How loved are you? (September 2006)
Do you feel loved?
Most of us if honest with ourselves -- if not with others -- will admit that there are times when we don't really feel very loved. Whether it's because a
relationship has gone sour, or because a child or parent appears ungrateful for our care, or simply because we feel overwhelmed and alone, there are times
when we wonder if anyone else cares.
At such times, we may turn to God. Some of us struggle then, too. Does God love us? If so, how can we sense His love when we need it most?
An article I read while on vacation caught both my eye and my heart. Don Kistler, writing in the July, 2006 issue of Tabletalk, says:
"So many of us struggle to accept that God loves us; but we now ought never to struggle with how much God loves us. God loves all who are in Christ as much
as He loves Christ."
Kistler is saying that God loves all true believers -- all His adopted sons and daughters -- as much as He loves His own Son. Kistler grounds this
remarkable assertion in Jesus' own words in John 17. In praying to his Father, and in allowing the disciples to "listen in" before he faced the cross,
Jesus makes it very plain that he has in his mind and on his heart all those who will come to believe on the basis of the disciples' testimony. That
congregation includes those of us today who have come to put our faith in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord.
Often, we notice Jesus' prayer for the unity of the church: "I pray ... that they be brought to complete unity" (John 17: 23), and we emphasize that
Jesus makes it plain that such unity will strengthen the witness of the church. "I pray ... that they be brought to complete unity to let the world
know that you sent me."
What we miss, though, and what Kistler points out, is the rest of Jesus' sentence: "and have loved them even as you have loved me". Jesus is here revealing
that God loves us just as he loves Jesus. This has at least two significant consequences.
First, if we are Christians, we can never be justified in thinking that we are unimportant or that we have a second-class standing, or less. Christians
are fully accepted, totally loved, and completely welcomed into the house and heart of God just as much as Jesus himself is. When God raised Him to life,
He was the first-born among many brothers and sisters. Each Christian is numbered among the many as a brother or sister of Jesus.
Second, the nature of God's love for us can be best understood when we observe God's love for Jesus. God's love for Jesus did not mean that Jesus was
spared suffering, or death, but it did guarantee that there was both purpose in and ultimately relief from that suffering. We too can face our trials
in the knowledge that God still loves us, and has our eternal well-being upon his heart.
Let all doubt be dispelled: God loves those who have been born of His Spirit as fully as He loves his own Son, Jesus.
What we who profess to be Christians are called to do (even and especially when we feel otherwise) is to know that God loves us as much as He loves
Jesus. This truth is designed to give us assurance, and comfort, and peace. What we are also called to do is to recognize that the communicating of
this great good news to the world is tied directly to the unity of the church. "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you
sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." When we fail to live out the unity of the body, the church suffers, but the world suffers more.
Let us take our comfort from knowing God loves us as He loves Jesus, and let us take up our calling to live together in unity so that the world may come
to know and benefit from the love of God revealed and found in Jesus Christ.
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The priority of prayer (October 2006)
"Lord, teach us to pray." (Luke 11: 1, NIV)
A newcomer in our midst recently observed that Parkwood is a praying church. What she meant, in part, is that activities and meetings -- even meetings
of two or three people -- most usually begin and end with prayer.
Many people request the prayers of others, and our prayer chain co-ordinators sent a weekly list of such requests to those who have identified
themselves as being willing and able to pray.
Prayer is a significant part of our corporate worship. We are called to offer prayers of adoration (of God as He is), confession (for ourselves as
we are), thanksgiving (for what we have received), intercession (for what others need), supplication (for what we need), and dedication (of what we have
and who we will be).
Some people, though, say, "I'm glad somebody is praying. I'm too busy to pray." Yet when there is evidence of the effectiveness of prayer, and when
people are confronted with great and urgent personal need, people pray.
The disciples observed Jesus praying. They saw his commitment to pray regularly and passionately, cultivating conversations with his Father in heaven.
