Christian Reformed Church of St. Albert
Pastor's Corner (Meanderings)
Each week Pastor Tony Maan shares further thoughts on the sermon, spirituality, church life or current events.
They are published in the Bulletin each week, and are also posted here.
November 13, 2022
One of the signs of the times is that ‘nation will rise up against nation’ (Mark 13. 8). This has been part of history since the fall, really. Still, they remain a sign that reminds us to be ready for Jesus’s return. Such bickering, tension, or in some cases, all-out war, among the nations is grave and causes us heartache when we see the images of war on our phone or computer screens. However, they are only a small part when compared to the big picture of God’s sovereign rule over and in history. The Psalmist asks, “Why do the nations conspire, and the people plot in vain? They band together against the Lord...But the One enthroned in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them.” (Psalm 2.1,2,4). In the grand scheme of God’s design, the nations are but a drop in the bucket (Isaiah 40.15).
This truth struck me when I read about what happened in another galaxy in 1979. Astronomers reported that on March 5 of that year nine US satellites simultaneously radioed back to earth that a gamma radiation explosion occurred in a nearby galaxy, known as N-49. The explosion lasted for only one-tenth of a second, but released more radiation than our sun does in 3,000 years. Astrophysicist Doyle Evans of Los Alamos Scientific Laboratories noted that had such an explosion taken place in our galaxy, the earth would not have survived. One nation against another is small potatoes compared to all of this! Nonetheless, from small (nations) to large (the universe) we see the signs around us. How are we to respond? Even as so much seems out of our control or outside our sphere of influence, we are called to respond as Christ’s followers.
The message today will address this critical question. But here let us say that in the big picture of things, in faith we believe, as the Bible reveals, God is working his purposes out. His kingdom, among us already (visible to those who have eyes to see), will come and eventually be fully established on the earth. And the church, the visible sign of the Kingdom and its chief proclaimer, will last until Jesus comes again. John Buchan (a 19th century Scottish historian and novelist) said that in history the church is like an anvil that has worn out many hammers (nations, movements, institutions, governments, ideologies). Indeed the church has outlasted all of these entities. This is not to say we as a church do not have our (many) challenges; we do. As church members we need to be talking and acting on issues such as abuse of power and authority, care for the climate and natural environment, advocacy for minority groups who have no or little voice...and more. Let us move ahead in faith to discern and give courage, trusting the Spirit will work the Lord’s purposes out as we seek to be faithful. The last word goes to the Psalmist, “Therefore, you kings, be wise; serve the Lord with reverence and celebrate his rule with trembling,” (Psalm 2.10, 11).
- Pastor Tony
November 6, 2022
As we take a few weeks to reflect on the signs of the times and seek to discern the guidance of Scripture and the Spirit for our day, the specter of the use of nuclear weapons is on the mind. It is so because world leaders are talking about it in the context of international tensions. The actions, passions, and rhetoric of these leaders seem irresponsibly reckless, and (to me) show a blatant disregard for human life. A recent Time article about the nuclear arms owned and maintained by the USA was a real eye opener. I always had an idea that nuclear bombs could be devastatingly destructive; this article not only underscored that impression, but deepened it to a despairing level with graphic details. I don’t think this is the place to share such horrible description, only to say that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (Japan, 1945) destroyed 140,000 lives and injured many more. The thermonuclear warheads they make these days are 20 times more powerful. This article explained that the nuclear arms race between superpower nations (USA, China, Russia, and threatening North Korea) has an arrangement that rests on the ‘global strategic balance’ designed to ensure that if one country starts a nuclear war, ‘all will be annihilated in it.’ The word ‘all’ is ambiguous - all four countries? all people? Either way, as the article described, this is macabre logic, and frightening.
Of course, none of this is surprising or unknown to Jesus. While on earthy he preached that war, nation rising against nation, were signs of the end times; indeed they have been part of human history since the fall. But the intensity and potential for massive destruction seems to be increasing. In the face of all this, Jesus presents a clear alternative way to live, and live together. His love and generosity, patience and understanding, grace and gentleness, kindness and compassion, envision a world so starkly different than the one we live in today, in which hate and greed, is understanding and intolerance, fear and warmongering have got us all on edge. (Which world would you prefer to live in?) The Good News is not only that Jesus knows, and that his heart is purely righteous and loving, but that he also rules. He is sovereign King, who reigns with justice and grace. Indeed, it is he who holds all things together on earth and in heaven (Colossians 1.17). In faith we confess and trust the world, indeed the universe, belongs to him. He will redeem it fully, banishing evil and injustice, and war and bombs, and usher in a kingdom of peace and righteousness.
I have to remind myself regularly to limit my news intake – read or watch enough to be informed, and care about it – but never take my heart and eyes off Jesus, our loving Lord and sovereign Savior. Come Lord Jesus!
- Pastor Tony
September 25, 2022
You’d have to be living ‘under a rock’ (as they say) to not know that Queen Elizabeth II has passed away, and has been buried (Monday, September 19). It has been inescapably all over the news, no matter where we get our news from. Among many other thoughts, I found myself struck by two features of this whole event. One was the sheer number of people who responded to Her Majesty’s death. According to Statista, 4 billion people around the globe watched the funeral – that is half of the world’s population. A quarter million filed past her casket at Westminster Hall; tens of thousands lined the streets in Edinburgh and London to observe her coffin pass by. And for the funeral not one empty seat was to be had; Westminster Abbey was filled to capacity. Along with all the pageantry and history, it was quite a sight! It made me wonder about the return of Jesus. The spectacle of the Queen’s funeral was indeed just a hint of what it will be like when our Lord returns to earth in the clouds of glory! When he comes amidst trumpets sounds, EVERY knee on earth (and the heavens!) will bow and tongue confess that he is Lord (Philippians 2. 10, 11; I Thessalonians 4.16).
The second feature that made an impression on me was the very explicit Christian nature of the funeral. From the hymns and music, to the Bible readings and the message, it was very apparent that Queen Elizabeth was a woman of deep faith. Her Christian convictions and devotion to Jesus were integral parts of her commitment to her role as Queen and care of the people under her rule. It bore fruit in her steadfast, loyal, gentle, and kind service for more than 70 years. It made me wonder if her death might be used of God to bring wandering and wondering skeptics back to the faith. We know about the spreading secularism that has crept over northern Europe over the past two centuries, the British included. Perhaps the emotional impact of the Queen’s passing on the many people who have left the faith (or never had it) will cause many to reflect on her majesty’s trust in Jesus as the molder of her character and motive for her service. They may indeed discern that her consistent care and reliable calming presence - something the world needs and hungers for so much these days – was rooted in Christian truths and a living relationship with the God revealed in the Bible. May Queen Elizabeth II rest in peace, and may the Lord use her witness and legacy to bring renewal in many hearts, and even revival in the land. May his Kingdom come in life and in death.
- Pastor Tony
September 18, 2022
On Saturday, September 17th, we celebrated the life and faith of our sister in the Lord, Cathy Warren. A part of our Friendship Club, and a faithful and loved member of our community, we will miss her. Several months before she passed away, she had moved to Edmonton, and we as a church family actually said ‘goodbye’ to her. However, about a month after her move, she ‘returned’ to our church each Sunday morning (with many thanks to her brother, Wayne, who drove her faithfully). She told us that she missed us, and wanted to keep attending for worship and fellowship.
Since Cathy was limited in how she could express herself verbally, we didn’t always know what was happening in her mind. However, she was expressive enough to let us know how much she loved Jesus, and knew of his love for her. So much went on in her heart, a whole world of personality, beliefs, convictions, emotions, perceptions, experiences...for most of us, we only saw a tip of the iceberg. But as her family and friends could tell us, do not let that fool us into thinking she did not live and feel life to the fullest. Her life and testimony has blessed us richly, even as we perceived it in limited fashion. In memory of Cathy, I invite you to read this poem, written by Greg Gaul.
The One-Legged Sandpiper
I saw a one-legged Sandpiper today on the beach.
I saw him land on his single pedestal, it was an artful thing.
Entranced by his disability, I stood transfixed with curiosity.
I so wanted to help him but we’re worlds apart.
How can he feed? How can he fend?
Suddenly, he flew away up the beach, I followed him.
There he stood lightly wafting in the wind, still balanced on that single leg.
His fellow Sandpipers scurry about unnoticing his remarkable challenge.
Later, a kindly friend told me shorebirds often hide one leg to conserve energy.
Silly, I felt a loss for my misplaced empathy towards my one-legged friend.
What a self-centered bubble I live in.
We’re always so troubled by what we think we know.
Truth is, we know so little.
Next time on the beach, I’ll look for the one-legged Sandpiper.
It’ll remind me that there’s so much I still don’t know.
- Pastor Tony
September 11, 2022
The Texas Army National Guard has a group of special workers called riggers. Their job is to fold and pack the parachutes that soldiers use when jumping from an airplane at 5,000 feet. A jumper has nothing to do with the parachute until he or she straps it to their back. Any improper fold could mean a horrific death. Imagine the total trust and faith these skydivers have in these riggers! Their lives are totally at the mercy of the person who has folded their chute. The soldier jumps with complete faith in the rigger; he entrusts his life without reservation into their hands.
This past week the people of the United Kingdom put their trust in a new prime minister, Liz Truss. In her inaugural speech she mentioned something like, as the UK faces unprecedented challenges (aftermath of a pandemic, stress on the health care system, skyrocketing inflation, escalating fuel costs, war in Europe and threats against democracy), she believes the British will prevail through the storm because she has faith in their resilience, energy, and creative spirit. Her trust lies in the people.
The church today also faces many challenges as she seeks to be faithful to her Lord and speak into the culture and community we live in. As Christians we are called to engage society, and speak into the issues of our day, including injustices against First Nations peoples, racism, abuse in the church’s past, gender identity, economic disparity, war and hunger, and climate change.
As we can imagine and have probably experienced, Christians can hold a wide variety of opinion on any one of these issues. We are indeed in challenging times. How do we move forward? Our comfort and courage is not in ourselves, but in whom we trust. We trust in the One to whom we belong. Jesus bought us with his life, and we are his. He will keep us. He not only calls us his own, he promises to be in our very midst through his Spirit. He is with us. We can entrust our own church family to him; we can have confidence and peace as we put our faith in his undying faithfulness. We may not be jumping out of plane with a parachute, but we are heading into a future that has many variables and some felt uncertainties. As we move ahead, we do not trust in our own resources or energy or ingenuity to get us through the storm. No, we place all our faith in the One who is fully trustworthy. No reservation. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart... and he will direct your paths,” (Proverbs 3. 5, 6). Let’s follow his direction as we listen to his trustworthy voice.
- Pastor Tony
August 28, 2022
Recently I had a conversation with a brother about the fact that Jesus never had any money. When he and his disciples needed to pay their taxes, they caught a fish and found a coin in its mouth. When the need to feed a crowd presented itself, Jesus had no money to buy groceries, so he borrowed a few fish and loaves of bread from a young lad and used it. He apparently never owned a home, noting that he had no place to lay his head. This fact underscores how radically different Jesus was as he related to our world. Can you imagine going even a day without money in your pocket? Do we ever leave our homes without a credit card? Can we even begin to grasp what life would be like without owning anything, except maybe the clothes on our backs? How utterly different Jesus must have been when it comes to relating to our material world!
Of course, it goes without saying that today in our society we need money to live. Try to go one day without spending a dime, just for fun, and see how hard it can be. (MaryAnn and I went for a walk the other day, and brought no money, cash or credit, only to discover that it would have come in handy to support the local lemonade stand some of our neighbor children were running!) A capitalist system depends on us buying stuff for it to even work; (although we are struggling with inflation these days, deflation might be an even more frightening prospect). Today spending money is necessary to function, to be educated, to work, to have a home, to enjoy vacation, to support people in need, even to engage in ministry as a church.
Nevertheless, I believe the thought that Jesus had no money is worth some consideration when it comes to living as his disciples. Even though it is ‘unrealistic’ to even imagine, let alone attempt, to live without funds or personal belongings in the economic systems of today, our Lord’s cashless life still reveals an invaluable characteristic of the Christian life. That is, at its worst money becomes our taskmaster, and at its best it is (merely) our handmaid, a tool we are entrusted with to embody and proclaim the just, loving, and (primarily) immaterial rule of the kingdom (1 Corinthians 15.50). In other words, our monetary blessings find their highest worth when they are received and spent in context of what God is doing in our lives and relationships. When we use all our material gifts to be ‘rich towards God’, we are actually living closer in kind to our penniless Lord than we might imagine.
- Pastor Tony Maan
August 21, 2022
Among the numerous insights I came across as I read Howard Thurman over my study break was this nugget: “Weeds do not have to be cultivated but vegetables must.” This seemingly simple observation actually, I find, communicates a critical truth pertaining to our walk with one another and with the Lord.
Weeds don’t need any watering or fertilizer. They sprout and grow all over the place with no help at all; we’re constantly pulling the weeds out of the cracks in our driveway. Dandelions mockingly show their sunny faces just a day after the lawn has been mown. But the flowers and vegetables in the places we hope to grow them? Keeping the lawn green and lush? That all takes daily and intentional attention, lots of TLC. Otherwise the ground is barren, except for those weeds, of course!
So it is along the garden path of Christian life. Sin needs no encouragement. We don’t need to go looking for it - Satan gladly and industriously brings it right to us. In action, word, or thought it can readily pop up anytime, any day, anyplace. So we either flee temptation (1Corinthians 6.18; 2 Timothy 2.22) or we fight against it (Ephesians 6.11ff; James 4.7). But Thurman’s main point was on the other side of the equation, that is, on the cultivation of vegetables, the good fruit of the Christian life, the presence of the redeemed and sanctified life. And this, he says, take deliberate effort. Spiritual growth requires conscious attention, and applied discipline. That is, actively putting on the mind of Christ and listening to the Spirit through Bible reading, prayer and reflection, worship, service, and cultivation of the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience...
Galatians 5.21,22). Without these practices weeds will grow to fill the void; with them, the fruits and flowers of communion with God and the blessing of his kingdom fill our hearts and homes. Indeed, all our relationships, with loved family members, friends, and the communion of fellow believers require attention and time spent together to grow and be healthy. Discipling our children requires conscientious modelling, talking, praying, and acting in ways that portray and pass on our faith in Jesus. Deep, meaningful relationships that bring spiritual transformation require time and attention.
