Avoiding Blackouts (September 2003)
The recent power blackout gives pause for thought. When the electricity goes out, where do we get our power? Candles, batteries, and generators can be good substitutes in many instances, but what about power for our spiritual needs?
It is common to think of Jesus Christ as the light of the world. When the light of Christ's truth and love is shining in our lives, we can find our way amid the moral and spiritual darkness of this world. Yet the designer of our universe also identifies Christ as "the power of God".
This power, which God desires to share with the world, is more beneficial and far more important than the display of divine power associated with lightning strikes and thunderclaps.
The psalmist says, "You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God!" (Psalm 68: 35) God reveals that power in the unique impregnation of the womb of the virgin Mary, and announces His plan in advance through His messenger Gabriel. "The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.'" (Luke 1: 35) God also reveals His matchless power in raising Jesus from the tomb on the third day following his sacrificial death for sinners. Explaining after the fact what God has done, Paul writes of Jesus "who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God, by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 1: 4).
Loss of electrical power leads to darkness, chaos, inconvenience and danger. So it is with the loss of divine power. If God is not at work in our lives, then we grope in the darkness, chaos reigns, and we are in danger.
The restoration of power after an electrical outage must be done gradually, to avoid blowing up the appliances connected to the lines and for whom the power is intended. So it is with God's power in our lives: it must be given to us gradually, so that we do not become unbalanced. We must become used to God at work within us. To handle the Holy Spirit is a challenge! Some of God's best, most holy servants, in times of revival, came to the point where they had to ask God to stay His hand, for they were so overwhelmed with His presence and power that they could not take any more.
Clearly, though, God's design is to bless and equip His people with power. Paul in writing to the churches, Ephesus among them, writes: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being." (Ephesians 3: 16) To encourage young Timothy in his witness for Christ, the apostle offers a reminder: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power." (2 Timothy 1: 7)
We hold this power, however, in weak vessels. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." (2 Corinthians 4: 7) Though on loan to us, the power is not ours. Job rightly declares, "To God belong wisdom and power." (Job 12: 13)
Let us be reminded that whether the lights are on or off, God empowers those in whom He lives by His Spirit, to have power, and to be the means for conveying that power to our neighbourhoods and communities.
"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." (Romans 1: 16)
Powered by Christ, and only so,
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The best "Thank You" (October 2003)
"How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?" (Psalm 116: 12, NIV)
Many of us were taught, from an early age, "our manners", which included saying "Please" when asking for something,
and, especially, "Thank you" when we received it.
Sending a card or a letter expressing thanks is appropriate for gifts or kindnesses received on special occasions.
Grandparents, particularly, are pleased to receive such notes or cards from their grandchildren.
Far better, though, is it for the one who has given the gift to see it in use, and to see the one who has received
it showing obvious delight or satisfaction.
One may says "thanks" for a new shirt or tie, or a set of golf clubs, and send an eloquent note to the giver
expressing gratitude and pleasure, but if the garment sits unworn in the closet month after month, or the golf
clubs lie in their bag collecting dust in the garage, the gifts are essentially unused, and the giver may well
think that the gifts are under-valued and unappreciated. A VCR capable of recording TV shows or a computer able
to write CDs and play DVD movies are great gifts, but if the VCR never even displays the correct time and if the
computer is used once a month to send an e-mail message or two, the capabilities of both machines lie largely
unused, and the intention of the giver to bring pleasure to the recipient goes mostly unrealised.
God has given us many wonderful gifts. Rather than confining our "thanks" to a brief "note" in a prayer of
thanksgiving -- even once a week at worship or once a day in family or private devotion -- what about giving God
the joy of seeing our delight and satisfaction in His gifts?
The first of Godís many great gifts is the gift of life itself. Rather than simply saying "thanks", let us consider
how we can give God the greatest delight by using the gift of life as He designed it. Let us resolve to live life to
the fullest extent, using all the faculties given us to discover and explore the world which he has made for our
The greatest of Godís gifts is the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. That God should adopt back into his own
family guilty, rebellious sinners is a miracle, made possible only because God has a heart of love and Jesus was
willing to give up His life for us. If we truly accept and and appreciate this miracle, we will be moved to show
our gratitude by offering all our powers in joyful service, seeking to share Godís love with others.
As we approach the season of harvest Thanksgiving, let us pause and examine what kind of thanks is being conveyed to
others by the way in which we are living.
