God Knows (September 2017)
Psalm 46:10 - "Be still, and know that I am God. (NIV)
Do you know what I just read on the Internet? Did you see the video of what just happened...? Do you
know what we're watching on TV right now?...
We live in a world in which technology has brought the world to us. News of all sorts -- and the more
dramatic, supposedly the more important, or at least the more urgent -- is accessible to our fingers, our
eyeballs, and our brains, instantly and incessantly. Dramatic, sensational news, especially in audio and
video formats, claims our attention every minute of every day.
We seem to be unable to turn it off, and the effects often feed restlessness, uncertainty, and fear.
Enough already! But what can we do to restore order? Or at least find peace and strength to cope?
Psalm 46 is a great place to start.
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the
earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the
mountains quake with their surging... Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall... The Lord Almighty is
with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress... Come and see the works of the Lord... Be still, and know
that I am God." (Psalm 46, selected verses)
We have heard and watched this summer of fires in British Columbia and a hurricane accompanied by
torrential rain and flooding in Texas, to say nothing of acts of terrorism and the wars that continue to
shock, destroy, and impair life for so many throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere.
It is good to be reminded that the psalmist in Psalm 46 had in his mind’s eye mountains falling into the
ocean, desolations wrought upon the earth, and wars raging to earth’s ends. In such vivid and terrible
circumstances he is led by the Holy Spirit to affirm: "The Lord Almighty is with us." The psalmist was a
person of faith who knew this God and was reminding himself and all who would know that God is God,
and God knows.
There is no news that is news to God. There is no news that is new to God. God knows.When we know
and remember that God knows, we will be able to deal with the "news" around us much better. First of
all, although it may be "news" to us, we are not the first to know, and we need not be the first to share it.
Let us remember that much "news" is not worth telling, or repeating. Second, let us ponder with gratitude
that God cannot be "shocked" by what may shock us or others. If we ask God to fill us with the Holy
Spirit -- the same Spirit who inspired the psalmist in Psalm 46 to write, "Be still, and know that I am
God." -- then the peace and the strength which the psalmist knew can and will be ours too.
Jesus was often confronted both by his disciples and others attempting to bring to his attention some
news or other about people or events that were disturbing or troubling. Jesus was unperturbed at such
news. Even when the disciples were afraid of drowning in a great storm, Jesus slept peacefully, and
upon being awakened, shared that peace with them as he quieted the winds.
Even and especially in the midst of a world in chaos, Christians need not fear and shall not be moved.
Our peace and calm are examples to share with others who are searching for reassurance and
equilibrium and courage and strength, to make sense of a world incessantly in motion and so often
bobbing into chaos. Let us, by our peacefilled presence, show and share the presence of Jesus with
those around us. Paul exhorts us: "Let the peace of Christ rule your hearts." (Colossians 3:15, NIV)
Your pastor, in peace and stillness, because I know God knows,
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Who or What? (October 2017)
Proverbs 23: 7 - "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he." (KJV)
On a very warm [read “hot”] late September evening, I was standing in the checkout
line at the grocery
store, wearing a Tshirt.
in relatively small letters, had the name “Gracefield Christian Camp
and Retreat Centre" written on it, along with the camp logo. I wasn’t really intending to advertise or call
attention to the camp, but had grabbed the lightest, coolest shirt I could find, before making a very fast trip
across the street to pick up a couple of ingredients needed to complete cooking supper. I was focused on
the “what” of my trip: I needed onions to make spaghetti sauce, and mushrooms would go well, too.
The cashier was a young man, very pleasant and courteous, and after greeting me, immediately remarked,
“Gracefield — my best friend worked there!” The conversation immediately moved to identify his friend,
whom I knew, and went on to talk about how we each knew this friend. Clearly, in a city of million people,
we are not so distant from one another as one might think.
What struck me upon reflection, though, is that for this young man, the focus was not on the “what” — but
on the “who”. His association of Gracefield was with a person, not a place. Even though he noticed the
“what” (my shirt identifying a place), he wanted to focus on the “who” (his best friend).
