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

Sept 9, 2018
The death and subsequent remembering and celebration of US Senator John McCain’s life over the past few weeks has caught my attention more than I expected it would. I have learned more about the person he was, his commitment to his country, the legacy he left, and the message he sought to bring to American (and indirectly, Canadian) public life. In the current political climate of the USA he was extraordinary and counter-cultural in the way he worked with members of his own party (Republican) but also many Democrats. He extended this even to his own funeral, which he planned: he asked a former Republican president (George Bush) and a former Democrat President (Barak Obama) to speak. They both were honoured to do this, and it was quite a powerful spectacle; politics and partisanship should never get in the way of building a humane and flourishing society. (In fact, this should be the goal of political work). In the last year of his life, in which McCain knew he was nearing the end of his life due to brain cancer, he spoke often of the need to be able to talk
and work together with those whom we disagree; let us always respect each other, even be friends together, no matter our differences on any issue.

This is a powerful message for the church as well. We are called to speak the truth, the truth as we understand it, but always in love (Ephesians 4.15). I understand this to mean that my expression of truth must have the basic motivation of building the other person up, and the church, in love. Our words are to be motivated by love for each other. I have discovered that difference of opinion is inevitable and unavoidable in the church, the community of faith. When be-
lievers who are invested spiritually and emotionally in the ministry of the church work together, we will indeed have varying thoughts on matters such as worship, vision, discipleship, procedures and approaches and so on. By the
Lord’s grace I have been blessed in my years of ministry to work with many, many fellow sisters and brothers who are gracious and compassionate as we have worked through numerous differences. The St. Albert congregation is no exception to this. It is something I am very thankful for as we begin a new year of ministry on our Sign Up Sunday.

It is not that the church is perfect, obviously. And this realization is more important than we may believe at first. I like the way a New York Times writer described John McCain. He said that McCain was such a remarkable man, not because hethought he was perfect, but because he knew he wasn’t. How true for us followers of Jesus! When we are weak and vulnerable God is strong (II Corinthians 12.8-10). When we know we are incomplete without Jesus and each other, we find strength in communion and community. Through our imperfections the Lord works his perfect plan.

- Pastor Tony

August 19, 2018
Today we conclude our series on prayer and renewal based on the story of Nehemiah. My prayer is that our time reflecting has encouraged each of us to consider our own prayer practices and grow in them. After all, prayer – talking with God – is essential if we are to grow in faith and our relationship with God. To this end I would like to pose the questions listed below as an opportunity to evaluate our own personal prayer practices and thoughts. Please take some time to consider them and write down your reflections. The goal is NOT to give ourselves a grade or perhaps feel guilty about not being the best at prayer as we ought to be. Rather, the intent is to encourage us to grow in our relationship with the Lord through prayer.

1. How much time do I spend in prayer, on average, each day?

2. Can I describe my prayer habits? Do I have a regular pattern of practicing prayer?

3. In what ways is my reading of the Bible related to the prayers I pray?

4. How has my time of prayer helped me to know and understand God better?

5. In what ways have I seen and experienced the power of prayer at work?

6. How has prayer helped me in situations of particular need – i.e. for wisdom, for strength, for healing, for  encouragement?

7. What is hindering my ability to communicate with God?

8. What actions can I take this week to grow in my connection with God through prayer?

- Pastor Tony

August 12, 2018
As we explore the book of Nehemiah and his calling to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, at least two main themes are apparent: the Word of the Lord and the prominence of prayer. The Word was read as the Israelites gathered in the rebuilt temple. The people committed to living in dedicated service/worship to God according to his will after being exiled in a foreign land for years. And in terms of prayer, Nehemiah as an individual was in continual prayer with his God: prayers of praise and confession, prayers of petition and thanksgiving, very short prayers and long prayers. And the Israelites as a group also prayed to their God under the leadership of Ezra and the Levites, the priests.

In her book, Sensitive Shoes, Sharon Garbough Brown shares a number of ways to encourage us in our prayer practice. Among the several she explores, here are two of them. The first method is to envision prayer as a journey in three stages – a trip inward, time at the center, and a trip outward. The trip inward involves identifying and mentally releasing things that clutter our lives (fears, sins, burdens, anything that comletes with our affection for Jesus). At the centre we rest in God’s presence. Linger there as long as you wish, receiving whatever Scripture, insight, peace or revelation the Holy Spirit gives. Then, when we are ready, we begin the outward journey, allowing God to strengthen and empower us to take his presence and gifts into the world. Another approach to prayer is using a well-established (dating to the middle ages) method called Lectio divina, or sacred reading. In this method we read the Bible in a slow prayerful digestion of the word. We are looking to hear a word from the Lord as we read, we are making time and space in our hearts to encounter God. We ask questions of the passage like: what is the point being made? What is the message God is sharing? What does it tell me about God? About myself? About my life and world? What does this passage tell me to do – in my thinking or in my behavior?

Often Christians talk about the Word and Spirit; by his Word and through his Spirit God makes his presence known, applies all the blessing of Jesus to us, and leads into eternal life. Through this reflection on Nehemiah I have been struck by how essential prayer is in all this: it might not be too strong to say that prayer is the key activity by which Word and Spirit operate in our lives.

