February 10, 2016

"Finding 'Sunsats'"

“Time of death?” Dr. Pouri asked aloud as he stood over the body on the operating table. Another doctor gave the time, twelve minutes before sunset.

Red Beard looked over to Dr. Pouri, the junior MD of the new AIDS ward in St. Mary’s Hospital. “Come with me,” the senior doctor instructed. Dr. Pouri followed Red Beard out of the operating room to the emergency flight of stairs onto the rooftop.

Red Beard was not his real name, but both long term patients and all of the staff called Dr. Maelle by this name: his bright red, bushy beard commanded the title, as chief physician of this experimental, new ward to fight this new mystery virus.

“Is it always so dark?” Dr. Pouri asked Red Beard.

“The night or the operating room?” Red Beard shot back.

“Both.” The young doctor pointed to the sky. “The operating room. As an intern, I was used to death. But that was…vivid.”

“Jim was one of our first patients. He contracted the virus way back in 1984, when we were still figuring this thing out. His passing….meant a lot to us.” Red Beard then pointed to the sky. “Do you pray?”

“Not since a kid. Why? An evening like today kind of suggests that God’s away, not really here.”

“Look at the sunsat.”

At first, Dr. Pouri wanted to correct Red Beard, but let it go. He looked at the pink and orange landscape, filled with yellow wisps and golden streaks. The sun was almost gone, disappearing into the horizon.

“A young boy,” Red Beard began. “Once told me that he didn’t believe the sun set. He didn’t like the idea of the sun leaving, so he said it just sat behind the horizon and waited to pop up around the bend in the morning. The name stuck.

“Look at the sun. Right now, it is behind the horizon. But it isn’t gone. Look, it’s there behind the greatest point of darkness of the day. In dusk, sitting. It’s also giving us the greatest concentration of light, ever. Exact, precise, and full of colour and beauty. You can look at this light, unlike the noonday sun where it’ll burn out your eyes. So it’s personal.

“At the greatest point of darkness, the sun is it’s most present. Just sitting behind the darkness, doing something unlike it’s usual functions during the day.”

“So what’s your point?”

“I come up to the rooftop and pray any chance there’s a sunsat. Especially during the darker moments, when we have to say goodbye to a patient and friend. Like Jim. By looking at the sunsat, I’m reminding that God is here…just doing something different than He normally does when things aren’t so dark. My question is no longer, ‘Where are you? Why aren’t you here?’ No, instead: ‘What are you doing? What are you uniquely doing in the darkness, in the sunsat?’”

“What is God up to in the hospital? “That’s why I’m here, to find out what God is doing in the darkness of dusk.”

“Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” Isaiah 45:15

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8

~ Rev. Dr. Eric J. Kregel

January 8, 2016

"Exhausted by Relaxation"

Maxwell Bradbury’s troubles began when he resolved to live a relaxed life.

On January 1, he did not renew his day planner. He sold his blackberry, threw out his calendars, and quit planning anything in his life. His resolution was simple: whenever someone wanted or needed something from him, he would respond. He would never call anyone directly, never plan to do anything, and would sit, waiting for a call or a prompt, and then act

He told his family and friends he wanted to be more relaxed, but many of them didn’t believe this to be the only answer as to why he did what he did. Yet this resolution to be relaxed was a mystery as to what he was genuinely trying to accomplish.

At first, his resolution produced a slow, almost non-existent life, which he enjoyed. He would sit on his couch, watch cartoons. In between the cartoons, the commercials would tell him to buy things. He would leave his comfortable couch and go shopping.

While at the market, he noticed newspapers full of stories and images telling him he needed to be frightened. They told him to be frightened of outsiders, of teenagers, of gangsters, of terrorists, of politicians that disagreed with him, and of religion. He obeyed and resolved to shop fearfully.

Maxwell returned home to find two messages: one from his employer asking him to work on the weekend and a telemarketer selling a time share in Las Vegas. He said yes to both, figuring this was fate because he would have to work extra hours to afford a time share in Las Vegas. Later, it occurred to him that he hated Vegas and all he wanted to do was watch cartoons.