Reflecting on this encounter (after my cooking and eating were finished), I was motivated to do a little
Bible study. A search for the word “what” in the NIV translation turned up some 2,291 instances — but a
search for the word “who” in the same translation turned up 4,269 instances. Almost twice as many verses
focus on the “who” as focus on the “what”. What might this mean? Who is trying to get (and keep) our
Where is our focus? As a pastor, I am called to minister to people — the “who”. Yet in setting a daily
agenda, so often my focus is all too easily fixed on the tasks at hand — the “what”. I am challenged,
though, both by the unexpected example of the task-oriented cashier (who was very efficient) but who
focused on the “who”, and by the priorities of Scripture (whose principal author, the Holy Spirit, speaks of
the “who” twice as often as the “what”). Is my focus on the “who” rather than the “what”?
Some things — and some people — get lost in translation. The NIV for Proverbs 23:7 reads, in part, “ …
he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost …” which rightly relates what the original says
to the context. Yet the old KJV translates the verse, in part “as he thinketh in his heart, so is he …” In fact,
the verb “to be” is not expressed in the original Hebrew, so it is not wrong to read the verse this way: “As
he thinks … so he …” In modern English, we might say, “As one thinks, so one is.”
Jesus went on to teach that rather than what goes into the mouth, it is what comes out of the mouth — and
the heart — that makes one unclean. What we think has a direct impact on what we say and do.
If we are always thinking about the “what”, we will more likely talk about and act upon things — and be
focused on agenda items, and tasks. If, however, we devote our thoughts to the “who”, we will more
likely be focused on the people around us — those whom we are called to serve and love in Jesus’ name.
Let us ponder the apparent two-to-one ratio in
Scripture. The Spirit seems to speak of the
“who” — the people, twice as much as the
“what” — the things. With God’s gracious help,
let us order our thoughts, our prayers, and our
Your pastor, with a heart for whom Jesus lived and died and lives still,
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Puzzles? (November 2017)
Jigsaw puzzles can be fun to put together. Children often learn the concept of shape by piecing together
simple puzzles of two or three wooden pieces, and then progress to puzzles involving a dozen pieces, and
thereafter more complicated ones, including some with several hundred pieces. Adults, especially those
retired, sometimes enjoy the challenge of recreating a picture puzzle with a thousand or more pieces.
In admiring one of those larger puzzles recently, I was struck by how many of the pieces were very
similar in colour. The central feature was a pair of very colourful loons in flight, but the background
included large expanses of both sky and water, and it was quite beyond me how all those tiny and very
similar (both in colour and shape) pieces could ever be sorted out and fitted back together correctly. Yet
the finished result was a beautiful scenic landscape.
Making sense of the puzzle of our lives is somewhat similar to solving a complicated jigsaw puzzle.
There are a few bold events that stand out, but there are a great many ordinary days that can seem all-toofamiliar,
similar, and tedious. Lost in the middle of them, we find it hard to figure out what they
represent, or how they fit together in the larger framework. Sometimes the big events seem too big, and
we question what else is left. Yet when all the pieces are put together, the result is that we discover that all
the parts really do fit together, and do so in a way that contributes toward the creation of a beautiful
We are reminded by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in
a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully
known.” (NIV) As we move through the days and years of our lives, we only know in part how things fit
together. One day, though, the puzzle will be complete, and the whole canvas will display a beautiful
picture that makes sense.We will be able to see how each piece — each event — fits with all the others,
and we will realize fully that all the parts what we perhaps thought to be ordinary or “boring” each had its
contribution to make to a meaningful and beautiful whole. The big events will be set in their proper
The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God is not a haphazard puzzle-designer.
Jeremiah 29:11 - “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not
to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
In the midst of trying to put together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, we are greatly helped by having a
picture of the completed puzzle as a guide to assist us. Although this side of heaven we do not have such
a picture to make sense of the puzzle of our lives, we do have the promises of God in Psalm 139 who has
numbered our days according to His infinite wisdom.
We also have the affirmation of Paul in his letter to the Romans that “we know that in all things God
works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans
As we have opportunity to admire puzzles put together, let us remember and be encouraged by God’s
handiwork, yet unfinished, as He weaves the tapestry of our lives, and of our life joined together in
Jesus Christ, in God’s infinite wisdom and to His eternal praise. One day, the result will be complete,
and all who are part of the fabric of His church will see clearly, and admire the whole.