Stated another way, although only the Spirit can bring (mysterious) spiritual growth in the Lord and with each other, for the most part He does this through intentional acts we perform that are geared towards growing in our faith. Thanks for the insight, Howard Thurman, and may our upcoming year of ministry as a church be used of the Spirit to help us all grow the luscious fruits and beautiful bouquets of compassion, grace, understanding, hope...
- Pastor Tony
Note: Pastor Tony Maan was away July 24-Aug 15.
July 17, 2022
Although the word ‘Zion’ seems old and archaic (from another era), I think with a little thought we can easily relate to the idea expressed in the word. It is a deeply Biblical word, found mostly in the Old Testament, but the concept is fully present in the New Testament, except it is described there as the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21.2). The author of Hebrews uses the actual word, “You have come to mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem...”(12.22). In its broadest sense, ‘Zion’ means the new heaven and the new earth, with the holy city at its center.
Our temptation is to understand this prophecy of Zion, the life of heaven, as a reality that will be ultra spiritual, and very unlike our experience here on earth, in this mortal life. In his delightful and thought-provoking book, The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis depicts heaven as even more real than life on earth. He does this be describing the place of heaven as more solid than the things of earth. Earthly, mortal life is called a shadowland, full of shifting figures, allusions, mirrors and mist. In contrast, the nature of heaven is so real it is hard. That is, you can walk on water because it is solid; grass is so stiff you can’t walk on it because it doesn’t bend and it pricks your feet; and daisies cannot be picked because they are so solidly planted in the ground. However, if you become an inhabitant of heaven, you gradually become less ghostly and take on solid form, and as a solid person you can actually walk on the grass and pick the flowers. Perhaps Lewis is onto something: the new heaven and earth may be much more like the life we are experiencing now, but much richer and ‘real’.
You may have noticed that that passage in Hebrews is past tense, “You have come to Mount Zion...” Mmm...we are already here, in the city of the living God. It’s because Jesus has come and reconciled us to God, “...we have come to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant...” (Hebrews 12.24). Not only is heaven more solid, but it is more present here and now than we may imagine. This earthly life in Christ is a foretaste of what is to come. Drawing from the biblical images of a river of life and the abundant trees, Eugene Peterson describes it this way: “The belief in heaven puts us in touch with the abundant, creative sources of strength and health, water of life and tree of life. We never graduate from life and what maintains life. Heaven is not an advance over the basic (water and food), but a deepening of it.” Heaven may be life as we know it, but on a more authentic, unadulterated, deeper level.
Of course, all this does not mean that we are in heaven now. Far from it! (Have you read or watched the news lately?!) For now we still see in a glass dimly (I Corinthians 13.12). Only after Jesus returns, only then will we be fully solid, and finally then we will see him face to face.
- Pastor Tony
July 10, 2022
History in the western world has seen its share of upheaval and very unstable times (Black Plague [1300’s], Protestant Reformation [1500’s], Thirty Years War [1618-48], French Revolution , Spanish Flu [1918-19], the Great Depression [1930’s], two World Wars...), but we might say that the times we live in today challenge the intensity of all of these. The global nature of the Covid crisis has elevated the depths of the turmoil in our times to, as they say, an unprecedented degree. In the ‘aftermath’ of the pandemic, we are witnessing multiple (many unexpected?) ramifications that in some ways affect all of us. Since his articulation is so concise and comprehensive, I will quote Pastor Paul Detterman to summarize what we went through and what we are now facing:“...cancellation of graduations, weddings, and funerals became completely normal. The ability to sit with sick or dying friends and relatives vanished. Simple family gatherings became unthinkable. Long anticipated travel plans had to be canceled. Then there was the collapse of businesses, skyrocketing unemployment, and government mismanagement. We saw heightened cases of domestic violence, dramatic increase in substance abuse and suicides. There might be long term socioeconomic and physiological damage we have yet to imagine. We can also add racial tensions, political polarization, increasing impatience, intolerance and bitterness, social media-induced snark and meanness.” Since he wrote before February 2022, Detterman did not even mention the invasion of Ukraine and the ideological battle (East vs. West) that we now find ourselves in.
Today as we reflect on the joy of the Christian life, it is understandable that we ask, “How is it possible to have joy when we are dealing with all this?” Our church and our denomination (the Christian Reformed Church) is currently in a season of intense discussion in light of the Report on Human Sexuality. The report is comprehensive, covering creation norms, the body and sexual desire, singleness, marriage, divorce, gender identity, and sexual sins (such as abuse, adultery, fornication, pornography, exploitation...). (If you would like a written summary of the report, please ask me). Most of our discussions appear to be focused on the report’s interpretation and presentation of same sex attraction. As our Council and indeed all of us dialogue and navigate this time, let us be faithful in prayer, patience, and humility. Again we ask, “Can we experience the joy of Jesus through this?”
The answer the Bible gives is a resounding YES! The key to knowing and living in the joy of Jesus is to ‘abide’ in him. What does it mean to abide in Jesus? In John 15.9-13 we read that we abide in him - we trust in him, we have a healthy relationship with him - by living in his love. “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love,” (vs.9). And the fruit of such ‘abiding’ is that ‘we love each other, as He has loved us,’ (vs.12). The inevitable fruit of such love is JOY! Out of such love - a love often tested in the day-to-day realities of relationships and being his church - joy grows. (“You will have troubles, but your grief will be turned to joy,” John 16.20). Amazingly, Jesus says this is one of the basic fruits of his message: I have told you this so that my JOY may be in you and that your JOY may be complete,” (John 15.11).
- Pastor Tony
July 3, 2022
In light of the decision Synod (our denominational general assembly) has made with respect to the Human Sexuality Report, we find ourselves as a denomination and as a local church in a time that requires much prayer, patience, love, wisdom, care, and conversation. Although as a council and church members we have been discussing this report over the past year plus, the fact that Synod has officially approved it has implications for our church. What these implications are, and how they will unfold, is something we do not know at this time. No matter our ‘position’, this decision affects us all. As emotional as this matter is, I believe it is critical that we not decide or act too quickly, but as members, as a Council, and as leaders we pause and take time to listen to each other, to pray together, to seek the Lord’s guidance, discern his Word and his way, and act towards one another with the love Christ has placed in our hearts and minds through his Spirit.
The Bible tells us that Jesus is our Good Shepherd (John 10). The relationship between a shepherd and his sheep was one of extraordinary trust. In this chapter we read that the sheep recognize and trust only the voice of their shepherd. They trust no other voice. When they hear his voice, and he calls them by name, only then do they follow him. And after he has gathered them together, he “walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice,” (John 10.4). As disciples of Jesus, we have heard his voice calling us, we have responded, and we trust him. We trust him because he as our shepherd who has laid down his life for us - taken upon himself our death so we might never die but know true and eternal life (John 10.11). Jesus deeply loves his church, his flock, and he would never lead us astray. We trust him to lead us in the path of righteousness, a way that leads to pastures green and rivers of refreshment.
This is no less true as we travel through this valley we find ourselves in at this point in time. As we read and hear his Word, as we discern it through his Spirit, let us do so in the faith and confidence that he will guide us and keep us. As we journey together, let us hold each other up in prayer, and hold up our church - the Lord’s bride - in constant prayer. Pray that we listen to one another with open minds and hearts, that we love and respect one another - each unconditionally – and that we support each other. If you need to talk to someone, or want to pray with someone, please reach out to your elder or deacon or me (Pastor Tony). In the next while our Council will be meeting to discern how we may move forward. We will also be looking to both Synod and our Classis for help in discerning how to progress with pastoral care and sensitivity. And we are all encouraged to do so trusting fully that our Good Shepherd will lead us.
- Pastor Tony
June 19, 2022
The irony about our current western culture and sin these days is that although we do not like to talk about it (for fear of being a downer, or negative, or judgmental) is that we all know it is real. Would any reasonable person deny the presence of broken relationships, hurt feelings, sick bodies, mental illness, bullying, fear, injustice, poverty caused by inequity, crime, pollution, war, corruption...the list is virtually endless. As Leonard Cohen wrote (and sang), Everybody Knows: “Everybody knows the war is over, Everybody knows the good guys lost, Everybody knows the fight was fixed, Everybody knows the poor stay poor, the rich stay rich...Everybody knows that the boat is leaking, Everybody knows the captain lied, Everybody got this broken feeling. That’s how it goes, Everybody knows.”
All major world religions recognize that something is wrong with our moral nature and the consequent acts we perform. Over the ages philosophers (Plato through Kant to Marx and Alvin Plantinga) have explored the problem and tried to offer remedies. Literature is full of examples: Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, William Golding, Flannery O’Connor, Marilynne Robinson, Jane Austen, Graham Greene, John Steinbeck, J.K. Rowling...all describe human nature and society as flawed, inclined to various types of evil and hypocrisy. Many of these do not name sin as the root problem to all the misery and turmoil we experience. To some it is lack of money, or deficiency in technology, or ignorance. Their corresponding ‘solutions’ simply argue that we need more of what we lack: more money, better technology, or more knowledge. But we observe in history that more money usually leads to more greed and inequality, more technology leads to more sophisticated means of warfare as well as worrisome developments in genetic manipulation, and more education, although ordinarily helpful, has not gotten rid of injustice, corruption, or poverty.
As Christians we know that the root cause of the problem is spiritual; it’s in the heart. We have been relationally estranged from our Maker, and the outcome is a tranquil and beautiful creation now tarnished and tainted – it effects every realm, be it biological, psychological, emotional, relational, material... Interestingly, Cohen (who was Jewish), in his Everybody Knows, hints at the answer to this spiritual problem. “And everybody knows that you’re in trouble, Everybody knows what you’ve been through, From the bloody cross on top of Calvary, To the beach of Malibu, Everybody knows it’s coming apart, Take one last look at this Sacred Heart.” Of course, we know the answer with utmost clarity from the Word (Mark 10.45; Titus 3.4-8, I Peter 2.24). It is a paradoxical miracle that the one Man who did not sin actually knew the utter depths and depravity of sin more than any of us, for he bore its weight on the cross for our sake.Everybody needs to know!
- Pastor Tony
June 12, 2022
Although at first thought we might think preaching is a one-way form of communication – the pastor preaches and the congregation ‘passively’ listens - I like to think of it as two-way. That is, those sitting in the pews are actually active participants in what is going on during the delivery of the message. The congregant is an active listener, and such listening means being actively engaged in the event. Indeed if it is only a one way monologue with no audience participation, preaching would be like talking into the wind, or to a rock.
A theologian named J.J. von Allmen teaches that all of worship is dynamic, just like the two-way preaching is supposed to be. In fact, he believes that worship is the heartbeat of the church. The healthy physical heart constantly pumps and pulsates. As it beats in rhythm, it will draw blood in and send blood out. It gathers and scatters blood so the entire body is fed with life-giving oxygen. Without this rhythm, the blood stagnates, becoming static and stale. If this happens the whole body suffers, begins to decay, and would eventually die. Likewise, says von Allmen, Christian worship is a life-giving rhythm – there is a pull and push. Worship gathers and welcomes people in, and it sends and scatters people out. Like the valves of a healthy heart, the doors of worship must regularly open to draw people in and then close to send people out. In this sense weekly worship is the heart beat of the life of the church. (Without it the church would die). Here as we worship our Lord and engagement with each other, we are welcomed and embraced, nourished, invigorated, inspired, challenged, encouraged, blessed, and sent out.
But, of course, we know that worship is not confined to an hour and fifteen minutes on a Sunday morning. No, it spills out through the church doors and inhabits our homes, our schools, our place of work, our neighbourhoods, our streets and our cars - wherever we find ourselves Monday to Saturday. Through the Spirit in us, we offer all we are as living sacrifices of praise and devotion (Romans 12.1,2). Indeed the Word that we’ve engaged actively in on Sunday mornings we carry in our hearts and minds, our words and deeds, to bring that living Word of life into every nook and cranny we inhabit through the week. That is how the saving Word works!
- Pastor Tony
May 29, 2022
When MaryAnn and I came to Alberta with our four young children about 36 years ago, we were introduced to a culture that was actually quite foreign to us. (MaryAnn and children were from BC, I was from Ontario). An aspect of the unique Albertan culture would come into sharp focus every annual Rodeo weekend. We couldn’t quite understand why anyone would want to ride a wild 2,000 pound bull, or jump on a steer while it ran full speed ahead. Never the less, over the years we’ve come to understand a bit better how these activities, including calf roping, chuck wagon races, and bronco busting are indeed part of the provincial history and heritage.
Soon after our move to Alberta (Brooks) I attended a ministerial meeting, at which a member of the Cowboy church gave a short presentation. It was another minor culture shock. The vocabulary was so unique, I think I may have understood about 40% of what the portly cowboy was saying. Later I learned that there is actually such a thing as a Cowboy Bible. Below you will find a sampling – a paraphrase of one of the most well-beloved Psalms. Although I find myself resonating more with the New International Version or even the Message, reading the Cowboy version is a good reminder that the Word of the Lord speaks to every people and culture or subculture – Cowboys and Cowgirls included! Here is Psalm 23.
Since the Lord is my trail boss, I’m pretty well taken care of.
He sees to my grazing and water rights and all the other needs of a maverick like me.
He watches so that nothing bothers me much, and keeps me well rested for those hard times.
He scouts the way ahead and leads me down the best trails.
Even when the lightning strikes and the herd stampedes and I’m scared to death of dying,
I’m not crippled by those fears, because, Lord, I know You’re riding herd.
And that’s a comfort, that is.
Then you go and throw a shindig for me and invite the whole county,
even those who think I’m a scoundrel.
And right there, in front of everybody, You pat me on the back and treat me like I’m someone special.
You’ve got me drinking from my saucer, because my cup has overflowed.
Since I’ve been branded by Your mercy and grace, those two will chaperone me my whole life.
When the long, long drive is over and we’re on the home range,
I’ll be back in Your house with You,
where I’ll just linger forever in Your presence and in Your love, I sure will.
- Pastor Tony
May 22, 2022
Although the church has had prophets and preachers proclaiming the ‘Word of the Lord’ since the beginning of time (at least, since Noah preached before the flood), questions about the viability and relevance of weekly sermons have become part of discussions among church people. In an age of social media, when we can get our spiritual insights and inspiration by any eloquent speakers from around the globe by the click of a mouse, isn’t the preaching of the local pastor in danger of going extinct? Is there still a place for in-person preaching? To answer this, let’s first ask, what is the point of preaching?
