What are we doing? (September 2010)
"This is what the Lord Almighty says, 'Give careful thought to your ways.'" (Haggai 1: 7)
Summer offers many the opportunity to step back from usual routines. A vacation can be a God-given gift, offering refreshment and an opportunity to refocus.
Reflection on our spiritual condition and journey can be a very good thing, enabling us to put things into a healthy and clearer perspective.
One does not necessarily need a vacation to step back and consider a change in routine. When an aging vehicle finally stops and will not go any further,
for example, one is forced to consider new options for transportation.
On a recent morning, I was attempting to send a routine message via e-mail to a large number of individuals, via a well-organised distribution list used
many times previously. On this occasion, though, the message was immediately bounced back, with an error message from the computer server indicating that
several addresses on the list were not recognised as valid. Reviewing the list of names and e-mail addresses, it appeared that all were correct and had
recently been working. I tried a second time, with the same result: my message would not go. Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, I tried again
and again, all to no avail. I had a working internet connection; individual messages to individual people were being sent and received, without any problems.
Yet when I attempted to send another message to another and different group of people, I was faced with a similar problem. Group messages were not being accepted.
My difficulties were multiplying. ... My frustration increased, too, when I looked at the list of so-called "invalid" addresses: one of them was our own, and
several had worked quite well in recent days. Why would the internet server not accept my outgoing message?
Finally, frustrated to no small degree, I was tempted to give up. I pushed back my desk chair, closed down my laptop computer, and was about to get up and
walk away to do something else. Yet before I got up, I felt an urge to pray. I bowed my head, and lifted up a silent prayer to God: "O Lord, why is this
so difficult? If you want this message to be sent, please make a way."
Immediately, the thought crossed through my mind that perhaps the problem was not the individual addresses, but the fact that I was attempting to send
the message to all the recipients at the same time. In the past, this was not a problem, but I wondered if it might be. I decided to try sending the
message to about a quarter of the recipients. Wonder of wonders -- it worked! I broke the list into small groups and sent the message to each group
separately. All the messages appeared to go through, without delay. "Thank You, Lord!"
Why this "divide and conquer" strategy was necessary on this occasion, I do not know. Eventually the problems at the "internet service provider" will
either resolve themselves, or I will ask their customer service technicians to investigate. In the meanwhile, I will give thanks that "the mail went
through" and move on to other tasks.
Perseverance leads to success. Stubbornness leads to being stuck in a rut. The line between the two is sometimes a fine one.
God challenges us through the prophet Haggai to "give careful thought to your ways". Sometimes, we may be convinced we are doing the right thing in
the right way -- the way we have always done it. Yet changed circumstances may mean that the way we have always done it may not work, or may not be
the way to do it this time. Rather than either ploughing ahead or giving up -- neither of which will get us anywhere -- we are wise to "give careful
thought" to our ways. The task and the goal may not change, but the method and the means may be different after reflection under the promised guidance
of the Holy Spirit.
May the Lord help us to consider our ways for His glory and our good,
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(October 2010 Pulse was a special "Building to Serve" edition - no pastor's message)
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Making the best choice (November 2010)
Elections are about choices. Those who vote are expected to choose one of the candidates who stand for office, on the basis that the one selected is the
best, most qualified individual to serve in the public office for which the election is taking place.
One of the problems, though, is that sometimes the slate of names seems to be lacking. In some cases, there is only one candidate, in which case there is
no election but only an acclamation. In other instances, though, there may be several candidates, but none who give evidence of being truly qualified for
the office. In such circumstances, the voters are often forced to choose the least offensive or the least problematic candidate.
The real problem, though, is that individuals most qualified or suited for the office may not be on the ballot. They may not have offered to serve, or
they may have been overlooked in the nomination process.
The biblical account of the choosing of a new king as a successor to Saul provides us with an insight worth our attention and consideration.
1 Samuel 16: 10-12 - Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, "The Lord has not chosen these." So he asked Jesse, "Are
these all the sons you have?" "There is still the youngest," Jesse answered, "but he is tending the sheep." Samuel said, "Send for him; we will not sit
down until he arrives." So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, "Rise and
anoint him; he is the one."
