much.
The lives of these young ones will be lived in challenging times, interesting times. And, the goodness of God will be available to them. Though what Hannah’s future days hold remains a mystery.
But imagine her, just for a moment, as an 83 year old woman. It is the end of the year. She calls her older brother up on – well – whatever replaces the mobile phone by then – to wish him a Happy New Year. It is the turn of the century, the 22nd Century!
Yes, Sam and Hannah could see the year 2099 and 2100. What will they have experienced by then? What does the Master have planned for them?
“no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”
For Hannah’s future.
For your future and mine.

Yet, as we look closely, we see that 1 Cor 2 is about the eternal future, more than it is about this life.
It is about the Cross. The author is writing at length about the Christ event. The very heart of cosmic history, of time and space, for humanity. What we usually call salvation, a new life, abundant life, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, is the gift of Jesus. He pierces right through suffering, and evil, and death. And out comes beauty and perfection and life eternal.
This is for the child, Hannah, and for Samuel.
It is for you. It is for me. It is for all. What is prepared for us transcends the ups and downs of this little time we call life. We have it recorded that Jesus said to his close associates, just before His death, I go to prepare a place for you. John 14:2 And this is a great hope and promise in our commitments to one another today. To plant the seeds of faith in Hannah’s life, that she may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ all her life. That she too may love God.
Today, what will happen in her life is all a mystery. We trust in what God has prepared for her. We stand together with faith and hope.
Ira Stanphill was born on February 14, 1914, in Bellevue, New Mexico. He lived most of his younger years in Kansas. By the age of 10, Ira was an accomplished musician. Ira accepted Christ at the age of 12. By age 17 he was writing his own music for church services and prayer meetings, and at 22 he began preaching. He preached across America, and in 40 other countries. He wrote over 500 gospel songs, such as “Mansion Over The Hilltop”, “Jesus and Me” and “Happiness is the Lord”.
Ira married Zelma Lawson in 1939. Zelma was also a gifted musician, with the abilities of singing and playing the piano. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1948.
Accounts of Ira’s life offer differing opinions on why they divorced. Whatever the case may be, Zelma’s leaving put Ira in a great state of depression and grief. He could not understand, after years of being dedicated to the service and ministry of God’s work, why God would allow him to go through this. Some accounts say that Ira was tempted to give up on Christian work altogether.
The story is told that one day as Ira was driving, deeply sad and in despair, he began to hum a tune. As the tune became stronger, words formed and Ira started singing. He sang about not knowing what the future held, but knowing that God would be there to walk with him each step of the way. When Ira got to his office, his rushed to his piano to write down the words and music to the song we know today as “I Know Who Holds Tomorrow”.

[ I don’t know about tomorrow;
I just live from day to day.
I don’t borrow from it’s sunshine
For it’s skies may turn to grey.

I don’t worry o’er the future,
For I know what Jesus said.
And today I’ll walk beside Him,
For He knows what is ahead. ]

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.     (1950)

Yesterday, Sharon and I visited in the hospital room of woman – a senior – who is at the end of her life. The family got called in Friday night because it looked as if the end was very near. On Saturday morning, amid the hydromorphone and the hallucinations, she was reasonably alert. She spoke of her husband – a little concerned that he professed to be a Christian but was not much of a disciple of Jesus. She expressed care also for a granddaughter who stopped being a practicing Christian once she left home and went to university.
But this woman also spoke with simple hope and confidence, leaving these loved ones in the hands of God, now. And she has no fears for her own future, once the process of dying is over.
For many many years, she has put her confidence in Jesus Christ, crucified, and risen from the dead. A simple yet mysterious story that opened up God for her, as it has done for so many of us.
“no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”
The amazing thing that God has for us, and gives us, is God. How our reunion, and our union with the Holy One goes is beyond words.