Hope for Brampton

JAB-c
Rev. John Bouwers

Hope Reformed Church (URC) in Brampton, ON, installed Rev. John A. Bouwers on December 1, 2017. Rev. Harry Bout, minister emeritus of Immanual URC in Jordan, exhorted from 2 Timothy 4:1-8, on “Preach the Word!” Rev. Joel Dykstra, Wellandport URC, gave the charge to the pastor, and Rev. Matthew Van Dyken, Eternal Life Mission in Tepic, Mexico, gave the charge to the congregation.

Immanuel is Rev. Bouwers’ former charge, the church in which he was ordained following his 1992 graduation from Mid-America Reformed Seminary and the only congregation he served prior to arriving at Hope. The Hope consistory oversees the work of Rev. Van Dyken in Tepic, Mexico. Rev. Bout is a former pastor of Hope, who began the mission work in Tepic and continues to serve there for a few months each year. Rev. Dykstra is Rev. Bouwers’ brother-in-law: Julie Bouwers and Janice Dykstra are sisters.

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Rev. Joel Dykstra

In his charge to Rev. Bouwers, Rev. Dykstra spoke of the need for godly leaders to “push against the vain philosophies of our age with clear and compelling words.” Speaking of Brampton, he said, “This place, it seems to me, is the frontlines of the battle all our churches need to be engaged in.” He noted Rev. Bouwers’ efforts toward church unity and his faithful service among the churches during his years in the Niagara Peninsula.

“The Lord has blessed your time in the land of Goshen, surrounded by God’s people on every side,” he said. “But we’re not in Goshen anymore. This is the frontier. And this is where we need to be as churches. We need to be standing against the spirit of this age and shining the light of the gospel in this dark world.”

In addition to the three pastors participating in the service, twelve pastors and elders brought greetings from other churches. One was Hope’s most recent former pastor, Rev. Rich Anjema, who left in 2010 to serve Providence URC in Winnipeg, MB. Pastor John Van Eyk, from Trinity URC in Lethbridge, AB, also attended.

The Scripture text organizers put on the cover of the installation program, superimposed over a picture of Brampton, was from Acts 18:10, “…for I have many people in this city.” Unknown to them, Acts 18:10 was the text Rev. Bouwers had already chosen for his inaugural sermon on December 3. And, in God’s amazing providence, it was the text Rev. Bouwers found for his personal devotions the following morning (December 4) from Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, updated by Alistair Begg.

John and Julie Bouwers leave behind more than the Immanuel church family, which has known him as its only minister for 25 years. They also leave behind six children and seven grandchildren, all of whom live in southern Ontario, most in the Jordan area. Brampton is located on the western side of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). But the Bouwers look to the future with Hope.

eatingThe above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 10 of the February 9, 2018, issue of Christian Renewal.

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HOPE in 2018

DSCN6035One of the best things about Facebook is reconnecting with old friends, and I recently had an interesting exchange with a few far-flung friends from my school days.

We talked about the word God is leading us to choose for 2018. We may all view this word a little differently, but essentially it captures an attitude or quality we want to try to develop or focus on more during the coming year.

I’ve done this for the last couple of years, and I’ve been amazed at how much God reveals to me about that word during the course of the year. During 2016, God impressed upon me over and over the abundance of JOY in him and his word. Because I was alert for joy, I discovered it more in Scripture, in books I read, in other people, in creation, in myself, and especially in God. I’m convinced we can’t begin to comprehend the incredible fullness of God’s joy.

As I prayed and considered a word for 2017, I began thinking about PEACE. Frankly, I didn’t really want that word and was a little concerned about it. Why would I need peace? What might happen during 2017? Choosing the word generated a gnawing anxiety. Even my vivid imagination never created a scenario in which I would lose my sister, my mother, and my father within the year. But that’s what happened.