Samuel was commissioned by the Lord to anoint a new king. He was advised to go to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem. Jesse and his family had assembled
together, and Samuel was expected to choose the new king from among the sons of Jesse. Yet as each of the first seven sons was reviewed by Samuel,
Samuel had no indication from the Lord that the one of the Lord's choosing was present. What was he to do? Might he have chosen "the best of the
bunch"? No, Samuel instead asked Jesse, "Are these all the sons you have?" Then, when Jesse replied that there was still one more, the youngest,
Samuel insisted that he be presented, too, for consideration.
When the youngest son, David, was added to the roster of potential choices, it was immediately evident to Samuel that now the ballot was complete.
Clearly the Lord's anointed was David, and Samuel completed his election by anointing him as the one chosen to the new king.
In reflecting on this narrative, we would do well to ask ourselves two questions. First, when we are called to make a choice, are all the options
before us for consideration? Sometimes we settle for second best or worse because the best option has not even made it to the ballot or the table
for consideration. Secondly, have each of us done all that we can to ensure that the ballot is complete? Which of us may be missing from the
ballot -- either because others have overlooked us, or because we have discounted ourselves as being unfit or unworthy of the Lord's service?
There are many choices to be made in the work of the church of Jesus Christ and in the building of God's kingdom. The election is not for a king,
but for each part to fit in its appointed place to ensure that the whole church is complete.
Who is the best and most qualified person for this task, or that one? Let us remember that the church -- the body of Christ -- does not become
mature and whole, unless each part is fitted and joined together and does its work.
Are you missing? Or are you present, and ready for the Lord to use?
Your pastor, looking for a ballot that is complete,
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A simple celebration (December 2010 - January 2011)
Life is complicated. Sometimes we regard complications as sources of stress, which we would rather avoid. Yet sometimes we regard them as challenges we are eager to face and overcome.
Christmas -- or at least our modern celebration of it -- can be a complication. For the single person living alone in a new place, Christmas may mean travel to visit family, and, at this time of year, travel in uncertain weather. On the other hand, for one without family to visit or lacking the time or means to travel, facing Christmas may mean the prospect of being alone at a time when many others are getting together with others in joyful celebrations. For those with large or extended or blended families, arrangements for Christmas may involve multiple stresses in trying to accommodate different traditions or differing expectations. For those who have been bereaved during the year, the approach of December 25th may mean a Christmas without a cherished loved one physically present.
Yet we approach December and Christmas with a sense of expectation. Christmas is coming! We want to celebrate. For the essence -- the real meaning -- of Christmas is that God is with us. Jesus has become one of us, to live as a real human being with us in this world. Even if no one else is, He is with us. Therefore we can celebrate -- indeed, therefore we must celebrate!
Think for a moment about the first Christmas...
Mary's life was complicated. As a young woman engaged to be married, she had hopes and fears. When the angel from God came to tell her that she was to expect the birth of a child, she had every reason to be overwhelmed. When the time for her delivery drew near, she faced the prospect of a long and uncomfortable journey with her husband-to-be to enroll in the census in his ancestral town.
Yet amid her complications, the angel's message was very simple: "You are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High." (Luke 1: 31b-32a)
What could be more wonderful? Mary is told that God is with her. The name of her baby is to be "Jesus" -- meaning "God saves". God will save her. Her Saviour -- and ours -- is a great Saviour, none other than God himself become flesh.
What can we do other than celebrate? God is with us.
Preparations for our Christmas celebrations need not be complicated. We live, and if Jesus lives in our hearts through faith in Him, and in our lives by his Holy Spirit, all is well, even and especially amid the chaos of the world around us.
Amid all the challenges that the advent of December brings, let us take a deep breath, find a smile, and rejoice. Let us celebrate -- God is with us!
Your pastor, rejoicing in Jesus' presence and peace,
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Light (February 2011)
Light of the world, You stepped down into darkness,
Opened my eyes, let me see ...
Tim Hughes’ composition, "Here I am to worship" is presently #4 on the list of the top 100 contemporary
songs used in worship, as catalogued by Christian Copyright Licensing Inc.
Several recent conversations have impressed upon me that light is very much key to capturing and
grasping who God is and what it means for us to be in relationship with Him, made possible and real for
each believer, through Jesus Christ.
In the beginning of the creation, on the very first day, God said, "Let there be light."
Jesus, revealing himself to his first disciples, said, "I am the light of the world."
In these dark days and nights in the middle of winter, many struggle with the winter "blues" or "blahs".
