The great King (September 2012)
Psalm 47: 7 - "God is the King of all the earth." (NIV)
The climax of the opening ceremony of the recent Olympic Games showed a pair of stuntmen playing the Queen and James Bond parachuting down into the stadium,
just before Queen Elizabeth II herself, flanked by Prince Philip, declared the games of the 30th Olympiad to be open. The crowd was wild with joy, and
the commentators eager to affirm the Queen's openness to "act" in a film for the first time, and generally acclaimed her for being "with" it and with
The image of the Queen coming down to the people is very powerful. Yet in some significant ways, the mindset of those who, like the director of the opening
ceremonies, Danny Boyle, strive to bring her "down"
to the level of the people is at odds with the biblical mindset, which celebrates more the lifting "up" a monarch, especially of the Lord,
the great King.
The psalmist in Psalm 47 is full of praise when he says in verse 5, "God has ascended amid shouts of joy." When he summons the people (including us) to
praise God by clapping our hands (verse 1), he immediately affirms the height of God's kingly majesty and rule in verse 2: "How awesome is the Lord Most
High, the great King over all the earth." He celebrates (in verse 5) God's going up, rather than his coming down: "God has ascended amid shouts of joy."
The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is our Prophet, Priest, and King. The shorter catechism question and answer #26 reminds us that Jesus fulfils the
role of a king in these three ways: "Christ executes the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and
in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies." A sovereign conquers, rules, and defends. C. H. Spurgeon in his masterful commentary on the Psalms
says, "Our God is no local deity, no petty ruler of a tribe; in infinite majesty he rules the mightiest realm as absolute arbiter of destiny, sole monarch
of all lands, King of kings and Lord of lords."
To be conquered by Jesus is to be free of tyranny of self and sin. To be ruled by Jesus is to be under the royal law of love. To be defended by Jesus is to
be safe forever from the devil and all in league with him.
To be subjects of the great King of all the earth is to be citizens of the kingdom of God, which is the greatest and most enduring entity that ever was or
is or shall be. "Kingdoms wax and wane; but the Church of Jesus constant will remain": so wrote Sabine Baring-Gould.
God has indeed come down to us in the person of Jesus. He became one of us, identifying with us so that we could identify with him. Yet we must never be
trapped in the worldly mindset of desiring our sovereign to come "down" and be "with" it, on our level. In this year marking the diamond jubilee - the
sixtieth anniversary of the ascension and coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, let us give thanks and honour where it is due, but let us even more fix our
gaze firmly on our ascended King Jesus.
Let us aspire that our King continue to be lifted "up", so that he will draw all to himself. Our God is the great King - King of all.
Looking up, and looking to see Jesus lifted high,
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Strength (October 2012)
Psalm 73: 26 - "God is the strength of my heart." (NIV)
Having the strength to do something or other is one of the challenges of life. A child sometimes discovers that he or she does not have the strength to push or pull open a door, and looks eagerly to a parent for help.
Sometimes an elderly person faces the same challenge, especially when competing against a very high wind.
Sometimes, the strength needed is not physical, but mental. To balance a chequebook, or to assemble all the papers and do the calculations required to file an income tax return, takes considerable mental staying power.
To be able to read and digest a complicated article or report requires concentrated effort on the part of the brain.
Sometimes, though, the strength needed is neither physical nor mental, but spiritual. Faced with temptation made attractive by those who are happy to embrace the easy way, much strength is required to say "No" to the way of the world
or of the crowd, and to say "Yes" to the way of the Lord and his word. To control one's tongue while being needled or provoked takes great effort. To walk by faith and not by sight demands the consecration of one's will. Here is where
the beauty and blessing of our text comes in. The psalmist says that "God is the strength of my heart." If God has come to reside in us, there is a source of strength that supplements and even supersedes our own natural strength.
It is a wonderful thing for a parent's hand and energy to augment the hand and strength of a little one in pushing open a door. An elderly person finds that the same door opens more easily if there is another firm hand, one of a
grown son or daughter, on it at the same time. Sometimes, we may even find ourselves pushing or pulling in the opposite direction, and another intervenes powerfully enough to cancel our efforts and change our direction entirely,
as when two strong arms quickly catch an infant falling from a table, plucking the little one up into the air before any damage is done which would have been caused by hitting the ground.
God offers us his strength in all the seasons and circumstances of our lives. First, though, we must grant Him, in the person of Jesus, the space to reside in our hearts. We must admit that in and of ourselves we are weak. When
we are bent on trusting in our own strength alone, we fail to tap God's strength. The prophet Isaiah says of God that "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak." (Isaiah 40: 29, NIV) The apostle Paul
testifies that the Lord did not remove his thorn in the flesh, but instead assured him of the Lord's grace to sustain him, in these words: "for my strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12: 9, KJV) In our weakness,
God's strength shows and excels.
