Monday, January 27, 2014


      An old friend passed away last week.  I wasn't surprised.  She was elderly when I met her and a bit frail.  With her obituary in front of me I did the math.  Ack!  
    When we first met my friend was younger than I am now.  Elderly?  Not how I see myself!

   Also last week, I was away on holiday so attended a different church.  After all these years (see above)  I'm something of a "professional" church-goer.  When I worship with another congregation I'm alert to what they do well, what they do differently from us, what works for me as a guest to the congregation, what my congregation could learn from them.
     In this case I received a warm welcome, was handed a bulletin that laid out the service in detail.  I enjoyed the preaching and the choir.  People talked to us in the coffee hour after service.  This congregation scored high on my check list. 
     But not all was rosy.  They are running a deficit.  There is angst among the members over the refurbishing of the sanctuary. Changes to a long time social event have ruffled some feathers.
   I got a glimpse of this congregation, the obvious, external marks of their fellowship.  I wonder if what I saw is how they see themselves.

   Back at SPPC I went to Bible Study, chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, seven letters to seven churches.  Each of these congregations has a vision of itself -- poor or powerful, faithful or persecuted, lively or suffering.  But these self-definitions are incomplete. Christ sees beneath the facade.  He commends them for hard work, for faithfulness, for perseverance and for patience. He also condemns where complacency or immorality or heresy have crept in.  
     In calling these seven churches to account, Christ gives us the marks of an ideal church:
 Love for Christ
 Suffering for Christ
 Committed to Truth
 Dedicate to Mission

   As individuals or as congregations, our self-image does not tell the whole story.  The exterior we show to the world is incomplete.  But Christ knows our secrets, sees into our hearts and will hold us to account.  As Paul reminds us in Romans 3: 23  "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God."  Yet by grace, through Jesus Christ, we are redeemed.  Thanks be to God.


Monday, January 20, 2014


 Who'd have thought studying the Book of Revelation could result in so much excitement?  Not me, and certainly not the other twenty-odd people who gathered in the Ross Lounge on Wednesday morning.  In fact, before the study began, there was a downright nervousness in the room.  After all, we were about to tackle "that book."  The one with all the scary images.  The one filled with fire and brimstone.  The one that foretold the end of the world.  Who wouldn't be nervous.

     Yet, when we actually read chapter one, with Rev. Irwin's guidance, we felt hopeful, excited, victorious, upbeat, powerful. 
      Imagine John, living in a time of extreme persecution of Christians, exiled on the island of Patmos, where Christians were sent as slaves to work in the copper mines.  Then realize that this old man, in such circumstances writes 
"Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the first-born from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father -- to him be glory and power forever and ever! Amen."   
     Talk about a cry of defiance against an oppressive regime.  Christ is the ruler of kings!  Christ has conquered death!  Christ has made His followers a kingdom, a royal priesthood!  How could we, in the comfortable lounge of SPPC, remain downhearted in the face of such a message.  We couldn't.  The room buzzed with excitement.  Irwin couldn't write fast enough to keep up with the words and ideas that poured out.

     This is Bible Study on Wednesday mornings at SPPC.  You should try it.  You'll like it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Standing at the Portal

Some of the loveliest music in our "Book of Praise" is seldom sung.  Advent hymns and Christmas carols outnumber the Sundays we have to sing them.  But New Year's hymns really get short shrift.   One of my favourites, "All Beautiful the March of Days" isn't in our hymn book, but the poetry evokes a wonderful vision of winter, a time of silence and waiting and beauty.

All beautiful the march of days, as seasons come and go;
The Hand that shaped the rose hath wrought the crystal of the snow;

Hath sent the hoary frost of Heav’n, the flowing waters sealed,
And laid a silent loveliness on hill and wood and field.

 What we do have is the hymn we sang last Sunday, the first Sunday of the new year, "Standing at the Portal."
Here is what Dr. Kirk had to say on this particular hymn.

