Back to School (September 2005)
Psalm 86: 11 - "Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth." (NIV)
II Timothy 2: 15 - "Study to show thyself approved unto God." (KJV)
September for many means a return to school. Back-to-school ads fill our mailboxes, newspapers, and the airwaves. For some, the thought of returning
to the study and work of learning is a real drag, especially after a summer of warm weather and fun out-of-doors. For others, the challenge of going
off to a new school or college or university is an adventure, long anticipated, and eagerly embraced. For those who have long been enrolled in the
school of life-long learning, the back-to-school culture is merely an encouragement to renew one's commitment to learn something new this year.
If we understand the world as God's classroom, and the invitation to study as God's call, we may approach the twin challenges of learning and teaching
as part of life. More specifically, if we have come to know Jesus as the Master Teacher, and comprehend that each of us who would be his disciples are
forever his students, we will embrace life itself as a school of learning.
We are called to learn. God wants us to know. He is eager that we know the truth about Himself, and He came in Christ to show us. He is eager that we
know the truth about ourselves, and holds before us the mirror of the Scriptures so that we can see ourselves as He sees us. He is eager that we
discover the earth which He has made for us and in which we live for a short while, and also that we find out about the heaven to which He invites
graduate students to live in eternity.
Along the way, we are invited, even as we continue to learn, to share in the task of teaching others, including one another. "The things you have
heard me say," says Paul in II Timothy 2: 2, "entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." Our learning is to passed on
for others' benefit.
Teachers, parents, and students all plan to make the school year a success. What shall we do, in the fellowship of Christ's school together in the
church, to create a climate conducive to success?
Let us renew our request to God to make us good students. "Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth" is David's prayer in Psalm 86: 11.
Let us make it our own.
Let us renew our commitment to be diligent students. Paul exhorts Timothy (II Timothy 2: 15) to "study to show thyself approved unto God". May we be
ready to do the hard work and apply ourselves to learn.
Let us also encourage one another in the pursuit of learning. Praying for and writing notes of encouragement and support to students at college or
university in other places is a great way to stay in touch. A word of appreciation to a Sunday school teacher or a youth leader can be a tremendous
spur of strength to persevere amid the challenge of helping to grow disciples in Christ's school. The attitude that we display toward learning is catching. Do our words and actions inspire others to want to learn?
Above all, let us ask God to give us an eye and a heart for what He would teach us and for what He would have us to teach others. We are
(if not "back to") then certainly "in" school. God is ready to teach. Are we ready to learn?
In the school of Christ
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A future for life in a culture of death (October 2005)
The intersection where Jennifer Teague was reportedly last seen is no more than five minutes' walk from the front door of my house. The fast food restaurant where she worked is no more than five minutes' walk from the back door of my house. I also have a daughter named Jennifer.
The death by murder of a Barrhaven teenaged girl leaves all of us who possess consciences and compassion in shocked silence. Our hearts are overwhelmed with grief, but we cannot comprehend the depth of the grief of her family.
As I write this reflection, I have just returned home from a meeting of the Youth Ministry Support Team, at which we have been striving to find a new Director of Youth Ministries for Parkwood Church. In the face of Jennifer Teague's disappearance and death, I am more keenly aware than ever of the urgent need for effective ministry to youth and young adults, and to children and families, in our congregation and our city.
We need our children -- and grandchildren -- to find the Lord Jesus now, before it is suddenly too late.
We need our youth to know that there are adults who care deeply for them, and who want to be involved in their lives.
We need to re-build a world where our teenagers do not have to work to serve us food and drink until one o'clock in the morning.
We need to build a community where no one is left alone and unprotected.
We need the sanctity of life -- of every life -- to be affirmed and honoured.
I also write this reflection after a period in which I have conducted five funerals in six weeks, and have attended two others. Most of these were for aged saints, whose lives of four score years and more here on earth were ones of devoted service to Jesus Christ in the fellowship and work of His church. Their lives remain a sweet and blessed memory for many. Some of their descendants share their faith, and though grieving their passing, hold with valid reason the sure and certain expectation of reunion in the presence of God in the eternal kingdom of Jesus Christ. Others, though, lack that faith, and are struggling to find peace in the midst of pain.