May we learn to say, and sing, as Moses and the Israelites did when they celebrated God's deliverance when caught, in weakness, between the surging swell of the Red Sea in front and the power and fury of Pharaoh's armies
behind, "The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation."
Your pastor, in the strength which God supplies,
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A sun and shield (November 2012)
Psalm 84: 11 - "The Lord God is a sun and shield." (NIV)
On the morning after Hurricane Sandy lashed New York City, I awoke to drive from Ottawa to Smiths Falls to assist in conducting a funeral. I had expected, based on the dire predictions of the weather forecasters, to face dark skies,
high winds, and heavy rain.
To my delightful surprise, as I left the city, the sun was poking through the clouds. As I rounded various curves in the road, I had to use the visor on the window as a shield against the glaring sun. By the time we arrived at the
cemetery, the sun was shining in all its brilliance. My drive, both going and coming, turned out to be an inspiring and uplifting trip.
The psalmist in Psalm 84 also offers us an inspiring and uplifting meditation, which concludes by focusing on God as "a sun and shield". What does he mean?
In the Bible, the sun is often synonymous with "light". In the ancient world, the sun was the primary source of light. Before the very recent (in relative terms) production of electric light, the sun was the light. Without the sun,
there was darkness. In the spiritual realm, God was - and is - the source of light. Psalm 119: 130 (KJV) says: "The entrance of thy words giveth light." Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." (John 8: 12, NIV) The psalmist in
Psalm 84 is celebrating the presence of God as a beautiful place to live: "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!" (Psalm 84: 1, NIV) Why is God's presence so lovely? In significant part, the answer is that God is light.
At the beginning of the book of Genesis, the first thing God is recorded to have said is, "Let there be light." (Genesis 1: 3, NIV) At the beginning of the prologue to John's gospel, we are told of Jesus, the Word, that "in him was
life, and that life was the light of men". (John 1: 4, NIV) He came to shine into the darkness. Apart from Jesus, life is darkness.
Clearly, God is the light-source for spiritual life, as significant to sustaining our spiritual lives as the physical sun is to sustaining physical life.
Secondly, the notion of God as "shield" is also foundational to the psalmist's celebration and enjoyment of God's presence. A shield provides protection. By acknowledging one's need of a shield, one is admitting one's vulnerability.
Soldiers in the ancient world carried shields, to deflect projectiles in battle, but dangers were - and are - to be found throughout life. The apostle Paul advises followers of Jesus to be dressed, spiritually, for the battles of
life, and specifically calls upon believers to "take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Ephesians 6: 16, NIV).
How we think of God influences how we walk with Him. Do we know God as "a sun and shield"? Is His light the light in which we walk? Are we conscious of His protection as our shield? I will face the day - even if it is cloudy -
with confidence and hope, if I recall that the sun is shining, even when it is obscured by the clouds. I will face the spiritual challenges of life with hope and confidence if I know Jesus as the light of the world. If I possess
a shield, fear of facing dangerous "slings and arrows" will be confronted, and I can go forward with courage. If by faith I know Jesus to be my shield, I will go forward with confidence.
Let us celebrate our God and Saviour as our "sun and shield", and join in praising God as we live out Psalm 84 in His presence.
Your pastor, thankful indeed amid the storms of life for God as both sun and shield,
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God is spirit (December 2012 - January 2013)
John 4: 24 - "God is spirit." (NIV)
Over the past several months, we have discussed in this space various answers to the question, "Who is God?" One of the answers to this question, and perhaps the one which seems most helpful and appropriate at this season, is "God is
In fact, the first self-disclosure of God in the Scriptures, at the beginning of the book of Genesis, shows us God as spirit. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness
was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1: 1-2, NIV) This image of the Spirit of God "hovering" (or "brooding", as some translations have it) is a picture of a wind blowing
The Hebrew word for "spirit" is "ruach" which is the same word used for "wind". When, therefore, we speak of the "spirit of God" we are not offbase in thinking about "the wind of God". When Jesus was explaining to Nicodemus
about being born again, or born "of the spirit", he said, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
(John 3: 8, NIV) God is spirit; God is wind. We do not see the wind, and we do not see the spirit. We do feel and know and see the effects of the wind, and we do feel and know and see the effects of the Spirit.