They saw the results: He was always in the right place at the right time, and He came, not frazzled and frustrated, but with patience and compassion for
all around who were in need. Jesus demonstrated -- and taught -- that the power of God to heal and help was given in answer to prayer -- His own, and the
One of the disciples, in response to having so seen Jesus, said to Him, "Lord, teach us to pray." I doubt that this disciple had never prayed before,
but he wanted to learn more, and to experience the power of prayer more fully and intimately as Jesus clearly did. Jesus' response was to give the
disciples what we commonly call "the Lord's prayer". What is remarkable is that Jesus goes on to say that God's response to the prayers of His people
is so much more eager and willing than the grudging response of one of us who, when awakened at midnight, first refuses and then reluctantly agrees
to hand over some food to help a neighbour feed a late and unexpected visitor. We will answer when the caller is loud and persistent. God, on the
other hand, is ready and willing to answer our prayers, and graciously, but He waits for us to offer them.
I would call the attention of the congregation to a series of three workshops entitled, "Lord, teach us to pray", October 19th, 20th, and 21st.
This gives us an excellent opportunity to grow in our practice of praying -- as individuals, and in sharing with others. The leader for the workshops
is Dr. David Sherbino, who is both a professor of pastoral theology, at Tyndale College and Seminary, and a pastor in a growing Presbyterian congregation
in the greater Toronto area. The first workshop is to be held at Parkwood Church on the evening of Thursday, October 19th, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.; the
second in the series is to be at St. Andrew's Church, Perth, on the Friday evening, and the third at St. Paul's Church, Ottawa, on Saturday morning,
Oct. 21st, from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. Brochures with registration information are available on the table in the narthex, or you can call the church office
at 613-225-6648 for details.
Let us echo the desire and prayer of Jesus' disciples: "Lord, teach us to pray."
Prayerfully, your pastor,
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On coping with change (November 2006)
Change is hard. Most of us like to be comfortable. We like to be familiar with our surroundings. Change often disturbs our comfort.
In a world which is full of change, we often prize the familiar.
Many turn to the church as a place of refuge from change. The words of the second verse of the hymn, "Abide with me" are both an expression of faith
and a cry for God to be the constant in our lives in the face of change:
"Change and decay in all around I see:
O Thou Who changest not, abide with me."
Yet it remains true that while we live and travel here on earth, change is also a constant part of life. Most of us living here today have witnessed
incredible changes in our lifetimes. The pace of change in the past ten years has picked up, and shows no sign of slowing. Many who have arrived in
our midst from other parts of the world have experienced almost a total change -- in geography, language, culture, work, relationships -- the list
is endless. Technology has re-ordered the landscape in our offices, our schools, and our homes. We communicate in ways that were impossible only a
few short years ago. The speed of these continuing changes can take our breath away.
With age, change accelerates, and our inclination to resist intensifies. We fear the consequences of change, even when we reluctantly accept that
change is necessary. Giving up the maintenance of a house for the ease of an assisted-living residence may make sense, but usually only after it
becomes impossible to maintain the house. Allowing someone -- someone different -- to share personal "space" involves change that most rightly
see as a threat to independence, even as it may become a necessity for safety.
We struggle to keep up. We wish that the design of this month's bank statement or utility bill would be the same as last month's, so that we
wouldn't have to guess where to find the basic information about our account. Amid our frustration of having another telephone call blocked,
we long for the simplicity of seven-digit dialing.
Against the sea of change, we often wrestle hard. We long for the familiar. If only things would stay the same ...
In the face of change, some people get angry, and may lash out, demanding that somebody do something to keep things the same or make things "right".
In our confusion, we often ask for help from someone who is not able to come to our aid. I have lost track of the number of times that I have stopped
to ask directions in a strange city, only to find out that the person whom I have asked is either a stranger too, or has no idea (or the wrong idea)
of how I might get from where I am to where I want to go. Frustration mounts. The more the surroundings are unfamiliar, the more distressed we can
There is, though, a successful strategy for managing change, and maintaining our peace.