At work, every project that came up, Maxwell volunteered for, earning respect and excitement from his boss. “I like the new, relaxed you,” he said as Maxwell wondered when he’d ever see his time share in Vegas that he didn’t really want.

Maxwell applied his resolution to his job: anytime someone needed something, he would do it. In fact, work became a series of interruptions: as he ran to do one thing, someone would ask him to do something else causing his to run in a different direction. Soon, he gained a promotion for all of his activities requiring him to work more hours and obey more voices.

When at home, he quit watching cartoons because he felt they were too demanding. So he went on-line, following every single pop-up add and clicking every link recommended to him. He replied to an e-mail asking for his SIN number, doing what it told him even though it was from a bank he’d never heard of. At midnight, he collapsed from exhaustion: his relaxation was getting too much for him.

The days turned into weeks as Maxwell ran from opportunity to opportunity. He lost weight, he had no sleep, and his found himself irritable to friend and stranger alike.

One day, he overheard one his coworkers call him the name “echo”. Maxwell asked why they nicknamed him this and the coworker explained, “You don’t have a voice of your own, but you’re just an echo of someone else’ request.”

All Maxwell became a conflict of intentions.

He originally feared that if he ever made plans or took responsibility for his dreams, he’d be busy. So he did what he was told by the world. He resolved to be relaxed, but found a reward in people being pleased with him because he did what they asked…so he continued obeying everyone. It seemed simple because he simply didn’t know what to do for the day and he didn’t have to think.

The result, though, was he was that he no longer was Maxwell Bradbury but just a mere echo of the world around him.

A mentor of mine once gave a remarkable quip: “The opportunities of man will always outnumber the callings of God.”

This matches what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all who are tired and I shall give you rest. My burden is easy, my yoke is light.”

These two quotes seem counter-intuitive. How can following God be easy and living a relaxed life apart from God be stressful? Because God’s ways are what we need, what is good for us, and gives us rest. And when we live apart from His calling, we will either obey our own selfish whims or the high demands of the rest of the world.

God created us to do His will, so His will involves us, the real us, and not just us to echo the requests and demands of those around us. Our lives become easier, satisfying, and joyful when we do God’s will and only His will. It’s when we try to be selfish, do other people’s wills, react to our world’s demand, AND God’s will that things become stressful, hard, and complicated.

Yet God’s will is what truly matters in life and it’s what He will be ultimately looking for when our lives are finally measured.

When we come to the end of this world, promised to us by the Bible, what will our answers be when God asks if we followed His will?

Will we be able to say, “I heard your voice as you called me, the real me with all of my dreams and true desires, and I said yes. I followed you and my life was very fulfilling. You called me to be so much. Not too much, but so much.”

Or will our voice sound like an echo?

“God, you don’t understand. I was busy keeping other people happy.”

“But I didn’t like going to church. I had a bad experience with Christians, so I wrapped you up with the church package. By reacting to them, I never served you.”

“I was running from one thing to the next. I thought about everything else that the world told me to think about. If you just had a pop-up or a compelling commercial or an e-mail, then maybe…”

~ Rev. Dr. Eric J. Kregel

November 6, 2015

"Delete"

Terri realized she could delete certain portions of her reality.

It came unexpectedly one day while she was updating her blog from her home’s computer. She was home for lunch, hurrying through her sandwich and making last minute entries, when a knock came at the door. She scrambled to see who it was, only to discover it was a traveling salesperson who wanted to notify her that she had “won” a free trip along with a “brief” presentation.

Quickly, she closed her eyes. Out from nowhere, a big box appeared in her mind’s eye with an “X” in the center. The box was selected. And silence followed.

The man vanished, she looked around and couldn’t find him. Figuring he just left the moment he read the consternation on her face, she retreated back inside and finished up her updates.

That night, she returned to her computer. As she scrolled through several of her unread messages, her husband’s voice called out for her. She ignored him, still clicking away. Again, he called for her. Again, she ignored him. He marched out of the kitchen and barged into the study.

“Terri,” he said. “I’m really mad. How could you –”

She closed her eyes and the box appeared again; she selected “x”.