Paul, in thinking of the Christians at Thessalonica, asks, "How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the
joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?" (I Thessalonians 3: 9, NIV)
"Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One, give thanks because Heís given Jesus Christ His Son."
Thankfully, and eager to find ways to show it,
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Remembering (November 2003)
Isaiah 46: 9 - "Remember the former things, those of long ago." (NIV)
November is a month for remembering.
Remembrance Day -- November 11th -- is a fixed date on the calendar. For those in our midst who lost family or close friends or both in World War II, the day is a particularly poignant reminder of the pain of loss and separation. It is also an occasion to remember with honour their sacrifice and to reinforce and renew the promise: "At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."
Although the number of those with first-hand memories of World War I is now reduced to the count of those who have seen more than eighty five birthdays, there are increasing numbers of armed forces personnel and their families who bear fresh memories of the recent conflicts in Bosnia, the Persian Gulf, and Afghanistan. Even though we remember, we repeat: wars and rumours of wars continue to affect much of the world and effect much suffering.
November is also a month for remembering, for another reason. Churches around the world have fixed November 16th as the Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
Hebrews 13: 3 - "Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering." (NIV)
Suffering -- often intense suffering -- continues to be a very present fact of life for Christian brothers and sisters in many parts of the world.
The freedom to worship according to the God-given commands and examples in His word, free from imposed human dictates, is part of our cherished heritage in North America. We lament and have cause for concern for the future over present threats and encroachments on such freedom -- the freedom to read and proclaim the Bible as God's word. Yet our difficulties still pale in comparison to the restrictions and pains imposed upon confessing Christians in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere.
We are encouraged -- no, commanded -- to join together in praying for Christians who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. Three specific situations are highlighted, drawn from the many cries for help addressed to churches participating in the Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church:
- Pray for Christians in Laos, who are viewed as "enemies of the state"; Christianity in that country is identified as "a threat to national security".
- Ask God to come speedily to the aid of His people in northern Nigeria, where the advance of militant Islam and the imposition of sharia law has led to severe persecution of Christians;
- Seek divine and gracious mercies for believers in northern Uganda, where the blasphemous terrorist-militia, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), has threatened to "kill all clergy".
Others in the midst of our own congregation know first-hand some of the struggles arising from economic and political hardships facing brothers and sisters in Guyana, Lebanon, the Congo, Malawi, and China.
Let us remember, and let us act in response to what we remember, with our prayers, and our gifts, and our labours.
Matthew 25: 40 - "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (NIV)
In Christ, for the sake of His people,
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Lights in a season of light in a world of darkness (December 2003 - January 2004)
Isaiah 9: 2 - - "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (NIV)
Light is central to celebrations of Christmas both ancient and modern and pagan and Christian. One of the first signs that the commercial Christmas has made its appearance among the merchants of our mega malls is the stringing of coloured Christmas lights.
The ancient peoples were conscious of the central role that the sun played in providing light and heat for the growth of seed and the maturing of harvest. Its withdrawal produced the shortest and darkest days of the year, and inspired the festival of Saturnalia, in which the return of the sun was eagerly sought and anticipated.
The darkness of which Isaiah spoke, though, was much more than physical. Spiritual darkness shrouded the lives of those who had turned away from God and who had been blinded by the illusions dangled by Satan and designed to turn the faces and hearts of the people away from God and his majestic, kingly brightness.
As God's prophet, Isaiah foresees the day when spiritual dawn will burst upon the darkness, and scatter it. All that speaks of sleep and death will be dispelled, and those who would walk in the light as God is in the light will see and rejoice.
In God's good time, the prophecy is fulfilled, and John announces in the advent of Jesus the arrival of the Light of the world.
John 1: 9 - "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." (NIV)
Those who sought the Lord's bright, illuminating and cheering presence rejoiced, and were to drawn to embrace the Light of life. On the other hand, those who loved the deeds of darkness sought to shut Jesus out of their lives, not wanting the dark and murky corners of their lives to be revealed or transformed.
So it remains today. John the evangelist, reflecting on the varied responses to Jesus' appearing and the witness of the prophets and apostles to Him, observes that "the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it." (John 1: 5, NIV)
What do we understand? Do we see in Jesus the light, the true light, who gives light to all? If so, what are we doing to point others in His direction?
We know all too well the problems with which we have to grapple when the power fails and the lights go out. We value our lanterns and flashlights and candles, and bring them out and light them up. Our society recoils in confusion when confronted with an electrical blackout. Far more seriously, though, our modern society dwells in the midst of a vast spiritual darkness, and has not understood the light whom God has sent.