Job, when suffering through catastrophic changes including the loss of family, health, and business, once questioned whether he could change -- or whether
there was value or point to his changing.
Job 9: 27-28 - If I say, 'I will forget my complaint, I will change my expression, and smile,' I still dread all my sufferings.
Job questions the point of looking at things from a different perspective. His suffering -- grief at the loss of family and pain in his disease -- is
real, and constant. He really finds it hard to consider that he might smile.
Yet amid his questioning, he gives us a key clue to managing change: "If I say, 'I will forget my complaint, and change my expression, and smile.'" Job
dares to think that he might change -- yes, that he might change. He might change. Now he wasn't ready to change, yet, and he didn't,
right away, but by the end of the book that bears his name, he has accepted that God has orchestrated the changes in his circumstances and that God will
direct his future wisely and well -- come what may. Along the way, Job's heart has changed, and he has come to accept the huge changes in his life's
Jesus told his followers -- including his closest disciples -- that change was necessary. The kind of change that he had in mind was inner change. The
disciples were preoccupied with outward circumstances, and social relationships, and who would get pride of place.
Matthew 18: 1-3 - At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and
had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus tells us that radical change -- in our hearts -- is part of the secret to our very satisfying relationship with God and his people.
The words in a contemporary chorus resonate with the truth of the Spirit of God, speaking through the Scriptures:
Change my heart, O God, make it ever new.
God is indeed the One who is unchanging, and he will indeed abide with us. He calls us to abide with him, and to allow him to change our hearts, even and
especially as our surroundings change.
It is right for us to sing, and pray, "O Thou Who changest not, abide with me." It is also right for us to sing, and pray, "Change my heart, O God, make
it ever new."
Change my heart, O God; may I be like You.
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Christmas rush or Christmas peace? (December 2006 - January 2007)
Luke 2: 29-30 - Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation. (NIV)
The stories last week in the media about the shoppers south of the border going out at midnight to do their Christmas shopping, only to be disappointed because the parking lots were already full, and about the women who drove on to another mall to wait in line until it opened at 6:00 a.m., sustained by coffee supplied by the merchants outside, led me to reflect a little more seriously about what the season of waiting that we call Advent is all about.
Even if we avoid the worst excesses of frenzied nocturnal shopping expeditions, the month of December, at least the twenty-four days leading up to Christmas, often represent a marathon. There are too many things to do, and we rush, and we rush, and then wonder why Christmas isn't what it used to be.
The story of Simeon provides us with a healthy and necessary correction. The problem is that we don't usually read it until after Christmas, because the story of Simeon is about his greeting the baby when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple after Mary's recovery from the birth. We need, however, to read the story of Simeon (found in Luke 2: 25-35) before the Christmas rush, if we are grasp fully the peace present which God wants to give us.
Simeon, led by and filled with the Holy Spirit, has his heart set on ONE thing -- to see Jesus -- the baby who is the promised Messiah, the Saviour of both Jew and Gentile. He is waiting in the temple, with his eyes fixed on the unseen God, whom he knows and addresses as the Sovereign Lord, the one who in spite of all claims to the contrary is in charge and control of the peoples and the nations. He takes God at his word, fully believing the promise that God will cause a child to rise and a light to shine who will transform the world.
His own personal needs and interests all fade away. He has no fear even of his own approaching death. He is content to be able to gaze upon the Son of the living God, for he knows that if God lives, and lives among and for his people, he need not fear, for all is well.
Would to God that we should each possess the faith of Simeon. If we see that in keeping Christmas, we are called to focus and centre ourselves upon Jesus, and Jesus alone, and if we are content to rest our eyes upon Christ, who is born to save us, we will be saved from the mad rush into which the world wants to draw us. Much of what crowds our stores will lose its appeal, and we will without any sense of loss be able to lay aside much of what crowds our schedule and so often exhausts us.
