On watering plants and souls (September 2004)
Psalm 1: 2-3: - "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither."
One the challenges I face as the summer winds down is the condition of the lawn in our yard. Repeating what happened last year, portions of the grass have turned brown and show every evidence of dying. The consensus among those whom I have consulted is that I do not have a problem with bugs or grubs, but rather the lawn is dying from a lack of moisture. In spite of a fair bit of cool weather this summer, and several thunderstorms, there has not been a diet of gentle, steady rain to continually feed and nourish the grass plants. I have been forced to rake out some of the dead patches, re-seed, and apply regularly in the evenings a slow sprinkled shower of water.
Our spiritual lives can easily suffer from the same trouble as our lawns. The psalmist holds up for us a beautiful picture of what God intends for us. "Blessed is one who walks in the counsel of the Lord," he tells us. "He is like a tree planted by steams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither." I have always been delighted to find trees (apple or cherry) or bushes (blueberry, raspberry, or cranberry) loaded with fruit at towards the end of a summer season. Similarly, it is a great joy to find Christians whose lives are attractively adorned with the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. It is a delight to be with such people, and our lives are so often and so wonderfully enriched by them.
The key to producing such fruit, and not withering in the hot and dry seasons of life, is to find our delight in the word of God, and to meditate upon His word day and night.
As the beginning of September heralds a new season of life and activity for many of us, it is most appropriate that we check the conditions for our spiritual growth. Are we reading the Scriptures on a daily basis? Are we meditating upon them? Many find help and encouragement to meditate or think about part of God's word each day by using a daily devotional guide. Several are available.
TODAY is a bi-monthly booklet published by the Back to God Hour of the Christian Reformed Church, with a short, one-page reflection highlighting a verse of scripture, followed by a short prayer. Free copies of the regular edition are available at Parkwood for anyone who wishes one. Large-print copies for those who find them a benefit are also available, provided by the Pastoral Care Team.
Our Daily Bread is another booklet which many find to be a blessing. It is published on a quarterly basis by RBC Ministries. Subscriptions are handled by our church librarian, Margaret Williams.
These Days is also a quarterly devotional booklet, published by the Presbyterian Church in the USA, but available in Canada though the national Presbyterian Church office in Toronto. Individual yearly subscriptions are $11.40, or $9.75 if five or more are ordered for the same address; large print copies are also available at $11.80 (single) or $10.25 (five or more)
PCC Daily is an electronic daily devotional available free of charge by e-mail. It is also accessible on the internet at www.presbycan.ca and is accompanied by an electronic recording of a song or hymn.
Regardless of your specific choice of devotional material, let us encourage one another, watering both our plants and our souls.
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Renewal (October 2004)
Once a week, the Renewal Fellowship offers an e-mail supplement to the quarterly prayer bulletin, entitled "Effective
E-mail for Persistent Prayer". It includes timely requests for specific renewal that congregations across Canada wish
to share and have others join in upholding. It also usually includes an exhortation to pray.
This month for our pastoral letter, I have reprinted and adapted a recent edition.
2 Timothy 1: 7 - "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (NIV)
We have an in-born desire for more!
The hockey player wanting a bigger salary, the stamp collector looking for another specimen to complete a series, or the berry-picker grabbing another handful to have enough for a pie: all show the same symptom. All have a little, and want a little more.
It is so spiritually, too. Having glimpsed God through the glass darkly, we long to see Him face to face. Having tasted that the Lord is good, we want to eat the bread of life until we are fully satisfied. Having known little breezes of the Spirit's work in our lives, we yearn for the full rushing wind.
Paul, conscious that Timothy is a young man of faith, is reminded that his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois also possessed the same faith in Jesus Christ, and had a precious possession. He goes on to write to Timothy: "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands." (2 Timothy 1; 6, NIV)
A little -- a little spark -- is real, but we cannot stop with the spark of the Spirit smoldering. We are called to fan that spark into a full-blown flame.
To exhort Timothy (and us too) to such work, Paul reminds us that "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline."
In what spirit shall we approach God in prayer: quietly, hesitantly, fearful that we may lose what little we have; or boldly, confidently, eager that He may open the heavens, and rain down upon us fire from on high?
Let us stir the embers and pray with boldness.
James Philip quotes W. E. Sangster as saying, "Jesus sees double ... He sees us not only as the people we are, but also as the people we may become. [Up against it (Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus Publications, 1991), p. 140]
May God help us to see double, and yearn for more ... seeing ourselves individually and the church as a whole not only as we are, but also as we may become.
