“Success!”

October 15th

The old TV show “Star Trek” introduced the phrase “Live long and prosper” as a blessing to others. Offered by Vulcan First Officer Spock, whose race lived according to the tenets of logic and reason rather than emotion, it caught on with we non-logical humans as a nice thing to say to others.
No one can argue with the wish for others to live long and prosper. It implies good things happening, an existence that is not just notable for its duration but also for growth and material success. A long life of challenges and woes wouldn’t be much fun, just as prospering but having no time to enjoy the fruits of one’s labour would also be, to use another popular (non-Vulcan) phrase, “a bummer”.
As a person of faith, however, especially one who follows Jesus, I would modify Spock’s logical blessing. I would replace the word “Prosper” with the word “Succeed”. To prosper is to growth in wealth and possessions. Jesus didn’t care about such things. John the Baptizer, pointing the way to a Christ-like life instructed the faithful to give away their second coat; Jesus himself called a rich man to give up all his worldly cash and treasures so that he could one day make his way to heaven. To follow Christ is to turn away from the prosperity prized by Vulcans and non-Vulcans alike and turn towards Christ-like action.
That’s why I suggest replacing “Prosper” with “Succeed” in the Vulcan blessing. I would like to succeed in giving up my material wealth for following Jesus more closely. I would like to succeed in giving away my second coat to the poor or needy. I would like to succeed in loving others as I would like to be loved. Success in following and serving Christ would be a worthy reason to live a long life. Actually, on second thought, following Jesus successfully would be the single best reason to live as long as possible.
This is my prayer for you my friends. I pray that you too will find greater joy in following Jesus than chasing after wealth. I pray that you will succeed in sharing your blessings, whether its coats or cash, with others. I pray that you will succeed in your attempts to love others as you would like to be loved. I pray as well that even if you don’t succeed in following Jesus perfectly and absolutely, that you will certainly have some success in trying. That too is a reason to live long. Do I want you to prosper? Prosperity isn’t what Jesus’ wants for us.
With that in mind, brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray that you will live long and succeed.

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“Reckless!”

October 8th

I can type fairly well. Despite a horrific grade 10 typing class in High-School which I passed only because of the kindness of the teacher, I am now able to type tomes like this quickly, efficiently and without looking at the keyboard. As long as I’m using a Laptop Computer, standard size keyboard or even an old-fashion typewriter, I’m fine. The same cannot be said for my cell phone. My cell phone does not have a proper keyboard. It only has an image of a keyboard, and it’s a very tiny one at that.
Even though I don’t possess big, fat fingers, typing on the cell phone’s picture of a keyboard is a disastrous experience. Some folks type as quickly on their phones as I do on a real keyboard. I type as quickly on my cell phone as a snail taking a leisurely walk in the forest. The desired expressive destination is reached, but not with anything that is related to speed or velocity. To say I am a very slow cell phone typist is not an exaggeration by any means.
There is one saving grace, however. The phone automatically identifies and highlights my typing errors. When I go back to those mistakes I am offered suggestions as to what word I might actually want to use, and most of the time the phone’s guesses are pretty accurate. As a result, I have now become a reckless typist when using my phone. I don’t care if I make a mistake; I just plow through as best I can and then go back and correct my errors with the phone’s help. And you know what? This technique is faster than trying to type the correct words the first time. By typing recklessly, I finish my thoughts quickly, and then correct the mistakes I make with lightning speed. Or at least far more quickly than I would if I plodded through seeking perfection.
Most people of faith aim for success; we give it our best shot and pray that things will work out. Reality, however, rarely matches our prayers and desires; failure isn’t just an option; as human beings, it’s an all too frequent given. We don’t blow it all the time, but we do it often enough to know not to expect perfection. In fact, sometimes we have to throw caution to the wind in order to succeed. Jesus doesn’t always give us safe or easy assignments; we have to stick our necks out when we’re trying to do the right thing or love the unlovable.
Sometimes we even have to be a little bit reckless. Sometimes we have to plough through as best we can, doing what we can as well as we can without worrying about the consequences until later. The victim of tyranny, the disaster happening right now, the woman leaving an abusive relationship can’t wait; there is no time to sit back and think about what to do, Following Jesus doesn’t always mean resting safely and securely. Sometimes following Jesus means there is no time to think or plan; all we can do is dive in recklessly, without fear, trusting that even if we fail, we have tried.

