Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mice on the Brain

I said that we have had an invasion of mice. We have repelled the invasion. I think. I hope. But now we have mice on the brain. 

As I said, Larry caught our baby mouse last Sunday, but baby mice don’t come singly, or in pairs. The internet is a wonderful source of information. So Wikipedia: “The gestation period is about 19–21 days, and they give birth to a litter of 3–14 young (average six to eight).” So having caught one baby, the second that we caught on the sticky paper was no surprise. The next day we caught four more babies on the sticky paper. Six—a normal litter; and we haven’t seen any since, so we hope we got them all. 

We have identified how the mice got in, and the hole is now closed—from the garage into the floor-ceiling through a small gap where the baseboard was not quite tight. We have as close to positive proof of the entry point as we could ask for. They probably entered while we were gone Christmas, which gave them a couple of weeks to settle in and explore. So with adults running free and having babies, we have to clean the closets and floor and kitchen cupboards/drawers and on and on. Or Lois has to. I help as I can, but I am not as thorough as she is. This is a job for a real thorough cleaning.
The pictures give an idea. You can see the baby mouse sitting in the middle of the floor, oblivious to the danger. You see also the kitchen and dining room in a state of disarray. Spring cleaning in January. Our consolation is that, when we’re done, the house will be truly clean. 

Meanwhile we still have mice on the brain. Still thinking about that collective noun for mice: A fever of mice?

Monday, January 26, 2015

An Invasion of Mice

What do you call a collective of mice? I know about a murder of crows, a parliament of owls, and a flock of Canada Geese (more of a pest than their name suggests). But what is the collective of mice? Whatever it is, we’ve got it. 

We went away for Christmas, a wonderful three weeks with our families in Indiana and Pennsylvania. We enjoyed the travel, especially the drive to and from Pennsylvania with our son and daughter-in-law. Not to mention time with both sons and daughters-in-law back in Indiana (pictured right), and with my parents in Pennsylvania.
Even the flight back was enjoyable, delayed for seven hours out of South Bend, with the result that we flew to Grand Forks and our suitcase took a side trip to Fargo. But three weeks without people meant that mice could get in and ensconce themselves comfortably. 
Last Wednesday we realized we might have a problem—we found that something had eaten the corner of a loaf of bread sitting on the counter. Well, something equals mouse. We went out and bought some mouse traps, eight of them (about six more than I thought we needed). I set them strategically around the kitchen and checked them in the morning, with mixed results. Four had been cleaned off. One had been clearly touched a bit, but not completely cleaned. Two were untouched. The last one had a mouse in it. Perhaps his (her?) care with the other four had dulled his (her?) senses, and the last trap got him. Or maybe there were several, having a party. 

This mouse sent Lois into a Spring Cleaning frenzy, well before Manitoba has thoughts of spring. Our winter has been mild, but it is most definitely not spring yet. She attacked the garage, where we had already caught four mice—one just before Christmas, and three after. They had clearly eaten well from a big bag of bird seed.
She probed into dusty corners, finding ample evidence of mice in the house. That evening, as we sat downstairs beside our gas fireplace, we heard scratching in the walls. A really bad sign. That night we set 11 traps (having bought four more and thrown one out, complete with mouse). Most were not touched, but I found another dead mouse during my morning rounds, far from the kitchen beside the front door. We bought some more traps, so that I set 15 of them that night—three in the garage, eight upstairs, and four downstairs. The morning brought 14 empty traps, and another dead mouse, in the furnace room downstairs. Three dead mice inside, in three widely separate places. More traps on Saturday night, but no dead mice in the morning. We now have 21 traps set around the house and the garage. 

Sunday afternoon should have been a quiet relaxing time, nourishing our frazzled nerves. We had just finished lunch, sitting in front of our fire and noticing that there was no more scratching, when Lois walked towards the steps beside the laundry. The next thing I heard was a scream. I didn’t know Lois could scream that loud! She had found a mouse, a grade school youngster, in the laundry. 

I came to see what was the trouble. (Screams are rare in our household, and always worth investigating.) Up to this point I had been a rock, placing traps and throwing them out complete with dead mouse. But faced with a live creature I am a broken reed. I was up on a chair before Lois could find one to climb on to. From our respective chairs we plotted our course of action. 

A cat, we definitely needed a cat. A call to Marg, a farmer friend, obtained the information that her brother Larry had a cat that might prove useful. In response to a second call Larry said that sure, he could bring Choco over. Twenty minutes later Larry arrived, with good sturdy work gloves on and Choco, a beautiful eight-year old cat. Since most trips in the car mean that Choco was headed to the vet, he wasn’t sure what to make of this trip. He prowled around the basement sniffing, clearly puzzled and not sure what to do. 

Then the mouse appeared. The young of all species are not always real smart, and this mouse lived up to that stereotype fully. We cornered the mouse, and Larry proved to be a better mouser than Choco, catching and killing the mouse. We slept well that night. 

So today, I got a call at work just before I left—another grade school mouse, this time at the top of the stairs. We went off to the store again and bought four sticky pads, which we placed strategically around where we had seen the mouse. Soon it was trapped on the sticky pad, and Lois dispatched it. 