There is a good deal of talk about "the Christmas spirit" or "the spirit of Christmas". For many people, this is understood to be a spirit of joy, happiness, merriment. One is "expected" to be "in the mood" for parties,
gift-buying, gift-giving, and decorating (to say nothing of cooking, baking, eating, and drinking). In the days leading up to December 25th, strangers greet each other in the malls with a joyful, "Merry Christmas!"
On a deeper, more thoughtful level, people are expected to reflect on the themes of love, and peace, and goodwill toward others.
I recently attended a performance of Charles Dickens', A Christmas carol. Ebenezer Scrooge is depicted as the archetype of one who did not possess the "spirit of christmas" but needed to -- and did - discover it. Embracing the
spirit of Christmas, he was a changed man, and went out to change others lives, and for the better.
When God chose to disclose or reveal himself most clearly, he chose not words on a page or through a prophet, nor did he choose a graphic illustration on a cosmic canvas. He chose a human being, a baby named Jesus, who then grew
to be a man and interacted with real human beings, both men and women, in the world around him.
In the gospel of John, we are introduced to Jesus' encounter with a foreign woman, a Samaritan, at the well in the town of Sychar, where a very worldly woman, who had had five husbands and was then with a man who was not her
husband, was struggling to pull up water. Jesus engages her in a conversation that turns to spiritual realities, and the question, "Who is God?" comes to be the centre of conversation. The woman understands the need for and
believes in a coming Messiah. What she didn't understand, though, until Jesus told (and showed) her, was that "God is spirit" and to truly worship and honour God, one needs worship "in spirit and in truth".
When we open our hearts and lives to Jesus, we discover that the Spirit of God - whom we call the Holy Spirit - comes to fill our hearts and lives. When God's Spirit lives in us, we "have" the spirit - the spirit of God,
who is the Spirit of Christ, and the true spirit of Christmas.
We do not need to "get into" the spirit of the season, or "put it on", but rather since the Spirit is in us, we are in Him, and we cannot but help to share and spread the fruit of that Spirit wherever we go. "The fruit of the
spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control." (Galatians 5: 22-23, NIV) These evidences of the wind of God blowing through us will bring to real life the world around us.
May God who is Spirit bless us all, and make us blessings to all, as we share this season, and always.
Your pastor, in the Spirit of Christ,
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God is light (February 2013)
1 John 1: 5 - God is light. (NIV)
Light brings life. Before the invention of electricity, the normal rhythm of human activity was to rise in sync with the rising sun and to go to bed when it set. For those living in the far north, the longer daylight of summer
still means longer workdays, and the shorter days of winter still mean less work and more sleep. At the creation, the provision of light came first, and with it, the creation of life followed.
The apostle John at the beginning of his first letter reminds us that "God is light", and, in part, he is reminding us we cannot live without light and we cannot live without God. Spiritual life - true spiritual life - is
impossible, apart from Jesus, in whom the light which is God is most truly and clearly revealed for us to see.
Throughout the Bible, we are reminded that our inclination to choose darkness rather than light is the root of so much of our trouble. Jesus tells us so plainly about the reason for His coming to earth: "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) He goes on, in the same message, to declare in verse 19: "This is the verdict: Light has come
into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." Jesus shows us that His love and His light are bound up together. When we receive His love, we receive His light. This is how we escape
the darkness of our sins.
The prophet Isaiah was sent to the children of Jacob to exhort them to "walk in the light of the Lord" (Isaiah 2: 5, NIV). John the baptist "came as a witness to testify concerning that light" (John 1: 3, NIV). John the apostle
says of John the baptist that "he himself was not the light" but "came only as a witness to the light" (John 1: 8, NIV). "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world." (John 1: 9, NIV). Jesus is the light
of the world.
The absence of light reflects the absence of God. When Jeremiah laments that he is suffering under judgement, he describes his condition: "He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light." (Lamentations 3: 2,
NIV) On the contrary, when the psalmist celebrates the lively presence and joy of the word of God, he sings, "The entrance of thy words giveth light." (Psalm 119: 130, KJV) When John is given a vision of that which is yet to come,
he describes heaven in 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. The nations will walk by its light." (Revelation 21: 23-24a, NIV)
As the short, dark days of winter begin to lengthen, and give way to the longer, brighter days of spring, let us embrace with joy and anticipation the life which is God's gift to us in Jesus Christ. "Let us walk in the light,
as He is in the light." John tells us, in verse 7, that this is the way to "have fellowship with one another".
Thankful for Jesus, the Light by Whom and in Whom we live,
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God is love (March 2013)
1 John 4: 8 - God is love. (NIV)
The hymn, "Love divine, all loves excelling", captures the essential idea that God is love. The author, Charles Wesley, celebrates the arrival of Jesus as God come to us:
Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven, to earth come down ...
