From the pastor, 2013 - 2014

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    One who unifies   (September 2013)

    1 Corinthians 8: 6 - "There is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." (NIV)

    After preparing and eating a meal, especially one including a new dish cooked for the first time, sometimes it happens that the one who cooked the food says, "It would have been even better if I had included another ingredient!" There are occasions when we forget something, or afterwards think that something else might have been added.

    Sometimes, after preaching a sermon, the same thing happens. I am surprised by an afterthought. In reflecting upon what I have prepared and proclaimed from a particular passage of Scripture, the Holy Spirit suggests another thought of application that I had not considered before. An example of this occurred recently, after having attempted to expound 1 Corinthians 8: 6, where we are told that "there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." In the sermon, I had pointed out that Jesus unites us because, first, He created all things (as we are told in John 1, "through him all things were made") and, second, He sustains life (as He tells us in John 15, "I am the vine; you are the branches"). I suggested that amid the fragmentation of life, we need to find Jesus as the one password who unifies our compartmentalized lives, bringing a centre and focus to all we are and all we do.

    In another profound way, though, Jesus unifies us. We are of many ethnic backgrounds. We come from many different cultures. We speak many different languages. We come from many different countries of origin. At Parkwood, we have folk born in North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. At last count, we share in worship and fellowship with folk born in Antigua, Cameroon, the Congo, China, England, Egypt, Friesland, Germany, Ghana, Guyana, Haiti, Holland, India, Iran, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Korea, Lebanon, Malawi, Nigeria, the Philippines, Scotland, Syria, Trinidad, Uganda, the United States, and Wales. In our English Second Language conversation group, we have had participants from several of these countries, and many others, including: Brazil, Mexico, Hungary, Iraq, Vietnam, and Yemen. Where do we find our unity amid such a great and wonderful diversity? In Jesus Christ, we are, each and all, offered the forgiveness of our sins and the joy and promise of new life together with Jesus in one family, one body, and one unified fellowship and service. Jesus breaks down the barriers that divide, and enables and empowers us to realise the one-ness that God designed for those created in Godís image.

    What we discover as we realise this unity in Christ is that together we are so much more than we are separately and apart.

    The challenges of the differences in language, background and culture are overcome when we focus upon Jesus, who unites us. He is the One who loves us, and teaches and enables us to love the Lord our God "with all our heart and soul and mind and strength". He is the One who enables us to "love our neighbour as ourselves".

    Let us celebrate and affirm and realise that we are united and unified in Christ, and offer this unity and unifying strength and beauty to the world, especially to those around us in our neighbourhood, as we live and labour together for Jesus amid our broken and fallen world. Let us invite others to find life, and life unified, in Jesus Christ.

    Thankful for the unifying work of Jesus, and for all who are united in Christ,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    Giving thanks   (October 2013)

    Leviticus 7: 13 - "Along with his fellowship offering of thanksgiving he is to present an offering ..." (NIV)

    For many people, giving thanks involves using the words "thank you". Many of us were taught "our manners" at an early age, which included saying "please" and "thank you" in all situations where we asked for something and received something. We still say, "thank you" in all sorts of situations and circumstances. We write "thank you" cards or notes for kindnesses shown or gifts given to us.

    I was surprised, though, to learn that in the first instance in the Bible (in English) where we have a description of thankfulness, we have not words but actions - and specifically, actions involving giving. The giving of thanks is not first the saying of thanks, but rather the giving of something to express thankfulness: that is, a "thanks-giving".

    It is, therefore, quite appropriate for us to think about what it means to giving thanks as we approach that season of the year when we celebrate "Thanksgiving". In Canada, we have set aside the second Monday of October as a day for "Thanksgiving". The celebration usually is associated with eating: a turkey dinner, with all the trimmings, and pumpkin pie. It is often (but not always) a family celebration. Originally it was a celebration closely tied to the fall harvest. Uppermost in many minds still is gratitude for the harvest of the fruits and vegetables, although we often expand our thankfulness to include many other blessings of home and family, and health and strength.

    In light of the biblical evidence in Leviticus, however, we would do well to ask ourselves, "How do we rightly give thanks?" Are words sufficient... or is thankfulness rightly and appropriately accompanied by the giving or offering of some tangible expression which demonstrates our gratitude?

