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

December 17, 2017
The Christmas story is filled with many characters: Mary and Joseph, Zachariah and Elizabeth, an inn keeper and angels, wisemen and shepherds, to name a few. At times I try to imagine what it may have been like to be one of these participants. Did the shepherds wonder why they - just lowly sheep keepers - were privileged to be one of the first to hear the news of the Messiah born? Were they anxious about how they were to respond? And the Gentile/foreign wisemen from far away; didn’t they have questions about how important this child king really was? Surely the stars were telling it, but who really were the Jews? And why would a king of such an obscure, minor group invoke the constellations to announce his arrival?

Max Lucado, in a meditation on the birth of Jesus, playfully imagines what the angel Gabriel may have been thinking as he was given his assignment to announce the birth of Jesus, the advent of God himself, to Mary: Gabriel must have scratched his head at this one - even though he wasn’t one to question God’s assignments to him. The mission told him to go to the home of a young girl, still unmarried, to an address in Nazareth, and tell her that she will give birth to a baby, who will be God with us (Immanuel). She is to name him Jesus. And she is not to be afraid. Gabriel may have thought, God as a baby? The heavens can’t contain him; how could a body? Babies must be carried about, fed, bounced and bathed. To imagine some mother burping God on her shoulder – that was beyond what even an angel could imagine. And the name Jesus – actually quite a common name. In Jerusalem there is a boy named Jesus probably on every street. At least call the baby Majesty or Eminence or Heaven’s Gift. Something with a little more attention-
grabbing punch. So Gabriel scratched his head and wondered.

The idea of God becoming a man just seemed utterly unusual to the angel. From his creation Gabriel had lived in the presence of God (cf. Luke 1.19); he had witnessed his majestic glory. Such glory conformed and confined to a babe in swaddling clothes in a manger – utterly mysterious and maybe mind boggling. Do we sometimes stop and wonder the same about the Christmas birth? 

- Pastor Tony

December 10, 2017
The first words spoken by God as recorded in the Bible are, “Let there be light.” Once there was light, the rest of the universe was created. For virtually every culture and civilization, the question of light and its origin has been a central preoccupation. How was the First Light made? What deity or force of nature brought it into being?

One interesting story of how daylight came into being hails from a people living on a small group of islands in the South Pacific, called the Bank Islands. Their creation myth centers on a god named Qat, who was born from a bursting stone. Qat had traded a pig to obtain darkness and a few roosters from a group of neighbouring islands. The people, who were up to that point used to only light, were confused and afraid of the darkness that descended. Qat told them to rest and sleep, but drifting off they thought they were dying. Night may have lasted forever, they felt, but for the roosters. When they began to crow, Qat took a sharp rock and slit open the sky. Light returned to the Bank Islands, as it has every morning since. 

Bruce Watson, in his book Light, comments that since light was and is perceived by most cultures as the source of all good (while the absence of it brings evil), light was not so much studied as worshipped. Perhaps the most wellknown nonbiblical example is Ra, the sun god that the Egyptians worshipped and honoured as the source and sustainer of life. The Jewish and Christian understanding of light is radically different, as it is revealed to us in the Old
Testament. In the Bible an eternal (uncreated), sovereign Being created light out of nothing (ex nihilo). Before there was light, He was. We do not worship the light - we worship Him who made it.

- Pastor Tony

December 3, 2017
It is a well-known fact that humans cannot live without air. Just six minutes without air would lead to death. Did you know that it is actually very similar when it comes to light? A little investigation into science will show us. We need sunlight for photosynthesis to happen, which is integral to the production of oxygen. We would have no food without light. And even the rain and the water on earth that we cannot live without are dependent on the sun. No
light means no life.