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love Thou art.
In Jesus' own words, from John 3: 16, "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." (NIV)
The Greek word for love here is "agape", which is the word used for unconditional, self-giving love.
When the apostle John writes in his letter simply that "God is love", he is, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, telling us that God's very presence among us is love.
God does not need to do anything to show or prove His love: He is love. By simply coming down from heaven and being among us, He is loving us. Love is present
when God is present. This is what Wesley understood when he wrote, "Joy of heaven, to earth come down".
Do we grasp that God is love? In moments of despair, or at times when we are not experiencing the love of others around us, God wants us to know He is love. He is, simply by being
present with us, loving us. This is one reason why opening our hearts and lives to Jesus Christ is so vitally important. By welcoming Jesus into our lives, we are opening ourselves to love.
Melody Green's chorus celebrates this:
Thank You, O my Father, for giving us Your Son,
And leaving Your Spirit till the work on earth is done.
God's love for us in Jesus is a love that is not dependent on our love for Him. We do not have to - indeed we cannot - earn that love. God does not love us because we are attractive or appealing.
God does not love us because He sees something in us that He can get us to do for Him. He loves us because He chooses to do so; He loves us because it is His good pleasure to do so.
He comes to us in Jesus to rescue us from ourselves and our sin, and to adopt us into His household and family as chosen, cherished recipients of His love.
Not only are we blessed in Jesus Christ to be loved, and to have God who is love among us and with us and within us, but because of His presence with us we have the capacity to love - to share this self-giving,
unconditional love with others. We love God in return for His love for us. We love those whom God has loved and who have also received His love, and join us as fellow Christians in celebrating Jesus' presence as
the God who is love. But we also love those who have yet to know that God is love - those who have not known Jesus as the One who reveals that God is love. We are called, constrained, compelled by His love to show
love to the loveless and the unloving.
As we reflect on the world's "love industry", and after all the trappings of Valentine's Day have faded, let us celebrate the ongoing, abiding presence of God who is love, and the strength and beauty and peace
of His unconditional love. In response, let us pledge ourselves anew to love the Lord our God who is love with all our hearts, our minds, our souls, and our strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves, because
God is love.
In the wonder of God's love, and so thankful that He is love,
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The resurrection: The basis of our hope (April 2013)
If we compared life to hockey, we would say that life is not a single game, but a series of long seasons.
Sometimes, it seems like we can go many seasons in life without winning. Witness: the Toronto Maple Leafs have managed forty-five (45) consecutive years without winning what they set out to win - the Stanley Cup. Far more significantly, there are millions of people around the world who have lived every day of their lives without winning freedom, health, or even a full stomach.
Fans keep following their favourite team, though, even through the losing streaks and losing seasons. So, too, in life. There are many of those millions who live in countries with very curtailed freedoms but who possess great strength and hope, because they know Jesus as the real source of freedom. There are many of those millions who go to bed sick and hungry, but who are at peace and are filled with joy, because they know Jesus.
The ground from which this hope springs is Jesus' resurrection. Yes, He died, and, yes, the disciples were dismayed and demoralised, and deserted the cross, dejected. But on the morning of the third day, they were confronted with the astounding news that the tomb was empty, the sheet and covering that wrapped the body folded up, and the stone that sealed the entrance rolled away. Then they encountered Jesus Himself: standing, speaking, eating - making the rounds and engaging in conversation to explain that all that had been foretold and promised about His dying and rising again was TRUE!
Life all of a sudden did not become perfect and easy. The disciples still had to fish from time to time to find food. Friends still got sick and died. People still opposed and persecuted the first Christians. Sorrow, and heartache, and pain, were not wiped out. These were still everyday realities. But there was a new hope, rooted in the reality that Jesus had conquered death. He who came from the Father, full of grace and truth, was returning to the Father as a conquering hero. He had won a victory which guaranteed that the losing streak - started by Satan - would not continue forever. His followers would share the victory.
God calls us to put our faith in Jesus. He is the only One who can free us from sin and death and hell. Even and especially amid long "losing streaks", we need to hold and deepen our faith in Jesus. Having won the victory in His resurrection, He will one day return to be crowned King.
Paul wrote from a prison cell to the community of believers in Philippi with joy in his heart and spirit, because he knew - having met in person that risen, resurrected Jesus - that Jesus had been crowned champion:
Philippians 2: 10-11 - At the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)
The resurrection is the ground of our hope. Bill Gaither has it right: "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow."