When she opened her eyes, he was gone. Fearing she had deleted her husband, she ran into the kitchen to find him cooking, unaware of anything that took place. After a few questions, she determined that all her mind did was delete the last thread of his thoughts, cutting him off right before he got angry.

Without ever wondering where this new power came from, Terri went full throttle deleting the portions of her reality that were tiresome, hurtful, annoying, or just slowed her down. She couldn’t delete time, but she could cut things that drug her speed (Ex. Traffic lights, crowds, a line at the queue, etc.).

She could delete sticky situations. Four days after she obtained this power, her boss called her into his office to discuss her lack of productivity. With blink of an eye, she deleted the whole meeting and for the rest of the day, her boss was in a pleasant mood.

One night, while watching TV, her husband went to change the station; Terri deleted this overture. She then deleted all of the shows, commercials, and stations that weren’t of interest to her. The result was a show about the Internet and how it’s making people healthier and better everyday. “The breakthrough,” the commentator said. “Is that we are beginning to build machines that think like people, so the operating systems function much like the human brain.”

Funny, she mused. The exact opposite has happened to me: I think more like a computer every day, deleting all that is of no purpose to my operations.

Everything changed for Terri one day when her mother sent a card. Her mother often sent her handwritten notes, often with religious sentiment and a quote from the Bible.

Terri hated when her mom’s cards came in the mail. Why couldn’t she just send an e-mail? It was faster and less trouble? And why was she always trying to cram religion down her throat? She was happy, believing whatever she wanted and wasn’t hurting too many people. Teri found herself satisfied with your station in life with the exception of when her mother decided to send her a note.

Out of duty, she opened the card and couldn’t finish reading it when she saw, at the bottom, was a Bible passage. She tried to delete the card. Her mother’s handwriting vanished. It was a blank card…all except the Scripture quoted at the bottom:

“The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord remains forever. Isaiah 40:8”

She tried to delete the passage again, but it remained. Quickly, she threw away the card and got out of her office and into her car. She scanned around her car and started deleting random things: billboards, signs, trees, etc. Yes, her powers still worked.

She then flipped on her XM station and scrolled it to a Christian station. A preacher’s voice intoned through her stereo. Delete. It was quiet…until he started quoting the Bible.

After an obscenity given, she shot out from her car and ran back into her office, surfing the web for anything to delete. She deleted pages, a streaming video site, messages form her family…everything, until she got to an on-line Bible. It survived her attempts to delete the site.

Her phone rang. She picked it up. A cold, solid voice spoke on the other end. “If you want to find out what is going on, meet me in the breakfast café down the street in ten minutes.”

“Who is this? Why can’t I delete anything religious?”

“Meet me in ten minutes.” The line died.

She did as she was told, excusing herself for an early lunch and waited as the only one in the café. After an exact wait of three minutes, a man sat down in her booth. He was older, wearing clothing that weren’t in style and he had an air about him that was foreign. Terri knew that if it was any other circumstance, they would not have any interactions of this kind.

“Whenever you stumble upon something that is new, threatening, or uncomfortable, you delete it. For years, you have only done this in your mind. In the last ten years, you did this, also, on-line. Now this habit has been projected upon your cosmos, a sort of an existential sanctioning with extreme prejudice.”

“Speak English,” she commanded.

“My point has just been proved. I used a term unfamiliar to you. Rather than getting to know what I mean or seeking to increase your vocabulary, you simply shut-down…and somehow turn it around so the burden is on me not to use so many big words.

“Something comes up in life that threatens, annoys, or confuses…you escape, closing your mind’s window to the source. In short, you turn off the moment life “pops up” an inconvenient idea or insight.”

“Why can’t I delete Christianity?”

The old man laughed. “You can delete Christians, church, and books that are written by Christians, certainly. But you cannot delete the Bible because it is truth: truth in written form. And truth, no matter how hard one works, cannot be sanctioned with extreme prejudice. Sometimes, truth arrives and there’s nothing one can do about it but believe. One does not chose to hear from a doctor they have cancer, one cannot delete the reality that they are 13 or 77, and one cannot escape the knowledge, despite how hard they work to do so, that there is a God and He wants to be known.”

“So if the Bible is so full of truth, why is it so painful for me to come near it, so I’m hitting delete every time it shows up.”

