If you never thought you could learn about the value of confessing sin from a Bible story about a talking donkey, you need to listen to this message. It’s based on the story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22.21-35.
Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the explosion of the Challenger spacecraft that caused the death of several astronauts from NASA. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed since that fateful day. Do you remember where you were or what you were doing when you first heard about it?
Remembering tragic events in history tends to be a generational thing, doesn’t it? People of a certain generation remember where they were when war was declared on Germany, or when John Kennedy was shot, or when the attack on the World Trade Center took place.
But do we remember where we were or what we were doing when we first heard about something good?
You know – like when you heard you were going to be a father, or a grandparent, or when you learned one of your children was engaged to be married, or when you got your acceptance to university or college – things like that. If you stop to think about it, you probably do remember these things, but all forms of media remind us of the global tragedies first. And, to be fair, they don’t know when you heard one of your children was engaged to be married, unless you were a prime minister, a president, or some sort of royalty.
But what about occasions like the driving of the last spike to create the first transcontinental railroad? (For the record, that spike was driven at Craigellachie, British Columbia, on November 7, 1885. Those of you who know me well wouldn’t be surprised I would remember that.) Or what about the day Newfoundland officially entered Confederation? (That one I had to look up: March 31, 1949.)
These ‘good news’ events are less often marked widely than the ‘bad news’ memories. And while ‘bad news’ history can serve to remind us not to repeat it, ‘good news’ history can inspire us to greater things.
Here’s an idea you can try with your family for remembering ‘good news’ events. Do you celebrate your (or your children’s) baptism dates? What about the anniversary of your public profession of faith? (Depending on your tradition, those two may be the same or different.) Why not celebrate them the way you would celebrate a birthday, by having cake and a party? Celebrating good news, and its memory, can strengthen faith, build families, and remind us that the world is not all about bad news.
“Lord, throughout all generations, you have been our home! Before the mountains were born, before you gave birth to the earth and the world, from beginning to end, you are God….Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives” (Psalm 90.1-2, 14, NLT).
Still Voices – Still Heard is a collection of biographies of prominent, albeit dead, Canadian Presbyterians connected to the Presbyterian College, the seminary of The Presbyterian Church in Canada at McGill University in Montreal. These are the “still” voices; the individuals are no longer living. This is interesting enough in itself, and not all that uncommon a topic about which to write. But making the book even more interesting is that, appended to each chapter, there is material written (or spoken, in the case of sermons) by the individuals profiled in the book.
The format is a great idea, and it was compiled in honour of the 150th anniversary of the College. The chapters are organized chronologically, which helps the reader follow the development of the College. The book begins with the early years of the school, beginning with William Dawson, a Presbyterian scientist who was the Principal of McGill University from 1855 to 1893. It was his vision that brought about the founding of Presbyterian College as a seminary of the Free Church, which broke away from the (Auld Kirk) Church of Scotland as a result of the Disruption of 1843, which made its way to Canada in 1844 (even though the issue that brought about the split was not an issue for the Canadian church).
What Dawson was to the University, D.H. MacVicar was to the College. His writing on the role of ruling elders in the church, which accompanies the biographical sketch, was helpful in his day and remains helpful today.
What follows are stories of people who are variously remembered who made significant contributions to Presbyterian life in Montreal and Canada, and to the College specifically. They include Jane Drummond Redpath (a key promoter of mission; her husband’s family name remains on many bags of sugar to this day), A. Daniel Coussirat (who pioneered French work among Presbyterians in Quebec), Andrew S. Grant (a pioneer in western Canadian church extension), James Naismith (the creator of the game of basketball; how many of those tall American men who play can credit their game to a Canadian Presbyterian minister?), George C. Pidgeon (a major Presbyterian player in the cause of church union, a student of MacVicar, and the first Moderator of the United Church of Canada), W.G. Brown (preacher, journalist, politician, and missionary to the Canadian west), Cairine MacKay Wilson (the first woman senator in Canada), John W. Foote (Presbyterian military chaplain), C. Ritchie Bell (pastor and teacher of pastors), Alison Stewart-Paterson (one of the early women to graduate from the College to ordained ministry), and R. Sheldon MacKenzie (pastor and educator).