The ascension of Jesus may help us address these questions. Jesus ascended to heaven in his (resurrected, glorious) bodily form (Luke 24.51). He told his disciples that he was going to leave them and go to be with the Father (John 16.5; 17.11). Thus, in his physical form he is not with us here on earth. However, at the same time, He promised he would be with us here on earth to the end of the age (Matthew 28.20), and he promised that he is present where two or three gather in his name (Matthew 18.20). How can this be? In ways we cannot humanly comprehend, mysteriously through his Spirit, Jesus is fully present, bringing the spiritual, heavenly truths among us here on earth. I believe the point of preaching is to reveal or share the Word of the Lord; in doing so the sermon is used by the Spirit to bring the full presence of Jesus into our midst. Thus the sermon acts as a moment in which we experience earth and heaven converge - a nexus between our physical sensory experience and the spiritual realm. Somewhat like Jesus being both fully in heaven and fully with us in an intimate, very personal way.
George Herbert, a seventeenth-century English pastor and poet, expressed it this way:
Lord, how can a man (or woman) preach thy eternal Word?
He is a brittle, crazy glass;
Yet in thy temple (church) thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace
For Herbert, then, preaching acts like a window, that by God’s grace, gives us glimpses into the invisible, spiritual realm from our earthbound vantage point. Given this need for us to encounter the Word - Jesus incarnate - in a personal way that is unique and intimate for each of us, it seems in person preaching still has an important place in our walk with our Lord on this earth as we journey towards heaven. It’s a real time and immediate way to connect with our ascended Saviour.
- Pastor Tony
May 15, 2022
Praying together is one of the most precious gifts we Christians have been given. Jesus promises to be present to any who gather in his name and seek him, even if it is only two or three (Matthew 18.20). His presence through the Spirit is ‘reward’ enough in itself to be in prayer with other believers. After all, the greatest joy of our faith is that we are in union with Christ, and experience the depth of life our Creator has ordained for us. Believe it – when we pray with others we are at the heart of new life in Christ.
However, there are other blessings that come with public prayer. With the help of a pamphlet I found tucked in one of my books on prayer, I share this ‘list’:
One, praying with others encourages consistency in prayer. With others holding us accountable to a designated time and place, we pray more regularly. When we know our friends are counting on us to join them in prayer, we make time in our schedule to honor their expectation.
Two, public prayer teaches us as we grow in our prayer life. As we listen to others pray, we learn from them how to pray; how to talk with the Lord. They share needs and answers that we have forgotten or were unware of. The Holy Spirit works differently in each person, and uses all of us to lift and lead the group. As Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, so today he teaches us how to pray through fellow prayer warriors.
Three, praying mutually deepens our faith life. As we join together and share stories of our respective walk with the Lord, and we testify to how he has worked in our lives, our faith is increased and strengthened. We discern answers to prayer requests; see the wisdom of the Spirit guiding; hear of healing and restoration. All of this encourages us to grow in our relationship with our Savior.
Four, talking with the Lord with others helps us carry one another’s burdens. We support one another as we walk the way of the cross. It is a way to lean on one another as we lean on the Lord, and in doing so, we fulfil the word of Christ (Galatians 6.2).
Five, praying together gives joy to the Lord, a joy grounded in unity in the body of Christ. How pleasant is the sight, when sisters and brother live in unity!” (Psalm133). Jesus prayed earnestly for the unity of his followers, that we might be one, and so bear testimony to him in our world (John 17). When we open our hearts and pray with each other, the Spirit is at work to unite our hearts in the common venture of trusting and living for Jesus, bearing witness to his kingdom. And this gives joy to Jesus (Matthew 11.25) and glorifies his name!
Let’s keep praying together!
- Pastor Tony
April 10, 2022
As Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, about a week before his death, it is clear he was a public person. The crowds knew him, and were enthusiastically welcoming him to their royal city. The religious leaders, chagrined by his popularity, grumped with some dismay that, “All the world has gone after him,” (John 12.19). Throughout his ministry Jesus, who had to be very intentional about finding some private time, could be found in the city square, on the beach beside a busy lake, in the temple, on the street, or eating in a guest’s home with a dozen or more others. He was a man among the people and for the people.
He was a magnetic personality, engaging those around him with issues that touched the heart and effected community life. And even as he suffered abandoned and alone on the cross, even there, we cannot keep our eyes off of him. There, Jesus himself said, when he would be lifted up, he would draw us to himself (John 12.32).
This poem by George Macleod helps us reflect on the call to keep the cross in the public eye.
I simply argue that the cross be raised again,
at the centre of the marketplace
As well as on the steeple of the church.
I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified
in a cathedral between two candles
but on a cross between two thieves;
on a town garbage heap;
at a crossroads of politics so cosmopolitan
that they had to write His title
in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek...
And at the kind of place
where cynics talk smut,
and thieves curse, and solders gamble.
Because that is where he died,
And that is what he died about.
And that is where Christ’s own ought to be,
And that is what the church people ought to be about.
May this poem encourage us we bear our crosses in public places, and thus proclaim in word and deed the Good News of the Cross of Jesus.
- Pastor Tony
April 3, 2022
Of the numerous ‘losses’ we have experienced during the pandemic, one that I personally feel acutely is the limited contact we have with the senior members of our church family. Although I have seen some of them in their homes over the past two years, I miss their presence on Sunday mornings. Even just brief chats with them usually never fail to inspire hope and encouragement, a smile, or a word of wisdom.
Our fast-paced and youth obsessed culture can be guilty of the sin of ageism (prejudice against the elderly). We can easily view our elderly as technologically inept, old-fashioned, slow, clued out about the issues of the day, and mentally diminished. And the church is not immune to such (false) stereotyping. A number of years ago, a particular church was inquiring about whether we (MaryAnn and I) would consider a call to serve them. A member of the church we were currently serving (not St. Albert CRC!) said something like this to me: “Why would a church be interested in calling on old person?” (I was barely in my 50’s!) Thankfully, some churches apparently still are!
Steve Johnson, in an article on the elderly, shared a great insight given to him by a senior. To a younger person who was calling her old in a derogatory way, she said, “I’m not older, I’m just further ahead of you.” Talk about wisdom! It’s true: in the marathon of life we are all going to get old one day, let’s not kid ourselves. And the seniors we know are ahead of us in life experience, spiritual maturity, and even resources. Past the wrinkled skin and increased frailty we know there are unique, interesting, multi-dimensional, and wise individuals. They have been tempered and fashioned as they have persevered through the struggles of life, relationships, and faith, and have so much to offer us younger folks. They are further along, and farther ahead!
We know all this, of course, from the Bible, which holds the elderly in high esteem. One of the Ten Commandments says that when we honour the elderly, such as our parents in their later years, we live well in the land (Exodus 20.12). “Stand in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord,” (Leviticus 19.32). “Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old,” (Job 12.12). And, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by a godly life,” (Proverbs 16.31). What a blessing to run the race of life with our Seniors!
- Pastor Tony
March 27, 2022
Our Lent series on our humble and humiliated Saviour, Jesus, proclaims to us again that ‘Our ways are not His ways’. Many people testify of how they came to faith in ways they never could have anticipated. One such person is the author of the cartoon strip Peanuts (Charlie Brown and Co.), Charles Schulz. Here is an abbreviated version of his testimony:
“I grew up an only child, and my mother died the very week I was drafted to the army. This was a tremendous blow to our little family. I served as a machine gun squad leader, and took part in the liberation of Dachau and Munich. Before going off to war I met a pastor who had walked into my father’s barber shop. Soon after, we asked him to officiate at my mom’s funeral. When I returned from the war, I began attending his little church. I joined a group of young people in that church who studied the Bible together. The more we studied the Bible, the more I realized that I really did love God. I recognized that fact that He had pulled me through a depression in which I had been torn apart from everything I knew, and that he had enabled me to survive so many experiences.”
Charles Schulz would go on to become one of the most successful and beloved cartoonists. If we read his cartoons through a Christian lens, we might be surprised at how often they bring a message of faith; in this comic format Schulz is often preaching the Gospel (something he openly acknowledges). Charlie Brown and his crew often appear inept and challenged to make sense of the world. But if we listen carefully, we see that it reflects the message of Jesus, that indeed the humble in spirit will see the Kingdom, and the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5.3, 5). Take this cartoon (below) for an example: We may want to fix our problems and address our needs our way, but ultimately the Lord’s ways prevail, and provide!
- Pastor Tony
March 20, 2022
As Russia attempts to impose its brutal will and autocratic rule over Ukraine, I am reminded that when Jesus walked the earth he lived in territory that was occupied by foreign powers. In his book, Toward an Understanding of Jesus, Russian writer Vladimir Simkhowitch, observed that Jesus lived between the year (6 AD) when Judea was annexed to Syria and the year 70 AD, when Jerusalem was overrun by the Roman army. “Between the two dates Jesus preached and was crucified on Golgotha. During all that time the life of the little nation was a terrific drama; its patriotic emotions were aroused to highest pitch and then still more inflamed by the identification of national politics with a national religion.” In this time of turmoil they lived under the humiliating yoke of a foreign power. And not only Jesus, but the whole people of Israel lived in humiliation; the humiliation of having no freedom, no recognized identity, no protection.
How did Jesus respond to this? Some thought that as the Messiah he would come and throw off the yoke of oppression in a military fashion, reestablishing the nation of Israel to the glory days of King David. This was clearly not Jesus’ design. But he did talk of a Kingdom; indeed, his inaugural message as he began his public ministry was to proclaim that the Kingdom of God had come (Mark 1.15). This Kingdom, he said, is within us (Luke 17.21). This doesn’t mean it is exclusively a subjective reality hidden in each heart of his followers, for Jesus certainly advocated for the justice to be done in the actual world of politics and economics for the poor, the marginalized, and the disinherited. (Nor does it necessarily espouse a pacifist stance when it comes to military war; battle and bloodshed have been with us since Cain and Abel, and in my opinion will be with us until Jesus returns). However, the Kingdom inside of us does indicate a spiritual reality that primarily transforms hearts and subsequently actions and speech that ultimately will bear fruit in an otherworldly peace for this earth (Revelation 21).
Ultimately and perhaps unexpectedly Jesus responded to the humiliating subjugation under Rome with humility. “Natural (and national) humiliation was hurting and burning. The balm for that burning humiliation was humility. For humility cannot be humiliated...thus he asked his people to learn from him, ‘For I am meek and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls...” (Simkhowitch again). An oppressor does not really know how to respond to or defeat a humble spirit. Yes, a Kingdom of divine origins which produces full freedom will come to earth as God’s redemptive plan unfolds, but it comes in ways we humans may not expect. That is, through the humble and the gentle. Indeed, in the end the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5.5); a reign of shalom that will come when the knowledge of the Lord will be established on the earth as the waters cover the sea.
- Pastor Tony
March 13, 2022
The war in Ukraine may at once feel far away and very close: geographically an ocean and vast lands separate us; yet the images of the war and suffering it is inflicting is as close as our cell phone or television, right in our living rooms. However, the war is close to us in a number of ways beyond our social media feeds. Not only is it causing spiritual anguish, emotional turmoil, and economic impact; it is also presenting us with ideological challenges. As the Ukrainians know full well, their freedom of expression, of worship, of the right to govern are all in jeopardy.
Many commentators (and many Ukrainians) are saying that this attack on their soil is an attack on all countries that hold values associated with democracy. We may have thought that we have come a long way to a more humane society as we get used to the 21st century. The barbaric and inhumane tactics of war that were on full display in Europe during past wars, such as the Hundred Years War between France and England (1337-1453), the Thirty Years War which engulfed all of Europe (1618-1648), and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), are long behind us as we enter a more civilized era, we thought. Apparently not. Fueled by some archaic vision of past imperial ‘glories’, the President of Russia is ordering his troops to commit cowardly acts of destruction and murder that show a heartless and absolute disregard for life. The blood of children is crying out. The prophet Isaiah lived in a time of tumultuous war and social upheaval. Reading his message is almost like reading a newspaper today: “If one looks over the land there is only darkness and distress...the mountains shake and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets...death expands and opens is jaws...many acquit the guilty for a bribe and deny justice to the innocent...many are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight...many call evil good and good evil, they put darkness for light and light for darkness, they put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter,” (Isaiah 5).
In a world that continues to experience the horrible misery of hearts and lives separated from the God who created and knows us, it seems we will continue to see the worst of our rebellious humanity until Jesus returns. But Isaiah spoke not only of the times from a human perspective; he also proclaimed that God was at work today through his Spirit bringing a kingdom of peace. Grounded on the work of the Messiah, our Suffering Servant – the one who bore our affliction and took upon himself our sorrows (Isaiah 53) – his reign on earth will bring forth a peace through justice, in which indeed weapons of war will be transformed and used to grow bountiful crops, nature will be in harmony, and all nations will live together in peace (Isaiah 2, 11, 60- 62). In this time of war, which affects us all in one way or another, let’s pray, support, work, and speak out in ways that reveal the compassionate and just rule of Jesus on the earth.
- Pastor Tony
Feb 27, 2022
Jesus has shared his Word with us through the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3, and each letter provided spiritual direction to us who are called to live by faith in Christ ‘in the world but not of the world’. Over the course of our reflections we’ve been exposed to the many-faceted sides of the church, both the good and the not so good.
What are some of the good things? The church in Ephesus was commended for its untiring and vigilant work; Smyrna, for its brave suffering under persecution; Pergamum, for it faithful witness to the Name of Jesus; Thyatira for its loving deeds; and Philadelphia, for its persevering commitment and spirit of patient endurance. Eugene Peterson notes that the church is thus a glorious place; quiet, unnoticed, courageous lives which grow in the soil of the virtues of Christian community. Yet, as we know and Jesus pointed out in these letters, we also suffer shortcomings and serious spiritual deficits that need admonition and correction. Ephesus had lost it first love, letting ‘doctrine’ block genuine love; Pergamum was indifferent to false teaching; the church in Thyatira was tolerant of immorality; Sardis was apathetic and falling asleep; and Laodicea was letting affluence blind them from seeing and living in the Spirit of Jesus and the values of his Kingdom. Yes, the church is made up of sinners, and it shows.
It is this church as described, and we in St. Albert are one of them, that Jesus loves deeply. He loves us so much he was willing to give up heavenly glory, share in human suffering, and ultimately die a cruel, sacrificial death so that we might live in relationship with God and know true life. It is this church in which He now lives by his Spirit, walking among us, the seven lampstands. It is this church with which he is constantly speaking, sharing his heart with us through his Word. Are we sensitive to his presence, are we responding to his Word? The seven churches of Revelation were struggling to live in their respective cities and cultures in ways faithful to their Lord and Saviour. Today no less, let’s hear what the Spirit of Jesus is saying to us, so we might be informed and equipped to live as beacons of light and peace in our world today.