“Possibly because you’ve deleted so many other things that has their threads connected to the Bible. You cannot, in other words, deal with the Truth of the Bible because you are not used to dealing with truth.

“The human mind is all about decisions, Terri. ‘Accept’ or ‘Ignore’ has been with us from the dawn of time, certainly before computers. The question is are you ignoring truth for the purpose of only accepting that which comforts, affirms, and makes you feel happy about yourself?”

“So what? I should no longer delete or ignore things? Drink in everything?”

“Truth seems to always interrupt us, being outside of our own little spheres and circles. Next time there’s opportunity to accept truth, don’t be quick to delete. Listen. Learn. Receive. That’s all.”

The old man left her and her powers to delete reality were gone.

Soon her fear of the Bible also left her. Her mom’s notes were read. And, after a year’s time, she found herself less and less on-line. When asked why, she would simply say that her brain couldn’t work well with computers anymore.

~ Rev. Dr. Eric J. Kregel

August 3, 2015

The light of the sun could still be seen over the amber colored tree-line. Summer held its fury, baking the prairie lands as midnight loomed and the stillness of the forest reigned.

Emerging from the bush on the summit that cradled the Missionary’s camp came the Cree Warrior. In his hands he held a fearsome hatchet, the perfect tool for cutting through spruce and poplar. He knelt beside the fireside, facing the white man across the smoke and light.

In his best English, the Warrior stated his purpose. “I come to make peace with God. As a gift, I bring this fine tool. I ask if this is enough to bring peace between God and me.”

The Missionary downcast, eyes pointed to the fire. “No,” the Missionary said. “It is not enough.”

The Warrior left heavy-hearted.

Time elapsed as the days grew shorter. The bite and chill of the Fall came, as leaves escaped from their trees. The ground crackled, the air filled of rain and pine, and game flooded the woods.

On a crisp September night, the Cree Warrior returned to the summit which was home to the Christian missionary.

The Warrior held a bow and arrow. The bow marked with several pictures depicting the hunting exploits and victories of the Warrior. He made the bow when he was young, aided by his grandfather. The bow was as old as many of his fellow warriors, but still could send an arrow through the neck of a bear or stop a moose in its sprint.

“I bring gift,” the Warrior said. “A bow and all of my arrows. It is a gift to your God. I want your God to be my God. Is this enough to make peace with God?” He laid the gift in the fire, allowing it be consumed instantaneously.

“No,” the Missionary said. “It is not enough.”

The Warrior left heavy-hearted.

Fall turned to winter as the sun vanished behind the steel colored clouds and the frozen horizon. Wind whipped across the land, freezing it to a rigid ice. The Warrior returned to the roaring fire on the first day of the European calendar. Folded in his arms rested a thick, full blanket made from buffalo hide and fur.

The Warrior laid it upon the fire with a belch of smoke devouring the blanket instantly. “I bring this as a gift to your God,” he said. “Is this enough to make peace with Him?”

“No,” the Missionary said. “It is not enough.”

The Warrior left heavy-hearted.

The snow retreated, the land became soft and wet with rain. The sky’s tears fell over the land, turning the wide fields of snow into a swamp. One night, wet and cold from the rain, the Warrior returned to the summit of the Missionary.

The Warrior held nothing, brought nothing to the summit. He knelt before the fire. With sadness in his voice, tears stained his face as he spoke. “I have nothing left to give to your God. I bring only myself. I give myself and all that I am, can do, and own before your God. I wish to make your God my God. Is this enough to make peace with your God?”

“Yes,” the Missionary said. “That is enough.”

I learned this story, decades ago, from my ministry with Christian Service Brigade. I had forgotten most of it until recently, when my study of the Bible brought me to Romans 12:1, “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.”

There is a myth that we can be a Christian AND still do everything we please, fitting God into our lives when it is convenient. However, Scripture says that the opposite is true: we are to give everything to God, daily surrendering our lives to Him.

This is tough, which is why we daily use God for help with this task. However, we begin this journey of faith by saying, like the Warrior, “I give myself and all that I am, can do, and own before God.” God, then, gives us the grace to fill in the difference of our offering.

And this shall be enough.