Loads of care for loved ones are heavy. Loads of care for self, afflicted with sickness, weigh upon us. The
stress of strained relationships -- some at home, some at work, some with members of our extended
families, some with neighbours or colleagues, affect all of us. The darkness of a spiritual season of
struggle, as much or more so than the diminished sunlight of the winter season, closes in around us, and
can easily overwhelm us.
In this situation, our hope and deliverance is very much bound up in the promise and reality that it is the
light of God that pierces and scatters our darkness.
David sang to God, after being delivered safe from the hands of Saul and all his enemies: "You are my
lamp, O Lord; the Lord turns my darkness into light." (2 Samuel 22: 29, NIV)
The conversion of arguably the greatest enemy the Christian Church, Saul of Tarsus, took place when he
saw "a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around" him and his companions on the road to
Conversely, the death of sin manifested in the death of the sinless Saviour of the world for us sinners was
accompanied by thickest darkness: "Darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun
stopped shining." (Luke 23: 44-45a, NIV)
According to the vision of the future given to the apostle John, the end of the world will also be
accompanied by the loss of light: "The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a
third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without
light, and also a third of the night." (Revelation 8: 12, NIV)
On the other hand, we are told that the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness, will be
marked by light none other than God himself. The Holy City, the new Jerusalem is described this way: "The
city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its
lamp." (Revelation 21: 23, NIV)
The apostle of love, who tells us that "God is love" also tells us that "God is light". (1 John 1:5, NIV)
When the apostle to Hebrews wants to encourage fellow pilgrims suffering scorn and loss from others
around them, he writes: "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood
your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering." (Hebrews 10: 32, NIV) Light is our friend, our
comfort, our salvation, our hope, and our joy.
May the light of Jesus enrapture, sustain, and restore each of us, and shine through us.
Your pastor, enlightened by the light of God in Jesus Christ,
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Prayers to encircle the earth (March 2011)
While we are watching events unfold in various parts of North Africa and the Middle East, two passages of Scripture come powerfully to mind:
Psalm 2: 1-6 - "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against
the Lord and against his Anointed One. 'Let us break their chains,' they say, 'and throw off their fetters.' The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord
scoffs at them. Then He rebukes them in His anger and terrifies them in His wrath, saying, 'I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.'"
1 Timothy 2: 1-6 - "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. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all
men to be saved and to come a knowledge of the truth. For there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom
for all ..."
We are reminded by the psalmist that God is sovereign over the affairs of all people and nations. Though rulers may rage against Him, and try to resist
his rule, He has appointed his Son as King of kings and Lord of lords to be Judge. It is to Jesus, the Anointed One, that all kings and rulers will
ultimately have to give the account of their leadership and stewardship of office.
We are called by the apostle Paul to pray for those who rule, and specifically to seek grace for them to rule in such a way as to allow and enable all to
live in peace and quiet.
In Canada, we often take such peace and quiet for granted. Yet we are reminded that in many parts of the world, peace and quiet are not a given. We have
seen sudden and significant changes in the governments of Tunisia and Egypt, and there is much unrest in Bahrain and Libya. Regular elections in places
such as Uganda and Nigeria bring regular business to a standstill for weeks on end, with campaigning disrupting public travel and commerce, and uncertainty
surrounding the outcome leaving the population on edge.
At Parkwood, during our morning worship on February 13th, we offered prayers, among others, for the nation and people of Egypt, seeking God's grace for a
peaceful and wise transition of leadership. Later that day, I discovered on the website of The Presbyterian Church in Canada a letter received via e-mail
from a Christian pastor in Egypt, who as it turns out, has a close connection to The Presbyterian Church in Canada. His example of faithfulness, courage,
and love, provides us with inspiration for how believers can serve amid the tumult of the times, and how we can support those afar with our prayers.
The Presbytery of Oak Ridges (north of Toronto) ordained Sameh Hanna as a minister on January 13, 2008, to serve with the Arabic Outreach Mission in
Toronto, after he completed studies at Knox College, Toronto. Subsequently, Sam Hanna returned to serve his native Egypt. He is now the pastor of Kasr
El Dobara Evangelical Church, located just off Tahrir Square, in Cairo, Egypt.