So now we have 21 traps set, three sticky pads around the basement, and nine dead mice in the trash. Not to mention a date with the exterminator to identify where they may have entered and work out how to be sure that we get all of the mice in the house. We know that our story is a small one. Our neighbour across the street told us how he and his cat had a competition in a previous house that he won—18 dead mice to 15. Nine’s not so bad, I guess, although we don’t know how many more there are. We do know that one litter is growing up, so there may be more in the next few days. 

Meanwhile, Choco is a beautiful cat, Larry is a wonderful friend, and I think I’ve figured out what the collective is for mice—an invasion of mice.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

God Is King!

Steinbach Mennonite Church, 18 January 2015
Daniel 2 to 4

As Randy told us last week, we are spending five Sundays in the book of Daniel. Sometimes I have avoided this book, perhaps because it has been hijacked by those who work out end-time charts, or because I find it simply confusing. In fact, Daniel is a reasonably clear book to interpret, provided we listen for what God wants us to do rather than using it just to make charts. So a couple of introductory comments. 

When we hear the book read for our morning Scripture, we don’t hear the shift of language that takes place. Chapter 1 and chapters 8 to 12 are in Hebrew, and chapters 2 to 7 are in Aramaic, a closely related language. Hebrew was the language of the Jewish people, in exile in Babylon. Aramaic was the language of the royal court, the language of the Empire. It’s as if we’re listening to a Russian Mennonite preacher 50 years ago, preaching in German to his Mennonite congregation—then he switches into English for some English visitors who are listening to the sermon, and then back to German as he speaks to the Mennonite congregation again. So chapter 1 sets the stage in Hebrew. Chapters 2 to 7 speak to the Gentiles around the Jewish people, and chapters 8 to 12 speak to the Jewish people. 

We’re in chapters 2 to 7 this week and next. These chapters have a chiastic structure: The theme of Chapter 2 matches chapter 7, the theme of chapter 3 matches chapter 6, and the themes of chapters 4 and 5 match each other. 

Chapters 2 and 7 tell us that there will be four great world Empires, declining in goodness and glory until a fifth World Empire (God’s perfect reign) sweeps them away. This idea was held not only among the Jews, but also among the Babylonians and Persians who owned the earthly empires. It gives us a basic direction in which history moves—from the best human efforts you can find, to a decline of order and goodness, for which God’s rule is the only solution. I have watched a movie of 6,000 years of Chinese history told by Chinese Christians that uses the same basic pattern to understand their own history. It is, I suggest, the basic pattern of human history: A series of four human empires leading to chaos. We may have a revival that starts the series over, but the final resolution of troubles comes only when God sets up his eternal kingdom.
As a side note, you see that history is played out on earth and in the courts of Heaven. History is not a set of purely natural events, but a story with supernatural components. Chapters 8 to 12 develop this side of the story more fully. 

Chapters 3 and 6 tell us that God protects his servants as they live in these human empires, so that God’s servants can live according to God’s reign. We serve God, not the Empire, wherever and whenever we live. Chapters 4 and 5 stand at the centre of this structure, which tells us that the point they make is Daniel’s primary concern in chapters 2 to 7. Their point is simple and direct: God is king over all kings, even the most powerful rulers of this earth. In chapter 4 God shows his reign over Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar responds by confessing God’s greatness and goodness and calls on all people to worship God alone. He is restored to his kingdom Beltashazzar responds with fear and defiance, and he is judged and destroyed. 

From this outline a basic point emerges, with a basic question for us. The point: God reigns over all the earth. Daniel and his friends show us how to live in the Empire as God’s people. You notice that they do not consider the historical Anabaptist option. They are quite willing to work within the Empire; they do not insist that God’s people separate from this world politically as well as spiritually. I wonder, in fact, if even our Mennonite colonies might fall under the category of “Empire” when they run the affairs of the human community. Daniel may speak even to our own Mennonite Empires, not just to the country in which they live. The question, then, that arises: Given that we live in the Empire—whether a benign and friendly or a malignant and hateful Empire, how do we live as ones who serve God alone? 

Living in the Empire
In Daniel the Empire is sometimes friendly and sometimes the enemy. In chapter 1 the Empire is willing to give the best youth of the conquered people a chance to participate in the Empire. And in chapter 2 the ruler honours Daniel for telling and explaining his dream. But in chapter 3 the Empire demands full worship and seeks to destroy those who do not give it. Again in chapter 5 the Empire passes a law that for 30 days people may worship only the Empire. This demonic quality is always present in the Empires of this world. They can be friendly one moment, as Canada is for us today, but they can also demand full and total allegiance, seeking to supplant God. The message of Daniel suggests a basic stance towards God and the Empire that is the same in both cases. We serve God and God alone. 

So how do we do this?

1) We serve God in community.
In chapter 1 Daniel and his three companions stand together. Sometimes we have read this book as though is tells us how to stand alone.

In chapter 2, when Daniel takes up the king’s challenge to tell and interpret the dream, Daniel begins by going to his friends for help.

In chapter 3 the friends stand together as they are condemned to the “burning fiery furnace”. 

