Pastor's Corner
A space to house various meanderings from Pastor Tony. Check this space or the bulletin weekly for updates.

June 11, 2017 (Canada's 150th - Photo Contest!)
Canada’s 150th Birthday provides us with an opportunity to give thanks for the many blessing the Lord gives to us through our country. On Sunday, July 2, we plan to give thanks for Canada in our worship service. As part of that service we will show images that celebrate our Canadian culture (and maybe our sense of humour). To this end I would like to announce a Canada Day Photo Contest. Here is how it works. You may have noticed some quirky items on store shelves related to our birthday. Like hamburger patties in the shape of maple leafs, and Birthday Cake flavor breakfast cereal (honest, I am not making this up). The participants in the contest (anyone who desires, no age limits) will collect via cell phone camera as many pictures of these types of items they discover. (Please do NOT include the infinite types of souvenir items that are being sold, such as mugs, t-shirts, lapel pins, stuffed beavers or Canadian Geese...; rather we are looking for items of everyday use or consumption that are being augmented to mark the celebration).

Collect your pictures and send them in one file to by no later than 5 pm, Tuesday, June 27. (Please note, each participant is to give only one submission to simplify the process, so be sure yours is the complete set of pictures when you submit). Each item must be one that you have seen in person, not virtually as in a computer search. Two winners (with prizes) will be announced on July 2: one for the most number of pictures submitted, and the other for the most original/weird item. Many of the images collected will be used to create a video montage to be viewed on July 2 as we sing “O Canada!”

- Pastor Tony

June 4, 2017
wonder if the Holy Spirit ever struggles with an inferiority complex - perhaps not among Pentecostals, who appear to give the Spirit due attention, but among many other groups of Christians, Reformed included. Perhaps you can recall descriptions of the Holy Spirit as the ‘silent partner of the Trinity’ (like the proverbial wall flower). Even doctrinal discourse refers to him as the ‘third person’ of the trinity – not first or second, but third and last. Perhaps we should pay more attention to the Holy Spirit, and not just on Pentecost Sunday. After all, he is a sensitive person. The Bible tells us he can experience grief (Ephesians 4.30), feel spurned (Acts 7.51), be insulted (Hebrews 10.29), stifled or quenched (I Thessalonians 5.19), and that a person can actually commit an unpardonable sin against him (Matthew 12.31).

Of course, these meandering thoughts just expose the limits of my understanding: phrases like ‘silent partners’ and ‘third persons’ and ideas like inferiority complexes simply do not apply to the Spirit, in spite of my/our labels. The truth is, God the Spirit is doing exactly what he is called to do, and in a way that surely escapes for the most part our understanding/comprehension. He was active at creation, and still is (re)creating. He is daily applying the atoning work of Jesus in believers’ lives and hearts. He is constantly drawing us closer to the Father in knowledge and faith, and fashioning us into the image of Jesus. He is rooting out sin and planting the Kingdom more firmly in our minds and in our world. In other words, without a trace of any identity crisis, he is in sovereign power and divine certainty carrying out the work of the Trinity. Maybe I/we just need to be more attentive to his present activities. I’m sure our Pentecostal sisters and brothers could teach us a thing or two about that!

- Pastor Tony

May 28, 2017
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers (and to us) about the end times and the return of Jesus. In the field of eschatology (the study of the last things) the Christian church has over the course of history developed basically three strands of interpretations: Pre-Millennial, Post-Millennial, and A-Millennial. The Pre-Millennials teach that Jesus will return to earth before his 1,000 year earthly reign (hence pre-millennial). This position views the 1,000 year number mentioned of Revelation 20 (the only time it is noted in the Bible) in an actual way - a literal 1,000 years. Post-Millennials believe that the world will enter a period of increasing prosperity and peace, a type of golden age, after which Jesus will return. Comparatively speaking, few groups actually espouse the postmillennial positon today. The pre-millennial view is held by many protestant Americans, especially those of fundamentalist persuasion (i.e. Baptist and Pentecostal).

