From the pastor, 2015 - 2016

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    Settled or travelling?   (September 2015)

    Camping -- which has been part of my vacation for several years -- involves moving. One packs up a tent, a sleeping bag, an inflatable mattress, and some other essential items, and sets off either by car or canoe, or both, for a camp site -- where one sets up the tent, fills up the mattress with air, and unrolls the sleeping bag. Gathering wood and tinder to start a fire for cooking, and fetching and purifying water to drink, are all part of daily activity.

    The mindset one has for camping is very different from the mindset one has for living in a settled house. While camping, one has to be willing to accept inconveniences: buzzing mosquitoes, passing rain showers, gusting winds, and blowing sparks -- to name a few. Moving from one camp site to another involves striking and pitching a tent, and moving all the gear in between. Settled living provides far more constancy and stability. The bed does not move from one day or year or decade to the next. Steady supplies of electricity and water ensure that one spends next to no time thinking about such things or energy pursuing them. Foodstuffs are generally found in the same place every day. There are decided advantages to being free to think about and do other things.

    Yet camping also provides advantages, as one is freed from being tied down by the weight of routine. Much in the way of physical and material goods is left behind. Conveniences or habits thought to be essential to daily living are found to be far less necessary. A certain amount of uncluttering takes place.

    All of this allows for reflection. Communion with God -- and in a more natural, God-created space (rather than a man-made one) -- is facilitated when one journeys through the wilderness, or sits on the shore of the lake completely undisturbed and uninterrupted by buzzing telephone or clanging e-mail.

    God called his people in ancient times to leave their settled life in Egypt and to journey. Often we reduce the reason for such a journey to an escape from slavery. That was one reason, yet there was far more to the journey. God wanted his people to journey with him, and to sense his near and constant presence. Wandering awhile helped to teach them to watch and listen and to follow closely.

    Numbers 9: 15-23 - "On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lordís command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lordís order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lordís command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lordís command they encamped, and at the Lordís command they set out. They obeyed the Lordís order, in accordance with his command through Moses.

    Part of our challenge today is to remember that amid all of our efforts in our modern lifestyle to make things convenient and settled, we are to journey with God.

    Amid our current construction at Parkwood, there is much opportunity for us to be less settled. Things will not always be in their "usual" places. Meetings or events may take place in different venues. Will we view these things as bad or wrong -- or good and right? In "camping mode" it is fine if things are different from one day -- or hour -- to the next. In "settled mode" we can quickly become frustrated if some little thing is "out of place". While camping, one is glad to be without some things, and happy to explore other ways of doing or being.

    Do we see ourselves as "settled" or "travelling"?

    Settled in Christ Jesus, but travelling with Christ Jesus among and with his people,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    God Votes   (October 2015)

    In the course of human history, comparatively few people on earth have had the right to vote in completely free elections to choose the leaders and those who assist them in ruling or governing the population. Might rather than right has often provided the oversight.

    As we approach the prospect of a general election in Canada later this month, it is appropriate that those who do have the right to vote consider the significance of the choices before us. It is appropriate for all electors to learn as much as we can about the candidates offering to represent us in the House of Commons, and about those who provide the leadership in the respective political parties. We need to know what issues are important to the candidates and their parties, and what positions the respective candidates hold on the issues that are of importance to us.

    It is also appropriate -- and important -- to consider what God has to say. Rather than examine various issues of economic or social policy from a biblical perspective (important as that is), it is worth remembering first of all that God makes choices. One of the most important choices that God makes is mentioned in Zechariah 1:17, where we are told that "the Lord will ... choose Jerusalem". While it is true that God had historically chosen Jerusalem and the prophet Zechariah is announcing that God will again choose Jerusalem as a place and a city upon which to pour out His blessing, the bigger picture is that God is pledging to choose a people upon whom to rest His mercy.

    Now before we start asking questions about why God chooses one and not another, let us celebrate several things: first, God is free to choose; second, God actually chooses a people to bless; and third, God calls the prophet to announce His present and future choice.