- Pastor Tony

August 5, 2018
In my recent study leave I had the opportunity to reflect on law and grace in the letter of Galatians. One of the books I read was called The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, by G.C. Berkouwer. The book underscored how fundamental grace is to the God of the Bible, as expressed and shared with us through Jesus, but also the always relevant reminder for the Word, as the Bible, to be our ultimate authority as God reveals himself to us through it by the Holy Spirit. The Swiss theologian Karl Barth came to stand as a bulwark against the 19th century liberal movements in theology that were being taught by very influential German theologians with long names like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, and Adolf Van Harnack. The liberal theology they taught had basically two fundamental premises (which influenced generations of European Protestant pastors): One, ‘truth’ was completely historically conditioned and thus totally relative; and Two, that one’s religious experience was entirely subjective. Barth was a brave man who dared to stand out against such tenets, teaching for his whole career as pastor and professor that there was such a thing as absolute Truth and that our Christian experience had to be directly related to the truths and teachings of the Bible (an objective source). In other words, the God of the Bible is an Absolute Being sovereign over and above history, and that our foundational point of reference in understanding the Christian life and faith is the Bible alone.

God speaks to us directly through the Bible – this is how we know who he is and what he has done for us in history and in our experience. Now, all of this might sound familiar to us. And although we ultimately have the Lord to thank for this, it was through Karl Barth that he sounded the alarm. Now many pastors from a wide variety of denominations embrace his understanding of God and the Bible. All of this to remind us that the Word of God, a ready and familiar knowledge of
the biblical message in our hearts and minds, expressed in our words and actions, is integral to our life as children of God and members of his church. As the Word itself encourages: “I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.” (Psalm 119.11); “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. ” (Colossians 3.16)

- Pastor Tony

July 15, 2018
A common dilemma numerous Christians face when praying is that we find ourselves either praying for the same things over and over again or we just run out of things to say. One way to respond to this situation is to have the Bible as a constant companion to prayer. In other words, we read the Bible in conjunction with our prayers, and thus the Word of God informs our prayers with its revealing insight and inspiration. For example, we read Psalm 19 about the heavens declaring the Creator’s glory and the Law of the Lord as sweet as honey. We then spend some time in prayer praising the Lord for the beauty and provision of the earth and sea, and give thanks for his Word and all the blessings it brings to us
through revealing Jesus through the Spirit.

Harry Reeder III, in his book Embers to a Flame, explains the relationship between prayer and the Scriptures this way: “Prayer is our talking to God; the Scriptures are God’s talking to us, and the two always go together. We pray in a right way when we pray scripturally. You study the Scriptures in a right way when we study prayerfully.” He encourages us to prayer with the Bible’s story and truths in mind. No less important he encourages us to read the Bible with prayerful
attitude: as we read we ask, “Lord ,what is your message for me today?”

In this we are reminded that our prayers are  always to be understood in context of a relationship with God: we are conversing with a Father who has made a covenant with us to be our God and we his children. In the past when a king of England was crowned, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland would present a Bible to the monarch, and say, “...the most precious thing this world affords, the most precious thing this world knows, God’s living Word.” It is indeed our most treasured possession: God’s word to humanity. Can you imagine living without it? Through the Word in the Spirit we are connected to God to whom we pray; and this Word from the Lord’s heart assures that our prayers are powerful and effective.

- Pastor Tony

July 8, 2018

A few years ago when at the U of A I had a colleague who was a Jewish rabbi, named David. He introduced me to a term I was not familiar with before in terms of biblical history. He referred to the ‘Second Temple’ period. For the present day Jewish community, the rebuilding of the temple after the demise of the Israelite nation and the exile to Babylon marked a major transition, so much so that they categorized their history in terms of before and after the building of the restored temple, not unlike our terms of ‘before Christ’ and ‘after Christ’. (This second temple was destroyed in 70 CE by the Romans; however, a retaining wall that remains intact in Jerusalem today [the weeping wall] dates back to the structure of this temple).

Our summer series of messages on Nehemiah dates back to this monumental period. It was a man named Zerrubabel who actually led in the rebuilding of the temple, which took about 20 years. Once it was rebuilt, Ezra, a priest, led the spiritual renewal that brought the Hebrews back to recognizing and committing to live in covenant relationship with the Lord. Nehemiah arrived during this time to lead in rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem, for the protection of the temple and the peace of the city. As I hope we will discover as we reflect on the faith and ministry of Nehemiah, God used this humble man’s prayerful commitment to lay brick to mortar to spark spiritual renewal in the hearts and community of God’s children. As indicated above, this movement was so powerful it was used to mark a significant era in the history of the Jewish people. They had gone from the death of exile and been resurrected back to life.

For the detail-oriented historians among us, here are a few facts: Judah had fallen and been exiled to Babylon in 587 BCE. About 50 years later (538 BCE), a new king (Cyrus) of Persia (which had captured Babylon) allowed Jewish exiles to return home to Jerusalem. For about 100 years the Jews tried to rebuild the temple and the city, but with little success. The demanding work of reconstruction and the opposition from hostile neighbours thwarted their numerous efforts and left them discouraged and demoralized. About 445 BCE Nehemiah, a Jew who was serving the Persian king Artaxerxes in Susa, heard of this situation from a brother visiting from Jerusalem. At the news God moved in his heart and called him to action; from there Nehemiah went on to make history.

- Pastor Tony

July 1, 2018
As I studied a part of the book of Ecclesiastes this week Old Testa ment Israelite culture and worldviews were impressed upon me. One aspect was the way in which the Hebrews viewed work. It was clearly a part of their lives, but one might say it was not at all the most important part. Faith, family, and friends seemed to be much more valuable to them than their daily labour.

It was critical to take time away from work to enjoy one’s relationships in leisure. Another impression was the value they placed on land and their sense of home. Even if one lived in an urban setting, the connection between soil, sun and rain, the fruit of the land and one’s place of dwelling in the land was understood to be essential to livelihood and identity. This caused my thoughts to wander towards our place and life in the land of Canada. On this July 1, our 151st birthday, what do you like about this country called home? Some would say it is the quintessential Canadian edible things like Maple Syrup, Poutine, or Nanaimo Bars. Others say it is the natural and stunning impression of the sea, the mountains, the Great Lakes, the wild and open prairies, the beautifully barren north, or the brilliant autumn colours of the Maple tree. Some point to the fun of a good game of shinny under a winter blue sky in a local park or pond. It might be the clean cities, the friendly people, and the freedom and relative security we enjoy. What would you add to the list? In good biblical perspective, we know it all comes from the benevolent heart of God.