Each of their stories is unique, with a common connection to the Presbyterian College. And each of their contributions to the life of the denomination was significant. I’m sure the editors could have chosen many other individuals to profile, but their choices were good ones, helping the reader to see a broad view of The Presbyterian Church in Canada and one of its colleges.
The contributors were clergy and laity, and it was often easy to tell which was writing by her or his understanding of the context of the history of the denomination. The pieces written by those who had enjoyed a personal relationship with the subject were especially engaging because of that personal connection. Not all articles followed what seemed to be the desired structure, which, while not a significant factor in gaining the knowledge intended, these felt ‘different’ in their flow. Some repeated information within the chapter itself, which the editors could have fixed without changing the integrity of the contributions. And, as happens more and more commonly in books nowadays, there were small errors in spelling and word intention that could have been picked up either by the editors or at the publisher’s end. However, that set aside, it is a good and helpful read, giving one a good sense of the context of the Presbyterian College and enabling the reader to celebrate what God has done and is doing through the College.
In my opinion, the best-written and perhaps most interesting chapter was William Klempa’s piece about Andrew Grant. Other readers could choose other contributions, of course. I found each chapter was of a length that it could be read in a single sitting, allowing the whole book to be read in about 13 sittings.
In the preface, current Principal Dale Woods says that this book seeks “to capture the spirit and passion of those who helped shape the life of the College and those who graduated from the College” by enabling them to “speak in their own words.” With that goal in mind, the authors and editors have succeeded. Anyone wishing to read a decidedly different but entirely interesting history of one of Canada’s lesser-known but highly influential seminaries will find this to be a most engaging read.
Still Voices – Still Heard, published in 2015 by Wipf & Stock, edited by J.S.S. Armour, Judith Kashul, William Klempa, Lucille Marr, and Dan Shute. ISBN 978-1-4982-0831-4.
Most of us know what it’s like to be thirsty. Perhaps you are a runner, and you’ve sprinted a long distance; the first thing you crave is water. Or maybe you’ve just eaten a salty meal; your body longs for fluid.
Thirst is especially noticeable in hot, dry climates – like the climate of the land in which the Bible was written.
But did you ever think of your soul as being thirsty?
David did. He wrote Psalm 63 when he was in the desert of Judah, having been forced into the wilderness by his son Absalom. Consider the first verse of Psalm 63:
O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water. (NIV)
David found himself in a desert place, not only geographically, but figuratively, too. His spirit was parched from the persecution he was facing.
Our own spirits can be parched and dry from persecution, but for us, that thirst is more likely to come forth because we have failed to drink deeply of the Water of Life. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4.14, NLT).
What are you doing to keep your soul from being thirsty? Read the Scriptures and pray daily. Engage in a spiritual discipline – maybe one you haven’t tried before. Read good Christian literature. Listen to Christian music that inspires you. Then, your soul will not thirst for God, nor your body long for him, because you will be filled to overflowing with his Spirit, and ready to share it with others.
Don’t let your spirit go dry; don’t let your fire get cold! Nurture your soul daily. God knows what he may do with you as you do!
Happy new year! I hope that 2016 has gotten off to a great start for you.
This past week seems to have been a big week for the passing of famous people. I must admit that I don’t pay a lot of attention to famous people, but one’s use of the Internet seems to make them a trifle hard to ignore.
I was especially intrigued by a quotation from David Bowie, who died this week, who apparently said this: “I don’t know where I am going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”
I’m sure many people found that humorous, in that in this life, David Bowie made sure it was never boring. What saddens me is that he had no sense of what his future destiny was. “I don’t know where I am going from here.” Isn’t that sad?
The whole of the Christian life is not just about “knowing where we’re going”, but the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ certainly includes that. In fact, “knowing where we’re going” is, in part, our impetus to share our faith, and to make a difference as Jesus would have us make in the world.
“Knowing where I’m going” is a big reason I’m not afraid to die. That’s probably true for you, too. But not everybody understands this. Let me encourage you to live your life in Christ in a way that makes others long to have the same confidence you have in where you’ll spend eternity. Because eternity is a long time, and I want everybody to experience ‘forever’ in the presence of the Lord. Don’t you?
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”
“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on, you do know him and have seen him!” (John 14.1-7, NLT)