    Let us also remember that God has fashioned us in his own divine likeness, and therefore designed men and women with the freedom to choose, that He intended that we might choose people with whom to share mercy, and that He calls upon us to announce the good news of such with the whole world.

    God (and especially by sending Jesus to us) has voted in favour of us! He chooses to accommodate Himself to us, in the frailty and brokenness of our sinful and wayward condition. He has elected to share His mercy with us, in advance of the great judgment, and invites us to accept His vote for us and to return to Jesus our love and loyalty. He further has given His people -- His church -- His vote of confidence, commissioning us to be the bearers of the message of His good news to the whole world.

    As some of us consider our participation in the forthcoming election, let us all renew our commitment to respect and honour Godís vote for us. Jesus said, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit -- fruit that will last." (John 15: 16, NIV)

    Voting, and glad God has already voted,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    Refugees   (November 2015)

    The plight of refugees from Syria and other war-torn countries in the Middle East and elsewhere has been in the forefront of news and politics in Canada and in other parts of the world in recent weeks. It is interesting and insightful to review how often refugees are mentioned in the Bible and what instruction and guidance is given concerning them. Godís word addresses our attitudes and actions.

    Actions

    In the law of Moses, God commands His people to create cities of refuge, for individuals who find themselves refugees. "Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge." (Numbers 35:6) Interestingly, the purpose for providing refuge is that an individual seeking refuge may well have killed someone, and is to be afforded protection until he is able to be justly tried before a court of law. Escaping slaves are also to be treated as refugees and provided with safety: "If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master." (Deuteronomy 23:15)

    When Naomi returns from Moab to Judah as a lonely and destitute widow, and is accompanied by her widowed daughter-in-law, Ruth, they meet Boaz. Boaz understands that role of a kinsman-redeemer is to mirror the image of God as a refuge. He blesses Ruth, and in reply to her incredulous wonder at why she is so favoured, he says, "May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." (Ruth 2:12) Boaz is the one who shelters Ruth, but he understands that he is only the human instrument. God is the refuge for the refugee.

    Attitudes

    In the Bible, God is described as being a refuge. Deuteronomy 33:27 tells us that "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." Over and over again, the psalms describe God as a refuge - dozens of verses affirm how God is a refuge, and is to be the One in whom refugees from all sorts of dangers and distresses find safety. Psalm 46:1 is perhaps the best known verse: "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."

    Refugees all

    Jesus, in speaking of future tribulations of His followers in the last days before His return, describes His followers in terms that clearly characterize refugees: "How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world..." (Matthew 24:19-21). Jesus wants all of us who follow Him to understand that we may well find ourselves as refugees one day.

    Such a perspective is designed, in part, to drive us to the eternal refuge: Jesus alone is able to save to the uttermost those who believe upon Him and trust in Him. No other is a safe or sufficient refuge. This world is not our home. Yet understanding ourselves from the perspective of the refugee is also designed to equip us to reach out with compassion for those who are refugees in the present context: people who have been driven from their homes and homelands and are without another home in this world.

    Jesus the refugee

    Jesus was born in a stable in a town away from "home" (however that might have been defined for his mother). He wandered throughout the world, eating and sleeping in a great many different and strange places. We find no references to His having as an adult a settled home, or a fixed address. We are called to follow Him: He was a refugee; His followers are refugees; and we are called to welcome and serve refugees.

    Let these reflections help lead us to respond in the present time and to the present challenges as befits servants of our servant Lord.

      Your pastor and fellow pilgrim,

        James T. Hurd

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    Christmas is coming...   (December 2015 - January 2016)

    The first line on page 2 of the Ottawa Citizen on November 23, 2015 announced that "Ottawa is now officially a no-pout zone."

    The adjective is taken from the song, "Santa Claus is coming to town," which exhorts all who are waiting for Christmas not to pout: "You better not pout ... Ďcause Santa Claus is coming to town."

    While those of us who know that the real meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with a man in a red suit and a white beard, we might do well to ask, "What are the real signs of Christmas -- the celebration of Christís coming to live in our midst?"