Come as the fire: and purge our hearts like sacrificial flame; let our whole soul an offering be to our Redeemer's name.
Come as the wind, with rushing sound and pentecostal grace; that all of woman born may see the glory of Thy face.
Spirit divine, attend our prayers; make a lost world Thy home; descend with all Thy gracious powers; O come, great Spirit, come!
Give thanks for Andrew Reed (1787-1862) and his hymn text, which is still a living prayer; pray that God would anoint servants today to write deep and soul-stirring words full of matter that the Spirit will be pleased to use and bless.
Pray for outreach to college and university students on the part of congregations in our urban centres.
Pray that God would open His chosen door for service for Charles Kahumbu.
Pray for presbyteries grappling with strategic plans for mission. Uphold the Presbytery of Montreal and give thanks for
the servant leadership of Clyde Ervine. Remember Derek Krunys, one of the final year students, as he comes among us at
Note: Anyone with an e-mail address is welcome to subscribe, free of charge, to the weekly edition of "Effective E-mail
for Persistent Prayer". Go to http://www.renewal-fellowship.ca/
and click on "Subscriptions", or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
(webpage and e-mail addresses updated from original post; there are currently - July 2017 - daily, weekly and monthly options for the "prayer chain")
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Singing amid life's trials (November 2004)
James 1: 2-4 - "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (NIV)
In a recent service, I called attention to the witness through poetry and song of Frances Ridley Havergal. She was the author of such hymns as "Who is on the Lord's side?", "Take my life, and let it be", "Master, speak, Thy servant heareth", and "Lord, speak to me, that I may speak". I erroneously indicated in passing that Frances Ridley Havergal was blind, Weak and struggling with poor health for much of her life before an early death, yes, but she was not blind. That handicap was faced by another of God's sweet singers, Frances Jane Crosby, who gave us such hymns as "All the way my Saviour leads me" and "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!"
In responding to an attentive member of the congregation who caught my error, I reviewed short biographies of both of these gifted Christian musicians. My gratitude for their lives and their witness in the face of what can only be described as difficult and daunting personal circumstances has consequently grown.
For our inspiration and encouragement, I offer here a review of some facts of their lives.
Frances Jane Crosby is perhaps more widely known. As a result of improper medical treatment, she was blinded at the age of six weeks; she lived, though, into her nineties. Living in physical darkness but spiritual light, she began in her forties while a professing member of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York to put the gospel into verse and song. After writing several thousand hymns and gospel songs, her earthly remains were buried in 1915 at Bridgeport, Connecticut, where her tomb bears the simple biblical inscription, "She hath done what she could."
Frances Ridley Havergal was the daughter of William and Jane Havergal. Her father was an English Anglican clergyman, and Frances grew up in a happy home as the youngest of six children.
At the age of seven, she penned the following poem, which captures something of the blessing of her home and family:
Sunday is a pleasant day,
Her mother died when Frances was twelve, leaving her with the following last words: "Fanny dear, pray to God to prepare you for all that He is preparing for you." Three years later, after a time of confusion, she came to a saving faith, putting her trust in Jesus Christ.
When we to church do go;
For there we sing and read and pray,
And hear the sermon too.
On Sunday hear the village bells;
It seems as if they said,
Go to the church where the pastor tells
How Christ for men has bled.
And if we love to pray and read
While we are in our youth,
The Lord will help us in our need
And keep us in His truth.
Her schooling was interrupted by a skin disease affecting her face and head, and after treatment by specialists in Germany, she attended a school there for a short time in which she found herself as the only one in her class with an interest in spiritual things. She returned to England and although formal schooling was discontinued, she persevered on her own to study languages, becoming proficient in Italian, French, German, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Most of all, though, she learned the Bible, and began to serve as a Sunday School teacher.
Susceptible to frequent colds, persistent headaches, and enduring a bout of what was likely typhoid fever, Frances bore an increasingly heavy burden of physical weakness. She died in 1879, at the age of only 42. Her last words included an affirmation of her confident hope in Christ: "It's home the faster". Her tombstone bears the words she requested: "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin."
In confronting the trials of our lives, we are sometimes tempted either to be discouraged or to wish that things were better. Let us take as our inspiration these two afflicted but faithful pilgrims -- both named Frances -- and, putting our trust in Jesus Christ, do what he enables us to do, to His eternal praise.