Simeon possessed the gift of peace, and God wants us to share that gift.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and rest.
Your busy but peaceful pastor,
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Outside our comfort zone (February 2007)
When I was a child, my parents acquainted me with the children's department of our local public library. Some books were instant friends, stories which they read to me, and which I then wanted to read again and again. Soon I learned that certain authors wrote many books, and the hunt was on to find other books in favourite series. I soon knew my way around the library. When I became a teenager, though, I was permitted and encouraged to use the "adult" section of the library, where many, many thousands more books were located. It was a challenge to find and choose books that would be interesting. Initially, I knew very few authors, and I had little guidance as to which books would hold my interest. Sometimes I borrowed books, only to return them unread, having found the first few pages not to match the promise of the title. I persevered, though, and by the time I graduated from high school, I was ready to explore the millions of volumes held in a dozen or more libraries at the University of Toronto.
Had I never moved beyond the comfort of the children's section or the familiarity of favourite authors, my growth would have been stunted. There was a challenge to face in moving beyond the comfort of the known, but there was a reward to be reaped.
Our calling to follow Jesus Christ also involves the challenge of moving beyond our comfort zone. When God first invited Abram to believe and follow, all that was familiar had to be left behind. God even gave him a new name -- Abraham.
Genesis 12: 1 - The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you." (NIV)
Most of us resist the challenge of change, because we favour the familiar. Yet we need to be awake to hear the call of God, and to face the challenges of change willingly and faithfully.
The challenges we may face in the new year are many and varied. We know what some of them are; others are yet hidden from our sight. Whether learning new music or living with a new illness, we are stretched beyond our comfort zone. Some people face the challenge of discovering the world of the Internet and e-mail in cyberspace; others are struggling to find ways to respond to the challenges of living in a new and more limited environment in a care home. A new relationship, or life continuing without a significant other, are daunting realities for some. We face the call to reach out in Jesus' name to new neighbours. Refugees need sponsors, and nations struggling to overcome war need peacemakers and peacekeepers.
In facing with faith the future of change, we have the assurance that in answering God's call He will not forsake us.
Isaiah 43: 2 - When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. (NIV)
God did not promise his people a way of ease and comfort. What He did and does promise is that He will be with us on the journey.
Facing the new year, with confidence amid the changing scenes of life,
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A Friend (March 2007)
Everyone needs a friend.
It is my privilege to visit and to be visited by many folk associated with Parkwood Church. I want to share an observation that is drawn from no one in particular, but from many together.
It is impossible to bear the burdens of life alone. Even the strongest and most advantaged among us face challenges from time to time which can and do overwhelm. Whether it is grief in the loss of a loved one, the pain or stress of a loss or change in employment, the anxiety of family conflict or the challenge of seeking or building a personal relationship, challenges confront us. Some face daily the pain of illness or the uncertainty of treatment. Others struggle to cope with betrayal. Still others are simply trying to find their feet and a place to stand still and move forward in a world that squeezes and pushes and never rests. While each of us is called to face and to carry different burdens, the consequences of having to bear these burdens alone is devastating.
God designed life to live in and through supportive families who love and care for one another. Yet because the world in which we now live is both fallen and broken, many are without family, or find family to be the source of pain rather than the balm and strength of healing.
Everyone needs a friend.
Proverbs 17: 17 - A friend loves at all times. (NIV)
Some of us know how valuable a true friend really is, and we deeply cherish those who have been with us through thick and thin, through good times and bad.
One of the ways in which Jesus came to identify himself with us is as a Friend. He offered himself as a friend to his disciples in their needs, and, in turn, he sought their friendship and support in his own time of trial and suffering. Friendship is reciprocal -- it's a two-way street, in which we are called to support each other, to be there for one another, and to build each other up.
