Olive Green was a woman I met over twenty years ago. I met her as part of the visitation program of the church we were attending at the time. Olive did not attend that church but had phoned in requesting a visit which was “assigned” to me.
I met Olive in a nursing home. She was a frumpy, elderly, single woman confined to bed because she could no longer walk. One of the first things she asked me was if I believed James 5:14-15: “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” I don’t remember what I answered at the time but ironically I myself was ill with what was eventually diagnosed as CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).
Olive let it be known from the start that a bunch of useless ministers had visited her over the last few months, none of whom had the faith of James! I think she was a little more tolerant of me because I wasn’t the official clergy, so I got to know her a bit before she passed on.
Olive was a spinster and had spent most of her adult life in Toronto working as a nanny. She had “sat under the teaching of Oswald J Smith” of The People’s Church in Toronto. She had become a bitter woman who could not understand why God did not heal her after “all her years of faithful service.”
In the course of our visits, I suggested to her that maybe God had wanted her in this particular nursing home as a help and testimony to others who were hurting. She would have nothing of that and remained cantankerous with staff and residents alike. I once commented to her that she was being rather hard on a nurse who was doing her best to make Olive more comfortable, to which she replied that it was the nurse’s job and she was getting paid for it! Ironically Olive too expected her pay or reward from God!
During this period I was just starting to understand God’s grace in our lives and as best I could from my limited understanding, I tried to explain to her that all we have is from God and that He was never obligated to bestow mercy or blessing on any of us. She did not receive that well, commenting that all I was telling her was the same thing “that other girl” who came to visit her was telling her! I never knew who that other girl was but it seemed to me that God was presenting the Gospel to this woman who, in her thinking, could not get past focusing on what she felt God owed her for her years of service.
Finally out of exasperation I asked her why she had accepted Christ as her Savior in the first place and I will never forget her answer. She looked at me and without hesitation stated: “Because I had the good sense to!”
Shortly after that she called our house one night and I was not able to take the call. She passed away a few hours later and I’ve often wondered what it was that she had called about. I expect to find out one day, because despite her struggles, I believe she trusted Christ as her Saviour as best she could and “no one who puts their hope in the Lord will be put to shame.”
I suspect that unless I succumb to dementia or worse, I will always remember Olive Green as the sad example of that form of Christianity that believes that our receipt of blessings from the Lord depends on us first doing our part in serving the Lord – i.e. if we tithe we will prosper financially or conversely if are sick or poor we must not be pleasing to God.
In Luke we read: “The tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” God help us from being like the “Pharisee who stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” What do we do that makes us better in God’s eyes and more deserving of blessing than others?
As for God “what is it that God needs from us that He cannot do Himself?” Does He need us in order to save others? Does He need us to worship Him? Does He need our financial support? Really, what does He need that He cannot provide for Himself? Perhaps we think too highly of ourselves!!!
Friends, brothers and sisters, the blessing is, and only is, Jesus Christ! It is not health or wealth or any of the many things the world judges as worthwhile. The blessing is Jesus Christ and He is enough! We experience all the promises of God IN union with Christ. It WAS GOD in His mercy who placed us in Christ!
Yes God engages us in His work of saving and blessing others but let us not ever think that we are doing something “for” Him. In all things HE is doing something for us in His kingdom. We are His family by His mercy, and being His family He graciously includes us in HIS endeavours! We are blessed beyond measure.
As many of you know, the CFS of twenty years ago morphed into what my neurologist diagnosed as “chronic debilitating migraine”. Of course there have been those that attribute this to a lack of faith on my part or to persistent sin. And yes, I have asked God why He doesn’t heal me -have I really crossed the line that bad!
Paul wrote an interesting bit in Colossians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
This passage had always caused me pause because I wondered how Christ’s sufferings could be lacking! But I do not think that is what the passage is talking about. It is talking about what is lacking in OUR lives to conform US to the sufferings of Christ!
My dear spouse reminded me after I had written the first draft of this story, that back in the day, I would leave to visit Olive hardly able to move or function but would come home excited, exclaiming to her how I had experienced the very strength and wisdom of God! By the time I returned home the grace for the journey was no longer required and I was back to experiencing the normal weakened state. But to have witnessed and experienced His Life in such a real practical way was beyond anything I had imagined up to that time!
“He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” HE has rescued us!!! It is time we quit working for God as if He will be beholden to us and instead humbly thank Him for our cooperation IN HIS PURPOSE! It is time for us to stop thinking that He can ONLY accomplish His purpose with us! Instead let us be overwhelmed with the thought and love of God, who embraces us and works through us, making us part of the expansion and building of His Kingdom, the Kingdom that He conceived in eternity past, long before there was even a you and I.
In the past few weeks we have witnessed among our friends, God’s dynamic interference with the normal course of their lives, and have been encouraged and hopeful that we are experiencing His moulding discipline, further conforming us to the image of HIS Christ. A few are noticing that the experiences are not without a little pain.
I experienced a bit of an emotional meltdown this past weekend that originated in a migraine taking hold Thursday which as of today, Sunday, has yet to fully release its grip -they usually cycle a little more rapidly. Joy and I even contemplated ending, at least “my” part, of our business this very weekend. For those of you who are wondering how I’m even writing this letter, I can only mention that deep in the heart of the Amazon there exists a rare herb… What God purposes He enables!
Part of what prompted this writing was the sad witnessing of two types of believers in our field of vision. First are lowly ones, those who see themselves forever as “sinners saved by grace”, forever hoping to be at least of some acceptance and use to God, but at the same time not really expecting much. Then there are those, being strong in the faith, who are determined to storm the gates and get “their” blessing. They are strong in the word, strong in prayer and strong in worship. They fully expect, even demand that God bless them and chide us weak believers for our lack of faith and even choice.
For the first group there is good news! He has done it all, continues to do it all and will finish it. We walk in His Kingdom, saints, co-heirs with Christ and we share in all that HE is. For the second group, I’m not sure, not having been there. I suspect they must join hands with the first group!!!
Can I conclude for now by saying that God through Jesus Christ has been, is and will continue to build His ekklesia, His kingdom, and will include each of us in the way He has determined best suited for us in ways limited only by His creativity. The “big picture” is very exciting.