The apostle John, exiled to a remote island for crimes he did not commit, and having known the death of most of his closest friends and lifelong fellow labourers, was permitted by God to see a vision of what is to come. He wrote these words -- for us:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars -- their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death." (Revelation 21: 1-8, NIV)
God knows how broken and disturbed our world is. He sees the blood that cries out from the ground for justice. His heart aches with the loneliness that grips so many and leads to such despair. His love for us led Him to do the unspeakable: to offer up His Son to save 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 is the good news. There is hope in our pain. There is a future that makes sense -- a future that is connected to the present, and which will turn things right side up. This is the good news that a world full of bad news so desperately needs to hear.
A father, a saddened but hope-filled Barrhaven resident, and your pastor,
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What matters? (Making choices) (November 2005)
Joshua 24: 15 - "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve." (NIV)
For many of us, trying to figure out what to do on a given day or in a given situation can be a confusing challenge. We are confronted with many choices, sometimes more than the number with which we can or want to cope.
I can choose cereal for my breakfast -- but usually only one kind -- from among half a dozen varieties on the shelf. I can pick one of several different routes to travel from my home to the office.
A fixed amount of money can be spent on an infinite choice of merchandise. Which will have priority? Whether buying Christmas presents or formulating the church's budget, we have choices to make.
We are called as Christians to be at work to change the world. As servants of Jesus Christ, we are called to work to build His kingdom, which involves turning an upside-down world right side up. If we have no choices to make, then we may be too content with the way things are. Being confronted with choices is not a bad thing, but is part of our calling.
I want to suggest two principles which help us in facing choices and making the right ones. First, it is imperative that we are aimed in the right direction. Second, it is vital that we aim to be a blessing to those along the way.
When I choose my breakfast cereal, it is important that I be standing in front of the cereal shelf in my kitchen, and not in front of the household cleaning cupboard. If I choose a box from the cereal shelf, I will likely get something good to eat, even though I may not be absolutely sure which brand of cereal I think will best satisfy my taste. On the other hand, if my choice is made from among the soaps and household chemicals, I am quite likely to be poisoned. Similarly, if I head north from my house and turn only north or east, I will likely, sooner or later, arrive at the church building, even though I may not turn at the same corners each day. If I start out headed south, though, all the east turns in the world will not help me, as I get further and further away from my intended destination.
On the spiritual journey that is our life in this world, if we set out "to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever", we have an orientation for our life and work that will enable us, ultimately, to arrive at our destination. We may make some choices along the way that are better or worse than others, but we will make those choices from among options that can aid us in pleasing God and fulfilling His will for our lives.
It is equally important that we aim to bless those whom we meet along the way in our life's journey. Arriving at the destination is one part of our calling; whom we touch along the way is also part of what glorifying God involves. If I cut off or injure other drivers or damage other vehicles or property along the route, I will not have been used by God to bless others, even though I may arrive at the office well enough and in good time. On the other hand, if I have stopped to let the man pushing his elderly spouse in a wheelchair cross the road safely, or paused long enough to warn another driver that his truck has no functioning taillights, I may have aided someone else in their pilgrimage.
There are many options for the use of our time, talent, and treasury. Let us seek to make our choices having first chosen to serve God by following Jesus Christ.
Facing choices, and seeking to make good ones, because God has chosen to set me on the path of life,
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Christmas Preparations (December 2005 - January 2006)
As I write this, there is early evidence of preparation for Christmas taking place. Lights are appearing on houses in the neighbourhood, wreaths are for
sale in the supermarkets, and there is even a dusting of snow on the ground. In reading this, it may well be that you are in the process of planning for
your celebration of Christmas this year.
In considering our preparations and planning, I was led to think back about what has contributed to happy memories of Christmas, and what has not.
On a personal level, being sick on Christmas Day was the worst. I have dim memories as a child of once being ill with the stomach flu, and being unable to
hold up my head to look at my presents, and lying on the chesterfield totally uninterested in the Christmas feast on the table.
On a pastoral level, I have sat with families in hospital who have watched during the days and nights immediately preceding Christmas at the bedside of a
dying loved one, or who have grieved the loss of a beloved parent or grandparent, or a child, in the days immediately prior to Christmas, or who have had
to cope with funeral preparations in the days between the planned celebrations of Christmas and the New Year.
In such sad and trying circumstances, the one saving help and hope has been that in each situation, those involved have not had to face the situation
alone. Family or friends have been there to share the burden.
What contributes to happy memories of Christmas celebrations is the presence of others -- family or friends -- whose words or gifts, music or laughter,
have spiced the occasion, around the dinner table or the fireplace, out in the snow or inside in the living room.