On Friday, February 11th, Pastor Sam Hanna sent the following letter by e-mail to friends in Canada:
Dear prayer warriors,
Thank-you for the many e-mails/calls we've received asking about us in Egypt. We are a blessed family to know that you are praying for us and our people.
As many of you know, our church is located in Tahrir Square (where the demonstrations have been taking place) in the downtown. We are safe, but there is
still a curfew in the evening hours. The food supply is good: it is easily available but it is getting very expensive. Please continue to pray that the
Lord will intervene, and that a peaceful resolution will be implemented.
I would like to share with you encouraging news. Last Sunday I led a worship in Tahrir Square with our worship team. We sang a few songs asking God to
bless Egypt, some read scripture and others prayed in public. It was received very well by Muslims and their leaders (see attached photos).
We meet daily for three hours in different homes in Cairo to pray for our country and for the Egyptian people. We cannot open the church because of its
location; however, everyone is encouraged that we are together. After praying and sharing, we started to think of how we can minister during this crisis
and we did the following:
- Two groups of our young people went to clean and collect the garbage from streets; each group had about 110 people.
- Some people visited the police stations to tell the police officers "Welcome back!" and that we appreciated their services. We gave them flowers as
an expression of the love of Christ, and their response has been very positive.
- Another group has been distributing food in several poor areas of town.
Even so, the current situation is very dangerous and unpredictable. We have been encouraged to see our sovereign Lord help us through this and we are
confident it will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel.
So as you watch the TV news reports and witness the turmoil in Egypt, let it stir us to pray for the advance of the gospel. Let it also move us to say
to God, "Here we are. Send us into the chaos and pain. Use us to make disciples of all nations."
Praise God for His goodness and sovereignty!
Please pray for our beloved Egypt and God's intervention; for our church in Cairo that is encouraging members of its congregations to volunteer at hospitals
in need of nurses and to help elderly people; and for peace in the minds and hearts of the Egyptians, as the future is uncertain.
Pray also that God will provide some financial support for those in need. We are collecting funds to attend to the needs of those who didn't receive their
paychecks - banks have been closed for a long time and are now open only for a few hours a day.
As I am finishing this email, President Mubarak is submitting his resignation.
Let us redouble our efforts to support in prayer our brothers and sisters around the world, especially those seeking amid the danger but in the midst of
opportunity to witness to the truth and love of God found in Jesus Christ, the Sovereign One, who rules over all.
Your pastor, encouraged, and praying,
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Suddenly (April 2011)
1 Thessalonians 5: 3 - While people are saying, "Peace and safety", destruction will come on them suddenly. (NIV)
Change is part of life, but if we have a choice, most of us prefer gradual change rather than sudden change. Life, however, can and does bring sudden change. Sometimes a routine visit to the doctor yields a very sudden change in the course of one's life, when, for example, one is diagnosed with a serious illness. We have recently witnessed the cataclysmic and catastrophic change brought about by a massive 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami upon the nation of Japan. Life for thousands of people ended in a moment; life for hundreds of thousands more has been irreversibly and forever altered.
The God who sustains life gently and gradually is the same God who acts suddenly and decisively. Yet if we are in a restored relationship with Him through Jesus, He prepares us for sudden actions and changes, by forewarning us of His actions, and foreshadowing the changes.
It is interesting to me that the first instance of the word "suddenly" in our English translations of the Bible occurs in Genesis 37:7 in the context of a dream. Joseph, at age seventeen, tells his brothers about a very vivid dream he had: "We were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it." The suddenness of the change in the position of the sheaf of grain caught Joseph's attention. Clearly Joseph understood that this action foreshadowed something that was to come. God was preparing Joseph for sudden change in his life, by enabling him to see in his dream that change sometimes happens rapidly.
Being aware of the possibility of sudden change enables us to better deal with such change when it actually comes upon us. We may not be spared the initial shock, but if we are immediately reminded that sudden change is sometimes part of God's greater plan, we can accept that change and begin right away to adjust to altered realities. We can know that God is still in control, and although we may not see immediately -- or even at all this side of heaven -- how all the pieces fit together, we can rest in the knowledge that all the change is still held within the hollow of His hand. If the oceans and the mountains are contained within God's hand, then so too are the tsunami waves and the earthquakes. If He has knit us together in our mother's wombs, so that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, then our pains and even death-pangs are suffered and endured within the tenderness and strength and care of His loving embrace.