As we celebrate Easter, let us know that the foundation of our life and our hope is this: Jesus Christ rose from the dead! The Lord is risen!
Your pastor, who lives in hope because Jesus lives!
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Spring cleaning (May 2013)
Matthew 23: 26 - First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (NIV)
With a long winter and a late spring, cold and wet days give opportunity to look outside at the lawn and garden and to say, "There is a good bit of cleaning up needed." Whether it is wind-blown paper and trash that need to be picked up from the yard or roadside, or sand and gravel and undissolved salt that need to be swept from the sidewalk or walkway, or dead leaves or twigs that need to be removed from the rain gutters, there is plenty of cleaning up needed around the house and garden.
I recently took a vehicle in for an oil change, and discovered in the process air filters completely clogged with last summer's pine needles. Clearly there is a need for more regular maintenance - and not just with respect to those parts that are visible!
The same is true with respect to our lives. The spaces in which we live need regular cleaning and maintenance. Our priorities and commitments need regular review to ensure that the "extras" that so easily attach themselves to our schedules don't clog up and crowd out basic functions.
A daily time for prayer and consultation with God through His word are essential. We function best with a weekly sabbath's rest, to give God's Spirit time and space to renew our souls.
The cleaning and renewing work of the Spirit, though, must start from within. Jesus took issue with the Pharisees who gave special attention to the ceremonial and outward washing of the vessels ("the cup and dish") used in temple service and the celebratory feasts, but neglected the more important and inner cleansing of the heart and spirit to address their motives.
It is essential that we come regularly before God and ask the deep questions: "Why am I doing this?" "What does the Lord require of me?" "Who am I, before the face of God?"
Looking at the yard and garden, some things are obvious: the garbage needs to be picked up, the hedge and bushes need to be trimmed, and the lawn needs be fertilised. Some things can be done immediately; others must be carefully scheduled for the right season. The bigger questions, though, must also be asked: What do I want the whole to look like? Should I change grass to a flower bed or vice versa? Do I need more trees for a shade or a windbreak, or fewer to allow more light?
In the same way, we need to ask ourselves the bigger questions of the heart: In the time and with the skills and in the life situation God has placed me, what does He require of me? How can I best serve Jesus? What changes need to happen so that the fruits of the Holy Spirit in my life can best blossom?
As we give attention to the spring cleaning of our yards and homes, let us also tend the garden of our hearts - to the honour and glory of God.
Your pastor, in Christ, and in favour of spring cleaning,
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Death and life (June 2013)
"Let us consecrate ourselves to work for life - and especially for the lives of those yet unborn."
I write this on the day that the death of Henry Morgentaler is being reported. The first word I heard of his death was on the radio, and the first comment made about his life was that "he saved thousands of women". I could not
believe my ears! It was only the second comment that saved me from despair that truth had been called a lie: words to the effect that "or he was responsible for the death of thousands of unborn children".
In the early 1980s, I lived in a Christian community residence three doors down the street from his infamous abortuary on Harbord Street in Toronto. I could look out of my bedroom window, on the first
floor, and read the signs and watch the faces of the protesters who marched on the sidewalk in front of his clinic.
At the height of the protests, before the "clinic" was firebombed one night, so many people protesting for and against the operation of Morgentaler's abortion business led the leadership of Knox Church, Toronto, next door to
the house where I lived, to hire a doorman to keep watch over the large numbers of protesters - for and against - who asked to use the washroom facilities at the church during their walks up and down the sidewalk in front
of Morgentaler's establishment.
I also write this having recently stood next to one who bid farewell to a spouse of more than sixty years, and another who has laid to rest a grown child of more than the same age. With others I have
entered into mourning over the sudden death of the loss of a teen. Still others are wrestling with the loss of a job, a failure at school, or the realisation that a dream may not be realised.
Life and death are intertwined in so many ways. Jesus understood this. Keenly aware of his impending death, he told his disciples:
John 12: 24 - "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.
But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (NIV)
Without the death of Jesus there would be no resurrection. It is the death of Jesus that makes it possible for believers to be born again.
It is the death of parents in Uganda and despair for their orphaned children that led to many at Parkwood and beyond being involved in providing life and hope for many children through CanHave.
As we reflect on the death of Henry Morgentaler, and the deaths of many whom he has hastened, let us consecrate ourselves to work for life - and especially for the lives of those yet unborn. As we grieve
the passing of those who we have known and loved, let us cherish life enough to share it with others. As we die to self and sin, let us live to righteousness and self-giving service to others in Jesus' name.
Your pastor, seeking life amid death,