- Pastor Tony
Feb 20, 2022
In this series of messages on the seven letters in Revelation, we are receiving the Word of Jesus. Words are so critical to healthy relationships. Someone once said that the quality of life is determined by our relationships, and our relationships are determined by the quality of our conversations. Jesus is sharing his Word with us so we might be in a vibrant and growing relationship with him. From beginning to end – literally – Scripture is bracketed with the Word of God: in the opening lines of Genesis creation came into being when God spoke his word, and in the last chapter of Revelation the prophetic words in the scroll are proclaimed and unveil the final chapter of human history.
In between these brackets of creation and consummation the Word became flesh, and lived among us (John 1.1, 14). What was prophesied in the Old Testament was dramatically fulfilled and made visible to us. Jesus fulfils the prophecies and embodies for us the life-giving and life-sustaining Word of our Creator. By his Spirit he lives in and among us, the Word in our hearts and community. The Apostle Paul constantly taught that the Gospel was the means through which eternal life came to us. “By this gospel you are saved...”(I Corinthians 15.2); Christ has vanquished death and brought life and light through the Gospel (2 Timothy 1.10); the Gospel is the fragrance unto life (2 Corinthians 2.16); it is the Word of life (Philippians 2.16); the Gospel of light shines in the hearts of those who are saved (2 Corinthians 4.4-6). The Gospel points and invites us to trust and walk in the way of Jesus, the author and finisher of new life.
Numerous times in the letters to the churches in Revelation, believers are called to listen and follow the Word. Although the Word is written in these ‘letters’, these are actually sermons brought to the churches. This means they are verbally spoken by Jesus, and we are called not to read them primarily, but to hear them. Perhaps this is why, in our church practices of worship, we place such emphasis on the proclaimed message; through the spoken word we listen to hear what Jesus is saying to us in our immediate circumstances. Each of Jesus’ seven messages in Revelation includes, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Let’s listen! What is the Spirit saying to us today?
- Pastor Tony
Feb 13, 2022
Jesus’ letter to Sardis (Revelation 3.1-6) has a correction (‘you look alive, but you are actually not alive’) that is both timely and difficult to hear. The Sardinian believers appear to be in danger of becoming ‘comfortable Christians’ to the point of being spiritually dead. Although we profess to be saved by grace alone and not by works’ (Ephesians 2.8), which is a great comfort (!), when it comes to following Jesus in the world, it seems clear that this involves effort and sacrifice. We are to pick up the cross, deny ourselves, and fight the good fight against the wiles of the devil. Isaac Watts wrote this poem (below) which gives us food for thought on this score. I invite us to reflect on it and ask about how we understand the life of being a disciple of our suffering, crucified, and risen Lord.
Am I a Soldier of the Cross?
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own his cause
Or blush to speak His Name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace
To help me on to God?
Since I might fight if I would reign
Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
- Pastor Tony
Jan 23, 2022
A recent injury that left me without the use of my left hand has caused me to gain new appreciation for the lowly left hand (with apologies to all left-handed people!). I’ve discovered firsthand how much the left hand is needed to perform many tasks, most of them daily. Here is a short initial list: putting on socks, buttoning a shirt, shaving properly, flossing, using a fork and knife, tying shoe laces, chopping vegetables, peeling a potato, banana, or orange, opening a jar of herring or even pickles, hammering a nail or cutting a piece of wood, closing a zip lock bag, shoveling snow, driving a standard (or any car, really), cutting paper with scissors, and typing is possible, but takes much longer...all of this is impossible without the understated, humble good old lefty.
Anglican pastor Robert Farrar Capon borrowed a phase from Martin Luther when he says that the Gospels portray a kingdom built on left-handed power. Right handed power is direct use of force to make another bend to the rules. But the Kingdom of God uses left handed power, which is mysterious and usually indirect, and contrary to human intuition and ways of functioning in the world. For all of our human logic, the left-handed power of the Kingdom looks like weakness.
The Apostle Paul seemed to agree. When bothered by some injury (?) that hampered his work and slowed him down, the Lord reminded Paul that his grace was sufficient, and that his power was made complete (accomplishes its work) through weakness (2 Corinthians 12.9) . On another occasion, Paul noted that we are like cracked, leaky vessels - exactly the way through which God’s compassion and light are shared among us (2 Corinthians 4.7). Little acts of kindness can actually change lives for the better. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus preached that the meek will inherit the earth, the powerless persecuted and poor in spirit will experience the kingdom (Matthew 5). He said that the kingdom of God is like – wait for it – a little almost invisible mustard seed, or like yeast that is hidden in dough. Not exactly images that strike us as world changing (Matthew 13). He also took a child and told us that if we want to really enter the kingdom, we have to become like one of them, living with simple trusting faith (Matthew 18.3). The ultimate demonstration of this kind of power happened in the crucifixion of God’s Son on the hill of Calvary.
By faith we already see that this left handed type of power is indeed what brings the love, joy, peace and hope of Jesus among us. It is a type of power that transforms lives and in the end will surely transform the world. May the left handed kingdom continue to come in all the power and other-worldly authority of the Cross.
- Pastor Tony
Jan 16, 2022
Notice: Pastor Tony suffered an elbow injury on Friday night. Please keep Pastor Tony in your prayers as he begins his recovery. Pastor John Luth has graciously agreed to bring a message on short notice for this Sunday's service.
Jan 9, 2022
Today we embark on a series of messages based on the seven letters Jesus wrote to the churches in Revelation. (Actually, they are more like seven sermons, but more on that later). The late Eugene Peterson (author of the Message paraphrase of the New Testament), wrote a lively commentary on the Book of Revelation, called Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination. Peterson describes the seven churches in a way that helps us see that the church is both a divine, heavenly entity, but still made up of earthly, mortal human beings. I share this lengthy quote in the next paragraph. Would you agree with his description? Does it in any way resonate with your understanding of the church – our church – today?
The churches of Revelation show us that churches are not Victorian parlors where everything is always picked up and ready for guests. They are messy family rooms. Entering a person’s house unexpectedly, we are sometimes met with a barrage of apologies. St John does not apologize. Things are out of order, to be sure, but that is what happens to churches that are lived in. They are not show rooms, They are living rooms, and if the persons living in them are sinners, they are going to be clothes scattered about, hand prints on the woodwork, and mud on the carpet. For as long as Jesus insists on calling sinners and not the righteous to repentance – and there is no indication as yet that he has changed his policy in that regard – churches are going to be an embarrassment to the fastidious and an affront to the upright. St. John sees them as lampstands: they are places, locations, where the light of Christ is shown. They are not themselves the light. There is nothing particularly glamorous about churches, nor, on the other hand, is there anything particularly shameful about them. They simply are.
As we explore the Word Jesus had for the seven churches in Revelation, I pray his message will resonate in our hearts, and continue to fashion us by the Spirit to be the lampstands shining his light in our world today.
- Pastor Tony
Jan 2, 2022
Early in World War II, a 26-year-old Polish lieutenant named Slavomir Rawicz was captured by the Russian army and put in a work camp in Siberia, south of the city of Yakutsk. In April of 1941 he and six others escaped, thus beginning a harrowing 14 month, 6, 5000 km trek in an attempt at freedom. With few provisions, little clothes to guard against the winter weather, a blunt axe head, and no map or compass, they headed south. Through endless stretches of desolate tundra, into Mongolia and the blazing heat of the Gobi desert, the mountain ranges of Tibet and the icy slopes of the Himalayas, they eventually made itto northern India; finally, they had reached their destination and liberty!
Throughout the journey the seven men had to lean on each other to make it. They suffered together through freezing and frostbite, hunger and thirst, lack of sleep and dogged fatigue, danger and struggles with despair and hopelessness, injuries and brushes with death, uncertainty and fear. They formed deep bonds of friendship, bound closely together in their common effort to survive until they could be free. Their close companionship and intimate union became clear when it was time for them to say good bye to each other. It was almost too much to bear. Rawicz describes the moments: “The bus pulled away from the transit camp where I was to await a troopship to the Middle East. I looked back at him (one of my companions) once and he waved. I felt bereft of friends, bereft of everything, as desolate and lonely as a man could be.” Would a fulfilling life even be possible now in their absence? After what they had been through and the relationships they had formed, could they actually live without each other?
As we embark on a new year (2022!) and look back at the year that was, we think about our greatest friend, Jesus (John 15.15), the true friend who laid down his life for us (I John 3.16). He has been with us through thick and thin, highs and lows, failures and successes, joys and sorrows, pandemics, problems, and even parties. He is our BFF! Can we even imagine life without him? Indeed, true life without him is impossible; he has saved us, and by his Spirit holds us into eternity. We need him to really LIVE - to experience life to its fullest pleasure, joy, and purpose. What a friend we have in Jesus! Let’s go trekking into this New Year, and know that whatever comes, our best friend is always with us on our journey to freedom.
- Pastor Tony
Dec 19, 2021
One of my favorite paintings was created by Pieter Breughel, a Dutch artist who lived in the 1500’s. It is a picture of Mary and Joseph coming to Bethlehem, which looks a lot like a typical Dutch town of that period. (Please google the painting to see for yourself – The Census at Bethlehem, 1566). It is a very unromantic wintry scene. (Nothing close to a Victorian picture of happy rosy cheeked carolers on a snowy street corner beside a wonderfully lit perfectly shaped Christmas tree). In Breughel’s depiction of that silent night people are going about their daily routines: gathering wood, carting water, sledding, skating, huddled together talking, warming by a fire, frying pannekoeken (pancakes), all bundled up against the cold. A pregnant Mary comes riding in on a donkey led by Joseph. They are barely noticeable, being all wrapped up against the damp cold. The whole scene is under grey winter skies.
We celebrate Christmas at a time of year with the longest, darkest, and coldest nights – the dead of winter. It reminds us that Jesus came into a world that could be and is often harsh and inhospitable, among people who experience darkness and difficulty on a regular basis. What was a Bethlehem night in December like? Temperatures typically hung around the freezing mark, with a healthy dose of snow. In line with winter blues, other circumstances proved even more challenging: with no room for him in the inn, Jesus was born in a drafty barn with the smell of cattle, manure close by, placed in a trough for feeding pigs, couched in a bed of straw. The babe born in Bethlehem on what appeared to be just another mundane, quiet night turns out to be the light and love our world was waiting and hungering for. Into that dank, unwelcoming night the light of the world was born (John 1.9). On that night an unprecedented love entered our world – something we had never seen before: God (who is love - I John 4.8) made flesh. He came to a world that clearly needed light, a people that dearly needed love.
The dire circumstances of his birth would strike a chord that would surface throughout Jesus’ earthly life. Ultimately, this divine love was expressed in the darkest hour of our history, when the Son of God hung despised in midday darkness on a cross. Alas, in this event we see the supreme expression of ultimate LOVE. Lewis Smedes writes that it is in the midst of this gloom we actually witness something perfect: “When we are in fact loved by the love made visible on the cross of Christ, when we accept this love, we will know that here is the perfect thing which has come to us,” (Love Within Limits). Jesus has come to us in the deeps of winter in the ordinary places of our lives; in true Gospel fashion, the perfect time and place for perfect love to come. So, this Christmas, come into the stable from the dark, cold night and feel the warmth, light, and love of Jesus, the new born babe.
- Pastor Tony
Dec 12, 2021
Many artists have depicted a manger of Jesus cast under the shadow of a cross; Jesus was born among us to give his life as a sacrificial ransom for many. Isaiah prophesied he would be a ‘man of sorrows.’ Yet, Jesus no less was filled with joy. At the last supper, as he was telling his disciples of his crucifixion, he brought up the word JOY no less than seven times. In Hebrews 12.2 we read that, “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross.” As Jesus’ disciples, like him, we can have joy even as we encounter hardship.
Henri Nouwen, the late pastor and teacher, reminds us that in the ups and downs of daily life, we usually have to decide to be joyful (The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1992). He observes that some people are naturally cynics; they seek the darkness wherever they go. They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior; they call trust naïve, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental. In belittling God’s joy, their darkness only calls forth more darkness. Then he writes, “People who come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other’s wounds, forgive each their offences, share their possessions, foster a spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God’s glory.”
Nouwen continues, “Every moment of each day I have the chance to choose between cynicism and joy. Every thought I have can be cynical or joyful. Every word I speak can be cynical or joyful. Every action can be cynical or joyful. I discover that every choice for joy in turn reveals more joy and offers more reason to make life a true celebration in the presence of the Father... Jesus lived the joy of the Father to the full.”
This Christmas and into the new year, may the fullness of the joy Jesus came to bring increasingly fill our hearts, inform our choices, infuse our words, and guide our actions, even in (especially in?) the mist of our troubles.
- Pastor Tony Maan
Dec 5, 2021
We often hear that ‘money can’t buy happiness’. Nor can it purchase peace of mind, it has been said. Life experience tells us that this seems to be accurate, for the most part. Of course, lack of funds that leads to lack of proper dental care, insurance, at least some vacation time and travel, or a good quality car can persuade us that money indeed can help purchase some degree of security, happiness, and contentment. But the kind of peace that the Bible talks about is indeed not something we can buy. Shalom, the Hebrew or Old Testament word for peace, means much more than the absence of conflict or strife; it means living with harmony in our hearts, love and joy in our relationships, and unity in our community. This peace of mind and heart is a divine gift, given free of charge and unpurchaseable, and experienced apart from our circumstances. It is, as the Apostle Paul describes, a peace of God that passes (human) understanding (Philippians 4.7). It was the peace that the Angels announced had come to earth with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
Recently, I was part of conversation about wealth with a young family. Talking about an uncle who had lots of property and material possessions, the wide-eyed pre-teen daughter said, “Boy, Uncle Bruce must be really rich!” “Well,” the young dad said, “yes, he has lots of stuff, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is rich.” I thought that was quite insightful for a young man, and I’m sure it gave his daughter something to think about concerning the complex relationship between material possessions, what makes for contentment, and what the Bible teaches when it comes to true peace. A few days later I came across a passage in Timothy that perfectly expressed the insight of the dad: “As for the rich in the world, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on uncertain riches but on God who richly furnishes us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous, thus laying up for themselves a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of life which is life indeed,”1 Timothy 6.17-19.
