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THE LONG HAUL August 15, 2017
I’m a physician with four lovely daughters and a father’s natural concern for them.
One morning as a patient left my examining room she placed a hand on my arm and said, “How are those girls of yours, Doctor?”
“They’re all teenagers,” I replied. “I can’t wait till they’re grown up.”
She squeezed my arm. “I know exactly how you feel. I worry about my daughter, Gladys, too.”
My heart sank. My patient was 102 and Gladys was 73.
A BIG CHANGE IN MY LIFE
I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember, and for some time before that. At least that has been my impression because my mother told me so. I was given a Christian name when I was born, baptized into the faith when a few weeks old, registered as a Christian with the Canadian Department of Vital Statistics, confirmed in the church at fourteen, and so labeled myself on most every application form I ever filled out. Thus, there could be little doubt that I was a Christian.
Little doubt in my own mind, that is, but as I grew older I had other people scratching their heads. If Sherlock Holmes had been around, he would have been hard put to come up with the evidence.
I wasn’t very concerned about my identity. In fact, I had several of them over the subsequent years. I was not only a Christian, but a Canadian, a baseball player, a medical student, a doctor, a professor and a Liberal of the Canadian variety, not to mention husband, father and mortgage-holder.
I had so many identities I had trouble prioritizing them, but looking back, I suspect they were approximately in the reverse of the above order. No wonder people massaged their scalps when I told them I was a Christian. If the Lord weren’t all-knowing, He would have, too.
But have you ever noticed how your identity changes over the years, if not in the eyes of the world, but in your own? You start out the young hero ready to take on the world, an athlete, a lover, an adventurer. You’re even pretty good looking, at least in your own eyes. However, the world has a way of correcting your misconceptions. You’re not quite as good an athlete as you thought, nor as adventurous and you’ve had a few experiences to show you aren’t the lover you thought, either.
So you grab hold of some things you are good at—your job, your studies, your hobbies, your story-telling, and you put your heart into them.
And it works—for a while. You get ahead in the world, but not in your identity. You have just taken on more baggage. There’s nothing wrong with those things, but they aren’t who you are.
The psychologists call this quandary an “identity crisis,” which is just putting a handle on the obvious. They can’t fix it, just tinker with it like mechanics with my old Subaru. It still comes out an old Subaru.
It took a lot of changes in identity for me to reach this simple insight. Oddly, a fundamental one was the change in my nationality. I became an American at quite a mature stage in life. It has been a great privilege, but I was only aware its impact as I approached retirement.
As I slowed down a step or two, I found I was encountering more and more people who went to church, a trait which I admired, although not to the extent that I imitated them. At least, not at first.
You know what it’s like when you meet someone you truly admire. I don’t mean somebody handsome or beautiful, or someone rich and famous, or dazzlingly brilliant. I mean a person who resonates with honesty and truth; someone, man or woman, in whom you develop more trust as your acquaintance grows.
One of the great advantages of retirement is being able, without nagging guilt, to slow down enough to get to know such people. You not only get to know them, but you find yourself associating with them and, finally, making friends with them. You also find that they are not only Christians, but believers. They have no hesitation or embarrassment in accepting the Bible as the truth. I found that these believers were not “holier than thou” as I always suspected, but genuine seekers of that truth.
Moreover, they aren’t exclusive. In fact, show them a particle of interest and they welcome you, quite literally, with open arms. Their old identities don’t seem important—rich or poor, educated or not—they have one identity which matters. They are Christian believers.
I became aware of them at church and realized it wasn’t they who were standoffish; it was I who was too sophisticated in my own eyes, too savvy, too educated to go along with the Bible.
My new education started in a men’s Bible study. I wouldn’t have dreamed of attending on a Saturday morning, a time when I should be making hospital rounds, except that an old believer placed an arm on my shoulder in the hallway of the church after Sunday service.
“Come and join us,” he said. “We meet at seven on Saturday morning, upstairs.” He pointed.
I thought he was joking. Me! Saturday morning! But I said, “Yes, I’ll be there.”
And I was. I had to get up a couple of hours early, make rounds and get there by seven. I lugged a dusty old Bible into the room where there were a dozen guys of all ages around a table, the fragrance of coffee in the air.
You know what it’s like when you enter a roomful of strangers. If you’re noticed at all, it’s with suspicion, but that’s not how I felt. They wanted to know my name, but that was it, except to say how welcome I was. Nobody wanted to know my credentials and nobody told me theirs.
The old guy who invited me turned out to be Bill, the leader and not the one you would expect. He was a refugee form central Europe with a distinct German accent. Ah, but he knew his scripture!
The other guys weren’t slouches, either. I was the only spectator at the table.
But, somehow, I wasn’t a stranger. Quite suddenly, I saw around that table a level of honesty I hadn’t witnessed in years. Unlike meetings with my medical colleagues, there was no preening or posing, no one-up-man-ship or defensiveness. This Bible study group had something genuine and I wanted to be part of it.
About the same time, a year or so before I retired, another remarkable incident occurred. As I hurried down the hallway in the hospital I felt an arm on my shoulder.
“Hey, slow down a minute.” It was Mark, a cardiologist whom I had known and worked with for years. “A couple of us are having a bible study on Tuesday mornings. We’d like you to join us.”
Again, I thought the man was kidding. Me! Tuesday mornings! When I’m making rounds? And without further thought, I said, “Sure, I’ll be there.”
Talk about a coincidence! But I realized later that for the believer, there’s no such thing. As Oswald Chambers said, “All your circumstances are in the hands of God…”
I joined Mark and a surgeon friend, Dan, the next Tuesday morning in a small meeting room of the hospital and quickly learned that even the best educated and most respected physicians were not too savvy or proud to accept the Bible as truth. For them, a thing wasn’t true because it was in the Bible; it was in the Bible because it was true.
And so I began what has turned out to be a twenty year and counting journey. I have acquired a few more identities, like grandfather, church elder, Stephen Minister, writer, painter, but they all seem trivial and that’s why I mention them. I have learned not to boast, but to be humble because, as Winston Churchill said of Clement Atlee, I have a lot to be humble about.
My faith tells me I have only one reason for boasting which is my Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior and my Lord. I can boast that I took to Him as my Savior right off. That’s exactly what I needed, a savior. It’s taken a lot longer, though, to accept Him as my Lord. That means being obedient to Him, a habit that doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m better than I was, but have a long way to go.
However, I have one identity that makes me humble above all else. It’s one I have a struggle mentioning. I wouldn’t do it, except that scripture tells me that’s who I am as a believer in Christ.
I am a saint!
My sins are gone, washed away by His blood and I am white as snow. I am saved.
August 25, 2017