In Christ, grateful for puzzles solved and those yet to be,
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A sign? (December 2017 - January 2018)
Luke 2:12 “ This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Signs are markers.When travelling, I look for signs. I can read a map, and I have even followed a GPS on
occasion, but maps sometimes are outdated and GPS gadgets have been known to lead people astray (bad
data in, bad data out)! I prefer a sign that is immediately present and visible. Usually such signs confirm
that I am where I think I am (or prove to me that I am definitely not where I want to be). Signs help us to
get our bearings and, when we approach our destination, to have confidence that we are in the right place.
Long ago, certain shepherds travelled around the countryside near Bethlehem, tending sheep. A messenger
from God appeared, and announced to the frightened shepherds some news — very good news, but most
likely confusing news. The good news was that “a Saviour”, a longhoped
for Redeemer and Ruler, had
been born. Confusion, though, was quite possible, in that the Saviour was not appearing in the form of a
mighty conquering sovereign, but as a little child — a newborn
baby. Clearly, the news was “breaking
news”, but it would be a developing story. All the facts were not yet out.
The messenger, however, told the shepherds to expect and look for a sign: “a baby wrapped in cloths and
lying in a manger”. Now when the shepherds travelled into Bethlehem to follow up, they knew what to
look for: a baby wrapped in cloths in a manger. Animal feeding troughs were not usual beds for babies, and
so the sign for which the shepherds would be looking when they arrived in Bethlehem would be distinctive:
a manger, occupied by a wrapped-up
Luke is careful to tell us (in verse 16) that when the shepherds arrived, they found the baby “who was lying
in the manger”. The sign was very much part of the discovery, and confirmed for the shepherds that they
were in the right place, and in the presence of the promised Saviour.
Today, many people are looking for all sorts of signs. Some want to know what the weather will be like;
some want to know whether it is a good time to invest in an opportunity; some want to know if a job or
position open is right for them; others want to know if they have met the “right” person to be partner or
spouse. Still others want a sign that God is really worthy of trust.
The celebration of Christmas offers an opportunity to remember that God gave the shepherds a sign, and
that sign proved to confirm to them that they had heard rightly the good news — news that was true — and
news that was to be trusted, and acted upon. Not only did the shepherds travel until they came to the sign,
but thereafter they “spread the word” (verse 17) about the child, and they praised God for His faithfulness
and the gift of Jesus as the Saviour of the world.
Ancient signs recorded in the Bible still point to everlasting realities. God is present through the Holy Spirit
and at work in the world and in the lives of ordinary people travelling through the world in our time. Let us
learn the signs, follow them, and rejoice when we find confirmation that we are in the presence of our
Saviour, and invite others to discover the signs too.
Your pastor, rejoicing in the sign of God’s presence and the hope rooted in Jesus Christ
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Who is your boss? (February 2018)
For whom are you working?
Many who work for an employer are grateful
to have a job, and even more grateful if the
employer is a good boss.
- Some who work for a bad boss are not happy, and long for a better boss or a new job.
- Some who work for themselves are thankful to have no boss.
- Some who do not work want to, but cannot find employment.
- Some who do not work are glad not to, but are restless and search for purpose and a good reason to get up in the morning.
In the letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul has a few words of advice that are often overlooked because
they were first addressed to slaves. Since, in general (in theory, at least), there are no slaves in our modern
western culture, it is easy to pass over these verses.
Here are the words:
Colossians 3: 23-24
you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for
men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ
you are serving. (NIV)
What if we perceived that the application of these words is much broader than only to slaves?
How might our attitude toward work and the boss for whom are working change, if we recognized that
God is our employer — our boss — and we are firstly (not only lastly) working for Him?
Jesus (the Son of God) said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him
who sent me.” (John 6: 38, NIV) If Jesus, the royal Son and the ultimate ruler of the universe, was willing
and eager to work, what excuse do we have for not working? If Jesus’ attitude was “I am here to work for
God my Father”, what is my attitude? If I am an adopted child of God, and a brother or sister of Jesus, how
is Jesus’ attitude reflected in my own attitude towards work?