We give thanks to the Lord for all the material blessings he gives us, things we are encouraged to enjoy. We express our gratitude for these gifts by being liberally generous in sharing what we have. We experience shalom - wellbeing and deep spiritual satisfaction – simply by receiving the gift of peace. And how do we obtain this gift? It comes to us, the angels proclaimed, wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger: the Prince of Peace! When we believe and receive him, we will know otherworldly peace in all circumstances.
- Pastor Tony
November 28, 2021
Hope may be in short supply these days. The pandemic and its multiple ramifications – social restraints, emotional sensitivity, physical fatigue, mental exhaustion, decreased motivation, and relational strains – have been wearing on most of us, and slowly dissipating the hope we may have been harbouring in our hearts for the past 18 months; hope for an end to the effects of the disease on our families and society, more regular work conditions, brighter days ahead, for a return to what we remember as ‘normal’. This first Sunday of advent we hear a message full of hope; hope came into our history like never before when Jesus was born!
This Gospel hope is like an anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6.19). A ship without an anchor is at the mercy of the waves and whims of the stormy sea. No anchor means being tossed to and fro in no direction, and inevitable shipwreck. An anchor provides stability and safety. So the hope based in the promises of God for his care and our salvation provides such strength and preservation, no matter our circumstances and challenges. Therefore, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope, for he who promised is faithful, “(Hebrews 10.23). Does your trusting hope in Christ provide you with such stability even as the storms of life surround you?
There is another passage in Hebrews that reveals in more immediate detail how we experience the hope of Jesus, or perhaps better said, how we impart the hope of Jesus. It is through the simple acts of helping another in the mundane places of daily life. In 6.11 we read that God will not overlook the deeds of love and service we have performed, which reveal and share the full assurance of the hope we have, until the end. Many years ago I was attempting to drywall a large room, and my lack of experience was evident in my lack of progress. Working at it late on one particular night, tired and discouraged, I was very quickly loosing hope that I would be able to ever complete the job. Then, unexpectedly, my (very handy) son-in-law, Mark, dropped by. “Let’s get this done,” he said, then grabbed a board of drywall and went to work. Thanks to Mark’s helping hand, my ‘hope meter’ went instantly from two to ten! Before we knew it the job was finished.
It reminds me of how the letters of the word HOPE can serve as an acronym, living in hope in practical ways: H-elping O-ther P-eople E-veryday! This Christmas, let’s take the hope we have in Jesus and share it!
- Pastor Tony
Nov 7, 2021
Since the beginning of Christianity, believers have been asking the question, “As followers of Jesus, how do we engage with our world and the culture in which we live?” Culture is always changing, which adds to the challenge. As Christians we have three essential helps: the Word, written (the Bible) and living (Jesus); we have the Holy Spirit illuminating our hearts and minds; and we have the body of Christ, the church community. All of these guide us in responding to the question, helping us engage in the world as faithful witnesses.
Another way of asking this question is, “How is the Kingdom of God – the Lord’s reign of truth, justice, mercy, and peace - present in the world? Jacques Ellul, a French lay theologian and teacher (1912-1994), believed that being citizen of the Kingdom in the world meant we live in constant tension. On the one hand we are called to be intentionally engaged in our ‘worldly’ communities, tangibly present in the rough and tumble of daily life on the streets, addressing concerns and needs in our cities and towns. Ellul himself served as deputy mayor of his home town of Bordeaux, as well as taught in a university. On the other hand, he did not believe that the Christian was called to or even could fix the world or transform culture or even make society more Christian. Indeed as members of God’s kingdom living in the world we were to bear testimony to God grace and justice, in word and deed. But the full and sudden redemption of the world and its complete transformation was to come only at Christ’s return. Indeed this world will pass away as we know it (cf. 2 Peter 3.7). This ‘fits’ with Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds: the farmer lets them both grow, and only at the harvest time are they separated (Matthew 13.24-43).
One other way of describing the approach and fulfilment of our calling as disciples of Jesus in the world is to be mediators. As our Lord is a ‘go-between’ us/the world and the Father, so in Him we are called live ‘in the middle’, acting as bridge between our spiritually searching neighbours and our Saviour. As Ellul observed, this role too involves living in tension: bringing a Holy God and a mixed up, often crude and wayward world together can create some friction. It’s wonderful then that the Spirit equips us, the Word guides us, and the church supports us to carry out the task. Or as Jacques Ellul puts it, “The Spirit is very much present in our ordinary lives ...in the entire course of God’s action in history he uses a human means, to act by his Spirit.”
- Pastor Tony
Oct 31, 2021
This week, along with All-Hallowed-Eve (Halloween) we remember the Protestant Reformation. Our St. Albert church has been born out of this movement. What does it mean to be part of a community that calls itself ‘Reformed’? How would we answer the question of a friend or colleague at school or work, “What does it mean to be a ‘reformed’ Christian?” When I am asked this question, my ‘Reader’s Digest’ answer is a three-pronged response: historical, theological, practical.
Historically, it means we have our roots in a movement called the Reformation that happened in Europe in the 16th century. Leaders such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox lead religious and theological movements that affected the church in countries such as Germany, Switzerland, France, England, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia.
Theologically, the reforming movement had two distinctive emphases in contrast to the way the church had taught for about the previous 1,000 years. One was the conviction that the Bible alone was God’s inspired, direct word to us, and not human traditions; it alone is our ultimate authority when it comes to discerning the revelation and heart of God. Secondly, that a believer is saved by grace alone through faith in the perfect person and work of Jesus, God’s Son; this was apart from any works or human merit.
In practical terms, the movement teaches that we are always being reformed (the Latin words, semper reformanda, became well known). We are constantly being reformed in our hearts and minds through the Spirit to be more and more reflective of the heart, character, and deeds of Jesus.
This was what God has planned for us: God has called us from the beginning to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8.29). Today through the Holy Spirit we are continually being sanctified; transformed more and more to his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3.18). With such inner heart reformation comes the call to be agents of transformation in society, reflecting the Kingdom through kind acts, gracious words, compassionate mercy, and calls for justice. All this in the certain hope that the transforming work of our God in our lives and in our world will come to a climax at his return: “And we eagerly await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so they will be like his glorious body,” (Philippians3.21).
Semper Reformanda until he comes again!
- Pastor Tony Maan
Oct 10, 2021
This is the second Thanksgiving we are trying to celebrate in the midst of the pandemic. We can be forgiven for wondering if we have made any progress since last time, given the social gathering restrictions that we are placed under again. Will we find it hard to get into the spirit of giving thanks - to put on an attitude of gratitude – as we feel tired and frustrated with this disease? What does the Bible say about this?
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the Bible tells us that giving thanks is not a matter of how we feel. Many, many time we are encouraged, actually commanded (imperative mode), to give thanks. A few examples: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm107.1. “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything...,” Ephesians 5.20. “...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” 1 Thessalonians 5.17. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts...and be thankful,” Colossians 3.15.
Our sense and expressions of gratitude are not grounded in being wealthy or healthy or having all our wishes granted, as pleasing as that might seem to us. (We all probably know people who have lots of stuff – more than they really need - but are not grateful or even happy). Why is this so? The Apostle Paul tells us: “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your life in him, rooted and built up in him...and overflowing with thankfulness,” (Colossians 2.6, 7). Lasting and genuine thanksgiving is rooted in the spiritual satisfaction that comes by knowing God through his Son, Jesus. As I read in a Today devotional recently, “Our attitude of thanks is deeply rooted in our encounter and friendship with the Lord. It does not depend on external things or life’s circumstances. To put it simply, the better we know Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, the more thankful we are.” Our daily walk with him helps us experience the true abundance of godly thanksgiving. May the Spirit of Jesus live in us daily, and be the source of thankfulness in our present trying circumstances.
- Pastor Tony
Oct 3, 2021
The Ethiopian traveling to Gaza in Acts 8 was reading Isaiah 53, which he did not understand. He asked the evangelist, Philip, “Who is the prophet talking about?” Philip explained it was the Messiah, Jesus, who was described as, “A sheep led to slaughter or a lamb before its shearers...” This image for Jesus is astounding, when we stop to think about it.
Sheep and lambs are about the only mammal (even animal) that has no self-defense capabilities; when preyed upon, they have no way of defending themselves. They are completely dependent on another – their shepherd, mostly – for survival. This is what Jesus was like. He was defenseless, vulnerable, exposed, weak, and dependent. Further, he was homeless, not beautiful to look at, unwanted, rejected, forsaken and crucified like a criminal. And this man is the one sent by God to redeem the world. Could any of us have imagined that the Messiah would be like this? I feel that our (human) idea of what a God-sent ‘hero’ would look like would be quite different, perhaps more like muscular Superman or maybe charismatic King Arthur.
No less challenging, Jesus calls his followers his ‘little flock’ (Luke 12.32); just like Jesus, we are like lambs. As he sends us out into the world to serve him and others, he describes us as ‘sheep in the midst of wolves’ (Matthew 10.16). Do we indeed find this challenging? I do. My inner sense and drive compels me to be the opposite of defenseless and vulnerable: self-sufficient, self-protecting, independent, and in control as much as I possibly can. But as a follower of Jesus, I am called to be vulnerable, weak, trusting others, and defenseless. In being and doing so, we mysteriously bring the presence of Jesus to the world.
The miracle and mystery of this gospel truth is that this is the way of salvation. Through his humble servitude and humiliating death, Jesus actually conquers sin and defeats death. Yes, it is foolishness to the human mind; it sure would not have been our strategy for saving the world. But in the eyes of faith, it is the way of eternal life. In the words of the Apostle Paul, Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God to those who believe (I Corinthians 1.23).
- Pastor Tony
Sept 19, 2021
Today’s fascinating Old Testament story (2 Kings 7) of four very hungry outcast lepers who found themselves unexpectedly overwhelmed with an abundance of food proclaims God’s gracious and bountiful provision. In this story the feast acts as a venue through which the city of Samaria is liberated from the bondage of siege and starvation. Likewise today, the sharing of food, to the hungry, with our families and friends, can be an opportunity to share in the Lord’s grace.
In her book, Tasting Grace, Melissa D’Arabian conveys messages of spiritual truth in the setting of a kitchen. A celebrity cook, her book gets pretty detailed about the nature of various foods, food preparation, and taste. A few examples: Consider the orange (the fruit). Their skins are like perfume with a touch of bitterness, and inside they taste both sweet and a little sour. In this way, the orange is like life, she says. And poultry: do we ever consider, when we enjoy a succulent leg or spicy wing, that a chicken has sacrificed its life for our enjoyment and nutrition? The bird does not require elaborate preparation either, “I’d clip whatever herbs needed trimming and rub them into the chicken skin with fatty European sweet butter, then roast the whole thing on top of new potatoes.
The result is easily the best chicken I’ve had to this day.”
And then there is soup – any kind of soup. One of the gifts we receive from soup is that it takes a while to make. Soup from scratch requires us to stay in the kitchen, chop vegetables, boil water, prepare the rice or add noodles, brown hamburger or pork, simmer, taste, season...all the time savoring the smells in the kitchen, linger and talk and connect with others and the Giver ...and then eat it slowly and thankfully.
Of course, the food itself is not the ‘end game.’ Rather, like the story of the lepers outside the city of Samaria, the food was an instrument through which the Lord’s abundant provision of spiritual food and the freedom of his eternal grace and love poured out upon his people. As we receive the bread and cup in communion today, and as we savor our Sunday dinner, may the blessing of Jesus be upon us. And may our hearts and lives generously convey the bountiful blessings we have received.
- Pastor Tony
Sept 12, 2021
What does it mean when we say “Jesus is Lord?” It is a common phrase and testimony among Christians to say that Jesus is my ‘Saviour and Lord’. As our Saviour we trust in faith that his sacrificial death and resurrection has earned us complete forgiveness and new life, all as a gracious gift. To really trust him completely (and not rely on our own good works, even just a little) may prove to be a lifelong challenge. But committing to live under his reign – to follow and obey him as our sovereign Lord – may be even more of a challenge. So, what does it mean that he is Lord, from the way we think to the way we talk, interact with others, and act?
Sometimes we may ask, (honestly) whether Jesus is some sort of personal God who needs us to worship and obey him to assuage his ego. We need to confess him as Lord and do all we can to honour and obey him to satisfy his needs, we think or feel or wonder. But this is the furthest thing from the truth; in fact, it is unbiblical. God and Jesus are holy (Job 6.10; Isaiah 57.15; Luke 1.35; Hebrews 7.26) and his thoughts and ways are absolutely beyond ours (Isaiah 55.8,9). Theologically, this is called God’s ‘aseity’: he is totally self-sufficient, and thus is not dependent on anyone or any force beyond himself. In other words, Jesus does not need us to worship or follow him for him to be fulfilled or complete. He is Lord simply because he is, and all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him.
So, when we call him Lord and seek to live in accordance to his perfect will, it is not for his sake but for ours. When we gather to worship and praise our God, we surely glorify him, but this serves to bless us and draw us closer to him and more into true life. Out of his sovereign autonomy and for our salvation he extends his grace to us. So, in the end, our confession of Jesus as Lord, and the implications for our daily lives, is an expression of his love for us and our love for him; a truth that is best for our present well-being and our eternal destiny. I like the way Rebecca Pippert describes it: “Is Jesus’ desire to be the Lord of our lives some little fetish of his? Why is it so important to him? Besides the fact that he deserves it, he knows he is the only one in the universe who can oversee our lives and in doing so bring us life. No one will ever love you like Jesus. No one will ever know you better, care more for your wholeness and pull more for you.
He will meet you wherever you are and he will help you...but we experience this fully only when we acknowledge him as our Lord...And the great and joyful paradox is that while he totally transforms us he makes us more ourselves than ever before.”
Having said all this, it is not to deny or downplay the fact that we are intimately and even inextricably related to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. (for example, as believers we complete the sufferings of Christ...Philippians 1.24). But that is a discussion for another day.
- Pastor Tony
Sept 5, 2021
On this Labour Day weekend we celebrate the gift of work. I have been so blessed to be able to work through the 18 months of the pandemic, albeit in augmented ways I have never experienced before (meetings through a laptop, no in person visiting, preaching to a phone in an a mostly empty sanctuary, devotions on line...). Work, and the energy, creativity, emotional investment, and health to carry it out is truly not something to be taken for granted.