Apparently the authors of the Bible knew all of this. And with keen insight they applied this to our spiritual walk, which is of course closely related to physical life. Here is just a hint of sample passages:
    “God created light.” (The very first thing he created!) Genesis 1:3
    “God is light.” I John 1:5
    “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” Psalm 27:1
    “...the King of King and Lord of Lords, who alone lives in unapproachable light...” I Timothy 6:16
    “You are the light of the world.” Matthew 5:14
    “The city does not need the sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the lamb is its lamp.”  Revelation 21:23

Perhaps the ultimate expression about light is Jesus’ claim in John 8:12. “I am the light of the world.” Given the importance of light we have just touched upon, that is quite a statement to make! Do I realize how dependent I am on
Jesus for life? Join us this Advent season as we explore the Light who has come into our world. -Pastor Tony

- Pastor Tony

November 12, 2017
It is a blessing and privilege to share the journey home with all of you. A rich benefit of being part of the family of God is that we get to share our faith pilgrimages with each other. Thank you for all who shared parts of your story with me as we have been considering the parable of the prodigal son.

I am wondering if you would like to write down some of your own meandering (or perhaps more focused) thoughts on your experience of faith in light of the parable? Who do you identify most closely with in the story? In what specific ways has this parable spoken to you? In what way, if any, has our reflection on this story informed your understanding of your walk with God? Please write your thoughts on the space below and place in Pastor Tony’s mailbox. (Or, you may email me at pastor@crcsa.org). Thank you!

- Pastor Tony

November 3, 2017
Thank you for the feedback and discussions you have blessed me with
regarding the ideas of home as we explore our journey of faith towards the
heart of God in our series, Homeward Bound. One of you lent me a book which
is a collection of poems written by Alberta poets, called Home and Away. Here
are two poems from that collection for your reflection and enjoyment.

- Pastor Tony

Home at Sunrise
A gypsy friend tells me home is
where she hangs her hat, and
shows me photos of sunrises over oceans
and the Seven Wonders of the world.
I stopped searching when my son was born,
burned the shoebox filled with postcards
and gave away my souvenirs.
This morning, drinking tea
among my tropical plaints
and Van Gogh prints,
I saw the sun, the same sun
that climbs the Grand Canyon and Taj Mahal,
raise its head high outside my kitchen window.

  - Dolly Dennis

Away
there is a candle, on the kitchen table with your name on it
and a note telling you when I’ll be back
I’ll leave
that little light on over the stove
when I go

  - Paulette Dube

October 29, 2017
Can you identify at least four ways the Protestant Reformation continues to influence our society, our faith, and our lives today, 500 years after it took place? Our western society might not be recognizable without it. For example, the Reformation was to a large degree a significant factor in the development of democracy; on the insistence on literacy and formal education; and on freedom of speech and religion. It introduced the basic modern (and post-modern) idea that there are a variety of ways to interpret and understand our experiences and our beliefs as they are derived from the Bible.

But the one idea brought forth by the Protestant movement I would like to highlight in these musings is called the ‘priesthood of all believers’. In contrast to centuries of church life in which the clergy for the most part held center stage and the laity occupied a mostly passive role, Luther and subsequent leaders insisted that every believer was gifted by the Spirit to be active participants and leaders in the life of the church. Karen Maag, a Calvin scholar, wrote, “Giving lay people a greater role and a greater voice in church leadership has been one of the most important long-term gains of the Reformation. Churches around the globe have benefited from male and female lay leaders from all walks of life who contribute their time and talents to bring God’s kingdom and help their local faith community thrive.” From our Council members to our very numerous Committee members, from our Small Group and Bible Study leaders to our Teachers and Helpers, from our visitors and caregivers, from all who make our Worship services a blessing to all who serve in quiet and often unnoticed ways – we are so blessed to have so many of you take ownership of this church and use your gifts to the glory of God and the coming of his kingdom.

I give thanks to the Lord for all of you. May those who have served carry on, or perhaps change roles as the Lord leads, and may our new members and our young(er) members be encouraged to step forward and discern their gifts and the call the Lord is placing on them as priests (those who represent Jesus) in our church and in our world. 