From my viewpoint as pastor, I am all too conscious how important it is to strengthen the network of friends and friendships within the body of Christ. All of us need to share in this -- it is too important and too vital a task to be left to either the Pastoral Care Team, or to the elders, much less to the pastor. None of us can build close relationships with everyone, but each of us can do so with one or two or a few others.
We are called to bear one another's burdens, and in so doing we are told that we are fulfilling the will of Christ for us.
Let us commit ourselves to being friends,
In Christ's service,
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Life (April 2007)
Romans 6: 4 - "Just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (NIV)
Spring! Stepping outside, we are greeted with warm sunshine instead of cold wind. Oh, yes, somedays rain hides the sun, but it takes the place of snow. Light-filled mornings and longer days replace the pervading darkness of the commute for those trekking to and from work. The landscape, though not free of brown and gray, is marked with tinges of green. A red-breasted robin hops happily on the now visible and no longer frozen lawn, finding a little something to fill its beak. Signs of life and hope abound.
Within the confines of our home, signs of new life have appeared. A long-dormant, half-dead-looking orchid has burst into bloom with four beautiful buds. The Christmas cactus plant, albeit a little late, has been transformed from a dark spindle collection into a bright red bouquet. The recent gift of an Easter lily whose blooms are gradually opening fills space with bright white beauty and air with fragrance.
Spring -- and the evidence of new life accompanying its arrival -- is important for our mental and emotional health. We are reminded that there is life after death, that there are possibilities of new beginnings to follow sad endings, that stagnation is not forever the status quo. Spring can also nurture our souls.
In ancient times, the people of God -- even when in captivity and poverty -- found voice to give thanks for new life emerging from death and deprivation.
"Though we are slaves, our God has not deserted us in our bondage. He has shown us kindness in the sight of the kings of Persia: He has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins, and he has given us a wall of protection in Judah and Jerusalem." (Ezra 9: 9, NIV)
This reference to "new life" in the chronicles of Ezra was an affirmation that the people of God saw and claimed the promise that though they had suffered great loss, God had not abandoned them, but, on the contrary, was empowering them to rebuild. There was joy and hope in the celebration of renewed life together.
The apostle Paul in writing to the church at Rome captures the central meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus when he writes that "just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Romans 6: 4). Many things are signified by the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead, but central among them is that life -- new life -- is God's provision for His people.
That the arrival of spring and the annual celebration of Easter should coincide is a great gift to us from God. We see in the landscape all around us signs of new life, and the promise of more to come. In the emergence of Jesus from the tomb, we have life triumphing over death, and the promise of life eternal and abundant. With the help of God's Spirit, let us celebrate the life that is ours to be lived in Jesus Christ!
Filled with promise and hope, in Christ our risen Lord,
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Prescription for Life (May 2007)
"I can do all things through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4: 13)
Itís spring, and we want to see
things grow. Whether tending the
flower bed, planting a vegetable
garden, or simply renewing the
lawn, we are eager for new growth
to turn our landscape from brown
In a world in which death and decay are all too
common, we also long for growth and new life.
Paul, writing from the decaying confines of an
ancient prison cell, offers a prescription for life -- a
prescription that promises renewal and growth.
The formula for Paulís fertilizer might be marketed
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is
right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,
whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or
praiseworthy -- think about such things." (Phil. 4:
God uses Paul to tell us that growth and life are
possible in the bleakest, darkest circumstances
and surroundings. In his brief letter to the
Philippians, Paul, rather than bemoaning his
condition or circumstances in prison, gives plenty
of evidence he is celebrating with thanksgiving
the gift of life. He spurs his readers on to new life.
He is able to do because he has taken his own
prescription to heart. He has taken his medicine,
and is able with integrity and experience to offer
us the prescription.
What he urges us to do is to think
positively and thankfully about our
lives, the lives of others, and the
circumstances in which we live.