    In Leviticus 7: 12-15, God provides instructions for presenting a peace or fellowship offering. "If one offers such as an expression of thankfulness ..." indicates that one reason or motivation for coming to God with a certain offering is to express thankfulness. Such an offering is described as "a sacrifice of thanksgiving", and is to be accompanied by various things, including cakes of bread, both with and without yeast.

    There are times when saying "thanks" is all we can do. It is true that disciples of Jesus living in a new covenant relationship with Him have been set free from the ceremonial rules and regulations of the Old Testament law, but the attitude and principle that thankfulness is accompanied by more than words is instructive for us. The giving of gifts, and ultimately the offering of ourselves in service to God, is the appropriate expression of thanks to Jesus for His gift to us of life, and forgiveness, and adoption as new-born children of God.

    As we come to our celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday, let us seek to find appropriate gifts which express in truth, in substance, and in action, the "thanks" that is on our lips and in our hearts.

    Giving in thanks, in this Thanksgiving season,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    Love   (November 2013)

    I value and cherish the Shorter Catechism, which is an excellent and wonderful summary of what God has revealed to us in the Bible and in the person of Jesus. The catechism explains: who God is; who Jesus is and what He has done; who we are; and how we come to know and experience the forgiving mercy, life-giving strength, and hope of our God and Saviour.

    Yet the catechism is a man-made document, and as such, it is not without its deficiencies. Chief among them is what many have noticed and which I have come to believe is a great omission in the answer to the fourth question: What is God?

    The answer given to that question, which in todayís English we would express as "Who is God?" is a reply which gives us great, wise, and truthful reflection on the God who has revealed himself to us, in both creating and re-claiming the world. God is: a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable; in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

    Yet the word "love" is missing. Even the shortest chapter of the Bible, Psalm 117, which has only two verses - and calls upon us twice to "praise the Lord" - says that the main reason for our praise is, "For great is his love toward us." (Psalm 117: 2, NIV)

    In the New Testament, the apostle John, often described as the apostle of love, says in his first letter, "God is love." (1 John 4: 8, NIV) He then goes on to say: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (1 John 4: 10-11, NIV)

    The Bible teaches, and Jesus came to show us, that God is clearly a God of love. This love is "agape" love - self-giving, free, and unconditional love. God is willing to give up his one and only Son for us. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3: 16, NIV) This alone is sufficient reason for us to have faith and to put our trust in this God. Paul asks, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8: 31, NIV) Clearly, God is to be trusted precisely because he entrusted His own Son, Jesus, to us. This is love.

    Jesus, on the eve of his departure through the cross, gave his followers one clear call: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." (John 15:12, NIV) He immediately went on to say, "Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13, NIV)

    In this month, we are called especially to remember those who served and suffered and died to preserve the freedom and procure the peace that we enjoy. We pause on each Remembrance Day to admire and give thanks for love that was lived until death. As we do so, let us also return to praise the One whose self-giving love is most perfectly revealed to us.

    We are created - and, by the Holy Spirit, are being re-created - in the image of God. Is it any wonder that Jesus answered the question, "Which is the greatest commandment?" this way? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.í This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ĎLove your neighbour as yourself.í All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22: 37-40, NIV)

    Let us love our God who is love.

    Delighted and thankful to know and love the God who is love,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    The blessing of children to the childless   (December 2013 - January 2014)

    The pain of being alone, or of being conscious of one or more who are absent, is often greater at Christmas time. So much of our cultural celebration of Christmas involves children, or memories of our childhood, that the absence of children is often hardest to bear in the season leading up to and surrounding December 25th.

    A parent who has lost a child, whether in the womb, as a young child, or as an adult, carries within an inexpressible emptiness. A parent who has grown children but no grandchildren, and no prospect of any, also bears a silent but sometimes heavy sense of what is not and will not be.

    In reflection upon Godís design and provision for our experience of His love and fullness, I offer the following to all of us - single; married; estranged; separated; divorced; widowed; with children; without children; with grandchildren; or without grandchildren - as we approach this Christmas season.

    Each of us can ...

    • Celebrate that I am a child
    • Share in the joy that God chose to reveal himself as a child, born as Jesus, a baby son to Mary ....

    All of us who have welcomed Jesus into our lives can ...