For Canada too, we might use words from the Bible in thankful cele bration for the blessing of our land, the place we live, work, and play. “My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, a secure dwelling and in quiet resting places,” (Isaiah 32.18). “In his hands are the depths of the earth, the heights of the mountains are his. The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hand formed,” (Psalm 95.4,5). “...in the mountain height the Lord will plant a cedar in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit... Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field will know that I am the Lord,” (Ezekiel 17.23). Thank you, Lord, for Canada!

- Pastor Tony

June 24, 2018
As I noted during a worship service about a month ago, over the summer we will transition into reading the Bible passage in hardcopy, with Bible in hand, as opposed to on the electronic screen. Part of the reasoning behind this decision is to encourage us to reconnect with the message of the Gospel in a very tactile, immediate way. Rather than have the words far from the eye on a screen, disappearing after we finish reading, we will have opportunity to hold the words in our hand, and ponder them as long as we like close to the eye. The Bible conveys the words of life, after all, and indeed is the primary way, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, by which the Word of life, Jesus, enters into our mind and heart.

While other religious books, such as the Quran, is purported to be the words of the prophet, Mohammed, and give more instruction than revelation for Muslim life, the Bible is the Word from God himself, that does instruct in some ways, but more primarily reveals our glorious Lord. The Bible is unique (or one could say ‘holy’ – like no other) in a number of other ways, as well. Consider these amazing facts: It is comprised of 66 different books written by about 40 authors. It was written over the span of about 1,500 years, in primarily two dominant languages (Hebrew and Greek) in context of three cultures (Jewish, Greek, and Roman) and yet is miraculously unified by one basic (yet multifaceted) message (the redemption of humanity by God’s grace in history). It consists of numerous genres of literature: law, history, poetry, prophecy, wisdom, letters, gospels, and apocalyptic. Furthermore it was penned by divinely inspired yet human hands of such wide variety: from uneducated fishermen to highly trained experts in the law, from farmers to politicians, from kings to choirmasters, prophets, poets, and priests. Some parts were written in palaces while others from prisons, some while in exile while others in the comforts of home.

The richness of this is actually beyond comprehension. No wonder it still holds top seller spot. According to Wikipedia, the Bible has been bought 5 billion times all together, and currently is sells approximately 100 million copies annually. No wonder – the words of the Bible still contain and proclaim the message the world – every human being – needs to hear.

- Pastor Tony

June 10, 2018
George Hunter’s book, How to Reach Secular People, has been one of the most helpful books in my reading about being a Christian in the world. I bought it in the early 1990’s and still refer to it often. Well researched and written, it is a thoughtful exploration of being a disciple of Jesus in the world today, and how we can communicate Christ to people who do not know him in our western, increasingly secular culture.

Hunter refers to a pastor and author named Bruce Larson who taught that there are three New Testament words that are key and core to understanding and practicing discipleship as well as healthy church participation. The three words are kerygma, koinonia and diakonia. Kerygma refers to primarily the essential message of the Gospel; the Good News of forgiveness and new life through the life and work of Jesus. Koinonia refers to the rich fellowship with other Christians, in activities such as worship, communion, and learning. And diakonia refers to the service or ministry of God’s people  towards each otherand to the world. Sam Shoemaker, a leader in the Alcoholics Anonymous movement, paraphrases it as such: “Get changed, Get together, Get going.” Conversion to Christ, meaningful community with fellow believers, and being engaged in service are essential, non-negotiable ingredients to the Christian life.

These three words, found explicitly in the Bible, effectively serve to identify the meaning of being a disciple of Jesus. They help us take spiritual inventory: Has my life and is my life being changed by the presence of Jesus in my heart? Am I engaged in regular community and relationship building with God’s people? And am I using my gifts to be active in ministry and serving? May the Lord bless and inspire each of us as we ask these questions on a regular basis

- Pastor Tony

June 3, 2018
As we reflect on discipleship I am struck by the importance of the community of faith. When Jesus called his disciples, they quickly formed a community, and they followed him as a group. Likewise, in the book of Acts we read of the church being the context in which discipleship occurred. The newly baptized community devoted themselves to each other, shared meals together, prayed with each other, worshipped together, learned the Scriptures together, and grew in numbers together, indeed, “All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had” (Acts 2.44). And in such a context they discipled one another and grew as a church.

I believe this is critical to remember as we seek to be faithful disciples and disciple makers. Author Bill Hull describes it this way in his book, The Disciple-Making Church: “One of the oversights of modern disciple teachers is a lack of appreciation for the necessity of community in holistic spiritual development.” A church without a sense of community seriously handicaps the rich potential of the local church to nurture followers of Jesus. A spiritually healthy church provides the support network needed for Christ-followers to learn, grow, pray, worship, and witness in faith.

Bill Hull also makes the observation that church members need to trust each other for good health to exist. And in an unexpected note, Hull says that such trust and accountability happens best when a church actually can and does have fun together. Just like a parent has fun with her/his children, and in so doing builds the relationship that allows for more ‘serious’ relational work. Having fun together – who would have thought that that is an important ingredient in being a healthy, trusting, disciple-making church? So things like playing golf together, going camping, picnics and BBQ’s, potluck suppers, and social celebrations are not really superfluous, but actually integral to being the body of Christ. Although I have always enjoyed these activities, I admit I have often viewed them as just fringe benefits of being part of a community of faith. Not anymore. Thanks to Bill Hull, I have changed my thinking. Speaking of...are you coming to our Church Camp Out this year?