- Pastor Tony

October 22, 2017
One of the most fascinating aspects of being a follower of Jesus is, ‘living in the world but not of the world.’ It is a challenge that we all face by virtue of being believers living in a cultural world. The prodigal son in Jesus’ parable learned about this challenge the hard way. How has it been for you? How is it going for you? Does our consumerist society cause you some sleepless nights as you seek to negotiate the pressure to buy and consume and the call to be a stewardly and devoted disciple of Jesus?

Henri Nouwen, in his commentary on the parable of the Prodigal Son, articulates some of the challenge this way. “’Addiction’ might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates contemporary society. Our addictions make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs.”

Do you agree with Nouwen’s assessment of our society and the obstacles we encounter in terms of finding true fulfilment? It is worth some discussion. I have to say though, he does sound somewhat similar to the author of Ecclesiastes, who wrote, many years before Nouwen, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had accomplished, and what I has toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing is gained under the sun.” (Eccl. 2.11). 

- Pastor Tony

(No post Oct 15)

October 8, 2017
The increasing intensity of natural disasters that we are seeing in the news on virtually a daily basis – out of control forest fires, increasingly powerful hurricanes, relentless flooding, and devastating drought and famine – seem to indicate that the general trend of a warming globe is bringing climate change that is  presenting us with life threatening challenges. Personally I am of the mind-set that much of this, if not all, is due to human created industry and a consumerist attitude and lifestyle that supports or drives it. This week I was wondering how this might be related to Thanksgiving. Psalm 65 provided food for thought.

Until about fifty years ago biblical scholars in general taught that Israel of the Old Testament was primarily interested in humanity’s covenantal relationship with Jehovah and the redemption of his people. They did not see that Israel was also very interested in the natural realm. Lately, however, such thinking has changed. Psalm 65, and many others (see Psalm 8, 19, 29, 95, 98, 104, 139,144,148) tell us that Israel was very interested in the creation. They were a people who lived off the land, and knew intimately how the natural world was integral to their livelihood. Larry Rasmussen points out that God’s plans, purposes, and promises are constantly tied to things like soil and fruit, flocks and meadows, wine and wheat (Scott Hoezee, Proclaim the Wonder). Apparently God loves this creation he has made, and it too is the object of his redemptive work.

Passages in the Bible such as Genesis 1.27-28 and Psalm 8 make it clear that we humans, created in God’s image, are called to care for the earth. Have we as a society, over the course of the last 300 years, used the earth for primarily our own purposes and failed to adhere to the responsibility of caring for the earth for God’s sake? I raise the question not to make us feel guilty. Rather, as a question to ponder that will hopefully lead us to recalibrate our perspective of nature and our practices of good stewardship of resources. Perhaps, like the Old Testament Israelites, we urbanites need to be more closely connected to nature. We could start on this Thanksgiving weekend – go for a walk in the valley; watch a nature show; research the artic tern, the aurora borealis, the rings of Saturn, or the human lung on line; or read the biblical creation account or one of the Psalms listed above.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor Tony

September 24, 2017
I’m just guessing, but I would say that the most common theme sung in the songs of popular culture in the west, and possibly other parts of the world, is ‘love’. A close second might be the theme of ‘home.’ To name a few: Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd), Take Me Home Country Roads (John Denver), Feels Like Home to Me (Chantal Kreviazuk), You’re My Home (Billy Joel), Homeward Bound (Simon and Garfunkel), I’m Going Home (Hootie and the Blowfish); I’ll Be Home for Christmas (written by Kim Gannon, first recorded by Bing Crosby), The Green Green Grass of Home (Tom Jones), My Hometown (Bruce Springsteen), and Long Road Home (Sheryl Crow). Traditional hymns, gospel, and Negro Spirituals also explore and celebrate the theme: Jerusalem the Golden, For All the Saints, In the Sweet Bye and Bye, O When the Saints Go Marching In, I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land, I’ll Fly Away, Swing Low Sweet Chariot - Coming for to Carry Me Home. And of course, Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling, which refrains: “Come Home! Come Home! You who are weary come home! Earnestly, tenderly Jesus is calling, Calling, O sinner, come home!” 