Romans 12: 12 - "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer." (NIV)
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One Thing (December 2004 - January 2005)
Luke 10: 42 - "Only one thing is needed."
As Christmas approaches, many merchants advertise their business as the "one-stop shopping centre" for frantic
time-challenged Christmas shoppers. As others look forward to changing of the calendar and the arrival of a new year,
many will be drawn to make a "new year's resolution" to focus on doing one thing differently in 2005.
For all of the simplification promised by our technological advances, the simplification of our lives becomes harder
and harder to achieve. More and more gadgets have to be programmed, more and more things arrive to compete for the same
space, more and more messages overflow our inboxes. More and more activities compete for space and time on our calendars.
Whether it is seniors selling a house and downsizing, or elementary school students wrestling with reducing fractions,
or parents juggling several juxtaposed schedules, all of us are looking for ways to simplify our lives.
As we prepare for Christmas, the season of advent affords us an opportunity to take stock of our lives, with a view
to simplification. In reflecting upon some of the participants in the biblical drama accompanying the birth of Jesus,
we are helped to see the value of a single-minded focus in life. The wise men paid attention to one single star and
concentrated on completing a journey to find and worship the new-born King. Simeon could close his eyes in peace
because he at last held in his arms the One who was to be the salvation of God's people.
Part of the enthusiasm for the study of materials like Rick Warren's books, The Purpose-Driven Life or
The Purpose-Driven Church, is the realization that amid all our busyness, we have only one life to live here
on earth, and we want to make it count for eternity. In what shall we invest our time and energy? The almost limitless
options and opportunities available to us mean that we must make choices. Faithfulness to God requires that we make the
Jesus tells Mary, "Only one thing is needed." He did not despise Martha's service in preparing a meal, but he did
challenge her assumption that she and her sister needed to be busy. Jesus accomplished far more in his three years
of public ministry than any of us will in a lifetime, but I do not have a picture of Jesus as being busy -- peacefully
focused and purposeful, yes; but busy, no. Let us amid our busyness hear Jesus' challenge, and seek to ensure that we
choose the one thing needed.
Christmas preparations and activities can and will be overwhelming and exhausting if we try to do everything that is
available for us to do. Let us choose carefully what we will do, and celebrate contentedly. Each of us has a new
calendar for a new year. Let us mark it with appointments -- but carefully, and with purpose.
Whether it's Christmas or the New Year we are planning, let us remember: One thing is needed -- and the one thing needs
to be centred in Jesus.
Praying that each one will have a focused Christmas and New Year, and that our focus will be on Jesus,
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Each one (February 2005)
In the face of a catastrophic disaster in which a quarter of million people are lost in an instant and in which it takes a month to count them, or in reflection upon a genocide engineered to exterminate some six million for many of whom names are no longer known, one may be led to ask, "Do I matter?"
Finding that God has in fact numbered each and all of the hairs on our heads, and has appointed each and every one of our days, one may conclude that each one of us does have a specific purpose, even if we have difficulty perceiving it clearly.
If one manages to discover that part of God's purpose is to place us in meaningful relationships -- with one or more other human beings, and, even more importantly, with the God who created us in his image -- one may then ask a second question: "Can I make a difference?"
To this second question, we can also answer positively, "Yes!"
Without trying to answer definitively all the questions, or even all the big questions, we can affirm that relationships of various sorts provide not only meaning but purpose, as we discover how others' lives can be enriched through what we bring to relationships.
Paul, in a document likely intended as a circular letter to be read by many congregations in his day, wrote: "To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." (Ephesians 4: 7, NIV)
"Grace" is undeserved favour -- like a surprise present at Christmas or on an unexpected occasion, from someone whom we didn't ever think would remember us. Paul is saying that God gives us, in and through Jesus Christ, grace. Some of the grace is seen in the gift of life, in the gift of forgiveness, and in the gift of a second chance.
It is vitally important, though, that we realise that this grace is given to "each one", according to Christ's plan. My present is different from yours; yours is different from mine. In one way, it is as though God wants us to build a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, and has chosen to wrap up each piece, separately, with a different name on each package. He invites each one of us to open our particular package, treasure our piece, and try to find the way to fit it together with all the others to make a beautiful picture.
The puzzle, though, is not static or artificial; rather, it is the living, breathing, eternal community of faith which is the Church. The image ultimately pieced together will reflect the beauty of Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. The picture is being enhanced every single day, for God's grace is given to us in daily portions. "New every morning" are the Lord's mercies (Lamentations 3: 23, NIV).