Rather than dwelling on what is
false, or censurable, rather than
harping on others mixed motives or
failings, rather than focusing on
what is ugly or deplorable, we are
called to think on what is good and
worthy of praise. How much better
our lives would be if we
concentrated our thoughts on the
good, and then the better, and then the best. How
we could encourage one another if we took time
to focus and point out one anotherís strengths!
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in
everything, by prayer and petition, with
thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
(Phil. 4: 6)
The second ingredient in Paulís prescription is
that we are to pray, rather than worry or fret,
about the circumstances that beset us. Paul did
not know if the next morning would bring his
execution or his release. He did not know if he
would be called upon to suffer more physical
punishment or share his space with another
prisoner. He had plenty of reasons to worry -- but
rather than fret about what was beyond his
control, he prayed about everything.
Paul urges us to pray. Having taken stock of all
the assets we have -- all that is true, and noble,
and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable,
and excellent and worthy of praise -- we are to
come to God to say, "Thank You," for He is the
source of all our blessings. Then we can with
confidence lay out -- present -- our requests to
Him, knowing that as our gracious and loving
Creator there are more good gifts from His hand
to be received.
"I can do everything through him who gives me
strength." (Phil. 4: 13)
After thinking about what is excellent and worthy
of praise, and after presenting his requests to
God, Paul is able to face the reality of his situation
with renewed hope, placing his trust in God alone.
He knows that Jesus is with him in his prison cell,
and will accompany him in every step of the
Paul offers us a perspective rooted in personal
experience. There are many things which he does
not know about what lies ahead. Based on the
past, he knows that in the future he may face
hardship or comfort, and that in physical, material,
or social terms he may have much or little. Yet
here is where his faith shines most clearly. He
trusts that no matter what the future brings, God
will see him through.
In our fast-moving and ever-changing world, we
too face uncertain conditions. Yet we too have the
prescription which allows us to face the future
with confidence, assured that life and growth will
be found even in the dark and hard places: "I can
do everything through him who gives me
Jesus came to give life -- abundant life. Paul
discovered that life when he embraced Jesus,
and he was renewed by Jesusí life day by day
and year after year. As we look for the signs of
new life and growth around us, let us fertilize our
lives with a good dose of T-P-T: Think-Pray-Trust.
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Choice Sayings (June 2007)
Proverbs 25: 11 - "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver." (NIV)
Being able to say the right thing at the right time is a great blessing -- both to the one who hears and to the one who speaks. Solomon in the
Proverbs describes the appropriate word at the appropriate time as an apple of gold in a setting of silver. The image is of a most beautiful
and delicious fruit rounding off a very fine meal -- the icing on the cake, if you will, after a scrumptious feast.
There are others, though, who far from having the right word at the right time, simply strive to not put our foot in our mouth -- at least not
too often. We struggle for words, and leave unsaid things we wish later we might have said, or listen to someone else speak, and quietly think,
"Now why didn't I think of that?"
One aid to have the right word is to have a good knowledge of the words of God. Part of that involves committing Scripture to memory, but what
I have in mind is not simply memorising Scripture so that we can parrot it back. We need to be able to bring God's word to bear wisely and
appropriately in settings that speak to the context in which we are living on a daily basis. Many find a word easier to hear when it is
presented with a bit of humour. Although truth is serious, it is possible in some settings for the truth to be seriously reflected upon
when it first catches the hearer's or reader's attention in a way that brings a smile.
Summer offers possibilities for travel; if not travel, then at least the option to be outdoors. I have a summer travel challenge to offer.
In this age of the sound-bite, I am interested in compiling a stock of quotations that could be used as eye-catching items on our future new sign.
Thus the challenge: while travelling this summer, keep your eyes pealed for one-sentence sermons. Some may appear on church signs; others may
appear as advertising slogans or news headlines. Send me those which you think are worth pondering. A few might even find their way into a
To whet your appetite, I will offer a few of the ones I have already collected.
With a prayer that all of us may become more adept at speaking the right word at the right time,