When I was young we used to sing, “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone, dare to have a purpose true, dare to make it known.” But Daniel did not only stand alone. Even when he stood alone against the king in the Lion’s Den, he stood with his friends and with God. He responded to the Empire from within the community of faith. 

2) We remain faithful to God, no matter what the consequences.
The great line for this point is found in the three friends response to Nebuchadnezzar when he threatens them with the fiery furnace. “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’” (3:16-18) 

The RSV puts their reply abruptly: “But if not!” We do not calculate first of all the prospects of success of the response of the Empire. We ask first, what does God want us to do? Then we do it. 

One hundred years ago the European nations fought the First World War. Canada and the USA were pulled into that war. My wife’s paternal grandfather was drafted to serve in the American army, but he refused to put on the uniform. The consequence was time in jail during that war, during which his health was vitally affected. He was never physically strong again, so that during World War 2, when his sons were forced to serve in Civilian Public Service, he had to sell the family farm. But the consequences were not his first question. The first question for grandfather—and for us—is always, “What does God call me to do?” 

3) We spend time in the Scriptures.
This point is less clear in chapters 2 to 4, but surfaces more in the chapters intended to speak to the Jewish people directly—especially chapter 9, in which Daniel prays based on what he has been reading as he searches the Scriptures. We can speak more about this point when we come to those chapters. For now, if we wish to follow God’s reign and not become slaves of the Empire, we must immerse ourselves in God’s Word. 

I said in the introduction that we sometimes avoid Daniel because we find it confusing. Let me note what I think is the way we should approach this book, and all books of the Bible. We read the Old Testament through the eyes of the New Testament. And we read the whole Bible through the person of Jesus Christ. 

So, for example, when we read the visions in this book, we see the way that the NT uses them. The final kingdom in the sequence of four human kingdoms followed by the rock that destroys them (chapter 2) is God’s reign, which comes to us in the person of Christ. We never use these visions, or any other part of the OT, to contradict Jesus and his teaching, but rather we interpret these passages through Jesus and his teaching. So when we meet the Son of Man in Daniel, we are meant to think of Jesus, who intentionally described himself as the Son of Man (especially in the gospel of Mark). 

4) We spend time in prayer.
This truth is found throughout the book of Daniel. In chapter 2 Nebuchadnezzar threatens all of his wise men with death if they do not tell him what his dream was. The back and forth is almost amusing, and quite deadly. “Tell me my dream!” “Well, tell us what it was and we will interpret it.” “No! I said, tell me what I dreamed—and interpret it!” When Daniel finds out that all of them stand in danger of their lives, he goes to his friends and exhorts them all to go to God in prayer (3:17-23). 

This impulse to prayer was basic to their lives. It should be so also for us. We tend to pray most when we are in trouble, but for Daniel prayer was simply a habit, as we see most clearly in chapter 6 and chapter 9. When Daniel had a question about life he prayed. When he got up in the morning, he prayed. Whatever he was doing Daniel prayed. 

Sometimes I wonder if we have relegated prayer to be what older people do, once their more active contributions to church life is over. That is not a bad thing: When we can do nothing else, we can still pray, and God often hears the prayers of those who pray and trust, rather than trying to fix things themselves. But of course God wants us all to devote ourselves to prayer. Daniel prayed regularly, three times a day. There is no magic in the number three, but there is great power in praying regularly. Paul tells us that we should pray continually, all the time (1 Thessalonians 5: 16f). Such regular prayer works best if we use some set prayers to give them structure—such as the Lord’s Prayer, which we can summarize thus; “Your name—your kingdom—your will” (with thanks to my friend, Ed Neufeld). 

5) Confess God as King of the Universe.
This is the central truth of chapters 2 to 4. God reigns. Chapter 4 is quite unique in Scripture. It is set in the form of a letter from a pagan ruler to the pagan world, exhorting everyone to recognize that the God of Israel is the God of the universe. 

We are called to live under God’s authority no matter what the Empire in which we live says. Canada may call us to love one thing or another more than God; we follow God. Whether we are Americans or Canadians or from some other country, we find sometimes that our country calls us to do the right. When that happens, we serve both our God and our country. But sometimes the Empire wants us to worship something other than God—its own economic system, or rules and laws that the Empire sets in place, something other than God. 

In that moment we hear Daniel and his friends, and we refuse to bow to the image. We refuse to worship anyone or anything other than God. Our full and final allegiance is given to God, and to God alone. That is why the first and earliest Christian confession in the New Testament is “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). 

At our best we have known that God reigns, and we have lived out that truth. Although we sometimes fail and fall short of God’s reign, we sing it in our hymns and say it in our prayers. I like Hymn #38 in the old brown Hymnal (#122 in the new blue one). I have never heard it sung in church, just when I am at home at our piano. I like especially verse two:
We praise, we worship Thee, we trust
And give Thee thanks forever,
O Father, that Thy rule is just
And wise, and changes never;
Thy boundless power o’er all things reigns,
Done is whate’er Thy will ordains;
Well for us that Thou rulest. 

As God’s servants, even more as God’s children, we gather in community, read God’s Word, pray continually, and serve God faithfully. The Lord reigns. God is King!