Christians of Reformed, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic persuasion basically hold an A-Millennialist position. Interpreting the book of Revelation as apocalyptic literature, the 1,000 year reign of Revelation 20 is understood as a symbol of a full period of time (rather than a literal number). Thus the millennium describes the whole period between Jesus’ first and second coming. A-Millennialists teach that Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God on earth at his first coming, that he now governs it by his Word and Spirit from his heavenly throne as it continues to grow, that Satan is ‘bound’ and limited in the damage he can cause, and at his return Jesus will perfect the Kingdom and usher in a new heaven and earth.

Any questions about all this? If so, I’d be happy to talk with you in person.

- Pastor Tony

May 14, 2017
When it comes to a redemptive-historical perspective on the times in which we live, some teachers have described it as living in an “Already-Not Yet” tension. The wonderful future kingdom of peace and justice described in the Old Testament prophets (Joel, Zechariah, Isaiah: swords converted to pruning hooks, a lamb that lies with the wolf, children playing in the streets without a trace of fear, a feast of rich food for all people) has partially come because of the Messiah, but only at his second coming will it be complete. His kingdom is here, and it is still coming. ALREADY our sins are completely forgiven because of Christ’s perfect work on the cross, YET we still struggle with temptation and submit to it. ALREADY we have been resurrected to new life through Jesus’ resurrection, YET we still face the reality of death. ALREADY we are saints who have the Holy Spirit in us, YET we are still being sanctified. Now we see through a glass dimly, but then we shall see him face to face.

A theologian named Oscar Cullman came up with an analogy that I have found helpful to live in this tension. Taken from the Second World War, he called it the D-day–V-day analogy. In June 1944 the Allied troops won a decisive battle (D-day) over the German army that dealt a fatal blow to Hitler’s assault. On that day the outcome of the war was determined – Nazism would eventually be defeated. But the war lasted another eleven months, with the German army fighting to the very end. Finally on May 5, 1945 the war was over: Victory was won - V-day. Satan was dealt a mortal blow when Jesus died for sin and rose from the dead – his end is sure. But he still lives to battle until the very end. Until V-day. Come, Lord Jesus!

- Pastor Tony

May 7, 2017
History is filled with characters who sought to determine the actual date in which Jesus would come back. In seventeenth-century England John Foxe, who wrote the most well-known book on martyrs (those who died for their Christian faith), taught that Christ would return soon as the new King since England had no earthly king anymore (Charles I had been removed from the throne by Oliver Cromwell and the puritans). Years later Edgar Whisenant, a former NASA scientist, published ‘88 Reasons Why the Rapture will be in 1988’, which sold 2 million copies. On October 29, 1992, 20,000 Koreans gathered and waited in the Church of the Coming Days in Seoul under the leadership of their prophet Lee Jang-rim, convinced the rapture was imminent. And Harold Camping, a former member of the Christian Reformed Church, published a book, Are Your Ready?, which prophesied that Jesus would come back in 1994. Needless to say, all of these people were mistaken.

Although we might admire all of them for their sincerity in believing the Lord is returning one day, we might wonder about the deficient thoroughness in which they read the Bible. Jesus himself did not claim to know the date, as he stated (Matthew 24.36). As Jesus preached in his discourse on the signs of the times, our response to the signs is to examine heart and mind to be sure we are ready for his return, whenever that might be. “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” (Matthew 24:42). And what exactly does it mean to keep watch? Read Bible passages such as Romans 13:12, I Thessalonians 5:8, Titus 2:11- 13, II Peter 3:11-12, I John 3:2-3, and Matthew 25:31-46 to find out.

- Pastor Tony

April 30, 2017
In every chapter of I Thessalonians the Apostle Paul makes reference to the second coming of Jesus. Like a number of events surrounding the life and person of Christ, the return presents us with a spectacle that stretches beyond our imaginations. It will be a public occurrence that all people on earth will see (Matt. 26:64), announced with trumpets (I Thess. 4:16); every knee will bow and acknowledge his authority (Phil. 2:10-11); there will be a general resurrection (John 5:28, 29) and a judgment of all (2 Cor.5:10); and the establishment of a new heaven and earth (Rev. 21:1).