Mediator

October 1st

When conflict arises between two people, creating a big communications gap, a mediator will be called to help out; their job is to help bridge the gap so a fair solution might be found. When people are making a business deal, they will often get the help of a lawyer to make sure that each one is getting exactly what is expected out of the bargain. A homeowner with no building skills looking to redecorate the humble dwelling will often hire a decorator and a contractor so that their dream can become a reality despite their lack of ability. There are any number of times when people will call in outside parties to either help them better communicate with others or to bridge the gap between their vision and their ability to fulfill it.
Humankind, pretty much right from its first few days on earth, is separated from God. We are Spiritual beings in physical bodies that have lost our close connection with our Creator. Where once we were able to talk to God directly, we are now left only with prayer to bridge the gap.
Prayer is a powerful tool that helps us express ourselves to our Spiritual God. It allows us to vent our frustrations, admit our mistakes and to seek God’s wisdom and guidance. It is simple, portable and available at any given moment. Yet there are times when our words fall short, or we fall altogether silent. There are times when our anger or pain is so great that we can’t bring ourselves to talk to God, let alone listen. There are even times when we simply don’t know what to say; a beautiful vista may overwhelm our emotions; a challenging issue might leave us wondering what to do or say; an unkind or thoughtless word may leave us speechless. Sometimes we simply can’t pray for ourselves.
That is not a problem, however. God has taken care of our silence through the Holy Spirit, who we are told in the Bible, will groan for us when we can’t speak for ourselves. It’s a funny way to state what happens, but it’s a very effective image. Groaning is our simplest, deepest expression of sorrow or pain. It requires no thought or real effort yet speaks volumes. Scripture encourages us that when we can’t even bring ourselves to groan because we’re so weighed down, the Holy Spirit will speak for us.
Unlike a decorator, who is called in only when necessary, the Holy Spirit is on our side constantly, praying for us when we can’t, guiding and encouraging us when we can. It is our constant bridge between our earthly, physical selves and our sacred, holy essence. It is the aspect of God that teaches and informs us. It is the wee voice that guides us if we listen closely, and the unheard whisper that speaks for us when we cannot.

“Proof”

September 24th

The Law of Gravity is an ancient and simple code that came into existence the moment God created the universe. As far as laws go, there’s not much to it. Stuff always falls down if it’s not properly supported. That’s about it. In its more advanced expression it’s modified to state that the more worried you are about dropping something expensive, the more likely gravity is to drop it for you. Then there is the related concept that your likelihood of tripping increases with the number of people watching you. In aircraft and bird circles, the law of gravity boils down to “take-offs are optional, landings are mandatory”.
Gravity is as inevitable as rain after washing your car and the line-up to the cashier moving much faster when you go to the shorter one. Yet for all its simple reality, Gravity is a mystery to scientists. They can explain why cats always land on their feet and only the buttered side of the toast hits the ground, but they can’t explain the force that pulls cats, toast and your favourite coffee mug down to the cement floor. Try as they might, the best scientist can offer no better explanation for it than the lowliest fool. All they can do is accept its existence from the evidence of shattered test-tubes and bruised knees.
God or a Creative Intelligence is not a matter of law, but it is an accepted reality for pretty much all of humanity. Virtually every culture has a concept of a Divine Being. In some cases there are many Deities, but the principle remains the same: there is a great Spiritual force that is responsible for the big scale “Universe” and we small-scale “Humans”. While that may not prove God’s existence to some folks, the fact that the majority of cultures have a concept of God should make God’s existence clear. We may not know God well enough to have a common understanding but that isn’t proof that there is no Supreme Being. Rather, it points to the fact that it is beyond our capacity to know God fully.
For Christians, God is the supreme being that created, loves and cares for humanity. Our Creator even set down in Human form to straighten out our broken relationship. Through this presence, understood as God’s Son, Jesus, we have been restored to God’s good side despite rejecting and disobeying God. Jesus provides us with living evidence of how to live and love as God expects, and proves that it’s possible for even the lowliest person to do so. By modelling Jesus, we can in turn reveal God’s love and care for humanity in a tangible way. So, while we might not fully understand God, we have first hand proof of our Heavenly Creator through those who love and serve others as Jesus did. And, when we love and serve others as Jesus did, we ourselves are earthly evidence of our God in heaven.