    • celebrate that we are a brother or sister, and that we have a brother in Jesus ...
    • celebrate that within the church of Jesus Christ -- that within the family of God -- we together have many children, and many brothers and sisters ...
    • share in the joy and delight that we have become children of God ...

    The promise and declaration that children are Godís gift is a covenant promise, intended not for the parents alone, but for the whole Christian family together.

    Matthew 18: 3 - Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (NIV)
    Psalm 127: 3 - Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. (NIV)

    Throughout the scriptures, we are reminded that Godís care for and delight in children is to mark our life together as the community of His people. Eliphaz the Temanite reminds Job that it is the children of the fool who "are far from safety, crushed in court without a defender" (Job 5: 4, NIV). Under Old Testament law, the year of Jubilee was to bring freedom to anyone indentured as a slave, and his children: "He and his children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee." (Leviticus 25: 54b, NIV)

    Rejoicing in being a child of God, chosen, twice-born, cherished, and cherishing all the children Jesus welcomes,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    Testimony?   (February 2014)

    Story-telling is a great way of communicating. People love to hear a good story. People love the story even more if it is a true story.

    The best stories are ones that catch and hold our attention, perhaps because we can identify with someone or something in the story. The story helps us to make sense of ourselves, or at least offers us a chance to compare ourselves (for either good or bad, or to laugh or cry) to someone in the story.

    Jesus told many stories -- ones that we call parables -- to illustrate truths about life and death, about belief and faith, about God and us, about love and forgiveness, about now and forever.

    Followers of Jesus learn these stories, and we learn about ourselves and about Jesus through them. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the Bible are full of these stories, and we learn a great deal about God and Jesus through the stories Jesus told.

    But God also intends each of us to have and to tell a story -- a personal story of how we have come to know Jesus and how we are learning to follow -- in faith, and faithfulness in life -- as we journey with Jesus.

    Some of you have shared your stories, or parts of them, with me, and I count it a very great privilege to know stories of faith and struggle, of Godís grace and mercy, in many individual lives.

    If our stories of coming to know and continuing to follow Jesus have truly connected with Him, then it is more than likely that some particular word from Jesus -- or verse from the Bible (which is Godís story) -- will have connected with us.

    So ... hereís my question, and challenge. What is your favourite or most meaningful verse of Scripture? Sometime in the days or weeks or months of this new year, I would like to invite you to tell me (in person, or in writing, by e-mail, or Facebook message, or through whatever means of communication is easiest for you) what verse or passage from the Bible is the one that you cherish above all others, because it holds the greatest meaning for you. Thatís the question, and I look forward to receiving and cherishing your answers.

    The challenge is this: If you have a particular verse of Scripture that is for you "God speaking to you", then can you in a few words tell your story? I want to encourage all of us to write a short testimony. This challenge is designed to help us tell the story of our faith: the one in whom we believe, and why. Some may have told their story many times, and this exercise will be easy. I suspect, though, that many find this very hard to do. Yet if we centre our testimony around one verse from the Bible that God has used to speak to us, we will find it easier to be able to write or say what it is that we believe and to begin to talk about the God whom we know and in whom we trust.

    This is our story, and if we can become comfortable in telling our stories, we will be able to share our story with others ... and, as the disciple Peter reminds us, be able and ready to give the reason for the hope we have.

    Remember, Peter once -- no, three times -- denied even knowing Jesus. Yet Peter was transformed into one of the greatest story-tellers and preachers in the history of the Christian church. Three thousand people came to know and trust Jesus in one day after he told the story of Godís love and power in raising Jesus from the dead!

    Let us work together to tell our stories -- and to share with others the hope that is ours, in knowing and loving Jesus.

      Your pastor, eager to hear stories, and to encourage you to share yours,

        James T. Hurd

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    New Life   (March 2014)

    A long and cold winter deepens our longing for spring. Spiritually, seasons of cold and dryness deepen our yearning for the restoration of joy and delight in the Lord.

    In the early days of the Christian church, we are told about two of Jesusí first disciples, Peter and John, going to the temple to pray. This was an ordinary day, and they went at what was, in those days, the usual time for the gathering for prayer -- three oíclock in the afternoon. They noticed that a crippled man was being carried to the temple, so that he could sit at the entrance gate and beg. Peter, in reply to the manís request for help, spoke to this handicapped individual and plainly told him that he didnít have any money to give him, but that he did have something else -- something far better. Then Peter, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, commanded the man to walk, and took him by the hand. We are told that at that very moment, the manís feet and ankles were healed, and he joined Peter and John in entering the temple, walking and praising God!