If the light of Jesus is shining in and through us, it is our calling to light up the darkness. As we watch the appearance of the Christmas lights, let us check our spiritual wattage and ensure that each of us is turned on and lit up to point the way to Jesus, the true Light.
Enjoying the Christmas lights, but also seeking to be one,
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Access (February 2004)
Two recent events have led to this short reflection on "access".
First, our elevator at Parkwood Church has been acting up again, and is presently out of service. Second, Canada Post has raised the cost of mailing ordinary letters for delivery in Canada from 48 cents to 49 cents.
How are these related? Both affect our access to services.
In the case of our broken elevator, those who find stairs difficult or impossible and who arrive expecting to be able to access our lower hall are disappointed. In the case of the increase in postage rates, those who for convenience had a quantity of 48 cent stamps on hand now find that they must go to the post office outlet and purchase a matching quantity of 1 cent stamps before they can drop letters in the postbox.
These may be major or minor inconviences, depending on an individual's circumstances, yet they represent a "denial of access" to important services.
Yet people also struggle with access on a spiritual level. Here, though, instead of bad news, the Bible has good news!
Paul, writing about the wonderful work of Jesus in reconciling both Jews and Gentiles to God, says: " For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit." (Ephesians 2: 18, NIV) For those from whatever background who have put their trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, there is now, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, direct access to God. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the temple was torn in two, and the way to God opened. That curtain symbolised the separation between the place where God dwelt in His holiness, and the place where His people -- even the best of them -- lived, "on the other side". No more is this separation necessary. Jesus has opened the way for us, giving us access to the Father.
Let us remember that even if the post office refuses our mail for lack of an extra stamp, God receives our prayers offered in the name of Jesus. His name is altogether sufficient!
Yet there is more. Our access is not limited to God receiving our prayers. Paul writes to the Romans and describes our access into God's grace:
"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." (Romans 5: 1-5, NIV)
Though Christians face hardships, and sufferings, we have access by our faith in Jesus Christ to the grace of God. Grace is "unmerited favour". Put another way, it is help we don't deserve.
May we be encouraged to know that God has fresh and new grace for His children each and every morning. May that grace surprise you -- and may we be surprised one day to find that our elevator works, too!
In Christ, thankful for free and unimpeded access to God,
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Passion: Christ's, Ours, and Others (March 2004)
Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ was released for public viewing on February 25th. I had an invitation to see an advance screening, but owing to another commitment could not attend. The film has had enormous publicity, and there has been a good deal of discussion both publicly in the press and privately among pastors and church leaders about the appropriateness and the significance of the movie.
The headline in the February 17th issue of Christian Week, "Passion piques interest and raises eyebrows", sums up the mood in the days immediately prior to the release. It is accompanied by a photo of a bruised and bloodied man, supported by another, bent over under the weight of an enormous wooden cross, walking up a hill, prodded by a soldier dressed in armour and brandishing a whip, and accompanied by a large crowd.
I have been asked my opinion of the movie, whether I plan to see it, and what I would suggest to those thinking about viewing it. I would offer the following observations.
First, for anyone who is a Christian, who has been born again through the work of the Holy Spirit and who has put complete personal trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour, the film is certainly not necessary.
In the days before motion pictures, some of our reformed forebearers in the faith would have decried the use of any art form to depict Jesus. While most of us take and view photographs, there are some Christians even today who regard man-made pictures of anything real to be a violation of the second commandment.
Exodus 20: 4 - "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." (KJV)
While we have moved away a bit from the radical iconoclasm of the reformation, in which all images of any sort whatsoever were not only removed from places of public worship but even destroyed, there is sense in which a healthy scepticism of human attempts to capture or re-create biblical events is justified.
John 4: 24 - "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
We are called to a spiritual union with Christ, and we are to worship God in spirit. None of us lived to see Jesus while He lived in the flesh, Any physical image of Christ today is limited by the imagination of the individual making the image, and will be distorted. (This is the reason, incidentally, why some of us are reluctant to use Sunday School materials which make heavy use of "pictures" of Jesus.)