Pastoral Perspectives #2, September 17th

This is the text from a recent “Pastoral Perspectives” aired on our local radio station. It’s a free service they provide to Chatham ministers that offers us the opportunity to share our hearts to a larger audience within our community. They offer us two time slots, so we have double the thoughts to share!

I’m Pastor John Giurin, from St. James Presbyterian Church.
There have been many disasters recently. Flooding devastated India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma wrought havoc in the south Atlantic. Both an earthquake and Hurricane Katie caused great damage in Mexico. Meanwhile, here in Canada and part of the northwestern United States, massive fires are destroying millions of hectares of forests, causing the evacuation of thousands of people.
Some of those bad things, like earthquakes, are the result of natural forces that are beyond human influence. There’s no way we can effect the movement of the tectonic plates that make up the earth’s surface. Others, like forest fires, are often the result of human stupidity, although they are made worse by extremely dry weather. The weather also seems beyond human control, but we’ll talk about that in a moment.
Since these bad things, hurt and kill many people, some folks believe God is using them to punish humanity for it sins. This is utter and complete nonsense. It is drivel. It is foolish talk. It is an embarrassment to faith leaders like myself. God does not use the weather or other natural disasters to punish the guilty. First, if that were the case, innocent people would not be affected in any way whatsoever. Secondly, if God truly punished the wicked with natural disasters, then the Neo-Nazi rallies in the US would have seen hail and lightning knocking them down, and the people committing genocide in Myanmar should be blown away by hurricane force winds. If only evil people were affected by earthquakes, storms, forest fires and other disasters, then maybe, just maybe, we could believe that God was punishing them.
The truth is, however, that the earth is not quite as stable as we think, so earthquakes happen. They may be part of God’s plan, but it’s the big plan that determines the natural laws governing everything from galaxies, stars and planets, all the way down to molecules and atoms. God’s plan for these natural forces are not God’s plan for humanity. As to the weather and things like forest fires, we only have ourselves to blame. Most of the forest fires have been caused by foolish people; that’s the blunt truth. And as to the extreme weather, well, we humans have caused possibly irreparable damage to the earth’s climate. That’s why we’ve experienced three hurricanes in less than three weeks. Global warming, caused by pollution and other human mistreatment of our planet, is the reason so many people have suffered at the hands of extreme weather. God is absolutely not to blame for these things.
God’s only part in human suffering is to have a broken heart. God doesn’t need to punish us; we’re doing a fine job causing our own misery through our poor stewardship of our planet and our lack of love for one another.