    This had a powerful effect on the people nearby, and a crowd gathered in amazement. Peter, still filled with the Holy Spirit, then spoke to the people, beginning by acknowledging that the same God who appeared to Abraham appeared again in Jesus. Peter explained that although Jesus was killed, God raised Him to life, and it is in the name of Jesus that the crippled beggar has also been restored to life and health.

    Then Peter invited those who had participated in the killing of Jesus -- and who were cold and dead, spiritually -- to open the doors of their minds and hearts to a spring-time of rebirth and new life:

    Acts 3: 19-20 - Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you -- even Jesus. (NIV)

    These "times of refreshing" spring from the entrance of Jesus, whose presence is the power of life and who changes everything.

    We may experience many dark seasons of doubt, and trouble, and pain, and sorrow. Yet none of us have had the endure the sorrow and regret of having physically participated in the killing of Jesus. We may well, like Peter himself, have endured the sorrow of having rejected or disowned Jesus. Three times, Peter denied knowing Jesus. Yet God restored and refreshed and reinstated Peter to be of service in sharing Jesusí love, and proclaiming in word and action His power to save and heal and renew! God, through the preaching of Peter, who was forgiven and renewed and refreshed, used Peter to bring help and hope and life to a handicapped beggar. Then he used Peter to invite the very people who helped to kill Jesus find forgiveness and new life! This wonderful good news means that He can refresh and renew our lives too, and use us to point others to the "times of refreshing" which come from the presence of Jesus in our lives today.

    As we look forward to watch for and welcome the signs of spring, let us look to Jesus to refresh us. Let us look for and celebrate signs of new spiritual life among us, and more will appear!

    Refreshed from reading about Jesus, and encountering Him, and longing for continued renewal,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    Patient patients growing patience   (April 2014)

    Every language provides opportunities for plays on words. Some of us pay more attention to puns than others. One of the most interesting in English involves the words "patient" or "patience."

    As children, we often hear from our parents, "Be patient..." When we want something, we want it "now," and the implication is that it should have arrived yesterday. It is hard for children to learn to wait. One way we do so is by watching the traffic light, waiting for it to turn from red to green, so that we can walk safely across the street. Assuming the light is working properly, it will change, and, sooner or later, green will signal "Go."

    Christians learn that patience is a fruit of the Spirit. It is more than something to be learned, but rather it is something to be grown in us, through the work of Godís Spirit. In the same way that it takes time for a tree or plant to grow fruit, so it takes time for our lives to show patience.

    I am amazed at the way the English language brings together the usage of the word "patient." One who is in hospital or under the care of a doctor is said to be a "patient." When we recognise that this word is the same word describing one who shows the fruit of patience, this suggests that one who is a patient is an individual in whom patience is being perfected. We are "waiting," and learning to wait, for healing and a return to health.

    Sometimes the period of waiting is long, and sometimes it is short. Regardless, we need to recognise and accept that waiting is involved. It is not wrong to want to eliminate "delays" brought about by neglect, error, or an over-crowded, under-built, or under-serviced health care system. But in a fallen, broken world, we are called to accept that there are some delays that will call for us to show patience. In the process of healing, however, waiting is part of the design. It usually takes six weeks (or more) for broken bones to set. Our bodies need time to adjust to the benefits of some types of medication, and sometimes that means days, or months.

    When we find ourselves as patients, let us take heart when we realise that God is at work in all in whom His Spirit lives - producing and perfecting the fruit of patience.

    Waiting, with some patience, for spring -- and warmth, and growth -- and knowing it will come, in Godís good time,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    A new spring wardrobe?   (May 2014)

    Jesus introduces a description of the "lilies of the field" with the question, "And why do you worry about clothes?" Because of the introductory question, we often take Jesusí answer as telling us that if the wildflowers do not worry about their beauty (which they donít), we ought not to worry about our clothes and outward appearance either, because God cares infinitely more for us (into whose hearts he has put eternity) than for the flowers (which are here today and gone tomorrow).