Second, though, by most reports, the film on balance attempts fairly to represent the historical record of Jesus' last twelve hours prior to His death on the cross. In the face of many offerings from Hollywood that take great license with revealed truth and put forth false and blasphemous fare, the movie apparently stays remarkably close to the biblical record. Charges -- including, sadly, some from "mainline" church leaders -- that the film is anti-semitic, appear baseless. The evidence suggests that the director has focused specifically on the suffering of Jesus during his arrest, his trial, and his judgement. Those who see it will not see a complete picture of the life of Jesus, or a full summary the parables He taught or the miracles He did, but they will have a very graphic and largely accurate understanding of His physical suffering.
Thirdly, and most significantly, the fact is that the movie is a part of the culture in which we live, and the impact of "The Passion of The Christ" on those within the Christian community -- and, far more importantly -- on those beyond it -- cannot be underestimated or ignored. It is expected that many people will see the movie who are not regularly in worship when the record of Jesus' suffering and death is read from the Bible.
This will create a climate for discussion and open the way for opportunities for Christians to witness to others about the significance of Jesus' suffering. Why did He undergo such suffering? The record of his life indicates that assuredly He did not deserve it. If his torture was a random act, why then two thousand years afterward does it attract and hold such attention, while the suffering of millions of others is ignored? If though, there was meaning in his suffering -- if as the Bible says, "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53: 5, NIV) -- then those who are confronted by a depiction of the suffering of Christ must answer the question, "What does this mean for me?" Christians then have a timely opportunity and significant responsibility to help family, friends, colleagues and strangers to understand that we have answered that question by yielding our hearts and wills to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.
In summary, then, Christians do not need for our own sakes to see the film. Those who do may be able to reflect on it with non-believing friends. All of us need to be ready to give an answer to those who ask us for the reason for the hope we have in Christ.
Thankful for the suffering of Jesus Christ, and for the Holy Spirit who convinced me that He did it for me,
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Spring (April 2004)
Numbers 21: 17 - "Then Israel sang this song: "Spring up, O well! Sing about it." (NIV)
What is your definition of "spring"?
The dictionary has a whole page of definitions for the word spring. Sometimes the word is used as a noun, naming objects; other times the word is a verb, expressing action.
For me, spring is energy -- the energy of a fast-gushing stream of water, or the pent-up energy of a coil ready to propel forward or upward whatever or whoever bounces against it. Spring is life -- the appearance of new, green shoots on plants and shrubs, signaling new growth and fresh beauty. Spring is promise -- the early signs of something new, with all the potential that a new beginning or initiatves possesses.
In the Old Testament, among a largely nomadic people wandering amid deserts, springs were vital. Water was necessary to sustain life, and the search for and the discovery of a spring was an event worthy of conversation. Lives were saved when a spring was discovered, and lives were lost without one.
Jesus tells that He is the spring, the source of the water of life:
"To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life." (Revelation 21: 6, NIV)
As we approach Easter, and as we celebrate the arrival of spring, let us reflect on the many signs and meanings of spring. Let us also centre our lives upon the One who alone possesses the energy, the life, and the promise to sustain us and propel us forward to realise the full potential for growth that God has planted in us.
Smiling in the spring, with the sun, and with the Son,
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Losing (May 2004)
Except for a few die-hard Toronto fans, most residents of Ottawa are presently feeling a deep sense of loss with
the early exit of the Ottawa Senators hockey team from the Stanley Cup playoffs. An objective analysis might well
point out that (a) the Senators outplayed and in most periods outshot the Leafs and (b) their inability to win can
be directly attributed to having run up against a very hot Hall of Fame-bound goaltender who is presently notching
shutouts at a rate equal to that of the legendary Jacques Plante. Objective analyses, though, don't much help: the
sense of loss is still real, and cannot be argued or explained away. Losing is no fun.
Losing is not fun, either, for those whose losses are not measured in goals scored or games won, but in far more
profound ways. The loss of agility and mobility due to accident, illness, or advancing age deeply affects many. The
loss of memory and understanding that appear with the onset of Alzheimer's disease can steal one's sense of security
and disturb cherished relationships. The loss of a job or the reduction of responsibilities through a demotion can be
very upsetting to those otherwise hale and hearty. The loss of a spouse or a parent or a child or an unborn baby can
bring a gnawing emptiness and pain. The prospect of one's own death brought into focus by the diagnosis of a terminal
illness can bring with it the loss of unrealised aspirations and leave one numb and empty. Losing is not fun.
The apostle Paul knew a bit about losing. He lost -- at least temporarily -- his eyesight; he lost his security and
status and reputation; several times he nearly lost his life.