My sister’s health deteriorated quickly and she was placed in hospice care. We siblings kept vigil at her bedside for five days, and she went home to Jesus on January 12. Less than a month later, while we were still reeling from that loss, we learned that my mom’s cancer had returned with a vengeance. Her only option was hospice care. After eight extremely difficult weeks, the Lord took her home on April 10. The grief of losing our mother less than three months after our sister weighed heavily on us, but Dad’s loneliness, after 68 years with his beautiful bride, nearly crushed him.

His struggle with memory difficulties had made him heavily dependent upon her, and we doubted he could remain in his independent living apartment. Surprisingly, he lived there successfully (although not without a few concerning issues) for six months.

He had survived polio as a baby, but it may have affected his balance later in life. Falls or near falls brought him to the emergency room too often in too short a period during October. He spent ten days in nursing care, while we worked with his doctor and others to determine the proper placement for him.

In God’s providence, we were able to move him into an assisted living apartment in the same building. It even had a window overlooking the parking lot—his most crucial requirement! He adjusted amazingly well.

On Christmas Day, my husband and I planned to pick him up and bring him to our house for lunch. When we arrived, he was experiencing a great deal of pain. I called 911. We spent the rest of the day in the ER and hospital. That evening we learned that his abdominal aortic aneurysm, which we’d known for some years could kill him instantly, was enlarged and bleeding into his abdominal cavity. He could survive for a few weeks or it could be a matter of hours. He initially was doing so well, we thought we might have him with us for a month or more.

Two days later, he entered the Comfort House. He was alert, able to talk and sit in the chair. During his first night there, his condition worsened and he became unresponsive. On the last day of the year, a Sunday morning, he went home to be with his Lord.

In God’s gracious providence, I’d lived over six decades without a significant loss. In his bitter providence, he took three members of my original family home to heaven within one year. I definitely needed PEACE in 2017.

For several weeks, I’ve felt compelled to focus on HOPE during 2018. In the recent Facebook conversation, one of my school friends encouraged me to go with HOPE. She expressed her hopes for me “to start sleeping better” and for a year “with less grief and many healing memories….of great book sales and many inspired words written down” as well as “spontaneous laughter” and so on. May it be so. That is my HOPE.

Slaying the Discouragement Dragon

Jerry Vanderstedt’s image of Smaug, created at San Diego’s Comic-Con in 2014 (image from Vandersteldt’s Facebook page). You can find more of his incredible artwork by clicking on this link to his website.

Discouragement can seem as overwhelming as a fire-breathing dragon. It singes your body, saps your energy, and steals your very breath. Like Smaug in The Hobbit, its speech invades your mind and twists your thinking. How can you defend yourself against such an insuperable enemy?

Several recent events have discouraged me in my work. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt discouragement so strongly. My feelings led me to an online search for Bible texts that might help lift my spirit. I needed divine assistance to switch my focus from feeling sorry for myself to keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

I found many lovely verses, including several I’ve written about, like the frequent biblical commands to “fear not” or “be strong and of good courage” and 2 Corinthians 12’s promise of “sufficient grace,” all of which I reflected on in A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God. I came across beautiful verses about God’s “tender mercies” and his “great peace” as well as the “deep delight” we can have in him; verses I explored in Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law. My search brought up several Psalm references, including these gems I discussed in Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss – “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Ps. 3:3). “Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (Ps. 33:22). And this verse, which also appears in Discovering Delight: “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word” (Ps. 119:114). I was even reminded of how God encouraged Elijah when he ran away and wallowed in his pity party, an incident discussed in Matthew Muddles Through.

My morning search also yielded a very helpful lesson on Overcoming Discouragement by Steven J. Cole, pastor of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in Arizona. Rev. Cole bases this excellent lesson on Ezra 5:1-17 and suggests this strategy for dealing with discouragement:

To overcome discouragement, we need a fresh encounter with God’s Word, we need to get back to work for Him and to persevere, trusting Him to accomplish His will through us.

When we’re discouraged, we’re tempted–like Elijah–to hibernate and wallow in pity. But we must dig into the Word, force ourselves to get back to work, and trust God to fulfill his purpose for us (Psalm 138:8). People and circumstances will discourage us, but God’s word encourages us.