In I Thessalonians 3:13, we read of Jesus returning, ‘with all his holy people’. Who are these holy ones? It seems it will be those redeemed of God and devoted to him who have already passed on from this earth (see I Thessalonians 4:14). Not a single one will be left behind in heaven: all those who at death went to heaven will leave and be brought to earth by God at the point of Jesus’ return. Next they will be reunited with their bodies, which will then be gloriously resurrected bodies, and will then – in the twinkling of an eye, or immediately - ascend to meet the Lord (I Cor. 15). Only then – after the dead have been reunited with the Lord – will those believers still living on earth be ‘caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.’ (I Thess. 4:13-18).

It boggles the mind, doesn’t it? As Andrew Kuyvenhoven wondered, if all the dead and the living were to appear suddenly on the earth, there would not be enough standing room. But remember, fifty years ago the idea that all the people of the world could simultaneously see and hear one person or witness a singular event was unimaginable. Not anymore. The mighty ways of God truly are mysterious. 

- Pastor Tony

April 23, 2017
Today we are beginning a series of messages on living as a Christian in our topsy-turvy world through the lens of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. I wondered about this city of Thessalonica, and discovered that it was founded way back in 315 BC by one of the commanders in Alexander the Great’s army, Cassander. He named the city after his wife. The city has lead a vibrant life since then, and has steadily grown to a population today of 788,000, including the suburbs. It is the second largest city in Greece (after Athens) and boasts the largest university in all of Greece, the University of Aristotle.

The beginning of the story of the church in Thessalonica is quite interesting. In Acts 16 we read that Paul was trying to go to the province of Asia and then to a place called Bithynia to bring the Gospel. However, Acts (Luke) tells us that he was prevented from going by the Spirit of Jesus. Then one night Paul had a vision, in which a man from Macedonia (the province in which Thessalonica is situated) appeared before him and begged him to come: “come and help us.” In obedience, Paul teamed up with Timothy and Silas and off they went into European territory for the very first time – the farthest west they had been yet. The Good News was being introduced to a new geographical and demographic arena. Paul’s letter to this church several months later tells us that the Gospel was received there with enthusiasm. And the rest is history. Today the city of Thessaloniki (slightly changed name) is filled with churches. In fact, the population in the country of Greece is 88% Christian. Amazing! It all started centuries ago when a Macedonian man in a vision asked Paul to come and help them. 

- Pastor Tony

April 9, 2017
In his thoughts on the Psalms Benedictine monk Sebastian Moore commented that, “God behaves in the Psalms in ways he is not allowed to behave in systematic theology.” Perhaps as you read the Psalms you have seen evidence of this: he appears to hide from those who seek him, can be very angry, fiercely jealous, he is described in feminine terms, can seem distant and unresponsive, he weeps, and he can even hate. In general, as Kevin Adam says, we meet a God who might be quite unlike the one we worship – a bit unpredictable, a little wilder, and more passionate or emotional than we might be comfortable with. 

On Palm Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem among throngs of people who had definite expectations as to what he should do (for them) and how he should go about it. Namely, save them by re-establishing the kingdom of Israel on earth by overthrowing Roman rule. As we all know, Jesus went on that week to establish a very different sort of Kingdom in a way that they could not have ever imagined. Who would have foreseen that the powers of darkness would be overcome by a vulnerable and humble man sacrificed on a cross? As the Psalms have reminded us, and Isaiah says, His ways are higher – and very different – than our ways.