Some bosses are difficult. God is gracious, and if we affirm that whatever we are doing, we do
wholehearted for the Lord, then we may rest assured that the Boss of all bosses has a gracious eye upon us
and our work. It will not go unnoticed, and if done sincerely and wholeheartedly, will be rewarded,
according to God’s promise.
Working for the only One worthy of all our labour,
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Society = Neighbours (March 2018)
Leviticus 18: 16 “
Do not do anything that endangers your neighbour’s life.” (NIV)
Five murders in six weeks and 13 shootings in the first month of 2018, all within the city of Ottawa,
rightly give all of us cause to pause and ask, “What is happening to our society?”We do not need to
look further afield, but when we are confronted with the news and the consequences of yet another act
of violence against students by one who had been one of their own in a “civilised” society south of the
border, we are compelled to examine ourselves and to ask anew, “Who is my neighbour? Do I know my
neighbour?What do I owe my neighbour?What does my neighbour owe me?" If we are to live in
“society” — in social relationships with those who inhabit the same city, neighbourhood, street, or even
the same building — how do we live together in ways that respect life and each other’s right to live?
Sadly, it is fashionable today to dismiss the ancient “holiness code” in Leviticus 18 because there are
within it certain commands or laws that pertained to the ancient Hebrew ceremonial law, now no longer
in effect after the onceforall
sacrifice of Jesus. Yet before we cast aside all air because of some smog
or all water because of some impurities that we might filter out, and leave ourselves with nothing to
breathe or drink, we would do well to grasp the moral framework and backbone that underlies the
Creator’s design for life.
God says, “Do not do anything that endanger’s your neighbour’s life”
(verse 16), and in the same chapter — indeed in the same paragraph —
there are several other specific commands concerning our responsibilities
toward our neighbours. Here is verse 16 in its immediate context:
Leviticus 18: 13-18
13 “‘Do not defraud your neighbour or rob him. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired man
overnight. (verse 13)
14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block
in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the
15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge
your neighbour fairly. (verse 15)
16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your
neighbour’s life. I am the Lord.
17 “‘Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so that you will not share
in his guilt.
18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as
yourself. I am the Lord.
The refrain “I am the Lord” that appears in verses 14, 16, and 18, is also found at the beginning of the
chapter, introducing this “holiness code”: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of
Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” (vv. 1-2)
Because God is holy (i.e. God is “other” — apart from and sovereign over the people whom He has
created and He calls to live in community with each other) God calls for, indeed commands, holiness. This
holiness is shown by respecting the lives of neighbours, each of whom bears the image of God and lives in
that image, even though fallen and imperfect.
God’s laws were more than writings on stone or parchments. Jesus put the laws of God into practice, and
taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan that whoever is in our path and is in need is our neighbour. He
was also on a certain occasion confronted by “an expert in the law” who tested him with this question:
36* “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37* Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your
38* This is the first and greatest commandment.
39* And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
40* All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 3640)
Rooted in both God’s very being and in Jesus’ understanding of the design for human life is the command
to love neighbours.
Christians are called to model love for neighbour. As “neighbourliness” in our city and society in our time
suffers from ignorance, neglect, and downright assault, let us show the better way — the only way — the
way of life. Let us each resolve in the days and weeks
and months ahead in this year to know our neighbours,
and to do something specific and constructive to bless
them, as we heed God’s call and Jesus’ command and
example to do nothing to endanger their lives.
Your pastor, called to be a neighbour,
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Life (April 2018)
Colossians 3: 14
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things
above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not
on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.When
Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (NIV)
Easter marks the resurrection — Jesus’ return to life — from death.We celebrate because He lives!
But there is more …The apostle Paul tells us, through his letter to the church at Colosse, that believers
in Christ have also been raised to life. This is what he says: “Since, then, you have been raised with
Christ …” (Colossians 3: 1) Jesus’ return from the grave was not simply to show God’s power over
death. The miracle of the resurrection was not simply to draw attention to God’s sovereign rule, nor was
it simply to vindicate Jesus and declare all that He had said was true. The resurrection showed all these
things, and more, but the astonishing and relevant fact for sinful, afflicted human beings is that the
resurrection is the foundation of new life for us, too — if we embrace Jesus and cast our lot in with Him.