    As we hang Christmas wreaths and string up Christmas lights, let us ask what others see in and through the lives of those of us who profess as Christians to be Christ-followers. What do we show the watching world?

    In his counsel to young Timothy, Paul points us to the attitude of Christ:

    • Do others see Christ in us?
    • Do we love our neighbours as ourselves? Do they know so?
    • Do we pray for our enemies?
    • Do we turn the other cheek ... when wronged by a sister or brother? Do we forgive as the Lord forgave us?
    • Do we turn aside wrath with gentle answers?
    • Do we embrace what God asks us do without resentment, but with joy and anticipation that "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength," (Philippians 4:13, NIV) and that He will do "more than we ask or imagine"? (Ephesians 3:20, NIV)
    An old question asks, "If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

    Is the evidence piling up against us as the days and years go by?

    As we decorate for Christmas, let us ask ourselves how our lives are decked out with the love of God found in Jesus Christ. Let us strive that our Christ-display be a genuine reflection of who we are and who we live to be -- not just in the run-up to December 25th, but each and every one of the 365 days in the year!

    In the Christmas spirit,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    Detours: Distractions or Divinely-directed Digressions?   (February 2016)

    Travelling from Point A to Point B is sometimes very easy and straightforward. For example, my car (or at least the driver) is likely to go on "autopilot" when travelling between my home and the church building in which I work for a part of most days. The route is familiar, and I am not likely to get lost or waylaid.

    On the other hand, travelling from Point A to Point B can sometimes be very challenging and inconvenient. For example, in recent weeks with the ongoing construction in our church building, to go from the main floor to the lower level has (in the snowy weather) required one to don a coat and hat and boots, and walk outside, around the building, down the ramp, and in through the back door to the hall.

    One might find such extra travel to be a nuisance, or one might embrace the fresh air and exercise as a blessing.

    On more than one such journey on recent Sunday mornings, I was surprised by meeting people in the parking lot "in between" Point A and Point B -- people whom I did not expect to meet! One had come at the request of a member of his family to bring a gift for the Lordís work. Another, a colleague whom I had not seen in some years, had travelled several hundred kilometres to visit the Sarang Korean congregation that meets in our building on Sunday afternoons. On both occasions, I was greatly enriched by the ensuing conversations, neither of which would have transpired if the path between Point A and Point B had been the usual route, down a short flight of steps.

    God sometimes permits our paths and planned journeys in life to take unplanned and unexpected detours. We can respond to such changes and interruptions with complaints, bemoaning the inconvenience and expressing frustration at the disruption to our routine or our plans. On the other hand, we can ask God to open our eyes, and our spirits, to embrace with delight some of the surprises that greet us on our way. One of the truths to be gleaned from the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus told, was that to befriend a stranger in need is to love our neighbour; but another truth is that we need to respond to a "surprise" on a journey, not by walking around it or trying to avoid the "disruption," but by embracing the interruption as Godís claim and call on our attention and service.

    As we eagerly await new and improved routes between upstairs and downstairs, and get ready to bid farewell to a longer and more challenging journey between Point A and Point B, let us be alert and ready to welcome the surprises that God will yet allow to cross our paths on the journeys of our lives, and let us seek to serve Jesus as we serve those who cross and grace our paths.

      Your pastor and fellow traveler,

        James T. Hurd

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    Laughter   (March 2016)

    I have often read Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11, which in verse 4 reminds us among other things that "there is a time to weep and a time to laugh." As we know, weeping and laughing are often close together. Sometimes we laugh so hard and so long that we begin to cry. Occasionally, though, we may end a crying spell with a laugh.

    It is good to ponder why the inspired writer puts "a time to weep" first, followed by "a time to laugh." In our English translation of the Scriptures, the word "cry" and its variations "cries," "cried," and "crying" appear 300 times, while the word "laugh" and its derivatives are found only 40 times. Clearly, crying is more common than laughing.

    In our fallen world, there are many reasons and many occasions for crying. We weep over sin and its effects in our lives, in the lives of others, and in our world. We weep for the suffering endured by Jesus on our behalf.