~ Rev. Dr. Eric J. Kregel

April 17, 2015

There was a man who was busy; busy doing all of the right things.

He was born into a good family, with loving parents who had raised him well. He received good marks in his classes, ran track in High School, and dated a high standard of girls throughout his teen years.

What made him so rounded, many believed, was that he attended his church’s youth group. At the youth group, he memorized Bible passages and learned many wonderful things about the teachings of Jesus. He went on a lot of mission trips- feeding the poor and learning what poverty looked like outside the Canadian borders.

He grew a lot, expanding his spirituality and morality. He increased.

When he left home, something happened to him. Either it was when he went to College and sat under a professor who challenged his faith; or that he kept losing arguments with his friends about God’s existence; or, simply, he became man with all of a man’s questions. Somehow he received the message that he wasn’t a good enough Christian.

He believed that he needed to grow more, become more. To increase.

So he committed himself to hours of volunteer work, working with teens at his church. He fell in love and got married to a beautiful wife. They moved into a beautiful home, to raise 3 beautiful children. In addition to working with teens at his church, he took up coaching Volleyball and Hockey, so he could give back to the community. He was a hard worker, steady and dependable.

During the few leisure hours he allowed himself, he read a lot of books. Deep books; written by great Christian writers. He memorized more of the Bible, never missing a church service and always attending a small group. On his vacations, he would go to conferences and Christian theme cruises and spiritual retreats.

He grew, becoming more. He increased.

One night, he had a vivid dream. He found himself in the middle of a garden, surrounded by every beautiful fruit tree and plant imaginable. As he walked through the garden, he followed a stream that led him to a tall ash tree. Sitting under the shade of the ash tree was Jesus Christ.

Jesus rose and bid the man to join him under the tree. When the man joined him, Jesus asked, “So, you’ve been busy, haven’t you? Bible study, conferences, volunteer work, hockey, family time, church. Why have you kept yourself busy?”

“Well,” the man said. “So I can grow more. I can get better. So I can increase.”

“Why would you want to do that?” Jesus asked with a grin.

“So I’m a better witness. So people can look at my life and see there’s a difference. And when they see the difference, I can tell them about you. Plus, it keeps me out of trouble.”

“Let me get this straight,” Jesus said. “You are increasing all of your goodness to help me? You’re making yourself look and be good so I look good?”

“Yes, Lord.”

Jesus chuckled, as if laughing at a joke the man didn’t understand. Jesus walked away from him. “I’m touched that you are trying to be so helpful, but no thank you. I don’t think I need your help. I’m calling you off the job of increasing yourself.” Jesus left.

The man awoke from the dream sobbing.

The next two weeks for the man were spent in agony. Every time he opened his Bible he felt nothing. He felt no joy coming home or leaving for work. One night, he lost his temper while coaching Hockey and found himself having to apologize to his team later. Every time he went to church, the sound of his pastor’s voice pained him. When it was day, he wished it was night; when it was night, he wished it was day.

One night, after several sleepless evenings in his bed, he drifted off into a dream. He was back in the garden, following the stream to the ash tree. Ever step, every crunch of dirt under his foot pricked his feet. As the stream snaked around a patch of berry bushes, he saw the tall ash tree. And sitting under the tree wasn’t Jesus this time, but John the Baptist.

John bid him to come over to him. The man complied and when he arrived, John asked, “So I hear Jesus put you into a tail spin?”

“I don’t understand,” he said. “I tried to be a good person, grow and increase in knowledge and activity. I thought that was the point, wasn’t it? Know more, grow more, and increase?”

John chuckled, a laugh reminiscent of Jesus’ the previous dream. “I used to live like you did. I preached in the desert, ate locust and honey, got a following, and kept myself in all of the books of the law. I thought that if I did more and became more, Jesus would be happier with me.

“What a lonely life that proved to be!

“Then I learned something the day I finally met Jesus. Instead of me increasing for Christ, I had to learn to decrease. I had to make room for Christ, so He could reign. Cut back, downsize, and trim down. In short, I had to decrease so that Christ could increase. And it has meant a world of difference.”