Popular proverbs about home include: No Place Like Home, Home is Where the Heart Is, Home Sweet Home, Home is Where I Belong, Home is Where the Coffee Is, My Home is My Castle, Home is Where You Hang your Hat, and Home Is What You Make It.

All of this makes one wonder: What is home exactly? Is it a physical place? A feeling? A state of mind? A relationship? A community? An experience? A cultural construct? An nostalgic, elusive dream? Might it be some of these things, or all of them? Might it be one thing for you, and another thing for me? The voices of popular proverbs and culture impresses that the idea of “Home” defies singular definition.

How does the Bible define home? Well, as far as I can tell, it actually never does define it. But it does provide a plethora of images and glimpses, descriptions and stories about home and home coming. Not only do these foretastes spur us on in our journey to our heavenly home, they also give us opportunity today to enjoy a God who has made his home already among us in Jesus.

- Pastor Tony Maan

September 17, 2017
The idea of life as a journey is common in popular culture (ie. Life is a Highway, Tom Cochrane; Running on Empty, Jackson Browne; On the Road Again, Willy Nelson; On the Road, Jack Kerouac) and probably rooted there because it seems that we are wired as humans to perceive life as a path we travel. Off the top of my head I can think of at least three ‘classic’ works of literature that explore this paradigm. Each of these are fictional and allegorical, and as such encourage the reader to find connections to experiences and truths in their own journey.

One is the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, the Italian Renaissance author. The story tells of an individual who goes on a pilgrimage beginning in the rungs of hell and ascends through purgatory to eventually enter paradise. The second is the Pilgrim’s Progress by the seventeenth century English puritan pastor John Bunyan. In a way this is a ‘modernized’ remake of Dante’s book. It follows one main character, Pilgrim, who sets out from the city of destruction and meets all sorts of characters (ie. Evangelist; Mr. Legality; Faithful; Piety; Prudence, Mr. Worldly Wise) in all sorts of places (ie. Hill of
Difficulty; Slough of Despondency; Land of Beulah, River of Life; Vanity Fair) before he reaches the Celestial City on Mount Zion. And the third book is The Great Divorce by C.S.Lewis. This highly imaginary work observes interesting behavior and conversations with people who are on a bus travelling in a greyish place on their way to either heaven or hell.

Each of these books represents their respective eras’ views on the sojourn of the believer, a movement from sin and separation from God to salvation and communion with God. Each is thought-provoking in helping the reader reflect on his or her own life journey. I would encourage you to read at least one of them – or any other one you may know about or find - as we explore our way of faith and life in our sermon series, Homeward Bound.

- Pastor Tony Maan

September 10, 2017
The idea of life as a journey is common in popular culture (ie. Life is a Highway, Tom Cochrane; Running on Empty, Jackson Browne; On the Road Again, Willy Nelson; On the Road, Jack Kerouac) and probably rooted there because it seems that we are wired as humans to perceive life as a path we travel. Off the top of my head I can think of at least three ‘classic’ works of literature that explore this paradigm. Each of these are fictional and allegorical, and as such encourage the reader to find connections to experiences and truths in their own journey.

One is the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, the Italian Renaissance author. The story tells of an individual who goes on a pilgrimage beginning in the rungs of hell and ascends through purgatory to eventually enter paradise. The second is the Pilgrim’s Progress by the seventeenth century English puritan pastor John Bunyan. In a way this is a ‘modernized’ remake of Dante’s book. It follows one main character, Pilgrim, who sets out from the city of destruction and meets all sorts of characters (ie. Evangelist; Mr. Legality; Faithful; Piety; Prudence, Mr. Worldly Wise) in all sorts of places (ie. Hill of
Difficulty; Slough of Despondency; Land of Beulah, River of Life; Vanity Fair) before he reaches the Celestial City on Mount Zion. And the third book is The Great Divorce by C.S.Lewis. This highly imaginary work observes interesting behavior and conversations with people who are on a bus travelling in a greyish place on their way to either heaven or hell.