- Pastor Tony

May 27, 2018
MaryAnn and I are not real dedicated Royal Watchers – at least not dedicated enough to get up at 2.30 AM to watch the Prince Harry-Meghan Markle wedding live. However, we are not disinterested either. So we PVR-ed the ceremony and enjoyed watching it at a more reasonable hour. Did you see any of it? If you did, you may have caught all or part of the sermon delivered by Pastor Michael Curry, an Episcopal priest from North Carolina. By all accounts I, and numerous commentators as echoed on social media, felt this was an amazing spectacle.

Not only the most important part, which was the message itself he delivered on our hope for the world and the future (more on this in our message in church today) but also for the historical significance of the event. In the days of colonialism the British monarch was instrumental in the enslavement of over ten million Africans in Britain and North America. Now in the 21st century a young British prince and his America bride chose a black American preacher to present the message at their wedding, on British soil in the grand halls of Windsor Castle. Pastor Curry quoted Martin Luther King Jr., no less, and brought a message that envisioned a future in which the love of Jesus in us creates a new world of peace and justice.

The nature of the wedding of this young royal couple - respect for the traditions of the past, yet with a clearly current flavor and a modern message of the gospel of Jesus – was refreshing. Many people view the whole British royal scene as otherworldly and disconnected to the ‘real world’ most of us live in from day to day. However, I like to think this wedding and Michael Curry’s message in particular would have inspired many of us to continue dreaming of the kingdom of God here on earth in the places we are called to live.

- Pastor Tony

May 20, 2018
Miles Munroe, a popular American pastor and author, has said that the Holy Spirit is the most important person in the world today. More important than any political party or social movement, more knowledgeable than all professors put together, more enlightening than all the books in the world, more influential than the United Nations. Why is this so? Munroe says it is because the Holy Spirit is here on earth to finish the work of God towards the completion of human history. Simplifying to a degree, he describes how the Father was active in the Old Testament era, the Son Jesus in the New Testament era, and now it is the Spirit’s turn to be active in today’s era.

Although I agree with much of what Miles Munroe says here about the Holy Spirit, I’m not so sure about the last sentence. It seems that all members of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – are all very active in the world today: think of the providential care of the Father (Luke 12:22-34); the way Jesus says ‘I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20) and ‘Where two or three gather in my name, there I am’ (Matthew 18:20); and of course the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (Acts 2). I prefer to see the redemptive unfolding of history as the work of the triune God – all three persons working in harmony.

Having said this, on this day of Pentecost let us stop to acknowledge and give thanks for the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit. To mention a few: He causes Jesus to live in us as he makes his dwelling in our hearts (II Cor.1.22); He comforts us and counsels us, causing us to understand and find meaning in the Word (John 14:26); He bears fruit such as love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness and self-control in our lives (Galatians 5:22); and he binds us together with other believers to form the church (Acts 2:42-46).

At times we call the Spirit the ‘silent member’ of the Trinity. But make no mistake, silence does not equal of lesser importance. Without the Spirit, we would not understand the message of the Gospel, much less believe it, and all the blessed benefits of Christ could not be ours. The Spirit makes it all happen!

- Pastor Tony

May 13, 2018
This past Thursday, May 10, was Ascension Day. It marks the ascension of Jesus to heaven forty days after her rose from the grave. Luke (24:50, 51) tells us how it appeared: “Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.”

I might be wrong about this, but my sense is that we do not pay much attention to this event any more. When was the last time you attended a Thursday evening Ascension Day service? Yet, this is one of the high points of Jesus’ life, and it also can be for us a source of comfort and assurance. It is in a sense the coronation of Christ: he has completed his mission on earth – he brought the Kingdom of God to earth, fulfilling the will of the Father and accomplishing our redemption - and now receives his rightful place to reign with the Father. Each time we confess the Apostle’s Creed, we state or sing it: “He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”

The Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 49) elaborates that we receive three blessings from Jesus’ ascension (here is how we receive assurance): First, Jesus pleads our cause for us before the Father. When he pray in the name of Jesus the Father always hears us because Jesus, who has made us fully righteous and who is one with the Father, is right there with him speaking on our behalf. Second, because Jesus is ascended we are guaranteed to one day rise from death with new glorified bodies to join him. He is our trailblazer, our forerunner, who has gone ahead to prepare a place for us in eternity. Third, he sends his Spirit to us. Jesus is not absent through his ascension; on the contrary his ascension allows him to be present to all believers around the globe through the Holy Spirit. This means the presence of Jesus lives in all who confess him as ascended, reigning Lord. It means we apply his Lordship to all parts of our lives – home, school, work, decisions, investments, relationships, lifestyles, time...proclaiming his Kingdom, until he comes back again.