Paul is writing to the “holy and faithful” believers in the Christian community at Colosse,
and he says, “You have been raised with Christ.” You have come back from the dead —
you have new life. This new life, though, is not in isolation — it is “with Christ”.When
Christ lives in the heart of a twiceborn
man, woman, or child, the believer is “in Christ”,
and in, through, and with Jesus Christ enjoys the gift of new life. Christ “is your life”, so
the apostle says in verse 4.
The early disciples celebrated the return of Jesus from the dead on the first Easter Day, and they
continued to celebrate new life with Jesus.When Peter — who had gone back to fishing for fish —
recognized Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he was so overjoyed that he jumped into the water
and swam to shore to greet Him. (John 21: 7) The reality that their Friend, and Teacher, Redeemer and
Lord had returned to live with them, and to equip them to live to fulfil God’s planned purposes for them,
brought them joy and hope for a bright and secure future. Even though Peter had fallen down in his walk
with Jesus, and three times denied even knowing Jesus, Jesus reinstated
Peter for a lifetime of Christian
service in sharing God’s saving love and grace with others. These same realities are for Christians today
to enjoy too. Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, living in us, we are enabled to celebrate new
beginnings in faithful and fruitful service for Jesus in advancing God’s agenda and in realizing His reign
over the peoples of the earth today.
Let us embrace Jesus, dying to sin and raised to life, and go with Him into a lifefilled
future, both in time and eternity.
Rejoicing that Jesus lives, and rejoicing to live with Him,
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The First Day of Spring (May 2018)
Psalm 118: 24 “
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (NIV)
Several people this year have said that spring has been a long time coming. There was, however, evident
and radiant joy among many on Sunday, April 22nd as those who were able gathered for worship on a
bright, sunny, warm, beautiful Lord’s Day morning.
I was reminded that we are called to receive — and to live — one day at a time, and to treasure and
celebrate each day. Jesus, after reflecting on the beauty of the birds and the flowers, said, “Do not worry
about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6: 34) It is true that “each day has enough
trouble of its own”, but it is also true that “this is the day the Lord has made”, and we are encouraged to
“rejoice and be glad in it.”
So many of life’s joys are missed or minimised when we fail to “savour the moment” — to fully appreciate
what we have here and now. For the Christian, twiceborn,
we live in the Spirit — in communion with
Jesus who came that we might have and enjoy life abundantly.
In noting that the eldest member of our congregational family, Sylvia Hepburn, is due to mark her 100th
birthday this week, I was encouraged to search out one of her poems.What I found was a rhyme celebrating
“the first day of spring”. Though written many years ago, it brims with enthusiasm for the arrival of the day,
and sparkles with the sense of one rejoicing in this day. Mindful that a hundred years is a long time, and
accumulated wisdom is well worth sharing, may something of her sense of wonder and gratitude inspire all
of us to greet the dawning of spring, and indeed each new day, with joy and gladness.
Jeremiah suffered many trials and had good reason to lament much trouble, yet he affirmed: “Yet this I call
to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his
compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 2123,
NIV) The secret to sustaining hope was and is to remember that each new day brings new mercies, and we
are invited to rejoice and be glad in this the day which “the Lord has made”.
Your pastor, rejoicing in the gift of each day, one day at a time,
The First Day of Spring
Today is a symphony, today is a poem,
Today is a masterpiece hung in the Louvre,
A blending of colours — delicate hues,
The fresh virgin greens, the gentle soft blues.
Today my heart lifts, as the sun in the sky.
Enchanted, I sing and I dance.
Do I hear
A magical orchestra, starting to play
A tribute applauding this wonderful day?
Today is the day all the world is in rhyme
Could Longfellow write of this sweet scented air,
Or Shelley or Keats find words that will ring
In praise of this glorious, heavenly,
first day of Spring!
poem by Sylvia Hepburn
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