In her book about food and hospitality, called Tasting Grace, Melissa D’Arabian writes about getting more connected to the food we eat. Part of this is knowing where the food was grown (shopping local!), how it was produced (whether chicken, chick peas, raisins, chocolate, halibut, shrimp, milk or wine...), and how it effects our bodies. Another major way of being connected to our food is taking time to prepare it. She is a big advocate of resisting the skip the dishes or frozen dinner option, and making a meal at home from the basic, natural ingredients. We all know that this is more healthy for us, more economical, and also more environmentally friendly.
But there is another benefit, according to D’Arabian. Preparing a home cooked meal takes preparation and work, but in the end we enjoy the fruits of our labour in a delicious feast that tastes really good – in other words, doing so provides us with a God-given opportunity to experience healthy joy, especially when shared with others. The author writes, “Eating more whole foods takes a little extra time. There is no magic way to prioritize our health without spending a little time on it. But the good news is that cooking a simple, fresh meal really takes less time than you might think. And I promise you, I received such great joy from knowing I was loving my body, my family’s bodies, and the care of our
earth and its creatures by creating meals God’s way.”
So, on this weekend in which we give thanks for work, let’s be encouraged to view the labour of making home cooked meals as a wonderful daily gift - with deep gratitude to moms and sometimes dads, wives and sometimes husbands, who work so hard in the kitchen. The actual natural food from the earth, the preparation, gathering at the table, the sharing with friends and family...Thank you Lord! Bon Appetit!
- Pastor Tony
August 29, 2021
Memory is such an integral part to healthy living. Our memories not only help us remember events of the past, but in doing so, they provide us with connection to others and our community/world, help form our identity, and even help convey our purpose in life. In his book, Better with Age, Alan Castel gives comfort to any of us who are troubled by momentary lapses in memory (sometimes called ‘senior moments’). He says that we at times forget information for at least two reasons: One is that as we grow older we accumulate more and more information. And the more information we have in our brain, the more time it takes to retrieve the exact detail we are looking for. (Similar to a library of books: the more you have, the longer it may take locate the exact book and passage you are seeking to find).
Secondly, as we age and experience life more, we tend to focus our mental attention on things that are important, and pay less attention to details that we deem less critical. Thus, when we watch a movie we may not be able to recall the colour of the coat the main character was wearing, but we easily remember what she said and how it affected the plot.
All this reminds me of how important it is to memorize some key passages of the Bible. Bible passages that express the heart of our faith (Psalm 23.1; Psalm 119.105; Mark 10.45; Matthew 6.33; John 3.16; John 8.12; Matthew 22.37,38; I Corinthians 13.13; Ephesians 2.8; Romans 12.12), when firmly planted in our minds and hearts, provide constant strength and sustenance as we negotiate life.
Recently MaryAnn and I visited our Mom, who struggles with serious memory loss. Although there are many things it seems to us that she has forgotten, her eyes lit up and she smiled when we read familiar portions of the Bible with her and sang familiar hymns. These words of faith and God’s redeeming love are deeply rooted in her, from years of learning and living in the Lord. It was a joy to see them resonate in her aging mind and heart, bringing peace and assurance that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
- Pastor Tony
August 22, 2021
Jesus had a powerful way of portraying the call for us, his followers, to show the Gospel Word in our lives: “you are the light of the world,” he said. A light, by its very nature, is meant to shine in the darkness – otherwise it has no point. I’m wondering if this image has become so familiar to us that it has begun to lose some of its brilliant power. Do I realize that the light of the Word in my heart should be shining out each day? Do I underestimate how powerfully this light can make a difference in the world?
Max Lucado wrote a little story once about four candles. These four candles were living in a closet, and they refused to come out during a power outage. Each has a handy excuse. One needed more time to get ready; the next one said giving light was not his gift; the third said she was too busy, and the last one just did not feel qualified. In doing so, each candle was in fact denying their very reason for existing.
Jesus says that one of the main reasons we exist as a church, and as Christians, is to share his light in the world. In a Today devotional, Pastor Art Schoonveld asks, “Does our church do everything it can to let its light shine? Do we go out of our way to speak out, and do we do everything we can to reach out to people struggling, or oppressed, or persecuted, or needing God’s love and help in some way. There are so many needs and opportunities – in our churches, families, our neighbourhoods and our world.” Indeed, we have found that the Covid crisis has uncovered so many needs in our communities: there is so much loneliness, sorrow and loss, anxiety, and fear. People in places with wildfires, experiencing the reality of residential schools, in Haiti, in Afghanistan, in our churches and places of work all could use Kingdom good news. A listening ear, a word of encouragement, a prayer, and helping hand, funds, a meal, a visit and many other creative ways can be used of us to be the light of Jesus in their lives.
We have been entrusted with the Word of hope, love, and healing; not to keep to ourselves, but to share it and shine it in our world. In so doing, we fulfil our ultimate purpose: the glory of our compassionate and gracious Father.
- Pastor Tony
(Pastor Tony Away Aug 8 & 15)
August 1, 2021
“Who wants to hear a good story?” is an offer that is hard to turn down. Recently a few of our grandchildren were over at our place, and they asked to watch tv. We said. “Let’s tell stories instead!” And we did, enjoying a half hour of entertainment, learning, and laughs. Storytelling is an integral activity of virtually every culture. Through stories we share and remember history, children (and adults) are educated, truths and values are shared, laughter is enjoyed, encouragement received, and hope is given. Indeed, through stories we can truly share one another’s burdens. Through stories we build relationships and community.
Jesus was a master storyteller. He knew the power of a good story to reveal spiritual truths. He caught the crowd’s attention and sparked their imaginations with stories. The Kingdom of God is like....fishermen catching a net full of fish, a merchant who finds the most precious pearl, like a farmer going out to sow seeds in all sorts of soil, like a tiny mustard seed that grows to a huge tree, a young son who (rudely) decides to leave home with his inheritance, an employer who (unexpectedly) gives everyone the same pay no matter the hours worked, a bit of yeast that (surprisingly) transforms a big lump of dough...Jesus taught often, even mostly, through stories called parables.
Recently I had a conversation with a fellow church member about how we in western society have lost the art of storytelling. The scientific revolution, even with its blessings, has instilled a reverence for facts and figures, for ‘practicality’; time equals money and value is connected to productivity (Joyce Borger, Reformed Worship 134). In the process I wonder if we have lost the sense of how critical stories are to our understanding of self and the world, and our faith. My friend and I wondered about how, as a church family, it may be very important for us to tell our stories to each other about our experiences over the past 18 months. Can storytelling be a crucial avenue through which we can recover and move on from Covid as a community of believers?
Of course, we know of our God and our salvation through the greatest STORY ever told, so succinctly stated in the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life,” (3.16). What a blessing to know this story, and to participate in it!
- Pastor Tony
June 27, 2021
The search for truth is a journey we all go on. We’ve been created to live a life of meaning, and that involves knowing what is true. In our 21st century, with social media full of conspiracy theories and ‘alternative facts’, we might lament the feeling that the quest for truth has become very difficult, with everyone touting their own subjective version of what is true.
However, this is actually not totally new. The past tells us of some high profile instances when truth was up for discussion. For example, in the fourteenth century there was for a short while three popes, each one claiming their version of truth was the true one (!). The Protestant Reformation was a time of great social, political, and religious upheaval, with many variations of truth being circulated with the help of printing press technology. And of course, the French revolution (1789) did its best to convince us that reason or rational thought had replaced God as the final authority for truth telling. So, our challenge today about discerning what is true is not a new problem.
How do we discern the truth? That is a question too ambitious to answer fully in a little Meanderings piece. But perhaps we can say that a part of the answer is knowing about the past. Karl Marx said something like, “Those who forget the past are most gullible in the present.” Applied to Russia, Marx’s disciple Lenin did his best to erase the past so the crowds would subscribe to their new communist/marxist ideology. Knowing some history provides us with context, with information, knowledge and life experience, available to us from those who have lived life and learned. For the Christian - knowing the history of God among us, the narrative told in the Bible, and a worldview informed by the Kingdom of God – we have been given eternal truth. We hold a faith perspective and we know the presence of the Truth in person, Jesus (in our hearts by the Spirit), that give us balance for today and hope for tomorrow. Therefore, the Apostle Paul reminds us that, “We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ...” (Ephesians 4.14,15).
In such a way, knowing the past, especially the Biblical revelation, is a key ingredient of discerning what is true, what makes life meaningful, and what give us hope for the future.
- Pastor Tony
June 20, 2021
When we are on a walk in our neighbourhood and we hear singing or music in the distance, we are tempted to go and discover the source of the music and the cause of celebration. When Israel returned from exile after 70 years being away from home, they returned to their homeland, rebuilt the temple, and had a huge celebrative time of worship. We’re told that, “The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard from far away,” (Nehemiah 12.43). This was a time of great renewal; Jehovah had restored them to their home and the Spirit had revived them to communion with their saving God. At that worship service, the priest Ezra prayed, “Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise...You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you,” (Nehemiah 9.5, 6).
Our world, and our church to a large degree, has been in a sort of exile. For the past 18 months we’ve been restricted from meeting in public, visiting in our homes, and worshipping in person, and thus feeling like we are in a strange land. It appears that things are changing – we are able to go into public places, and we are now able to worship in person. By the fall of this year, we may likely be able to resume our regular ways of engaging in ministry together, in all its forms. What cause for rejoicing! As we look to the future as a church, the Lord willing, we will resume the conversation we had begun before the pandemic; that is, Renewal Lab. What vision does the Lord have for our church? What mission has he given to us so we may live out and realize this vision? How can we each be engaged in the building of his kingdom in our St. Albert context? How is the Gospel story unfolding in our community? These are exciting questions to ask, with ‘answers’ to be discovered as we follow the Spirit in faith.
The Lord is doing a work of renewal among us; after a time of pandemic ‘dormancy’, we are ‘returning home.’ May there be rejoicing in our hearts and in our worship as we look ahead together. And may our joyful noise be heard in our neighbourhood. May it catch the ears and imaginations of those who hear it, and draw them into the journey of living faith in Jesus. As Ezra prayed, even the multitudes of heaven were full of joyful worship when people return to live in the presence of the Lord. Or, as Jesus said, there is great joy among the angels in heaven over every single person who comes home to the arms of our Loving Father (Luke 15.10).
- Pastor Tony
(None June 13)
June 6, 2021
The heartbreaking news of the discovery at the former Residential School site in Kamloops , BC, has prompted much news coverage. For me, it has preoccupied my thoughts quite a bit since it broke, and I have had a number of heart searching conversations with others who have experienced a similar reaction. Of course, we are all familiar with the history of residential schools for Indigenous people in Canada. And we have made steps to address the difficult and tragic wrongs that have come out of this history, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Report in 2015. We as a group of Christian Reformed Churches in northern Albert, and we as a St. Albert church, have sought to reflect on our relationship with Indigenous peoples, and worked towards better understanding, reconciliation, and healing.
However, this breaking news out of Kamloops has seemed to have brought this history to a whole new depth and awareness of the injustice and tragedy; what heartache, sorrow, frustration, anger, and hurt this has all caused. There are so many questions that come up about the discovery of this mass grave of children: How did this happen? Why did so many children (215, who were supposed to be safe in school) die? How was such negligence overlooked? Were the parents notified, and given opportunity to grieve? Was this - horrible to contemplate – intentional genocide? Why were their graves unmarked? Who is ultimately responsible for this? What does this say about our government and about the church in the past? How do we begin to reconcile and heal as a people and as a country from this legacy?
As Christians we are called to be ambassadors for Christ – “So we are ambassadors for Christ,” (2 Corinthians 5.20). And Christ was a reconciler – “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” (2 Corinthians 5.19). Thus as agents for Jesus in the world, we are called to be about the work of reconciliation and healing. Many Indigenous people embrace and confess Jesus. And even for those who do not, as Christians we are called to represent the Christ of the Gospels to people of all ethnicities, and to seek truth, reconciliation, and peace.
How might we as a church make steps in practicing this call to be reconciling ambassadors in Jesus towards our First Nations sisters and brothers? If you would like to share any ideas, or would simply like to talk about all of this and share your thoughts and feelings, please get in touch with one of the members of our ‘Treaty 6’ Team: Douwe Vanderwel, Douwe Spriensma, or Pastor Tony. We welcome your engagement.
- Pastor Tony
It is probably not an exaggeration to say that millions of songs and poems about love have been written over the course of human history. The first recorded love poem in all civilization was probably the one we find in Genesis 2. Can you recall it, off the top of your head? Adam had spent a few busy days naming all the animals in the garden, and realized at the end that all the animals had suitable partners, while he did not have one. Fortunately, God was not finished with his creating work. He caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and out of his ‘side’ he formed Eve, a companion for the man. Adam woke from his slumber and, beholding this beautiful new creature, poetically exclaimed his joy: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man,” (Genesis 2.23).
Since that day, marriage has been a part of human civilization in all cultures: partners joined together in bonds of affection and commitment, experiencing fulfilment, children, families, joy, purpose, challenge, struggle, accomplishments, gratitude, fellowship, blessing...A few millennia after Adam sang his song, the Apostle Paul also penned a peon of praise to the essential ingredient that makes marriage a blessed state that reflects Christ’s passion for the church: LOVE.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongdoing.
Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.
(I Corinthians 13)
May this love flourish in our marriages to the glory of God and the blessing of our spouses and families.
- Pastor Tony
May 23, 2021
We celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this Sunday. In my youth while growing up the day of Pentecost was kept sort of quiet; we remembered it, but barely, for some reason. Once in a while I’ve heard that the Holy Spirit is the ‘silent partner in the Trinity’ – his role was to illuminate Jesus in our hearts and understanding, and give glory to the Father. He was like a spotlight, hidden behind a bush that served to highlight the features of a grand edifice at night.
I’m hesitant to subscribe to this way of looking at the Holy Spirit now. When we read the Bible, it seems that the Spirit is overtly mentioned often, and certainly very active – in both the Old and New Testaments. Although the Spirit serves to point us to Jesus and to bring us to put our trust in him as our Savior, he doesn’t seem to be too shy about it. Honestly, without the Spirit, we would not recognize our Christian faith; in fact, we would not have a Christian faith without the Holy Spirit. (We will talk a bit about this in the message).
So, to celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, I invite you to enjoy this poem. It was created by Malcolm Guite, an Anglican priest and chaplain in Cambridge, England.
Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire, air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.