- Pastor Tony

April 2, 2017

As I have been reading the Psalms during this time of Lent I have been struck anew by the boldness in which the Psalmist speaks to God – a boldness that seems (to me) to verge on the brink of irreverence. Walter Brueggemann calls this language ‘abrasive truth-telling.’ Some examples include “How long will you forget me, O Lord?” (Psalm 13). And, “Lord, wake up! Why do you sleep...why do you forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44). Psalm 44 in particular seems extraordinarily forthright and dangerously honest - so much so that we seldom read it. The author accused God, “You gave us up to be devoured like sold us for a pittance, gaining nothing from the sale. All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you...Our hearts had not turned back...but you crushed us and made us a haunt of jackals, you covered us in deep darkness.” Do we dare to talk to God this way?

Yet, there is something hearty about such honest and transparent dialogue. For the Psalter such truth telling is indispensable for spiritual well-being, even if it seems to scandalize God (Brueggemann). After all, the words Jesus used on the cross, taken from Psalm 22 -“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – sound accusatory, and maybe they are. However, coming from the heart and lips of Jesus, God’s only Son, they surely reflect an intimate relationship filled with love and emotion.

-Pastor Tony
March 26, 2017

In one of his studies on the Psalms, Old Testament professor Walter Brueggemann expounds on the wide differences in worldviews and consequent lifestyles that characterize the person who knows God and the person who does not know God. One example he cites is that of one’s view of the material world. In the ‘secular’ view of life people often live motivated by a constant undertone of greed. We need to acquire stuff to fill our needs, and collect more to be happy. Luxuries become redefined as necessities, and our desire to have things is insatiable, leading to a life of tiresome endless acquisition of the next best thing. In contrast, the Psalmist considers the believer. They trust in a God who mediates a world of abundance; who gives a panoply of gifts that defy quantification. In such a world greed is entirely inappropriate, for we have a God who has blessed and funded the earth with every good thing. Here there is no place for hoarding, in fear of running out, for we trust in One who gives far more abundantly than we can ask or imagine.

Psalm 73 is one poem in which we see this contrast. The Psalmist sees (with some initial envy) the life of those who live as if God does not matter – it seems they have all they want with no troubles! In the end, however, he concludes after going to church and spending time in God’s presence with his people that it is best for him to ‘be near to God’.

-Pastor Tony

March 19, 2017

As I have been reading through the Psalms this Lent I have already noticed numerous connections to the life and passion of Jesus. Sometimes it is a prophecy, at other times a reference to his suffering, at other times words Jesus himself quoted. Here are a few samples: “He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’”(Ps.2:7); “...we are considered as sheep to be the slaughtered.”(Ps.44:22); “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”(Ps.31:5); “All my bones are displayed; people stare and gloat at me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” (Ps. 22:17,18); “...he protects all his bones; not one of them is broken.” (Ps.34:20); “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”(Ps.22:1).

This last one makes me pause with horrified wonder. It confronts us with the mystery of the cross event. Can God forsake God? Would the perfect and purely loving Father actually forsake and turn his back on his own Son? Would he not hear the cries of Jesus? Did a sinless Jesus really need to be saved? At least one thought I know that comes to my consideration of Jesus’ suffering through the Psalms: Jesus, our brother, knows what it is be forsaken, to feel utterly alone, to be in need of help, and to cry out for deliverance.

-Pastor Tony.

March 12, 2017

Each week as I prepare the message I inevitably read something of interest that does not make the cut, and thus does not 'show up' in the sermon. Yet, often these thoughts are quite intriguing and possibly helpful things to know. So, I am thinking of starting a blurb called Meanderings, in which I will share one of these thoughts in the bulletin and/or on the church website.

This week I came across an idea about the Psalms, expressed by Peter Gomes, who is the pastor of Memorial Church at Harvard University. When he was asked where people unfamiliar with the Bible might begin to learn its message, he pointed to the Psalms. The Psalms express an acute range of human experience and emotion to which every human being can relate. Then he suggested a method of reading: "read all 150 of them, and do not take a year to do it, but read them over the course of a few weeks.' This gave me an idea. We are considering the Psalms for Lent; Lent is forty days; why not read all 150 over the course of Lent? This calculates to about four Psalms per day - very manageable. So I have begun. Already I have found it to be good for the soul. Are you interested in doing the same?

- Pastor Tony