"Can I make a difference?" Yes, indeed! Each one who receives the grace of God in Jesus Christ is different, but is a vital part of the whole. Contributing our grace to the whole community is necessary for the health, growth, and completion of the whole Church. It is equally necessary for each of us, in order that we may be able to say with confidence, "Yes, I matter! The whole is incomplete without me."
Our contributions together are building the Church of Jesus Christ. Here at Parkwood, at Algonquin College among students, in Africa among AIDS orphans, in Asia as part of the Presbyterian World Service and Development relief effort, and in many other places.
One of our daughters received a jigsaw puzzle for Christmas. The box said it had 500 pieces. Upon assembly, only 499 were present and accounted for. The beautiful picture of hot air balloons against the backdrop of a clear, blue sky is spoiled by a jagged hole in the centre.
Do I matter? Yes, indeed! Do you matter? Yes, without question!
Let us resolve to matter together, as we labour together in building Christ's kingdom.
With each one in Christ,
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One thing: Legacy (March 2005)
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)
In reviewing the annual report for 2004, now published in preparation for the annual congregational meeting called for Saturday, March 5th, I am again struck by the wide variety of activities and the many projects undertaken by the congregation during the past year. Annual reports are a summary and a pulling together of many strands in the life and witness of the church.
Annual reports also provide useful information for future students of history seeking to know something about the life of a congregation at a given point in time. I wonder what future historians will say about us? What will they find of significance in the life of Parkwood Church for the year now past?
The apostle Paul was in prison, facing unknown challenges in his future, but he faced them with confidence: "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."
Following on my reflection last month about each one being important in the life of the church of Jesus Christ, I want to challenge each one of us to reflect a little on our priorities. Amid all the options and opportunities asking for our time, what is of first importance?
In pondering this, I am led to pose a series of questions, aimed at helping us focus our energies for the future.
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.
The last month of a long winter can be discouraging for those are still wary of icy walks. Cold breezes left over from
winter winds can chill warm hearts. The arrival of an early Easter without too many signs of spring flowers can impede
our sense of celebration.
Witnessing to eternal and unchanging truth in a society which has embraced change as a daily diet can be a daunting and
discouraging duty. Calling for consistent and exclusive commitment to Jesus Christ in a world where many competing and
entertaining idols hold centre stage can seem to be a mission impossible or at least rather unlikely to be successful.
Where then comes our confidence and our hope? How shall we embrace both the season of spring and our seasonable and
reasonable calling to be about our Master's business?
Zephaniah, like many of the prophets, did not have an easy ministry. God called and appointed him to announce to a
sinful and rebellious people the coming judgement of God. Preaching "doom and gloom" is not popular, nor easy. From
a human viewpoint, it could often be a thankless task. Those who were uninterested and unwilling to repent and change
their ways could hardly be expected to welcome the prophet's message with thankfulness. Those who heeded the message
often did so only after repeated warnings and prodding. The Bible records few instances where the prophet who brought t
he message was still around to hear the thanks of those who finally received it.
What gave Zephaniah the confidence to preach on? The key is found in near the end of the book that bears his name, in
chapter 3, at verse 17: "The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save."
What we mark at Easter is the greatest event in human history: the resurrection of Jesus. On the third day after his
beaten and bloodied corpse was laid to rest in a stone cold tomb, the power of an all-powerful God raised Jesus Christ
from the dead. This single event signified God's complete satisfaction with the self-sacrifice offered by his obedient
Son, solely for the salvation of a sinful and selfish people, and supremely showing his selfless love for us.
What Zephaniah had was the promise that God was mighty to save. What we have is the proof. What Zephaniah possessed --
and what we possess -- is the confidence that God is with us. Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you". "I
am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Christmas is the celebration of Emmanuel -- "God with us" -- as a child, as a human being, as one of us. Easter is the
celebration that in the resurrection -- God is with us -- still with us, eternally with us, in his death-defying power.
Such is the wind that gives us confidence to go on in faith -- believing, trusting, serving, honouring, witnessing --
and even in harsh and inhospitable climates, like cold and slow and late springs, and in the face of daunting and
otherwise discouraging circumstances, and in the midst of challenging and competing cultures.