- Pastor Tony

May 6, 2018
At the pastor and spouse retreat in Banff MaryAnn and I attended recently we discussed differences among members of the church, how to understand these differences, and how to go about working with them. One biblical image that came to the fore on a few occasions was Paul’s image of the church as a body. He uses this analogy in no less than four of his letters: Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians. If I may say so, I find this to be a divinely inspired and very helpful image to describe the nature and function of the church. We all have physical bodies, so we are all familiar with how our bodies work on at least a certain level. Thus, we can easily apply this to our understanding of the church. Do you see how your body has many unique parts? How the finger is so different from the hair, or the eyes so different than the liver? So each person in the church is very unique. And do you see how each part of your body works in perfect co-ordination with the other parts? See how the brain works with the nerves to tell your calf muscle to contract so you can walk? See how the lungs take in air and collects oxygen which goes to your blood which goes the heart to be pumped to the stomach so it can digest the food you eat so you have energy to live? So with the church, we each offer our personal gifts, efforts, personalities, histories, experiences, and passions – and in the healthy church these all work together to function as one harmonious whole. It’s all so beautiful to watch and experience – like seeing a couple dancing in perfect union, or listening to a symphony orchestra call upon all its varied instruments to play the sweet sound of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

If the church works in such a way, we might think it is no less than a miracle. And it is. Not only do we need the divine Spirit to make this happen (I Corinthians 12:13), we also need to be connected to our Head, Jesus (Colossians 1:18). When each member of the church lives in living relationship with Jesus – trusting in him, seeking him, and seeking to please him – then it only seems to make sense that all the parts act in unison. (Please read Ephesians 4:15,16 for the best description of this truth). This is critical because Paul writes that this body imagery is not just an analogy that helps us understand the nature and function of the church. No, it is more than that. Similar to the difference between a picture of your family reunion on a wall and actually being at the reunion in the flesh, we the church are not just LIKE a body, we ARE the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27).

- Pastor Tony

April 29, 2018
The mission manifesto that Jesus gives to his disciples known as the Great Commission at the conclusion of Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20) is one of the most well-known and grandest passages for Christians. No less than four times in forty words, Jesus uses the word ALL: all authority has been given to Jesus, and he calls us to go to all nations, teaching all he has commanded, with the assurance that he is with us all the time.

When we read the preamble to this great command, Matthew tells us that in spite of its power, coming from a resurrected Lord (no less), there were some there who doubted. Even as they worshipped Jesus, some doubted. Who were doubting and what were they doubting? We aren’t sure of an answer to either question. It could have been some of the eleven disciples or some others. Some may have been in doubt that this really was Jesus, risen from the dead. Others may have doubted that Jesus had divine authority, or that he would always be present, or that they could actually fulfil the command Jesus was giving.

Even if we do not know a definitive answer to this question, in a back handed way this comment gives us comfort. Are you someone who loves the Lord, worships him, but find yourself doubting at times? “Do not despair”, this passage says. Notice that Jesus did not correct, admonish or rebuke those who doubted. The good news is that Jesus still calls us to live in him through our baptism and to teach others, sharing his good news with our neighbours and the world. He uses exactly such worshippers-doubters. Doubt does not paralyze Christ or Christians. It does not jeopardize his mission to redeem the world. “Blessed are the poor in spirit (those who may struggle spiritually), for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Or as Dale Bruner paraphrased, “Blessed are those who worship their risen Lord and who still struggle with doubt, they are the people he uses to do mission in the world.”

- Pastor Tony

April 15, 2018
I once heard the TV/radio American preacher Chuck Swindoll say that there are three rules to growing in our knowledge of the Bible: 1. Review, 2. Review, and 3. Review. In a similar light, one might say that the three essential rules of growing in our faith are to practice it: practice, practice, practice. Of course we have to learn and have knowledge of what the Bible teaches, but no less critical is that we practice and live what we believe. In this sense rituals that we have to help foster our faith and live in Christ are indispensable. In a little devotional called “Training the Habit of Faith”, C.S. Lewis wrote that since we would tend to drift away from faith if left on our own without the Holy Spirit, we need to deliberately hold in our minds and hearts the truths of the Bible we do believe, and engage in practices that the Holy Spirit uses to help us do that. He wrote: “That is why daily prayer and religious readings and church going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this nor any other belief will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.”

It seems that this is also why Jesus gave us our two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They are visual signs that illustrate what the Gospel proclaims. By practicing them we physically experience and apply the word of redemption to our lives. With this in mind, please reflect on the following expression of the sacraments, as articulated in the Contemporary Testimony.

God meets us in the sacraments,
holy acts in which his deeds elicit our response.
God reminds and assures us in baptism,
whether of those newly born or newly converted,
that his covenant loves saves us, that he washed away our guilt,
gives us the Spirit, and expects our love in return.
In the supper our Lord offers the bread and the cup to believers
To guarantee our share in his death and resurrection,
and to unite us to him and to each other.
We take this food gladly,
announcing as we eat that Jesus is our life
and that he shall come again to call us to the Supper of the Lamb.

- Pastor Tony

April 8, 2018
Our focus on the gospel of Mark over this past Lenten season has given me opportunity to be immersed for a number of weeks in one particular Gospel. Literally for centuries the Gospel of Mark was viewed, to put it roughly, as an inferior gospel account by the church and its leading interpreters. The reason was that for a long time Mark was considered to be an imitation of Matthew; in other words, Mark just copied Matthew’s account and with a style that was less refined. After all, most of what we find in Mark can be found in Matthew. However, in the second half of the nineteenth century it was discovered through careful study of the text that Mark was actually written before Matthew, and that in fact Matthew copied from Mark. This gave Mark new respect, and people began to read his account with fresh eyes. So, it turns out that Mark was the very first one to paint a written, recorded picture of Jesus of Nazareth.

Why is this noteworthy? To name at least one reason, when we read Mark we are encountering Jesus in a most immediate way. (The word euthus, ‘immediately’ or ‘at once’ appears frequently in Mark’s account). The other three gospels present Jesus through a more ‘thought out’ theological lens. Mark, while he certainly has his own interpretation of the life, words, and work of Jesus, presents Jesus to the reader so we see ‘the whites of his eyes.’ In Mark we feel with Jesus, and sense his humanity which resonates closely with our life experience.