He was able, though, to put losing into a winning and hope-filled perspective, because, amid his losses, he found what
really mattered: the life of God in his soul, revealed to him in Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3: 8 - "I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my
Philippians 3: 13-14 - "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I
press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus." (NIV)
"Wait 'till next year" is significant but small consolation for the Stanley Cup-deprived fan, and may be discounted if
a looming labour dispute derails next year's schedule. We have in Christ Jesus -- and because of His resurrection -- a
far bigger and far better consolation amid our losses, however real they are and however deeply we may feel them. In
Christ is life, and God in His mercy calls us to that life -- abundant and eternal.
Let us resolve with Paul -- as he does in his meditation between counting his losses and then discounting them -- to
know Christ. That will be the ultimate victory!
Philippians 3: 10 -11 - "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing
in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (NIV)
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Voting (June 2004)
I Timothy 2: 1-2 - "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone -- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness." (NIV)
We affirm that Christians are called to pray for those in authority, and we regularly ask God to give those who serve at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of our government wisdom to pursue justice and mercy for all people.
We are, however, also blessed with the privilege and responsibility of electing our government. As we face a federal election on June 28th, we would do well to reflect on a key question:
How should my faith influence how I vote?
First, it is appropriate that we give thanks for the privilege of the election and the freedom to vote. Millions and millions of people in many parts of the world do not have such a privilege. Others who can vote face threats of danger or even death if they choose to vote for someone other than the "recommended" candidate. Let us give thanks to God for the privilege and freedom of voting.
Second, we need to reflect on the responsibility of participating in a democracy. In ancient Israel, God governed his people through the provision of prophets whom He used to communicate His law and convey his leading. The people were not wholly content with this, and thought that it would be better to have a king, similar to the neighbouring peoples.
I Samuel 8: 6-7 - But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king." (NIV)
In a strict monarchy or under a dictatorship, accountability is "up the ladder". Each one is held accountable by the one in the position above, and, ultimately, everyone answers to the reigning king or dictator. Such was the case in Daniel's day when he found himself in the service of the king of Babylon.
Daniel 6: 1-2 - "It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom, with three administrators over them, one of whom was Daniel. The satraps were made accountable to them so that the king might not suffer loss." (NIV)
Unfortunately, though a dictatorship may be decisive, it may also be divisive, when the dictator unwisely directs people to act contrary to God's design for humanity, as Darius did when he declared that no one could pray to anyone other than himself. Daniel's faith in -- and his faithfulness to -- the living God resulted in his being cast into a den of lions.
In a democracy, accountability is "down the ladder". Those in positions of leadership ultimately answer to those who elected them, that is the voters. If we embrace democracy as our form of government, we are called to hold those who have served as our representatives responsible for the actions they have taken during their term of office. We are also called to advise those who are running for office that we will hold them responsible for what they promise should they be elected. All of this requires us
Third, as Christians we are called to listen for the voice of God to evaluate the voices of the candidates, and to hear His voice before we raise our own. We are to discern the signs of the times, and know what God expects of His church. Christians are called to be salt and light in the society in which we live, and part of that includes bearing God-honouring testimony in the public square to issues of life and faith.
- to know the candidates who are running in our individual riding
- to know how the incumbent has voted on issues of importance
- to know what the candidates believe and promise on the issues facing the country.
In the recent term of office of our parliament, many things have been handled or mishandled by our elected representatives which profoundly affect issues of life and faith. Christians are called to know the principles upon which God has designed life, and the basis on which he promises His blessing to rest upon a people.
Some of these issues of current concern include:
We need to examine the record of incumbents, and we need to challenge candidates to state plainly where they stand on these issues. We then need to vote accordingly, endorsing the individual candidate in our particular riding who is able and willing to represent us best in the most important human forum in our land, the House of Commons. Then we can continue to pray for those in authority, as the Bible commands.
- acknowledgement of the divine design and definition of marriage;
- respect for the sanctity of life, both for babies conceived and for those terminally ill
- freedom of speech in matters of religion;
- the distinction between the powers of courts to apply laws and the powers of Parliament to impose them;
- faithful and fair stewardship of entrusted resources, including taxes collected;
- wise use of the resources of the country for the defence of the nation, the care of the sick and the relief of the poor;
- appropriate sharing of the bounty and opportunities with which we are blessed with others around the world in dire need.
Give thanks for June 28th. Pray for June 28th. Prepare for June 28th. Participate on June 28th. Vote on June 28th.
Prayerfully and practically political,