Each of these books represents their respective eras’ views on the sojourn of the believer, a movement from sin and separation from God to salvation and communion with God. Each is thought-provoking in helping the reader reflect on his or her own life journey. I would encourage you to read at least one of them – or any other one you may know about or find - as we explore our way of faith and life in our sermon series, Homeward Bound.

- Pastor Tony

September 3, 2017
While visiting this past week one of our granddaughters, Laila, observed to her grandmother, MaryAnn, how beautiful the flowers were around our house. They are that way because the Lord provides light and warmth of sunshine and MaryAnn feeds them with loving care, daily portions of water, and weekly doses of fertilizer. It occurred to me that a spiritual walk is no different: for our relationship with God to grow it needs to have regular exposure with the light of the Word, prayerful communication, and experience in the community of the family of God. I don’t think we exaggerate when we say that without these practices we will and do not grow in our faith – just as a plant dies without sun and water, and fails to grow healthy without plant food.

I once read about a woman who said that she was not satisfied with her relationship with God. Perhaps no Christian really is. Who of us has a depth and closeness with our Lord that is fully satisfactory and complete? The Spirit is at work to instill this insatiable hunger in our hearts. But the Spirit also uses these disciplines of the Christian walk (Bible reading, prayer, fellowship) to help us grow closer and mature in our communion with the Lord. And when fed by such, the Christian produces fruit and develops the gifts of the Spirit. We all have spiritual gifts – things like charity, hospitality, encouragement, teaching, organizing, serving and many others – that are indeed the fruit born of a growing life in Jesus. Have you identified yours? Are you using them? If so, you are like the flowers around our house: BEAUTIFUL!

- Pastor Tony Maan

August 27, 2017
In the Bible passage we read today a lawyer came to Jesus and asked him, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Rather than give him a definition, or even a description of a neighbor, Jesus tells a story. As it has turned out, this story, the parable of the Good Samaritan, is one of the most well-known stories ever told. Even a high percentage of people who do not read the Bible would know the story of the Good Samaritan. The story calls the original hearer, the lawyer, and many who hear in subsequent centuries, to invest emotionally and act decisively towards those who are our neighbours.

Today we conclude our summer series of messages on Jesus’ parable about the kingdom. Through these narratives and our creative reflection on them (thanks to the Sunday School children who helped out so effectively!) it is my prayer that we have caught a glimpse and grown in our understanding of the Kingdom of God among us and in us. Among other insights, I have been reminded that God indeed brings the kingdom – he writes the story of redemption – and we are called to (simply) experience it and testify to it.

Recently I read a short autobiography by the retired pastor Peter Breedveld, who served the Ottewell Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton in the 1980’s. He and his wife Janny served a number of churches – large and small, rural and urban - across Canada and one in the Netherlands. His reflections remind me of God’s providence which guided and provided for them throughout their ministry journey. Indeed, it was actually the Lord who wrote the narrative of their life and service; He was the primary author while they were ‘characters’ in the redemptive plot. Isn’t it that way for all who follow Jesus? Looking back on the paths we took over the course of our lives, we see the Great Author crafting our story, making our history, for our salvation and for the glory of his name. May his Kingdom come! 