Of course, all four Gospels are invaluable in what they reveal to us about Jesus, his message, and his role on God’s plan of salvation. According to New Testament scholar Dale Bruner, Mark presents Jesus in his rich humanity, with the mystery of his divinity; Matthew as the great teacher and fulfilment of Old Testament messianic prophecy; Luke tells of Jesus as healing Saviour who reached out to the sick, the marginal, the lost; and John sees Jesus as pre-existent God, now visible to us in the Word made flesh.

We need all of these portraits of our Lord. They remind us that the risen Jesus, who is on the loose in the world, can’t be put into a nice tidy box to fit our limited conceptions or even imaginations. He is calling us to be his disciples who are engaged in a lifelong quest of learning by following.

- Pastor Tony

April 1, 2018
Today we have a treat. We recorded the Easter Sunday service and have posted it online. It is embedded below within the website. As well as you can go directly to the Vimeo site directly here to view it in full screen (higher quality).

This will serve as a nice way to allow visitors to see what a Sunday sermon is like at our church. It will also allow us to consider whether we should record these sermons in video format more regularly. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated if you have thoughts on this.
 - Pastor Tony (with website volunteer to get this working, Kevin van Popta at kvanpopta@crcsa.org)

March 25, 2018
During our Lent series on miracles I have had a few conversations with those who wonder why God works miracles in some occasions and not others. Why does he not miraculously heal the four year old daughter who has leukemia? Why does he not intervene and liberate my brother from his addiction to gambling? Why does the Lord not answer the prayer of the 36-year-old father of three for miraculous healing from Lou Gehrigs disease? To such questions theologian and pastor Neal Plantinga, in a discussion on providence, says we just do not know. We cannot know fully the ways of God, and we as mortals have to accept our limited knowledge, trusting in God’s wisdom and compassion.

However, this does not mean we give a hopeless shrug of the shoulders and say, ‘whatever’, and grimly grin and bear it. The Bible is very clear that our heavenly Father is intimately engaged in our lives, he knows us better than we know ourselves, and he cares for us deeply (cf. Matthew 6:25-30; Luke 12:7; I Peter 5:7). Given this we are to constantly pray to him out of our situations and burdens – the Apostle Paul encourages us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (I Thessalonians 5:16-18). Again we are reminded in this time of Lent that God actually suffers with us through Jesus, his Son. More, he takes our burdens upon himself and suffers for us. As we pray in our trying circumstances we begin to see and  commune with the crucified Jesus in the midst of our suffering. And in a miraculous way he graciously takes our pain and troubles and uses them for our redemption. He takes all things and works them for the good of those who love him, according to his purposes (Romans 8:28). We learn from the Bible that ultimately in all our groaning under the burden of a broken world God will bring forth one magnificent miracle – resurrection from death unto new and eternal life!

- Pastor Tony

March 11, 2018
Have you ever had a miracle happen to you? Perhaps our Lenten series on miracles has caused you to reflect on what a miracle really is, and how you may indeed have been a recipient of God’s miraculous hand in an extraordinary way.

The miracle we are considering today, the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, is an instance in which three disciples saw Jesus in his divine presence and nature. Although Jesus is now ascended, there are some people today who tell accounts of him appearing to them. Eric Metaxas, in his book, Miracles, believes these are actually miraculous  occurrences. One such appearance happened to a person named Eva Meyer. In 2002 Eva’s sister, who had struggles with substance abuse, was unable to care for her six children, ranging from 18 months to ten years. So Eva took them into her home, and along with her own children, cared for them. Eventually she became overwhelmed with the burden of loving and caring for her nieces and nephews, very upset at her sister, and angry at God. One night she went to bed in turmoil after a long day and was unable to sleep. She saw a silhouette of a man in the second floor window of her bedroom, and thought it was the white curtain blowing in the breeze. Eventually the form became more solid, it grew in size and came close to her. Then she realized it was Jesus. She was filled with terror. It was indeed him, with a face, a beard, a robe that all looked familiar. He raised his hand over her and she understood he was praying for her. He did not say anything, but she felt his warm, comforting presence. The anger in her heart dissipated, and she felt she could go on caring for her sister’s children. Jesus stayed there even while Eva began to drift in and out of sleep. When she awoke at 7 am, he was gone.

Your story about a miracle may not be like this one, of course. But, do you have one or two? If so, I’d love to hear it.

- Pastor Tony

March 4, 2018
One thing I have learned about myself after three decades of being in ministry, is that I’m a hand shaker. On the one hand it just seems to be an automatic reflex, a part of my subconscious response when meeting other people, be they new acquaintances, fellow believers, or friends. On the other hand, perhaps something a little more significant is going on, like the human impulse and need to emotionally and socially connect with others.

Nurses and doctors who work in pediatrics are learning more and more about the importance of touch for new born babies. The parental embrace is one of the primary ways in which a child knows they are loved, safe, and provided for. Touch becomes a significant form of communication and emotional health as the child grows and comes to recognize significant other persons in their lives. It may not be an exaggeration to say that touch or the lack of touch can make the difference between life and death. Studies have shown that babies in orphanages who are not held and hugged regularly stop growing and may eventually die. (In orphanages where children are not held, the mortality rate is 30-40% higher). On the opposite side, we are also aware of how the power of touch can also be used for very harmful effects, such as in physical assault, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Jesus knew the power of touch. The gospels tell us of surprisingly many times in which he reached out to touch (Luke 18:15; Mark 6:5; 7:32; 8:23, 25). Conversely, people reached out to touch him: “And wherever he went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.” (Mark 6:56). Touch was one way in which Jesus performed miracles. Luke tells us that touch was also used as a way to confirm the greatest miracle: After Jesus had arisen from the dead, he said to his disciples, “Look at my hands and feet. It is myself! Touch me and see...” (Luke 24.39). Just think of it: in Jesus God has physically, tangibly, literally touched us. Isn’t that a miracle?!