- Pastor Tony
May 9, 2021
On this Mother’s Day weekend we recognize the essential role mom’s play in God’s design of growing faith in the next generation. Children come to believe in the Lord as real, loving, gracious, forgiving, just...through parents who love the Lord, trust in him and follow his ways. We know that God does not wait until our children are, say, 13 years old, before they begin to have a relationship with him; it actually begins from the day of conception (see Psalm 139). Given this, here is a very brief sketch of the spiritual development stages of children as they grow to teenagers, and corresponding tips on how to share the Lord with them. As parents (and grandparents) we may find this helpful as we seek to disciple our children (from Home Grown: Handbook for Christian Parenting, by Karen De Boer).
Pre-schoolers: believes that God is real and lives in heaven; he loves them; readily accept what adults tell them about God. Nurturing Tips: let them know God loves and cares for them; share your wonder and awe of God (Look at these wonderful colours God has made!); read Bible stories together; sing songs of worship with them.
5-6 Year Olds: have a strong sense of God, and Jesus as their friend; engage their imagination with Bible stories; can express love for God in their own words. Nurturing Tips: let them know that they are an important part of God’s family; invite them to add their own words when praying together; encourage them to pray on their own; discuss the Bible stories you read together, and respond with a prayer or song.
7-8 Year Olds: can understand basic salvation concepts; can express opinions about God and church; include prayer in their daily lives; are becoming aware of the struggle of good and evil in the world. Nurturing Tips: provide opportunities to express their love for Jesus; encourage questions and spiritual conversations; help them process any guilt feelings, and remind them of God’s forgiveness
9-10 Year Olds: strong sense of right, wrong, and fairness; awareness of problems such as hunger, poverty; open to learning about differences among people; see God as a friend who is interested in the world. Nurturing Tips: talk about brokenness and hurt in the world, and the presence of sin; explore different cultures and peoples in the world; serve others together; practice prayer as a natural part of daily life, even while driving, walking, talking.
11-13 Year Olds: are developing their own beliefs and values in the context of family, peers, friends, media, school, church; quickly note injustices, and often seek to rectify them; identify with adult faith models; may have doubts and questions about their faith; begin to think conscientiously about integrating faith and daily life. Nurturing Tips: encourage involvement in active ministry – serve projects, worship, youth activities; help them reflect on moral issues they face; model God’s presence through your faith walk and talk, sharing God’s love and trusting his faithfulness; live in God’s grace; and have devotions together.
- Pastor Tony
May 2, 2021
Today we read in Mark (16.19, 20) that after Jesus ascended, he was present in the words and work of his disciples; through signs his Spirit affirmed their words and deeds as authentic, and many came to believe in him. When we stop to reflect on it, we can probably make a long list of experiences and people we have known through whom God has been speaking to us, working in us, blessing us. This week I read of one which I would like to share with you.
This incident comes from Joni Eareckson Tada. As a young girl, Joni was paralyzed from her neck down by a diving accident. She began the long and difficult journey of rehabilitation, and coming to terms emotionally, mentally, and spiritually with her life altering condition. She read her Bible, but admitted she was often irritated by it, because to her it seemed so out of touch with her reality. But she had friends who would come to visit her, bringing their Bibles, pizza, guitars, and Simon and Garfunkel albums. God used one friend in particular to help her, a 17-year-old fellow hockey player named Jackie. One sleepless night in her hospital room Joni felt totally alone, despairing, and hopeless in the dark. It was 2 am. And Jackie came. I will let Joni tell the story:
Suddenly I turned my head and saw coming through the doorway on my ward a figure crawling on hands and knees. I could not tell who it was, but the person crept closer past my sleeping roommates in the dark until her hands reached up to the guardrail of my bed and peered at me.
“Jackie!” I exclaimed. “Jackie, if they catch you, they’re going to kick you out of here!” “Shhh,” she whispered. I later learned that she hid behind a couch in the visitors lounge after visiting hours and waited for the all clear to sneak to my room.
She lowered the guardrail of my bed and slipped into my bed and lay beside me, as girlfriends will do at pajama parties. She snuggled up close, put her head on my pillow, and didn’t say a word. She took my hand in hers, intertwined our fingers (she knew my paralysis was so bad that I could not feel my fingers) and held up my hand to I could see it in hers. Then, softly in the shadows so as to not wake my roommates, she began to sing. “Man of sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim. Hallelujah, what a Saviour.”
- Pastor Tony
April 25, 2021
You may have noticed that the passage in Mark we are considering for our post Easter ‘series’ - Mark 16.9-20 - has a special footnote in your Bible. This footnote says that the oldest manuscripts do not include this passage. The oldest copies we have of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8. In this case, the Mary’s and Salome saw the empty tomb, heard an angel tell them that Jesus had risen, and then we read, “They went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.” What an unusual way to end the gospel story, we might thing. Later manuscripts include verses 9-20, and seem to give the ending a more ‘logical’ conclusion – the one we are considering in our Sunday messages.
The shorter ending actually seems quite understandable, if we stop to think about it. The women saw and heard an angel (frightening in itself) and were told the earthshaking news that Jesus had returned from the dead - quite a shocking revelation! We know from the other Gospels that the women believed the news (it was not a matter of not believing). This may have been Mark’s way of engaging us readers. He in a sense leaves the story unfinished, so that we, the readers, may also participate. As one commentator wrote: “Mark’s open ending beautifully catches the theme of the Easter story, which is unfinished. It is a story that never ends. Easter launched a new beginning for Christianity in Galilee. You and I are called to continue the Easter story in our own world, empowered by our risen Saviour.”
But what about the other, longer ending? If that is the one we prefer, do not despair! We can be at peace with knowing that it too is actually part of the canon of the Bible. Even if it is not actually Mark’s preferred ending, we know that all the events revealed in these verses have parallels in the other Gospels: Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20), the two travelers walking in the country (Luke 24) the Great Commission (Matthew 28) and Jesus’ ascension (Matthew 28).
In a sort of back handed way, this unusual and ‘undetermined’ ending to Mark’s Gospel indicates that the Bible is a living Word - it is not static and staid, fixed or ‘nailed down’. Rather, dynamic and alive, it is meant to move us to reflect, discuss, grow and be transformed for the glory of our living Lord.
- Pastor Tony
April 18, 2021
Women populate the Gospels and the life of Jesus in frequent fashion. They appear and regularly serve in prominent roles; often we read of their support for Jesus. Mary Magdalene is one of them. There are at least six different Mary’s in the Gospels, including Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus from Bethany, Mary the mother of James the younger, Mary the mother of John Mark, and of course Mary the mother of Jesus. In our minds the various Mary’s can get mixed up with each other. For example, people commonly confuse Mary Magdalene with the ‘Mary’ who anointed Jesus in the upper room, or the woman of loose moral character. But Mary Magdalene was neither of those.
What does the Bible actually tell us about this Mary, the one from Magdala (a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee)? It tells us quite a bit about her, actually. She was released from being possessed by seven demons, by Jesus. She became a close follower of Jesus, one of numerous women disciples. Mary was at the cross and watched Christ die. She helped bury his body. We see that Mary Magdalene was actually a very critical participant in the life and ministry of Jesus. Her help and quiet service, which often goes unnoticed, was in fact necessary for the fulfilment of Christ’s mission. Isn’t this often the way it is in the church and Kingdom? Over the past two millennia literally millions of women have faithfully and quietly gone about serving and bearing faithful testimony to the presence of Jesus among us – for the most part, virtually unnoticed.
One last note: Mary Magdalene (in some Gospels she is accompanied by other women) was the first to witness the empty tomb on Easter morning. And in the Gospel of John, she was the first to see the risen Saviour. What an amazing place she holds in history! This Mary was the first to see a glorified body, risen to eternal life from the tomb. She was the first to witness the dawn of a new age. And no less critical, she was the first to bear testimony to the fact. I’m glad God, in his wisdom, chose to reveal this first to a woman. Given the alternative, i.e. appearing first to a man, the results might have been less desirable. Just look up Mark 16.11,13,14 and Luke 24.11!
- Pastor Tony
April 4, 2021 Easter Sunday
This past pandemic year (plus) has exposed our vulnerable nature in a very visceral way; disease and death has made its presence felt. From a biblical perspective, we know that death is a result of our fallen state, the consequences of humanity’s decision to disobey our Maker’s will. When Jesus came to show the way out of the valley of death, the powers of our fallen nature, often ingrained in worldly systems, did its best to stop him from accomplishing his mission. John Stott, in his little book, The Authentic Jesus, describes how this took shape in the week of Jesus’ life before his death. “Jesus was condemned in a Jewish court for blasphemy by duly authorized legal procedures. He was then sentenced and executed for sedition by the Romans. Worse, he had been ‘hanged on a tree’ and therefore (according to Deuteronomy 21.22-23), had died under the curse of God. After that, he was taken down from the cross and buried, which was the final touch in disposing of him. The public rejection of Jesus could not have been more thorough. At every dimension he was finished – judicial, political, spiritual, and physical. Religion, law, God (due to our sin), man and death had all conspired to wipe him off the face of the earth. It was all over. The verdict was as decisive as it could possibly have been. No power on earth could ever rescue or reinstate him.”
But that is not the end of the story, was we know. Even as the world tried to cross him out, a power outside of this world sprung into action. Early Easter morning God intervened and raised Jesus from the dead. As the Apostle Peter proclaimed in his Pentecost sermon, “...you put him to death by nailing him to a cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2.23, 24). All the machinations of demonic darkness and human fallen-ness to ex Jesus out were reversed, rendered impotent, to be used ultimately in the service of God’s redemptive plan. Death has lost its grip. The tomb is empty. Our resurrected Jesus reigns.
Even in the mist of this pandemic and its cursed consequences, we live in the power of Christ’s resurrection. As Paul so powerfully stated: “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining the resurrection from the dead,” (Philippians 3.10,11).
- Pastor Tony
March 28, 2021
We have been exploring the disciple Peter in his relationship with Jesus through our time of Lent. Today we consider perhaps his most famous act – that of denying his Lord. All four Gospels relate this heart rending event; clearly this was something that each writer felt was an important part of Peter’s journey - his spiritual growth - with Jesus to the cross. Perhaps even more so, it is an integral part of God’s mysterious way of giving each of us hope and bringing us his salvation. I invite you to read and reflect on the poem, Peter’s Tears, by the 17th century Dutch poet and pastor, Jacobus Revius. As the poetry conveys the feelings and failure of the moment that fateful night in the courtyard, can you also detect the quiet, redeeming hand of God?
O swaying steps, uncertain of your going!
O fear and hope that melt my heart with shame!
O fire that makes my soul a burning flame!
O eyes, no longer eyes but rivers flowing!
O blind bravado, lacking all direction,
Leading my reckless feet into this room
Where these wild beasts prepare my Master’s doom,
Thirsting to lick the blood of his perfection!
O servant’s tongue that drove my tongue to lying!
O rooster-crow that tears my soul apart!
What cheer have you to give my cheerless heart?
O Jesu, tasting anguish for my crimes,
Whose worthy name I have denied three times,
Stand still just once and see my bitter crying.
- Pastor Tony
March 21, 2021
If you are a believer in Jesus, somewhere along the line you have a missionary to thank; someone who introduced the Gospel to another for the first time. The Irish have St. Patrick to thank. (He is one of the most well-known, celebrated annually). Born in Britain in the late 4th century, Patrick was kidnapped as a 16 year old and taken to Ireland and sold as a shepherd slave. While alone in the fields with sheep he had lots of time to reflect and became a Christian. He escaped and returned to Britain, where he became a priest. God gave him a vision of bringing the Gospel to those who did not know; coupled with a love for the Irish people, he returned to the island and brought the Good News. Consequently, the Irish have a long history of Christianity.
If we are of Dutch heritage, we have a man named Willibrord to thank. Also born in Britain (around 658 CE), he was commissioned by the church to bring the message of life to the Low Countries. Situated in Utrecht, he actually spent much time in Friesland, introducing the Gospel to pagan people. The Spirit was at work, and in time the Netherlands came to faith, and grew to have a rich Christian history.
And we can thank the Apostle Peter. One of the first missionaries, we witness his activities in the Book of Acts. We actually know little about the life of the twelve disciples after Jesus ascended. (Many traditional theories abound, but there is little actual historical evidence). But we know from the Bible that Peter was called and equipped to bring the news of Jesus as the Messiah to three people groups: the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles. Along with Philip and Paul, he took the message of new life in Jesus to many, and baptized many as they become members in the body of Christ (Acts 8, 10).
Of course, Jesus of Nazareth was the very first missionary. He came from heaven and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God among us on earth who had not yet heard or seen it (Mark 1.15). “We must go to other towns as well, and I will preach to them too. That is why I came,” Mark 1.38. Jesus preached it, lived it, died for it, so that we might believe and have true life. Indeed, many missionaries gave their lives literally in their quest to get the Word out (Jesus, Peter, and Paul, to name the most well-known).
Come to think of it, aren’t all believers called to be missionaries - giving our lives as living sacrifices for the sake of the gospel of Jesus? After all, each of us has come to faith through the message and ministry of a missionary, somewhere along the line.
- Pastor Tony
March 14, 2021
Many times we have been encouraged to ‘stay positive’ during this past year; through the struggle, restrictions, and isolation, authorities and leaders have reminded us to deliberately reflect on things we’re thankful for, appreciate the ‘little’ daily blessings of life, stay creative, and look for the ‘bright side’. In my experience as a pastor I have known many, many people who have steadfastly confessed the sovereign providence of God through their personal trials; even as we cannot explain or understand our troubles, in faith we know our circumstances are in the Lord’s hands, and in his mysterious design he will work out our salvation. As difficult as this pandemic has been - in so many ways - as we trust in God’s sovereign and gracious rule, we can in faith ask ourselves about some of the good that has come of it.
History also bears witness to many who have trusted in God’s faithfulness in trying times, and indeed they tell of good things that came of the tribulations. In a short article, Caroline Lieffers, a history professor at Kings University, shares some of these, one of which is a Canadian example. During the 1918 flu epidemic we realized that the disease was no respecter of anyone, regardless of wealth, education, social status, ethnic or gender identity. Some called it the “socialism of the microbe.” Canada recognized this and realized that the then current patchwork of underfunded health care boards and care providers was not up to the task of protecting the nation. So the Federal Department of Health was established in 1919. It helps us coordinate a collective response that more adequately addresses the need of every citizen. It is one significant example of ‘good that came out of bad.”
On an individual level, we have seen scores of people acting out of generosity, sacrifice, kindness, courage, and compassion through these dark days. As Lieffers notes, “...We might appreciate the resilience of community, the importance of the collective, and the beauty of courage and selflessness.” Or, as the disciple Peter encouraged, “If anyone serves, they should do it with the strength God provides so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” Perhaps the pandemic has caused this to be our experience more often and brought this truth to deeper resonance in our hearts.