As I face the Dragon of Discouragement, the sword in my hand may appear small and dull. But this weapon isn’t mine at all; it’s God’s. And it’s the substantial and razor-sharp Word of the Lord.

Steadfast love, Psalm 33

The English Standard Version (ESV) uses a term that I cherish: steadfast love. The King James (KJV) and New King James (NKJV) translate the same phrase as “goodness,” while the American Standard Version (ASV) translates it as “lovingkindness” and the New International Version (NIV84) uses “unfailing love.” Based on what I’ve heard from those who know Hebrew, the original word conveys God’s covenant loyalty, mercy, and love.

The ESV prefaces Psalm 33 with the heading: The Steadfast Love of the Lord. God’s faithful and unchanging love is a wonderful reminder on any Monday morning, but it’s especially meaningful on this particular Monday morning–as a gray day dawns in a bleak time.

Yet these weary circumstances come during the Christmas season, when we celebrate Christ’s first advent and anticipate his second. And that’s a reason to rejoice.

Psalm 33 begins by calling Christians to joy and praise:

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts 
(1-3, ESV).

The reasons for this rejoicing are God’s upright word and faithful work. These are aspects of his steadfast love:

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord (4-5, ESV).

Our hindered vision may not always see God’s love of righteousness and justice, but they always exist. The earth pulses with these attributes of God. The whole world overflows with his steadfast love.

God created the cosmos and continues to sustain its entire scope by the power of his word:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
    he puts the deeps in storehouses (6-7, ESV).

Everyone on earth should stand in awe of our Creator God:

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm (8-9, ESV).

God controls all the plans of people (10-12, ESV):

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
    he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
    the plans of his heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!

Even when evil seems to win, God is frustrating it. His counsel and the plans of his heart stand firm to all generations. God blesses people and nations who trust in him. He considers them as his own heritage.

God sees the hearts of all people. He sees their vain efforts to trust in worldly wisdom and personal powers:

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds.
The king is not saved by his great army;
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
    and by its great might it cannot rescue (13-17, ESV).

The Lord knows every heart and he sees every deed. His eye never leaves those who trust and hope in his steadfast love:

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine (18-19, ESV).

But God does more than merely keep an eye on his people, he delivers their souls from death and preserves their bodies during life. He promises to keep us alive, even during the times that seem like famines from his presence.

Because we trust God’s promises, we can wait patiently for him to act:

Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you (20-22, ESV).

God will provide and protect. Our hearts can be glad in him when we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you!

Bountiful dealings, Psalm 13

Do you ever feel as if God has forgotten you? Does it feel as if he’s hidden his face from you forever?

You’re not alone! Many believers have often felt isolated and alienated, including that psalm master, David.

No psalmist conveys the range of human emotions better than David. In his short Psalm 13, he cries from the depths of distress and soars to the heights of hope.

The psalm begins with a series of questions that demonstrate David’s depth of depression and overwhelming despair (Psalm 13:1-2, ESV):

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

David feels as if his isolation from God will last forever. He can’t bear his feelings of abandonment any longer. His heart is weighed down every moment of the day by his fruitless introspection. His enemy gloats in triumph. 

Bowed down to the point of death, David pleads with God:

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
     light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken (3-4, ESV).

Death and the enemy’s victory seem certain. David begs for deliverance from the only One who can grant it.

God hears and answers his prayer by granting him hope and confidence:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me (5-6, ESV).

David first reminds himself that he has trusted in God in the past, and God’s love never fails. He then realizes that his heart will rejoice in God’s salvation. That enables him to praise God in song, remembering the many times in the past that God has dealt bountifully with him.

No matter how alienated and isolated we feel, no matter what enemy gloats in triumph over us, God’s steadfast love has not deserted us. Our deliverance is so sure that we, like David, can speak of it as a done deal. 

God has rescued believers from the punishment and power of sin. We can sing to the Lord because he has dealt bountifully with us.