In response to a recent speech by the Prime Minister, one of the opposition leaders made the bold statement that a certain political party had lost "the moral authority to govern". For our purposes, we shall leave aside the fact that the party led by this opposition leader is committed to separation of Canada into two nations, which raises the question of how and who he proposes to govern. What is noteworthy about this statement, though, and led me to reflect upon it, is that the one who made it had only days before voted with the Prime Minister against an amendment to a bill dealing with a question of public morality -- the definition of what constitutes a marriage.
All of this led me to the question, "What is 'the moral authority to govern?'" Who defines what is moral? Just because the government or the court says something is or may be "legal", is such a thing morally right?
Where does authority to lead -- whether it be the country, the city, or the community organisation -- come from?
I had the opportunity recently to attend a presentation sponsored by the Dutch Embassy highlighting the work of Christians in hiding and protecting Jewish children from the Nazis in the occupied Netherlands during World War II. The film, "Hidden heroes", depicts the extraordinary efforts of the Dutch underground. Parents and families worked together to secure the safety of young strangers, at great risk to themselves and their own children. An address by Ada Wynston, a Holocaust survivor, expressed the continuing gratitude of those Jews who lived in hiding in Christian homes.
These families had no human "authority" to do what they did. On the contrary, the governmental authority of the day expressly forbade their activities. Yet their consciences, bound to the higher authority of the true and living God, compelled them to act in ways that put their own lives in danger to save the lives of people whose "crime" in the eyes of the "law" was that they were of a different religious background.
Those of us who attended the presentation, including several presbyterian pastors who had been specially invited, were challenged to continue to hold out the challenge to act in ways which honour God and preserve the dignity of those created in the image of God, in spite of differences that separate, and in the face of "authority" that may try to dictate otherwise.
The apostle Paul in discussing leadership in the church, writes to his young disciple and helper, Titus. After giving specific instructions about the qualifications of leaders, in preparation for the ordination of elders on Crete, where Titus had been left to serve, Paul sums up some practical teaching on Christian conduct by exhorting Titus:
Paul indicates that Titus has the moral authority to govern. Though he is young, he is to govern and lead the Christian community with authority -- God-given authority.
We are called to act as those invested with the moral authority to live in obedience to God. Let us be wary of the danger of blindly assuming that the governmental authority is or will be moral. We may well continue to witness among political leaders the spectacle of "the pot calling the kettle black". Let us resolve as followers of Jesus Christ to show respect to those to whom respect is due, but to resolve to act carefully, thoughtfully, and courageously, with the authority given to us by our Lord to honour God, even and especially when the "authorities" may impede or forbid us to do so.
In Canada, we are blessed with a climate that provides us with a regular change of seasons. As a child, I liked the arrival of winter far more than the arrival of summer. Perhaps it is as a result of many long cold winters spent in the north country, but now as an adult, I rather look forward to the arrival of summer. Making allowances for pollen and other detriments to air quality, the warmer weather invites us to explore "the outdoors" and to take time to take note of the beauty of God's creation.
Cultivating soil and the things that grow in it also inspires us to cultivate relationships with living beings. In our modern technological urban world, far too many of us spend far too much time relating to inanimate objects: telephones, televisions, and computer screens. Summer for some at least brings a shortening of work hours or the provision of some vacation time. Together with longer daylight hours, this provides us with opportunities to give more attention to the people in our lives and in our vicinity. More conversations with the neighbours over the back fence, or while strolling around the block, give us a chance to grow in knowing those with whom we share the world.
Jesus in a relatively warm climate traveled, often by foot, and usually in the company of some of his disciples. He took time to talk with those whose paths intersected his. He balanced the need for withdrawal to a quiet place to converse with his heavenly Father in the beauty of his creation with his calling to actively share the good news entrusted to him.
Jesus models for us a way of life. We are to strive to live in harmony with God in the beauty of the world which he has created. It is good for us to take time to "smell the flowers" and to pick the berries. It is also good for us to take time to talk with our neighbours and to share the good news entrusted to us: that in Jesus God offers us a travelling companion. Jesus is the one who gives us the directions for living. He is the one who gives us the capacity to live knowing God. Jesus is the one who reveals to us what it is to be loved and cherished, and in turn enables us to gain the capacity to love and cherish others.
Summer is a season for us to cultivate our relationship with God, our relationship with fellow Christians, and to build relationships with others whom we may be privileged to introduce to Jesus.
Let us welcome summer's arrival, and enjoy it, and at the same time, use it to God's honour.