December 31
Scripture reading:  Joshua 1. 1 - 9

We have come full circle now.  The year draws swiftly to its close and we wonder what the future holds for us.  Most people are fearful as they face the unknown, but Christians have the assurance that they do not have to face the mystery of what lies ahead alone.  There is One who stands alongside us, whispering "words of comfort . . hushing every fear".  Our heavenly Father's words make us rejoice for they are "tender, strong and faithful".

How wonderful it is to have the assurance of one who always keeps his promise.  "His eternal covenant he will never break".  When Joshua was appointed to lead the children of Israel into the promised land following the death of Moses, he must have wondered whether he was capable of doing the job.  Moses is one of the towering figures of world history.  Single-handedly (humanly speaking) he had freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, led them through harrowing experiences over many years during their wanderings in the wilderness, given them a law and promised a land - and now he was dead and his mantle had fallen to Joshua.  In the midst of his fears the God of Moses spoke to the new commander of his people, assuring Joshua of his continued presence.  "Be thou not dismayed; I will uphold thee with my right hand".  The new leader was reminded that he was "called and chosen" and consequently there was no reason to fear the unknown.

And so it is with each Christian person.  We too have a special status.  "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people" (1 Pet. 2:9) - "for the year before us, O what rich supplies!"  Whatever circumstance we may find ourselves in, whether we are "poor and needy . . sad and sinful . . faint and feeble", the resources we need will be provided.  There will be streams of refreshing water.  God's grace will abound to us and his strength will be made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12. 9).

It is the experience of God's people throughout human history "that he will never fail us".  God is not capricious as we are; he remains true to his word and his nature and "he will not forsake (us)".  How blessed we are when we have human friends on whom we can rely unreservedly.  Take that trust and multiply it to the nth degree and we have still not exhausted the reliability of our God.  He has made precious promises to us and if we will fulfil the conditions he will carry them through, so "what have we to fear?"  Whatever our needs may be in the coming year, our "God is all-sufficient" and will provide for us as surely as he has done in this year, which has now come to a close.  We go forward into the unknown with the promise the apostle Paul proved so often in his own experience, "My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4. 19).

My thanks to Edna for sharing Dr. Kirk's writings with this blog.

Monday, January 6, 2014

What's in Your New Year

  Something about January inspires us to look back, look ahead and make resolutions. Perhaps it's all those clean, blank pages on the calendar that inspire us.  Or, to paraphrase Anne Shirley of Green Gables fame, "it's a whole new year with no mistakes in it," that motivates us to examine how we live.
      There is an abundance of books and poems and songs offering advice for a New Year.   Many focus on the "happy" of Happy New Year.  I've just read a blog post where someone had decided her next twelve months would be guided by the mantra, "I will chose to be happy." 
    In January, book stores can count on big sales of Chicken Soup books, some general, others dedicated to grandmothers,  golfers, nurses, cat lovers, dog lovers, teenagers, hockey players, et al.... all filled with stories to make us happy, whatever our walk of life.
    Remember when Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach was all the rage?  Here we have 528 pages of advice for finding happiness.  Among her suggestions for January are: organize your desk, discard as much as possible, hang new calendars, lay in a supply of good chocolate and whipping cream to get you through the dark days of winter.  (Note to self: visit chocolate shop!)
     A friend of mine, looking for peace of mind in the new year,  has taken a mantra from Julian of Norwich, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

    The Gate of the Year, by Minnie Haskins and famously quoted by King George VI on the eve of World War II gives us a lesson in faith.
"Put your hand into the hand of God/That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!"  Good advice as we begin a new year.

   There is a tradition among some Presbyterians to read Psalm 90 as the old year turns into the new.  This psalm reminds us that the Lord has been our dwelling place for generations, that He existed before time, and that our days are like the grass in God's sight.  At the end, the psalmist prays for God's favour and blessing on our work.  
   So, do you make resolutions in January?  Do you keep them?  Why not resolve to read and memorize Psalm 90.  Or will you resolve to put your hand into the hand of God and tread safely into the darkness?  Perhaps you'll resolve to sing more often,
to give more freely or to begin and end each day with prayer.
   Whatever your rituals, I wish you a Happy New Year and a blessed and productive year in God's service.