All of this suggests that in our preparations, we do well to focus on presence rather than presents. Whose presence will enrich our Christmas? Whose
Christmas might our presence enrich?
The Scriptures offer us an estimate of the value of friends:
"Two are better than one" ... If one falls down, his friend can help him up." (Ecclesiastes 4: 9, NIV)
Few things can be more painful than having to face Christmas alone. Christmas is about "Immanuel -- which means 'God with us'" (Matthew 1: 23, NIV).
In the birth of Jesus Christ, God is saying to us that He will not leave us alone, but will instead come to us. He wants us to know the joy of His
presence. We are not to be alone, but are to have the sustaining presence of God in our lives.
Remembering that God is Spirit and that He resides in those who have welcomed Jesus into our hearts and lives, let us ask this question amid our
preparations: "With whom shall we share the presence of God during this Christmas season?"
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Light in the darkness; Hope for the sorrowful (February 2006)
For this month's meditation, I wish to draw our attention to some words
from the classic work, "The Pilgrim's Progress." For those well-acquainted
with this book by John Bunyan, the quotation will need no introduction.
We have suffered in recent months the removal from our midst through
death of several of our number. Amid the sadness and challenge confronting
us in such circumstances, Bunyan reminds us in his great allegory of the
life-story of the Christian pilgrim of the many solid, substantial comforts
which God offers to us. For those unfamiliar with Pilgrim's Progress, let
this serve to whet your appetite to read the book.
"Then I saw in my dream, that Christian was as in a muse awhile. To whom also
Hopeful added these words, "Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole:
and with that Christian brake out with a loud voice, 'Oh, I see him again!
and he tells me, 'When thou passest through the Waters, I will be with thee;
nd through the Rivers, they shall not overflow thee.'' Then they both took
courage, and the Enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were
gone over. Christian therefore presently found Ground to stand upon, and so
it followed, that the rest of the River was but shallow: thus they got over.
Now upon the bank of the River on the other side, they saw the two shining men
again, who there waited for them: Wherefore being come up out of the River,
they saluted them, saying, "We are Ministering Spirits sent forth to minister
to those that shall be Heirs of Salvation"; thus they went along toward the Gate.
Now you must note, that the City stood upon a mighty Hill, but the Pilgrims went
up that Hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the
arms; also they had left their mortal garments behind them in the River; for
though they went in with them, they came out without them. They therefore went
up here with much agility and speed, though the Foundation upon which the City
was framed was higher than the Clouds; they therefore went up through the region
of the air, sweetly talking as they went, being comforted, because they safely
got over the River, and had glorious Companions to attend them.
The talk that they had with the Shining Ones was about the Glory of the place,
who told them that the Beauty and Glory of it was inexpressible. There, said they,
is Mount Sion, the Heavenly Jerusalem, the innumerable Company of Angels, and the
Spirits of just men made Perfect. You are going now, said they, to the Paradise
of God, wherein you shall see the Tree of Life, and eat of the never-fading Fruits
thereof; and when you come there you shall have white Robes given you, and your
walk and talk shall be every day with the King, even all the days of Eternity.
There you shall not see again such things as you saw when you were in the lower
region upon the earth, to wit, Sorrow, Sickness, Affliction, and Death, for the
former things are passed away. You are going now to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
and to the Prophets, men that God hath taken away from the Evil to come, and that
are now resting upon their beds, each one walking in his righteousness.
There you shall enjoy your Friends again, that are gone thither before you and
there you shall with joy receive even every one that follows into the Holy Place
fter you. There also you shall be clothed with Glory and Majesty, and put into
an equipage fit to ride out with the King of Glory. When he shall come with
Sound of Trumpet in the Clouds, as upon the wings of the Wind, you shall come with him ..."
May God enable each of us to know the blessings that await those who trust in Jesus
Christ, and to comfort one another.
Your pastor, in sorrow and in hope,
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A Timely Dream (March 2006)
I dreamed a dream.
Behold, I saw Scotiabank Place (once known as the Corel Centre and once before that as the Palladium), and a great multitude of people assembled.
Or I should say, "assembling", because although the clock had struck seven and the hockey game was due to start, people were still coming and going.
The national anthem had been sung, at least by those present and in their places, but as the referee blew the whistle to signal the start of the
game, it was evident that there was a problem. True, many seats were occupied, but as usual some were still jostling for entrance to the parking lot.
Others were still making their way up the stairs, watching carefully lest the snow cause them to slip. Still others had stopped to get a coffee, or a
drink of juice. Some were deep in conversation ...