Pastor Tony Maan

August 13, 2017
In my preparation for our message on the Parable of the Talents, I came across some insightful and inspiring passages by John Ortberg in his book “If you want to walk on Water, You have to get out of the Boat” (2001). The first quote is about the truth that God gives everyone gifts. And, no less pertinent, that these gifts are unique to each of us. Something to remember when we start wondering why, in our opinion, other people have ‘better’ or ‘more’ talents than we do. He
wrote, “I must ruthlessly refuse to compare my talents with anyone else. Have you been comparing what you’ve been given with someone else – physical appearance, intelligence, relationships, accomplishments, energy level, or temperament? The Lord of the Gift is very wise. He knew exactly what he was doing when he created you. He is well-pleased that you exist. He has entrusted to you everything you need to fulfill the purpose for which he created you. Therefore, I must come to identify, cultivate, invest, prize and enjoy the gifts that have been given to me.” (page 43)

One other quote concerns the way the Lord takes our human works and brings them to fruition in supernatural ways. Enjoy this! “The Lord of the gift can take five fish and two loaves and feed multitudes. He can take two mites given by an impoverished widow and make it the lead gift in the whole campaign. The Lord of the Gift can take a stuttering fugitive named Moses and defy a world-power dictator and his army. He can go from a blood stained cross to an empty tomb. The Master can take twelve bumbling followers and create a community that has spread throughout the world with a dream that refused to die. He can take the gifts we give and make a difference that matters for eternity.” (page 51)

Food for thought and inspiration.

Pastor Tony Maan

August 6, 2017
We all love a good story. It seems to be part of our DNA – the way God made us. What child does not need to hear and enjoy a story (or two) before they go to sleep at night? And this has been true since before the beginning of recorded
history. We know of prehistoric cave painting going back 35,000 years that tell us people told stories around the fire at night even before they learned how to write their language down.

Stories are great for entertainment, of course. Not many of us can resist listening to a story told around the campfire, or in a novel or movie, or told by a musician on stage. But stories do much more than just entertain (as important as that is). They help us remember our past, and thus who we are; narratives teach lessons and pass on truths; they help explore many of life’s questions; shared stories help us connect with others and build community; can build empathy
and bring reconciliation; they aid us in experiencing and releasing emotions; and can be instrumental in healing. They also can save lives. 

This past week I heard a true story about a story that literally saved a life. A group of medical doctors were put in prison in Somalia because of their work to bring medical aid to people who happened to be against a dictatorial government. For seven year they were placed in solitary confinement. They could not communicate verbally, but they developed a system of the alphabet by knocking on the walls between their cells so they could actually communicate with each other. At some point one of the doctor inmates became severely depressed and said he did not want to live on. The inmate in the next cell sensed this, and started to communicate the story of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (for
some reason this one inmate was allowed to have a book). Over time the despondent inmate became engaged as he listened to the story, it revived his spirits, and he survived the crisis to live until he was set free.

Most of us have probably not read Anna Karenina. No matter. We have the story of God’s love to us in the life of Jesus. It saves all who listen and believe.

Pastor Tony

July 30, 2017
The blessings and benefits of prayer are virtually endless, according to the Bible. To name a few: through prayer God draws us closer to himself; he guides and directs us; he comforts us in times of trouble; he strengthens us to resist temptation; he brings healing through prayer; he supplies our needs; he binds us closer to other believers... The Heidelberg Catechism says that through prayer God gives to us his grace and the Holy Spirit (QA 116). Wow! That just opens up a whole vast treasury of blessings that come through prayer. Blessings like the righteousness and work of Jesus, the removal of guilt, cleansing and renewing power, the numerous gifts that bless the church fellowship, the fruit
of the Spirit like love, joy, peace, kindness...all of this comes to us through prayer!

Now, if we ask ourselves, how much time do we spend in prayer? Take an honest, private inventory. How many minutes or hours do I pray each day? When the Apostle Paul exhorts us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (I Thessalonians 5.16), I believe
he was encouraging us to keep in constant conversation with the Lord. This may be while our eyes are wide open and we are riding our bicycle, walking the dog, mowing the lawn or reading a book. We live busy lives, yes, it is true. But does this actually reduce the need for dialogue with the Divine? It most likely increases the need. Martin Luther once said to a colleague one early morning as he looked at his very busy schedule: “I have so much work to do today I will have to pray for at least three hours to cover it all.”