    All this is true, and we are to focus our energies and intentions upon Godís rule and reign, and set our hearts on His righteousness. We are to leave the worrying to God.

    Yet we would do well for a moment to ponder a little more deeply what Jesus is saying about the beauty of clothing. The beauty of the lilies is not "put on" like designer clothing or makeup. The beauty of the lilies, and all the flowers, is inherent -- part of their genetic makeup. The outward appearance of the flowers -- the colours, intricate beauty of the petals, and distinctive fragrances -- are all dependent on their genetic, inward design. None of these things are "put on" to mask something plain or ugly.

    So it is for the Christian. Our outward beauty is not something we put on. Rather, the fruits of the Spirit which we display -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control (as they are identified in Galatians 5: 22-23) -- are grown from within. They are part of the "genetic makeup" imparted to each one who is born again of the Spirit. When we come to know Jesus and His nature is re-born in us, we are given a new nature. This new nature, as it develops, begins to produce outward changes in our appearance. We begin to reflect those changes in the way we live -- in the way we speak and act toward others.

    Further, one flower does not make a garden. When we recognize the beauty of Godís Spirit in each other, we realise that we are growing together. The "inner beauty" of Godís design for His body -- His church -- is that only together do we show to the world the magnificence of Godís re-creation of a people, a community, for Himself. Each flower contributes to the beauty of the garden, but no flower is to crowd out another.

    As we give (minimal) attention to necessary changes to our wardrobe with the changing, warmer weather (mostly shedding heavy coats, sweaters, boots, mitts, and hats), and as we give (more) attention to our gardens (tending and pruning plants and shrubs and planting flowers and bushes), let us also give (greatest) attention to reflecting on the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives. God is at work within you, both "to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2: 13, NIV). He is working to produce in each one "the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1: 11, NIV)

    Glad for the flowers of spring, and more so for the flowering of the Spirit,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    Potholes, problems, and peace   (June 2014)

    Driving around Ottawa, I see -- and I suspect others see -- many potholes, especially in the spring. Like most of us, I try to avoid hitting the potholes, at least as much as possible. On regular routes, I have come to know where many of the worst ones are, and am glad to be able to miss them, either by driving around them or straddling those that can be safely passed over.

    Recently though, I was turning into a mall entrance that I rarely visit, and I was surprised to hear -- and feel -- a very hard bump. I had not noticed that in front of the lip of the sloped curb along the entrance, there was a very deep hole. As I recall, it was raining, and my vision was somewhat obscured. I felt the bone-jarring impact, and wondered what new damage I might have done to my vehicle. After completing my visit to the shop to which I was going, I exited the parking lot at the same place, and carefully looked to see that there was a small, but deep, triangular hole in the pavement, which I had obviously hit upon entering the parking lot earlier.

    In our journey through life in a fallen and broken world, we encounter many potholes. Some are literal and physical ones, like the one I hit. Others, however, are troubles of a different sort. Illness strikes bodies. Estrangement parts friends. Sorrow saddens families. Many of these things take us by surprise, even when we are trying to look carefully to avoid them or to minimise their impact.

    When Jesus was preparing his disciples for his death and departure, he was frank and open in telling the disciples, "In this world you will have trouble." They, and we, are to expect trouble. Yet that is not Jesusí final word. He described some of the troubles that he would face, and that his followers would face, in order that they would "have peace." That peace, said Jesus, would be "in me."

    How we manage to retain peace amid the problems that we encounter is related to how we are united with Jesus. John 15:4 records Jesusí earlier words: "Remain in me, and I will remain in you." (NIV) If by faith we are trusting, resting, and living in Jesus, he in turn, by His spirit, is living in us. He tells the disciples to "take heart" because, "I have overcome the world." If through his death and resurrection Jesus has overcome the worst that the world and the devil can do, then it stands to reason that his presence with us is the ground of our assurance, and peace, amid the problems we may -- and will -- encounter throughout our lives.

    We may avoid some, or even most, of the potholes. We will not avoid them all. We can, however, retain the peace that is Godís gift to us amid the storms of life, because Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is living in and accompanying all who live in Him.

    Let not the potholes ruin our peace, even if they do damage our vehicles!

      Your pastor, in the peace of Christ,

        James T. Hurd
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