But the greater problem was on the ice. I looked to see the starting lineup. The opposition players' bench was full, and their team had a full
complement on the ice, dressed and ready for battle at the drop of the puck. But where were the members of our beloved team?
And then I dreamed again.
Our coach was there, dressed and ready to spur the team on. He had a lineup card, but had not turned it in, uncertain as to who among the
members of the team would be in attendance on this occasion. Yet his face was beaming, delighted with the appearance of each additional
face, and he was hopeful as always that by the end of the third period a full team would appear.
The net was empty, for the goaltender was still in the parking lot, having left home late and having been caught in the traffic. His
back-up was nowhere to been found, but it was generally rumoured that he had stopped to pick up one of the forwards who lived off the
bus route and whose son had borrowed the car to go to his part-time job.
One defenceman was on the blueline, but was down on one knee, tying his skates, trying desperately at the last minute to thread new
laces through the eyelets of his boots. The other defenceman had stepped up to the left wing position, because the leftwinger had
moved to centre ice to take the faceoff, because the centre was still behind the bench, in an animated discussion with the building
manager about whether the ice-level temperature was too cold or too hot. The rightwinger was the only one who appeared in place,
dressed and ready to charge forward at the drop of the puck.
The referees hesitated to begin, but for another reason. Their helpers, the linesmen, were "in the building", but just where, no
one knew for certain. One was thought to be in the bathroom, and the other had been seen trying to find a telephone in order to
call the janitor to get a key to the penalty box door which was locked.
At the end of the rink, there was a great commotion. The Zamboni driver who had just finished his work flooding the ice, was
complaining loudly to whoever would listen that he had run out of water, and the ice would be in very bad shape by the end of
the first period. The girls hired to skate in along the boards and scoop up loose snow during the commercial break were hunting
high and low for their buckets, and wondered if they should go and ask the coach what to do.
My dream ended when the puck dropped. I woke up, and it was Sunday morning. Strangely I heard a tune. It was from My Fair Lady,
but the words, "Get me to the church on time" were changed to "I must get me to the church on time."
James T. Hurd (sometimes known as your coach)
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Lent: A play on words and a word on life (April 2006)
The word "Lent" can name the season of preparation, leading up to Easter. It can also refer to something loaned to some one, i.e. what some one has borrowed from some one else.
Lent can be a time for taking inventory. The season in Canada often coincides with the arrival of spring, which in many of our homes is marked by "spring cleaning". I am reminded of an old Blondie and Dagwood cartoon in which Dagwood meets his neighbour Herb on a spring day, with his arms full of tools, and the line: "Here is all the stuff you loaned me last summer." As I recall, the next scene has Dag at Herb's door, asking to borrow one of the items again. One knows how the summer will unfold: with Dagwood making a continuous stream of trips to Herb's door, asking to borrow one thing after another, and Herb waiting until the next spring for the return of the whole lot.
So I pose the question in this season of Lent: "What has God lent to me?"
What if we used the following as a check list?
What has God lent to me?
+ Life + Breath + Health + Strength
+ Self + Family + Friends
+ A Year + A Month + A Week + A Minute + A Second
+ Food + Water + Clothing + Shelter + Heat + Comfort
+ Mercy + Acceptance + Pardon + Forgiveness
+ Love + Joy + Peace + Patience
+ Kindness + Goodness + Faithfulness + Gentleness + Self-control
+ Freedom + Peace + Security
+ A Bible
+ A Psalm + A Hymn + A Spiritual Song
+ A Voice + An Instrument + A Skill
+ A Mind + A Heart + A Will
What can I give to God?
I can start by returning what He has lent to me.
It will take the rest of my life to complete the task!
Psalm 116: 12 - " How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?" (NIV)
Romans 12: 1 - "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your spiritual act of worship." (NIV)
Rather than focusing on "cleaning out" in this season, let us focus on "giving back" to God what He has so graciously and generously loaned to us.
In Christ, Your pastor,
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Remember? (May 2006)
The calendar is turning again ... this time to the month of May. For some of us, the days pass so quickly we have a hard time keeping up. For others, though, time passes slowly, and the turning of the page affords a chance to ponder the changes that the passage of time brings.
I have always thought of the month of May as a month of hope, and one that shows evidence that hopes can be realised. May is a merry month, marked by singing birds, budding flowers, and warm sunshine. The early signs of spring prove true, and there is evidence of new life emerging from the frozen and snow-covered landscape.