Pastor Tony

July 23, 2017
Canada’s 150th birthday is not the only milestone being celebrated this year. Do you know that 2017 marks the 500th year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation? (Actually, the movement began many years before Martin Luther’s October 31, 1517, 95 Thesis Declaration, but that is a story for another day). I am struck by how much of the original Reformers’ thoughts and practices are still observed today, five whole centuries later. For example, the order of service or liturgy we use today in our weekly Sunday worship services carries essentially the same elements John Calvin taught and practiced in Strasburg and Geneva. Also, the approach to biblical interpretation and subsequent theology that we generally hear from the pulpit in the Christian Reformed Church today is strikingly similar to that of Reformers Calvin, Bucer, Beza, and Bullinger (to name a few). For example, we confess that the Bible is alone God’s message to us and is fully trustworthy, and we believe that we are redeemed solely by having faith in the complete work and perfect righteousness of Jesus – a gift of God’s grace. All of this in spite of human nature and a western culture that preaches otherwise – namely that we find improvement or ‘salvation’ by working hard and counting on our own hard won achievements.

So, I invite you this year to reflect on and celebrate 500 years of consistent faith and theology as it has been embodied and practiced in the church. To help you, I would suggest you check out the latest FORUM issue (from Calvin Theological Seminary) which in very clear terms comments on the five basic tenets of the Reformation. You can find a complimentary issue on the display table in the foyer of our church. 

- Pastor Tony

July 2, 2017
The wisdom of the Proverbs tells us that, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (29.18). As I prepare messages on the parables, I am reminded anew that Jesus was a great visionary. He could see in his minds eye visions of the kingdom of God, and he told word picture stories to depict this vision. These stories were taken from very familiar, everyday settings and experiences we all easily relate to – a lost coin, sowing seeds in the ground, attending a wedding or a party, going fishing – and used to draw a mental image of what it is like to live under God’s reign here and now on earth. But here is the kicker: in virtually every story something unusual or out of the ordinary takes place: a merchant never sells everything to gain one item; a father never runs in public; nor do ALL the invited guests refuse to come to a banquet. But these things happen in the stories Jesus tells. These details are keys to understanding the unique, otherworldly character of the Kingdom. And, Jesus says, it takes faith to see and believe his parables.

Here at St. Albert church we are in the process of revisiting our vision and our mission. We have a vision, of course, but Council (and others) feels that in this stage of transition it is time to reassess. The Team helping with this process had their first meeting this past week. We had a lively and uplifting discussion. Will we replace our vision and mission? Or, will we keep it the same? Or does it just need some tweaking? We do not know at this point. Each congregational member will have opportunity to participate in this process. It is exciting to trust the Lord, listen to him, and discern where he will lead us in our everyday life as a church community. Proverbs reminds us that we need a living vision and active mission in order to be alive in the kingdom. And we need faith to see the unique character of living in that kingdom. It is comforting to know that Jesus, the great visionary, leads us.

- Pastor Tony

Next Sermon Series
We all love a good story: it grabs our attention, intrigues our imaginations, usually teaches a life lesson, and often inspires us in our thinking or actions. Jesus also loves stories, and it seems he believed they were one of the most effective teaching tools. He told many that reveal what the Kingdom is like and how to walk in its truth. This summer our messages will be based on a number of parables. And we are so excited to announce that our Sunday School children will help us explore these stories. Here's how: After gathering at the front of the church and hearing the story, the children will go to their classrooms. Under the guidance of Mrs. Evelyn and/or Mrs. Janette, they will create a work of art that portrays the story. Then they will come back up stairs to share their creation with the congregation. Finally, their work of art will be displayed on the sanctuary wall, to eventually form a 'parable collage.' We begin July 2. Please watch future bulletins for more details.

June 18, 2017
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 admin@crcsa.org 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 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 admin@crcsa.org 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 sheep...you 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