- Pastor Tony

February 25, 2018
This past week I heard on a CBC radio program that the most popular course at Yale University right now is a psychology course on happiness: one out of four students on campus would like to or are taking the course. The idea for such a topic for a class came to a large degree from the finding that a high percentage of university students are very unhappy and actually depressed. Even though they are studying at one of the most elite universities in the world, it seems that a top notch degree and the promise of a high paying jobs and social prestige are not enough to make them happy. The professor teaching the course was being interviewed, and she said that the key to being happy involve a number of things; namely, space and time in one’s schedule to nurture and care for oneself (the soul); meaningful connections to friends and family; and being compassionate and performing acts of kindness for others.

When I heard this I immediately thought of how these characteristics and practices are very consistent with the biblical view of the Christian life. Jesus is very clear that the chasing of worldly esteem and material wealth as an end unto itself does not lead to happiness or fulfilment (cf. Luke 12.13-21). On the other hand, cultivating a relationship with God, being engaged in a community, and being compassionate, giving, and kind are ways in which we find meaning and purpose. It turns out you don’t really need to take a course at Yale to learn about being happy – the Bible has been teaching it for centuries.

Of course, this is not the whole picture. For the students and professor at Yale, the ultimate goal in life might be to be happy. I can’t find it anywhere in the Bible where Jesus said, “Follow me and you will be happy...” No, he said that following him would mean self-denial and carrying a cross. Not really happy stuff. Interestingly, Jesus did say, “I have come to give you joy, that my joy may be complete in you...” (John 15.11). And for Jesus himself, “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross...”(Hebrews 12.2). The way of joy somehow involves a cross. Happiness and joy seem to be two different things. But how? In this season of Lent, this might be worth some thought!

- Pastor Tony

February 18, 2018
Do you believe in miracles? That is, that they still happen today? We might say yes, of course! We can describe a miracle as Eugen Peterson does: “Miracles are evidence that there are dimensions to God that with all our knowledge we have not been able to anticipate. It means God is free to do a new thing. He is not bound to a deterministic creation of natural cause and effect. He is free above and beyond what we observe of his ways in nature...” Yes, we can agree that a miracle is God working outside of the laws of nature to perform an extraordinary deed. He can still do it because he is God who made the natural laws, after all.

But, beyond theory, do I really believe that God works frequently in miraculous ways? It just seems that in biblical times - in Jesus’ day - and in the days of the Apostles - they were much more common. (For example, of the 666 verses in the Gospel of Mark, almost one third [209 verses] deal with miracles). Part of the answer to that question is the matter of faith. We need the eyes of faith to see the miraculous. C.S. Lewis describes a woman who did not believe in the supernatural realm or the immortality of the soul. One day she saw a ghost, but she explained it as a hallucination. Her ‘belief’ system’ (or lack of faith) determined that she would not see the miraculous even if it happened right before her eyes. It is noteworthy that in his hometown of Nazareth Jesus did not perform many miracles because of their lack of faith (Matthew 13:58).

In his book, Miracles, Eric Metaxas describes many and various types of miracles that his acquaintances have experienced. They vary from healings in bodies, minds, and relationships; appearances of Jesus and angels; unlikely conversions; and extraordinary provision in a time of need. As I read this book, I came to realize that I have indeed witnessed miracles and been a recipient of miracles. I just needed the eyes and the faith to see them.

- Pastor Tony

January 21, 2018
The Lord’s Prayer, as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke and memorized and recited/prayed by billions of Christians over the centuries, is not without some interpretive and theological challenges. One in particular stands out: the petition that the Father “not lead us into temptation.” A host of questions come to mind: Does God actually, willfully lead his children into places of temptation? If so, what does this say about his will and character? Is he not completely against sin, and if so, why would he actively put us in a situation in which we can sin, as we inevitably succumb to  temptation on some occasions? Finally, if he does lead us into temptation, what might his purposes for himself and for us be in doing so?

Other parts of the Bible seem to indicate that God does not tempt us at all. For example, James is quite clear: “Let no one say when they are tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when they are lured and enticed by their own desire.” (James 1:13,14). The Heidelberg  Catechism (QA#127) tying into years of historical interpretation, says we are tempted by ‘three sworn enemies’: the devil, the world, and our own flesh – all three never stop attacking us in our lifelong spiritual struggle.

And yet, isn’t God in his sovereign power somehow involved in our struggles with temptation? After all, there is the prologue of Job, in which Satan challenges God about Job’s faithfulness and is allowed to afflict Job and tempt him to renounce his faith. And the account of Jesus in the wilderness for forty days before he embarked on his public ministry is also intriguing. Indeed it was Satan who tempted Jesus on three occasions. However, Luke begins telling the event by saying Jesus was led into the situation (of temptation) by the Holy Spirit (who, of course, is God). Hmmm...at this point all I can do is invite you to tune into the message for Sunday morning. Between now (Thursday morning) and then, I will have to give this more thought!

- Pastor Tony

January 14, 2018
“According to Jesus, no one greater than John the Baptist has ever been born of a woman (Matthew 11.11). That is quite a statement! I have to say, in my experience we do not pay much attention to John, which is a bit strange given what Jesus said about him. While preparing the message for this week I read a sermon by Fred Craddock that explored the type of relationship Jesus had with this unusual figure of John (the long haired hermit crying in the wilderness). I will quote a part of it, with the intention that it helps us gain a bit more of a picture of John in context of Jesus.