Pastoral Perspectives #1, September 17th

This is the text from a recent “Pastoral Perspectives” aired on CKSY 94.3, our local radio station. It’s a free service they provide to Chatham ministers that offers us the opportunity to share our hearts to a larger audience within our community. They offer us two time slots, so we have double the thoughts to share!
I’m Pastor John Giurin, from St. James Presbyterian Church.
A chance conversation with a friend revealed some startling news: it was his last day at work; he and his wife were starting an exciting adventure travelling around the world. Wow! Two people with work they both enjoyed were giving it all up for a big adventure into the unknown of strange languages, exotic foods, and (something startling for Flatham, er, Chatham folks) mountains. “What a great thing to do!”, I thought to myself.
Later, as I sat quietly in a coffee shop, I overheard a young woman talk about starting a sewing business. A beloved hobby grew to a point where she could hire an employee; what’s more, she was now getting paid for doing what she loved. “Wow! Good for her!” I thought to myself.
Then I thought of another friend and her husband who had bought a building in pursuit of their dream. She said they are going “to create a unique centre to help children reach their full potential.” Again, I thought to myself, “wow!”
Pondering these people taking new adventures, I realized that my day was about new beginnings, taking chances and following dreams. You see, I had just spent the morning at St. Clair College’s Student Orientation day, promoting an exciting new initiative by my congregation. So, between the my congregation starting a weekly free Saturday Brunch for St. Clair College Students and students young and old preparing for their own fresh start, my whole day was all about new beginnings, taking chances and following your dreams.
So, what’s new with you? Are you doing something out of the ordinary for yourself? Taking a tiny chance? Going for it? Or are you waiting for just the right moment? Do all your ducks have to be in a row before you start your inflatable toy business? Do the sun and earth and the moon have to align just the right way before taking up astronomy? What are you waiting for? To live truly and to be who you really are means living your dreams out, not just doing what’s easy or safe. A rich life is one that might not be filled with complete success but isn’t filled with regrets over what you didn’t do but always wanted to. God didn’t create us just to sit around and mope. God gave us the talent and imaginative hearts to live lives that reflect and honour our Creator’s own creative genius. To live life fully according to those gifts is to live lives in praise of God.
It’s commonly said we should “Carpe Diem” or seize the day. Me, I want you to think bigger! Carpe Vitae! Seize life! Do the thing you’ve always dreamt of! Try something new! Wake up from your dreams and aspirations and live them out! It’s never too late to “Carpe Vitae”!

“Authorship”

September 17th

King David, and his son, Solomon, both wrote things we find in the Bible. We know this because they take credit for their writings, like any author has throughout history. Luke and Paul also laid claim to the texts they wrote, as is perfectly appropriate. At one point Paul even goes so far as to tell his readers that he wrote the text with his own hand, since authors would sometimes dictate their works to a Scribe. Given my poor penmanship, I can full well understand Paul’s need for such a person. Still, the fact remains that he was responsible for a certain number of texts we find in the New Testament.
Other books of the Bible are largely uncredited, or their author is uncertain. Take, for instance, John’s Gospel, the three letters of John and the Book of Revelation. Of those three documents, only Revelation mentions its author; the Gospel and the letters do not; we only call them by those names because they were assigned by scholars that compiled them. Bottom line? We can be sure about some of the authors of Biblical texts, but not all of them; we have to trust that wise people made good decisions and that they had God’s help with them.
Which leads me to a really big “Thought”. God offers no claim to authorship of the Bible. In fact, there are no parts of the older or the new Testaments in which God speaks in the first person. Writers will quote God directly, but there isn’t a single place where God lays direct claim to being the writer, or says “I gave it some thought, then thought really, really hard, and created everything out of absolutely nothing, and that was the first day that ever was.”
Let that thought sink in: God never once lays claim to having written the Bible. So how do we know it says what God really wants and that it’s absolutely correct, perfect and error-free? Well, we have ancient, original texts that have been agreed upon by wise, spiritual people. Generations of scholars have prayed over and studied these writings, selecting the most reliable and rejecting the rest. Guided by their prayers and their God-granted wisdom, we trust they have recorded God’s Word truly.
But the Bible as we know it has evolved over time; scholarship, prayer and the Holy Spirit continue to examine the Bible in order to not only understand it, but to ensure that it is truly God’s Word, and not the carefully chosen words of men trying to sneak in their own desires and agendas. You can see that evolution as we go from a primitive, fickle God, to one of Law and empires, to the God of love revealed in Jesus Christ.
This leads to my final “Thought”. We have no direct claim God wrote the Bible. Instead, we put our faith in wise people having done the right thing piecing together the Bible. Today, however, we may need fresh eyes, minds and prayers to ensure both that what we have is God’s true Word, and to ensure that we read it in a way that would make God proud to lay claim to it as the one and only author, and to have us as God’s faithful readers.