Christ’s voice rang out from behind the man. “He’s right,” Jesus said. “I do not want you to be busy, I want you. If the world sees less of you and more of me, that is what I call witness.”

“And all of the other stuff?” the man asked.

“It’s good, I guess. But activity does not mark a relationship and a relationship is what I want. I want more of you, not more work hours. So come. Come and follow me.”

The man was left then with the decision to increase or to decrease. Increase, and be busy? Or decrease, allowing Christ to fill his life more?

~ Rev. Dr. Eric J. Kregel

March 20, 2015

To download Eric's dissertation, click here

March 19, 2015

One night, a man had a dream.

He found himself in a middle of a desert with the supernatural ability of speed, giving him the opportunity to barely out run the sun. He could, as long as he ran at top speed, always see daylight as he chased the horizon. However, if he slowed down or even stopped, the sun would set and daylight would escape him.

The sun turned into an orange ember, sinking behind the high horizon of the desert. As the pain of night brushed against his skin, he set to run: chasing the remaining daylight.

He ran, leaping over hills and charging through valleys. The sun’s setting was fast, but he could keep up. He ran down a series of dunes, with sand splashing from his feet as he zipped through the burning light of dusk.

In his distance, he saw a figure of a man approach him. The figure was also moving fast, yet it was not running. As it approached the man, he felt the pain of night’s darkness tickle his back.

No, he resolved. Night must not find me. The darkness, the confusion, the doubt, the loss of control, the pain. Must run, must ran faster to catch the remaining light of dusk.

So he ran faster towards the sunset, charging up a mountain’s side and away from the night and the approaching stranger. Looking over his shoulder, he soon realized that the stranger was still close on his trail. Without running or seeming to apply much energy, the figure gained on the man.

And with the figure, night followed.

No!, he screamed inside of his head. I will not lose the light, the comfort of day. I shall not be found in the darkness of night! Must run…faster.

He ran faster, leaping over whole valleys and mountain peaks in a solitary bound. Hot air swooshed through his hair as he pursued the last of the sun’s light, always feeling the cool prick of nighttime behind him.

He looked behind him and saw the figure had vanished. His spirit soared as he believed he had escaped, at last, his pursuer. He turned around and faced a long, level plain full of sand, small trees, and the hovering, deep orange sun as it began to melt over the horizon.

And ahead of him, the figure returned. It stood in between the sun setting and the runner. The man realized if he wanted to outrun night, he had to face this stranger.

The figure grew and grew until finally the man recognized him. The stranger was Jesus Christ, standing and waiting for the runner to approach. As Jesus stood meters aay from the man, he motioned him to stop. The man obeyed. Night soon swelled behind him as the last minutes of daylight were lost. The man grew desperate as Jesus stood, without, moving, in the heart of the desert.

Finally, Jesus spoke. “You are running the wrong way,” he said.

“But I must, Lord,” the man said in protest. “Night is coming soon and I must escape it. Night is pain. Night is doubt. Night is having to lose control and become helpless to the darkness. I cannot enter the night.”

“You must, for your race is futile otherwise.” Jesus put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Rather than running, trying to catch the last bit of sunlight of dusk you must turn and run the opposite way. Run through the night. Run through that which you fear and I will meet you on the other side, in dawn’s glory. Run through the night and see me in morning’s pleasing light.”

And the man awoke.

I see too many people running, chasing the dusk of their lives. They run, making themselves busy in their jobs or families, so they never have to feel pain, experience doubt, or discover that something might be seriously wrong with themselves or their world. They run, pursuing illusions or a false front or a comfortable life…while escaping the night that belongs to them.

For some, nighttime can be pain from the past; for others, it could be the recognition of a mistake; and for many, they are running from the biggest nighttime: the cross of Christ (Think about it, something was crucially wrong with us that Jesus had to die a painful death so that those, who call on his name, can be repaired).

Those that run miss out on so much. True, they miss the pain of the night; but they also miss out on dawn’s light and the marvel seeing God in a new day. For those running, stop. And for those in their own night time, know that morning is coming. And for all of us, know that Christ is the master of the dusk, the night, and the morning.

~ Rev. Dr. Eric J. Kregel

© 2015 Knox Evangelical Free Church