May is not a month of unmingled joy, though. As a child, the arrival of spring brought on weeds and pollen and a host of things that negatively affected the health of one prone to allergies. I will never forget, either, the onslaught of blackflies that greeted the youth at one memorable Victoria Day weekend camping retreat!
I invite you to find and take a quiet moment or two this month to recall memories of spring -- both good and not-so-good ones.
At the same time, I invite us all to remember people -- individuals -- who have been part of our lives, but are not presently in sight. Some have moved, some are ill, some may be busy and pre-occupied or otherwise unable to participate with us. Others have simply slipped out of sight. Where is so-and-so? Cultivating our memories of shared fellowship or worship may be an act which God will use -- to nudge us to call, or send a card or e-mail message to simply say, "I remember you."
In some instances, our memories turn to those who are not here because they have left this life. It is sad, but good to remember. Perhaps a relative or very close friend of the one whom we remember would value a card or a call or a chat to say, "I remember." A kindness recalled, a word of advice valued, a laugh enjoyed, or a struggle shared or endured together: any of these may give rise to our being able to say, "I remember ..."
That others hold a place in our memories is evidence of the bonds of community life that bind us together. When we remember, and take trouble to let others know that we remember, we strengthen those bonds, and enrich our lives. We also honour God as we remember and give thanks for those who have touched and blessed our lives.
Paul began his letter to his old friend Philemon with these words: "I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers." (Philemon 4)
Who can we remember? Who might be encouraged to know that we remember them?
What can we do to show we remember? How shall we show that we remember?
At the same time as we remember those who have been part of our lives, let us ask ourselves what we are doing today that will affect others' memories of us in the future. Can others say of us, "I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers"? Let our actions today be the stuff of fond and grateful memories tomorrow.
It is spring -- and there are tremendous opportunities for the building of bonds in the body of Christ. Let us remember -- and let us renew -- the lives of those who share life with us. Spring will have sprung, May will mark more than the celebration of Mother's Day, and God will be honoured.
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Growing (June 2006)
With the arrival of spring, the backyard at our house resembled a black hole. Instead of grass -- even brown grass -- the grubs who invaded late last summer left behind nothing but sponge-like black earth pock-marked by the odd peculiar hardy weed. Several of our neighbours' yards looked sadly similar.
Glancing through the window on yet another day marked by dark skies and a steady downpour, I was tempted to think that the white snow-covered mantle of winter was to be preferred.
What a difference, though, a month of rain can make! As I look across the yard today, I see a predominant colour: green! Having managed to sow some seed and scatter some fertilizer before the onslaught of monsoons of May, I stand amazed at what a transformation has taken place! To be sure, there are still some pesky weeds disturbing the appearance of the grass carpet, and undoubtedly the latent eggs of the grubs will need further attention and probably cause further problems, but there is a new lawn taking shape.
There are resemblances between the greening of our yard and renewal in the church. There are times when the landscape appears pretty barren, and the atmosphere cold and wet. It is at such times that one may be tempted to despair about the prospects for growth. Yet we are called to sow the seed of God's word, faithfully and persistently. Dark skies may well bring the rains which will water the seed. God promises to give the increase.
Rather than complaining about the rain, let us remember what life-giving moisture it brings! The gardening authorities say that the best natural defense against the grubs is a well-fed lawn well-watered daily. In the same way, the best defense against spiritual decay in our lives to cultivate for our souls a well-fed, well-watered garden, nourished on the word of God.
The problems with my yard did not begin in September when the hungry grub beasts finished their feast. Rather, the problems arose from a lack of moisture when, for two or three weeks in the midst of the summer, I ignored the lawn's need for water.
Rather than "taking the summer off" as some are tempted to do, we would do well to give attention to cultivating the garden of our souls. Regular feeding on the word of God and watering by His Spirit is essential if we are to defend against the enemy of our souls and if we are to avoid decay in the quality of our life together. For those travelling, let us seek out opportunities for worship in different places; for those present in the city, let us make good use of the means available for growing in worship, fellowship, and service.
As we look to the blessings of the summer, let us draw inspiration from the lowly but industrious ant:
Proverbs 30: 25 - "Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer." (NIV)
Let us also be encouraged by the promise of God given to Noah. After forty days and forty nights of rain, God assured Noah as he undertook the work of rebuilding life that never again would the whole earth be destroyed by flood:
Genesis 8: 22 - "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." (NIV)
Rain may dampen the picnic table, but the Son will shine to bless God's people!