Proverbs 3: 25-26 - "Have no fear of sudden disaster ... for the Lord will be your confidence."
Your pastor, not always happy with sudden change, but confident that the God of sudden change is also the God of constant sufficiency,
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Life (May 2011)
John 10: 10 - "Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.'"
Christians are twice-born individuals, and life is dear to us. We celebrate our lives as gifts from God, the author and giver of life. We celebrate new life, born anew as believers in Jesus Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Our hearts beat in tune with the living God.
Easter and spring coincide in our climate and culture. We are glad to look out on these post-Easter mornings and see green grass and yellow daffodils, and are looking at new life with joy: budding bushes, singing songbirds, and popping tulips.
On our calendars, May brings Mother's Day, which affords us an opportunity to be intentional about expressing our gratitude for the irreplaceable role each of our mothers has had in our lives. That gratitude may be expressed to our mothers in person, if still living; or otherwise in their memory if they have gone ahead of us from this life to the next. In either case, God is honoured when we honour our father and mother.
May is also the month in which we are reminded of our calling to stand up for the right to life, and to find our voice for the voiceless - the unborn children, developing in the wombs of mothers, who sometimes need special care and protection. To our shame as a nation, Canada is one of very few countries with no law clearly protecting the unborn child.
Life is not a convenience; it is a sacred trust.
It may be popular during election campaigns to avoid contentious or divisive discussions, but Christians should be prepared to speak up for those who are silent but whose cries do not and will not go unheard by the God who has numbered the very hairs of our heads and who knits each human life together in the womb of each mother.
Gracious, respectful, but clear and firm support for the protection of the life of each human being from conception to natural death needs to be communicated to those who are elected to public office, especially at the national level. Loving and practical support for those facing challenging pregnancies and those who have the care of children is a most appropriate investment of time, talent, and treasure for twice-born Christian believers who love life. Encouragement and support for those who in illness and amid advanced years find the burdens of life weighing upon its joys is also part of our calling to celebrate and advance the gift of life.
May God in this spring-time season of renewal be pleased to aid us in reaffirming our commitment to life, as His gift, and according to His design.
In Christ, and glad to be alive, and alive in Jesus,
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Brokenness (June 2011)
Job 2: 8 - Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. (NIV)
The morning commute from Barrhaven to Parkwood Hills during the past several weeks has been dominated by the broken water main on Woodroffe Avenue.
Yet water and sewer pipes spill millions of litres of untreated sewage into the Ottawa River year after year when rainstorms overwhelm the capacity of
the drainage system. Much more than a single water pipe feeding the south end of our city, the system is broken.
As I write this, though, a broken oil barrel in a shop class at Mother Teresa High School has broken much more - the life of Eric Leighton, aged
eighteen, broken, blown apart in an instant by a gas explosion; his family, friends, and community left reeling.
In recent weeks, we have witnessed from afar the images of brokenness on a far wider scale: broken, twisted rubble across the southern and mid-western
United States, the result of tornadoes which have taken hundreds of lives. In Canada, we have seen brokenness nearer in the pictures of homes flooded
in Manitoba and others razed to the ground by wildfires in northern Alberta.
How do we make sense of life amid all this brokenness? Many ask, "Where is God in all of this brokenness?"
A man named Job comes to mind. The image of Job, having lost both his property and his children in a hurricane, sitting among the ruins, his body
covered in painful sores, scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery, is a powerful picture. It is even more powerful, because Job in his
brokenness refuses the taunts of his nearest to give up, to curse God, and to die. Job is broken, but he lives amid the brokenness - and eventually,
his life is restored.
One far greater than Job also speaks to us out of the brokenness. Jesus came and was broken for us; Jesus came and was broken among us. When we
celebrate the Lord's Supper, we hear Jesus' words: "This is my body, broken for you."
Through Jesus' brokenness, we are made whole, restored to a right relationship with God our Maker. Here is the source of real strength and hope
for us, and for us to share with others living in brokenness. Whether that brokenness is the loss of a child by death, the end of a relationship
or a job or a house or a dream, we are called to live in a broken world, but with hope. Jesus, broken, lives with us, and enables us to live
amid brokenness. As Martin Smith invites us sing in the piece, "Shout to the north": "Rise up, church with broken wings ... you are strong when
you feel weak; In ... brokenness complete."
Psalm 34: 18 - The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (NIV)