    Yet there are many reasons to laugh, not least of which is the reminder that God (who is holy and pure) laughs. Even and especially in the face of sin, God laughs. In Psalm 2, the writer takes note of those who assert themselves and rage in the face of Godís power. God, for his part, laughs, in much the same way that we would laugh at a mouse trying to pull an elephant, or a toddler trying to order about the most powerful army on earth.

    God sees and hears our laughter, too. Remember Abram and Sarai laughing when God told them as they approached ages 100 and 90 respectively that he had new names for them -- Abraham and Sarah -- and that they would be the parents of a newborn baby? Sarah even tried to hide her laughter and to deny it, but God said, "Yes, you did laugh." (Genesis 18:15)

    Sometimes, our laughter is rooted in our lack of belief, or our lack of understanding. Something doesnít make sense, and we laugh at it. Yet Godís laughter is rooted in his perfect and complete understanding. He knows fully, and he laughs. Perhaps the more we know, and the more we learn, the more we will laugh.

    Laughter is an antidote to weeping. Godís word says that laughter will outlast sorrow: "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." (Psalm 30:5, KJV)

    Our world is fallen, but God has appeared in Jesus Christ to effect redemption. He is reclaiming and restoring a people for a new heaven and a new earth. In this work of redemption, all who are called are invited to laugh with the God who laughs.

    As we retrace the journey from the cross to the empty tomb, from darkness to light, let us affirm that Godís call to follow Jesus and to discover and grow in and share the love of God found in Jesus Christ is a call to move from weeping to laughing, from sorrow to joy, from darkness to light.

      Your pastor, both in weeping and in laughing,

        James T. Hurd

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    New   (April 2016)

    We celebrate new. We enter new space. We welcome a new season. We meet new people.

    We also embrace new opportunities and new challenges.

    Followers of Jesus live new lives.

    2 Corinthians 5: 17- "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (NIV)

    In the Bible, we find the word "new" most commonly used to describe three things: new wine (41 times), a new moon (17 times), and a new song (9 times). New wine came as a result of a new harvest, arising from the replenishing of the earth and its resources. Such harvests are the fruit of a partnership between God, who provides the sun and the rain, and human beings who plant the seeds, prune the vines, and gather the ripened fruit. A new moon marked an advance in time, and the appearance of a new moon served in the ancient world as the beginning of a new month to mark the passage of time. A new moon was often the occasion for a festive, community celebration. A new song might be a new verse or tune, but was always a fresh expression of praise and thanksgiving to God. Every offering of worship is new, even if the words and tunes have been used on previous occasions.

    We serve a God who delights in expressing Himself in new acts every day. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that: "Because of the Lordís great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning." (Lamentations 3: 22-23, NIV)

    Clearly, God intends us to receive with the gift of each new day an awareness that Godís love and mercy are fresh and new provisions for us. Conscious of His presence and power, our day is not simply another square on the calendar, another page in the date book, or another space in our electronic organizer, but a gift of time and place to rejoice and marvel, pondering their possibilities.

    New provisions are intended as blessings to both the individual and the community. Jesus applies and re-states the ancient commands to love God and to love neighbour in new terms: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13: 34, NIV) This is not an end in itself. "By this all ... will know that you are my disciples." (John 13: 35, NIV) Clearly, God intends our embrace and fulfillment of the new command as the means to show the world that Jesus is the One we follow -- to the praise and honour of God.

    The Holy Spirit gave John a vision of the future yet to come, and it is described as "new": He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!í"(Revelation 21: 5, NIV) God delights in new, and calls and invites us to delight in new.

    Let us embrace each day of our lives as a new day, with new provisions and new power, with new potential and new opportunities to celebrate and serve our Saviour and Lord.

    Rejoicing and living anew,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    No fear of bad news   (May 2016)

    Bad news is part of life. Sometimes bad news comes suddenly, like a lightning bolt out of an apparently clear blue sky. A loved one or dear friend is killed in an automobile crash. A job is lost because a company fails overnight and the doors are locked the next morning. A routine health check-up results in a diagnosis of serious illness.

