Monday, December 27, 2010

After and Before

This was the title of Dad's message on Boxing Day Sunday. He found these words in Luke chapter 1, where it sets the framework for the time after Mary and Joseph were engaged but before they were married ...

What life-changing, history-changing, world-changing events took place in that space of time!

And that was because between the after and the before, God got involved - in Mary's life, in Joseph's.

Think about Mordecai, the courageous uncle of Esther in the Old Testament, who refused to bow down when Haman passed by. Haman was second in power; and when this upstart refused to bow to him, Haman in his fury started to plot to kill not only Mordecai but also all the Jews in the land of Persia. When it happened again, Haman built a gallows on which to hang Mordecai personally.

Shortly before this, Queen Vashti had fallen out of favour with Ahasuerus and he had selected - from all the fair maidens of the land! - Esther, Mordecai's cousin whom he had adopted and raised as his own daughter, to be his new consort.

One night King Ahasuerus could not sleep. So he began to peruse the court records and historical documents. In them he read that there had been a plot on his life which was foiled by Mordecai, who in turn had never been recognized or rewarded for his service to the King. 

Ahasuerus called Haman to him: "What should be done for the man whom the King wishes to honour?" he enquired. Haman, all excited because of course he thought the King was speaking of him, said that one of the King's own robes should be given to the man; he should be mounted on the King's own horse; and a herald should lead him around proclaiming, "See how the King treats someone he wishes to honour!"

"You do this for Mordecai," Ahasuerus commanded.

And at Esther's feast for her new husband and Haman, she informed the King of Haman's plot to kill the Jews - and revealed that she herself was Jewish.

After the gallows were built but before Haman could put his plan into action, God became involved. A king could not sleep and asked for something to read.

Haman was executed on his own gallows.

Consider the thief on the cross, Dad mused. After he had been tried, convicted and strung up for execution, but before he actually drew his last breath, God got involved. In death, the thief heard words life-changing for him.

The crowd crowed vindictively, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save."

Jesus, pushed to the point of pain unendurable, groaned, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

And the thief heard, "He saved others ... Father, forgive them ..." His eyes were opened and with some of his last breaths he gasped out, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." 

Jesus responded without hesitation, "This day you will be with me in Paradise."

How powerful the space between those two words can be!

Dad's life was changed because of such an A&B moment. In 1952, independently farming and recreationally boxing and enjoying life quite a bit despite the hardship of the times, he had decided to go to a cattle auction and purchase a Hereford bull. One particular day he was helping his brother dock sheep tails; the auction was the next day in Lacombe.

Suddenly his knife blade slipped and sliced deep into his thigh. He was rushed to the hospital where he had to spend ten days due to the severity of the cut. After he had made the decision to purchase the bull and pursue farming in a serious way, but before he went to that sale, God got involved. Lying in the hospital, God called Dad to serve Him.

That fall, Dad found himself in Bible college - he had the money for it because he hadn't purchased the bull; in 1959, he headed out to India. And the rest is history ...

On December 27, 2009, Dad's dearly beloved elder brother, Gordon Walter Ironside, drew his last breath.

Gordon (he never wanted us to call him "Uncle Gordon"; if we had to use an honourific, this extremely modest man would tease, we could call him "Old Gordon") was a man of quiet faith and dignity and humility. He died the way he lived, causing the least amount of inconvenience that he could to the medical staff and to his family and friends.

But how great a hole he has left in our Christmas celebration and in our hearts! He was the one who we knew loved all of us and remembered all of our birthdays. Without fail he would call each of his siblings, his nephews and nieces, and a host of friends and relatives to wish us each year. He was quick with a joke or a helping hand, and slow to anger. 

And now we hover in the period between after our dear one's entrance into the presence of the One he loved more than anyone else and before we see him again. None of us who is left to mourn his absence has any idea exactly how long this time will stretch.

But we can be sure that God, who loves us more than Gordon did and who cares about even the feelings of our infirmities - the echo of the sound of His heart breaking as He watched His Son hang on that cross next to that thief still reverberates in His ears some 2000 years later - this same God Himself will finally wipe tears from eyes "and there will be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying; neither shall there be any more pain" (Revelation 21:4) ... because in this capsule between after and before, He promises to "make all things new" (verse 5). Until before, He promises He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Until before, He promises to be involved.

Gordon Walter Ironside
November 15, 1929 - December 27, 2009

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