“They (Jesus and John) became close. They were already close, Luke said. Luke says they were about the same age – within six months of each other. They were cousins, their mothers being kin – Elizabeth the old woman and Mary the young girl...Jesus came to John. Heard John. Was with John. Was influenced by John.” “And the power of that man (John) over Jesus. He baptized Jesus. The first sermon that Jesus ever preached was the sermon of his model, his leader, John. Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Same sermon. But what did you expect? It was his first sermon. The first three gospels say that Jesus did not even begin his preaching until John’s ministry was shut up in prison. And the silencing of that great man said to Jesus, You continue. And so he came to Galilee, preaching like John.”

According to Craddock, John prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry in numerous ways: he baptized him, modeled how to preach and what to preach, and only after John was finished did Jesus feel it was time for him to begin his public ministry. Spending time reflecting on John and his relationship to Jesus made me realize that to really acquire a more complete grasp of the message and ministry of Jesus, we really need to study John. Put another way, the way to knowing Jesus leads us inevitably through the wilderness of repentance and baptism.

- Pastor Tony

January 7, 2018
“Another year is dawning! Dear Father, let it be, in working or in waiting, another year with Thee. Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast, another year of trusting, of quiet happy rest.” So goes the familiar hymn. I find these are good words to recall as we enter into a new year. But given the times we live in, do these words written in 1874 CE - about 140 years ago – seem a little naïve and maybe out of touch?

Mostly likely all of us are feeling some anxiety and concerns as we step into 2018. Let alone political volatility and natural disasters of climate change. Take technology, for example: not self-driving cars or social media even, but things like genetic manipulation and artificial intelligence. Consider the latter: recently I heard of a computer that can act as an autonomous stock broker – it trades stocks based purely on stats and ‘rationality’ - no emotions or faulty speculation involved. This week I read about a computer that can create a story, all on its own - it has an ‘imagination’ and can fabricate characters and a plot. What is next? Perhaps computer generated sermons! (emoticon NOT happy face!)

Would Frances Havergal, the writer of the hymn quoted above, still pen her words if she had lived today? Probably. She lived in a Europe that was full of unrest as nations and national boundaries were in great flux. It was an uncertain, unstable time politically with robust economic growth which contributed to increased military aggression. These were the seeds that eventually lead to the First World War.

By faith, a faith based on a strong historical record and powerful biblical testimony, we indeed believe this world belongs to God. It is his beloved possession, as are all of us whom he has created. The biblical writers were by no means at all strangers to trouble (just read the Psalms, or Lamentations 3, or II Peter 3:8-13). Yet they each trusted that, “God is our refuge and our strength, our ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, thought the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psalm 46.1,2). Or as the Heidelberg Catechism (QA 28) states after expounding on God’s providence that all things come not by chance but by his fatherly hand: “...and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from his love. All creatures are so completely in his hand that without his will they can neither move or be moved.” A blessed New Year to all!
- Pastor Tony

December 31, 2017
Here is a story about Jesus’ journey to Egypt, probably fictional - certainly not found in the Bible – that nevertheless is an entertainingly delivered point about God’s protection of his Son, and as a side explains something about the way we decorate our Christmas trees. It seems that this story was actually a favorite one for a few centuries that Christian  parents and grandparents gladly told their younger family members.

The story goes like this: As Mary and Joseph travelled to Egypt with their newborn child, they grew weary at dusk and sought refuge in a cave. It was cold as the night fell and hoar frost began to cover the ground. There was a spider in the cave that saw the infant Jesus, and he wished he could do something to keep the family warm. So he did what he could: he made a web that stretched over the mouth of the cave, and provided a barrier to the frigid night frost. Later that night a detachment of Herod’s soldiers came by, carrying out the bloodthirsty order of Herod to kill all children under two years of age. Arriving at the cave they were about to go in to search it. However their captain noticed the web, covered with hoar frost, stretched across the entrance to the cave. He ordered his soldier not to waste their time by searching the cavity, for surely the presence of the unbroken web indicated that no one had entered the cave. So the soldiers passed  on, unwittingly leaving the holy family in peace.

And that, so they say, is why we place tinsel on our Christmas trees; the glittering streamers image the hoarfrost-covered web that God provided to protect his Son and his parents on their flight to Egypt.

- Pastor Tony

December 24, 2017
Recently the archbishop of Toronto, Thomas Collins, was interviewed on the TV news extolling the virtues of the Christmas season. The broader news story was about the commercialization of Christmas, and the interviewer seemed to be trying to get the clergyman to complain about the unfortunate secularization of the season. He surprised the journalist by viewing it all in a positive light: yes, many people get too caught up in the busyness of buying stuff and eating too much, but the overall message of giving and generosity, the good will we wish one another, the feelings and visions of a better world in which people are kind to friends and strangers – all this that the holiday inspires – is a good thing.

I tend to agree with the archbishop. I am happy that attempts to remove Christian religious symbolism and references from public places are by and large failing. I remember last year a Canadian Muslim fellow put up a huge sign, with lights and all, on his front lawn, proclaiming the birth of Jesus and the hope and joy this brought to our world. Thank you, Muslim man, for so enthusiastically stating the obvious: without Christ we do not have a Christmas. My goodness, Jesus’ title is right in the name of the season: CHRISTmas. So, although it is worth noting that we are susceptible to  commercializing the season and we can and do get distracted by too much shopping and lose some focus on the real reason for the season, I feel the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. A life size manger scene on your way into Canadian Tire (St. Albert) is a great reminder of what the celebration is all about. Each December believers, unbelievers, and the spiritually searching in the tens of thousands hear the Gospel message through attending Handel’s Messiah. Songs that play in the malls and even on secular radio tell the story amidst all the activity: Joy to the World, the Lord Has Come; O Come, O Come Immanuel; We Three Kings of Orient Are; O Come All Ye Faithful; and Angels from the Realms of Glory beckon one and all to come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the Lord the new born King!

- Pastor Tony

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