- Pastor Tony
February 28, 2021
The Apostle Peter, in the Gospels, often represents the whole group of disciples. Quite often he is their spokesman, asking questions or making comments that more of the disciples have on their minds. So too, we may find something of ourselves in Peter. Although this may cause us some concern, it may also provide us with some comfort. He reminds us of our humanity, with all its emotions and experiences.
Leonard Griffith views Peter in his extremes: stability and instability, cowardice and courage, weakness and strength, despair and hope, selfishness and love. Griffith asks: Was Peter by nature a brave man who occasionally lost his nerve, or was he a man of extreme timidity who showed occasional flashes of courage? “The most likely answer is that he combined the two qualities in his character like two sides of the same coin. Sometimes the coin fell on heads, and sometimes on tails. Let’s say his soul was a battle ground between cowardice and courage...” The episode of walking on the waves demonstrates this dynamic in Peter’s heart. When the Apostle sees Jesus walking towards the boat, with enthusiasm he asks to come and walk on water himself. Full of faith he steps out onto the raging waves. Quickly his faith dissipates as the waves overwhelm him, and he begins to sink. In fear he cried out to be saved, which Jesus immediately does. Elated with the rescue, Peter is filled with wonder and worship of Jesus.
This event may serve as a paradigm for our own walk with the Lord, and the experiences, thoughts, and feelings that come along the way. We catch a vision of Jesus, and with joy and excitement we want to go to him, and walk with him in this miraculous journey. We step out in faith and trust. Soon, we encounter the ‘realities’ of everyday life in a broken world, and fear and discouragement can set in; we might even get that sinking feeling. We pray to the Lord, “Help us! Save us!” And he does: he sends his Spirit that we might sense his redeeming and refreshing presence. Then we respond in gratitude and worship, awed by his love, power, and grace.
There is comfort in knowing we can and often do find ourselves in the same boat as Peter. And that Jesus is right there with us.
- Pastor Tony
February 21, 2021
On this first Sunday of Lent we are embarking on a series of messages called The Passion of Peter. Simon Peter, the disciple who we know most about from the Gospels, is a bit like a threatening and often active volcano: at times quiet, but underneath emotions are lurking, ready to erupt into ‘foot in mouth’ types of words and unexpected actions. Perhaps this is why Jesus gave him the name Peter, which is Greek for ‘rock’. Who says Jesus doesn’t have a sense of humour, along with keen insight into human character? He gives Simon the nick name Rocky: not ‘The Rock’ as in solid and unmovable, but Rocky, as in unstable ground.
Given this, we might wonder why Jesus went on to make Peter one of the leading disciples, even THE one undisputed leader of the group. Indeed, according to the Roman Catholic Church, Peter was to become the bonafide leader of the universal church. In essence he is viewed as the first pope, and all subsequent popes represent the Apostle Peter’s authority. This doctrine is based on Matthew 16.18, when Jesus says to him: “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means rock) and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not prevail against it.” The Protestant church has a different interpretation. In the previous verses Peter has confessed that Jesus “...is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is then calling this confession the ‘rock’ or foundation on which the church is built.
Either way, Peter figures prominently in the Gospels, as a leading disciple, and as a charismatic and influential leader in the New Testament church. But this does not take away any of the truth that he was rocky. Yes, Jesus knew exactly what Peter was like, and he still chose him to give him a major role in his mission. What are we to make of this? Many things, which I anticipate we will explore in this series. But for now, we can say that Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah was something he believed deep in his heart; so much so that he was willing to be crucified for this conviction (tradition tells us).
And it was this confession - the foundational ‘rock’ - on which he built his life, rather than his character, that ‘qualified’ him to be the leader he would become. None-the-less, we may just discover that the sovereign Lord actually used Peter’s volatile nature, explosive emotions, and unstable responses for the very purposes of his divine plan of redemption.
- Pastor Tony
February 14, 2021
Today we conclude our series of Following Jesus through John. John wrote his gospel account, recall, so that we might believe Jesus is the Son of God (the Messiah), and by believing, we would have life in his name (John 20.30,31). The Gospel, and this series of messages, is a small if important part of our ongoing call and journey to be disciples of Jesus; the path we take with him and with fellow followers is one of gradual learning and growth. Here are two poems about our Lord that I hope will give opportunity for insights and reflection.
He was a plain man
And learned no latin
Having left all gold behind
He dealt out peace
To all us people
And the weather
He ate fish, bread,
country wine and God’s will
Dust sandalled his feet
He wore purple only once
And that was an irony
Strong Son of God, immortal love
Whom we, that have not seen Thy face
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove.
Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, Thou;
Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.
February 7, 2021
The search for truth is a human endeavor; it seems that we are born with a desire to know what is true and what isn’t. We want to live a life in light of what is true, not what is false. So, the quest for truth has been with us since the beginning. However, for us living today in the intellectual and cultural climate (postmodern) we find ourselves in, knowing what is true seems especially pressing, and perhaps especially illusive.
As Jesus was telling his followers that he would be leaving them, he comforted them by saying the Counselor, the Holy Spirit would in a sense take his place. He is, Jesus told them and us, the Spirit of truth and he will guide us into all truth (John 16.13a). The Holy Spirit will bring the presence of Jesus – who is truth personified - into our midst. He will shepherd us into a deepening knowledge of the truth Jesus brought and is, and in so doing he will bring glory to God.
Of course, truth comes to us through the recorded Word, the Bible, as well. The same Word of the Scriptures is in perfect union with the Word made flesh. Often I have wondered aloud with you as to whether our Covid restrictions have given us more or less time to read the Bible and reflect on its message. Although most Bible study guides are good and helpful, sometimes I find the best way to engage is to read and ask three questions of the passage:
1. What is God saying in this passage? (Is it a word about grace? forgiveness? humility? holiness? sorrow? love? discipline? sin? guilt? joy? relationships? family? community? unity? possessions? beauty? glory? life purpose? peace...) 2. How am I reacting to this message? (A response of wonder? joy? empathy? heartache? gratitude? contentment? compassion? confusion? praise? worship? hope? encouragement...) 3. What does this passage call me to do? (Pray? Sing? Reach Out? Work harder, or less? Search more? Be still? Nurture my gifts? Bear witness? Practice hospitality? Make a sacrifice? Join a small group?...)
As you read and ponder, and respond to the three questions, may the Holy Spirit guide into the truth, the presence of Jesus.
- Pastor Tony
January 31, 2021
In the Gospel of John, Jesus talks a lot about God the Father. Jesus came to earth mainly because he was sent by the Father; his reason for becoming human and living among us was to do the will of his Father. At one point he says that his food is doing the will of the Father – this is what energized and motivated him. In line with this mission, Jesus teaches that we can know this invisible Father through knowing him. If we see/know Jesus, then we see/know the God who created the universe, and made us. Throughout the book Jesus explores his relationship with the Father, which is a very close and intimate one. He is in the Father, and the Father is in him. Through the Spirit, when we believe in Jesus, then we indeed share in this intimate relationship. The love Jesus and the Father share is extended to us who believe, and believing this means that we experience true life.
John Timmer, in his book The Four Dimensional Jesus, shares this about Jesus in John. The most outstanding self-designation Jesus makes about himself is that he is the one sent from the Father. It is Jesus’ fundamental understanding of himself. Jesus represents the Father, speaks for the Father, acts on behalf of the Father. But Jesus not only brings a message from the Father; he is the message. He not only reveals truth; he is the truth. He not only offers bread from heaven; he is the bread of heaven. He not only imparts life from above; he is the life. He not only is the bearer of divine light; he is the light of the world. John’s entire gospel is based on the understanding that Jesus comes from the Father and that everything he says and does flows from his oneness with the Father.
In many ways we see that John’s gospel, which was written later than the first three gospels, has a more elaborated proclamation of who Jesus is as a person. (Take for example all the “I Am” sayings: bread of life, truth and way, resurrection, water, light, shepherd, vine). The first three gospels, in contrast, are more focused on what he does. (This is a point worthy of discussion). Another commentator wrote that, when we also consider the letters of John, we see that as John aged and matured his message became more and more deeply simplified: namely, God is love, period. This is the heart of faith, and all the rest flows from it. All this is lots to reflect on; I pray that it will help us grow in our relational knowledge of God our Father, made known to us through his Son in the Spirit.
- Pastor Tony
January 24, 2021
The inauguration of a new American president this past week was filled with pomp and pride, as it usually is. The patriotism was palpable, and all the talk of democratic ideals forged and won through a history of struggle and effort got me thinking of the American Revolution, and in particular its roots in religious fervor. Did you know that? At least according to a number of historians, the spirit of independence and breaking from England was seeded in the sentiments fostered by the Great Awakening of the 1730-50’s in the English colonies.
The first Great Awakening in America (there were at least three of them) was deeply rooted in a Puritan faith and experience. The Puritans had come in the mid 1600’s to America from England. Fleeing persecution in their homeland, they immigrated to a new world to practice their faith without fear of government interference. In fact, many of them saw this move as the beginning of pioneering a new land, a new Israel, if you will, a city on a hill that would shine its light to the world. Under the revival preaching of pastors like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards in the middle of the 18th century, people felt the Spirit move and call them to a deeper experience and expression of Christian faith. Resisting the perceived inhibitions of church rules and traditional rituals and regulations, they emphasized a personal hunger for God, conviction and remorse for sin, a deep sense of the need for redemption, joy in the gracious salvation through Jesus, and a fruitful life of good works and testimony. Among other things, the movement resulted in an increase in evangelical church membership, and various parachurch religious movements were born. The emphasis on an individual relationship with the Lord and the freedom to express one’s own, unique faith fostered a sense of autonomy from the institutional church, and also from government oversight and legislation in the area of faith (religious freedom). You can see the writing on the wall. This sense and taste of individuality and freedom eventually lead to resistance against the old country (England, the Crown, and the Anglican Church), and a revolution that would see a new country established in 1776 – the United States of America.
Does all of this have anything to do with our theme for this Sunday (Jesus and Me) at St. Albert CRC? I think it does. This synopsis of a part of American history gets us reflecting on at least two things: How our Christian faith, and the Bible, repeatedly calls us to a personal faith in Jesus that is strongly individual. And secondly, that such personal engagement has implications for society at large.
- Pastor Tony
January 10, 2021
The fact that Jesus proclaimed that he has brought light into the world, that he is indeed the Light of the world, tells us that the need for light in our lives in the midst of darkness is a universal and age long motif. People of all places in all times have sought light in order to live. The sun is an obvious example; biological life would be impossible without the sun. Jesus uses this truth and takes it one giant leap deeper: we need him to know and experience life in the fullest sense. Henry Gariepy, in his book, 100 Portraits of Christ, unfolds some of the nuances of Jesus as the light of the world. Here are a few:
Light reveals. The most beautiful flowers, the most majestic mountains are obscured in inky blackness until they are rescued from the night and bathed in sunlight. Only in the light do they thrill us with the wonder of their beauty. Jesus is a beautiful Savior who illuminates the beauty of life with God on this earth in all its multifaceted wonder.
Light permeates. It travels at its phantom speed of 186,000 miles a second. It is unhindered by space and time. Christ transcends the barriers of time and space; he is eternal and omnipresent. He is always near to us.
Light is pure. Water may start out pure but can be polluted. Snow falls crystal clean white from the heavens, but can quickly turn brown or grey on the earth. Wind and air can become contaminated with toxic chemicals. But light may shine through the foulest medium and yet remain impeccably pure. Christ mingled with us among the corruption of our world, yet remained spotless and pure. He is unadulterated, pure light.
Light transforms. Through light plants grow and bear fruit; photosynthesis occurs and provides life-sustaining oxygen that allows creatures to grow; the light of knowledge illuminates our minds and hearts to help us grow in understanding. Indeed, when we walk in the light of Jesus, we ourselves reflect his light: “I am the light of the world, Jesus said to his followers” (Matthew 5.14). As the moon reflects the light of the source of light, the sun – without the sun the moon would be a sterile, invisible black ball in the sky – so we reflect the light of Jesus that has transformed our minds and hearts. May the Spirit continue to inspire and enable us to reflect the radiance of Christ in the dark places of our world!
January 3, 2020
‘Hospitality’ might be the last word we would associate with the Covid pandemic. If anything, we are restricted from practicing hospitality as we are forced to isolate and stay in our respective homes. Yet, in many ways, hospitality has become even more prominent. For myself, I have gained a new and deeper appreciation for the blessing of gathering with others in physical space and real time to share each other, conversation, fellowship, food, and encouragement. Even during these past 10 months, we’ve managed to find creative ways, usually through technology, to be hospitable towards one another.
After Jesus rose from the grave, John records an account of his appearing by the Sea of Galilee (John 21). The disciples had been out fishing all night, and as they approach the shore at dawn, Jesus is there. He has a fire going on the beach and is preparing some bread and fish for breakfast. He invites them to sit with him and share in a meal. Jesus is practicing hospitality with his friends; their resurrected Saviour is sharing a mundane, ever-day type of meal with them. They are stunned and encouraged at the same time.
One aspect of this story is the missionary element and how it weds with hospitality. It was right along this shore, where they were eating breakfast, about three years earlier, that Jesus first called these men to be ‘fishers of men’; to follow him and go and bring his message to others. The disciples had just finished a night of fishing, and now Jesus meets them raised from the dead and shares the new life with them. Go and catch ‘fish’ - people of all nations into the web of the kingdom of eternal life. (It is interesting that Jesus actually miraculously provided the haul of fish for the disciples that night; he converts people to faith, we are simply called to spread the word). On this early morning, Jesus calls them anew to spread the good news, and he does it as they share a warm breakfast together.
Hospitality and Outreach. It seems such a natural combination. As Jesus invites us to come and dine with him, we are called to invite others to our tables and experience the presence of our risen Saviour and Lord. I have found in my life-long journey in the Christian Reformed Church that the Spirit has blessed us with the gift of hospitality. (It actually is a fruit of the Spirit, see Romans 12.13; I Timothy 3.2). As a Christian community we like getting together and sharing with one another, and often food and drink is involved. Jesus shows us, in word and by his modeling while on earth (to say nothing of his becoming flesh among us), that it is an excellent and effect method of sharing his person and good news with others. We look forward to the time, hopefully in 2021, that we can again open our homes and welcome our neighbors and strangers to sit at our tables, and share the blessing of the Lord.
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