    At other times, the bad news is not a sudden shock, but confirmation of a long-anticipated or suspected outcome. The student who has been doing poorly on tests all year long gets the report card that says he has failed the course. Hopes and plans to have a child are dashed when another month comes and there is no pregnancy, again. A plan to buy a house falls through because once more the bank denies financing.

    Bad news can upset us. We can, however, live in ways that take the fear out of bad news, so that we are prepared to cope with it, and go forward in hope.

    Psalm 112: 7 - "He will have no fear of bad news." (NIV)

    Followers of Jesus are not immune to bad news. The psalmist does not say, "He will have no bad news", but rather that "He will have no fear of bad news".

    How we respond to bad news is not necessarily related to whether it arrives as a sudden surprise or slowly and surely. Paul says, "We live by faith, and not by sight". (2 Corinthians 5: 7, NIV) If we have put our faith is the One who knows the news before it is news, we can be prepared and conditioned to receive and accept bad news without fearing it, because we already "fear" the Lord. This "fear" is not a cowering, or overwhelming dread, but rather a healthy acknowledgement that God is to be feared because He holds within himself the power, the wisdom, and the love that will cause all things to work for our good and His glory. I do not fear every time I sit down behind the wheel of the car; rather, I have a healthy respect for what a very powerful machine can do, for good or ill.

    Godís gracious design for us is that when we do receive bad news we will not fall to pieces. Paul describes his experience as a follower and servant of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 4: 9, NIV this way: "struck down, but not destroyed". Devastated, yes; but destroyed, no.

    Ira Stanphill wrote: "I donít know about tomorrow... but I know Who holds tomorrow, and I know Who holds my hand". This expresses well the faith of those who live in the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom, and the end of the fear of bad news.

    With faith in God and not in fear of the future,

      Your pastor,

        James T. Hurd

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    First Things First   (June 2016)

    Matthew 28: 16-20 - Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (NIV)

    For too many of us, our "to do" list is too long. Messages and requests, whether by e-mail, text message, voice mail, or a plain old face-to-face "ask", compete for time and attention. Sometimes, though, we need to ignore the "list", and consider the big picture, and re-focus on the really important and enduring reasons for being. We were created, after all, to honour and enjoy God. <

    Christians who have been restored to a right relationship with God through the efforts of Jesus on our behalf, and who by faith in Him have accepted the gift of such restoration, are set free to enjoy God. How we do so involves following where Jesus leads.

    Jesus said, "Go and make disciples ..." The commission of Jesus to "go and make disciples" was given in the context of worship ... or immediately following worship: "When they saw him, they worshipped ... then Jesus came to them and said, "Therefore go ...". Jesusí instructions were given -- even though some of the existing disciples doubted: "but some doubted". Jesus did not wait for faith to be strong before assigning things to do. The commission is backed by the authority of Jesus, derived from God himself: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples ..." Making disciples involves going, baptising, and teaching. The content of the teaching is to defined by Jesus: "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Jesus promises to accompany the disciples as they fulfill His instructions: "I am with you always ... "

    Applications

    • Worship and doubt are not mutually exclusive ... If first in the week is worship, and first in the day is communion with God in prayer, other things may well fall into their rightful places, even amid our doubts.
    • Making disciples is not an option or an extra, but a command and our mission. Let each of us ask: Who might Jesus be calling me to disciple today or this week?
    • We are to teach what Jesus has commanded. If teaching what Jesus taught is important, we will know what to study.
    • Jesusí assures us that Christ-followers are not alone: He promises to accompany all who are serving as disciple-making disciples. If we are doing the main thing, we will not lack Jesusí support and encouragement.
    Let us commit ourselves afresh to embrace and fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord.

    A by-product may well be the shortening of the "to do" list,. At the very least some of the seemingly urgent. but less important things will find their rightful places on the "list"

      Your pastor, seeking to put first things first,

        James T. Hurd
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