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.

August 9, 2020

Recently one of our grandsons, Owen, was talking with MaryAnn and me about the movie Forrest Gump. We had seen it when it came out in 1995, and our discussion prompted us to watch it again the other night. It was one of these movies that I would revisit in my mind on a regular basis given that themes in it resonate with many biblical themes. (Okay, full disclosure, it was also because the 60’s and 70’s social setting, along with the pop songs of those days). Seeing it again I was struck even more by its multilayered message - it is much more explicit in actually preaching the gospel message than I had realized. Themes of God’s care and provision, searching for real relationships and meaning, sacrificial giving to help and even save others, loyal friendship and love, humility, honesty, faithfulness, integrity, justice and injustice, the misery of sin and wayward living are all at play. The movie was both critically acclaimed (it earned Best Movie honors in the Oscars and the Golden Globes, among many other awards) and was very popular with audiences.

The main character, Forrest, emulates the character of Christ. He doesn’t really fit in with mainstream society, yet all sorts of people find they are attracted to him; his unassuming attitude, simple trustworthiness, and generous yet discerning heart compel many to find in him a ring of truth that they long to know and have themselves. One person who finds his life transformed through friendship with Forrest is Dan, an army Lieutenant whom Gump served under while fighting in the Vietnam War. Dan losses both legs in battle and comes home a bitter man, very angry at God. As Forrest and Dan keep up their friendship in America, Dan mocks his friend’s ‘simple’ faith in God. They end up running a shrimp boat together, but they are novices and catch nothing but literally garbage for weeks, in spite of Forrest’s trust that God will help them. One day they get caught in a hurricane, and out there in the Gulf of Mexico, an angry, legless lieutenant Dan sits perched atop the mast and has it out with God, yelling in the storm and shaking his fists as he screams his complaint. The next morning the storm is past and the quiet coast of Louisiana is littered with shrimp boats wrecked by the storm. Only Gump’s boat survived the storm and lived to go shrimping another day. Suddenly, they are hauling in loads and loads of shrimp. Blessed with provision, the humbled Dan has said his piece and found his peace with God.

Of course Forrest Gump is just a movie, but movies can and often do explore and reflect the realities and real possibilities of life and meaning. It seems that this story did this, to judge from the way it seemed to resonate with so many. In this case, I find it an extraordinary instance in which a form of popular culture, the movie, preached the hopeful message of the gospel to a world in dire need of Jesus.

- Pastor Tony


July 26, 2020

Rahab, the woman who hid the Israelite spies in Jericho, is one of many women who participate in the story of redemption in the Bible. She and Sarah, the wife of Abraham, are the only two women heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11. However, the Old and New Testament, and the history of the church right up until today tell of countless women who are instrumental in church and kingdom.

A few of the Old Testament women of faith include Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Abigail, Naomi, Ruth, Esther, and Hannah. Women prominent in the New Testament include Elizabeth, Mary (the mother of Jesus), Mary Magdalene, Martha, Salome, the Samaritan woman, Mary of Bethany, Dorcas, Lydia, Priscilla, Lois and Eunice. We do not know much about some of these women, but we know that some played indispensable roles; obviously Jesus’s mother, Mary, and her cousin, Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist) come to mind. We remember that it was the witness of women that first broke the incredible news of the resurrection of our Lord. “It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened.” (Luke 24.10).

A few women who were instrumental in the growth of the Christian faith over history include: Monica, the praying mother of Augustine; Helena, the mother of the first Christian Emperor, Constantine; Joan of Arc, visionary and charismatic leader in France; Hildegaard, medieval song writer and liturgist; Teresa of Avila, mystic and church reformer, Johanna Veenstra, pioneering missionary in Nigeria; Sojourner Truth, anti-slavery leader and preacher for equality in Christ; Mother Teresa, advocate and servant of the poor in Calcutta, and Dorothy Day, the compassionate presence of Jesus to the unemployed, the immigrant, the poor in inner city New York. There are so many more, too many to mention in this little writing, but they would include Julian of Norwich, Elizabeth Bayley Seton, Henrietta Gant, Simone Weil, Evelyn Underhill, Claire Booth Luce, Ethel Waters, Evelyn Waugh, and Rosa Parks.

Next year we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Christian Reformed Church. We are thankful for women who serve in professional ministry. However, I would also like to encourage us to give thanks for the literally billions of Christian women who live and serve in the Lord’s kingdom. They are wives, mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, daughters, granddaughters, and friends. Usually in ways that never sees the spotlight, they pray, model, disciple, teach, lead, serve, inspire, encourage, write, witness, support, and generously and unselfishly give of their formidable gifts. Their deep faith, compassionate hearts, tireless giving of time and energy, and commitment to the community of faith is an invaluable gift to the church. And their love for Jesus, their families, and the family of faith has been one of our most powerful blessings in the past, and I trust will be until our Lord returns. Thank you!

-Pastor Tony


July 19, 2020

Wind. We seem to be having a lot of it lately. I find the wind can get under your skin, be bothersome and at times induce restlessness. It can cause flower pots to tip over and garbage bins to fly. With wind you can forget trying to keep your hair nice, and watch that the car door doesn’t whack you on the back side. A good solid wind can topple trees, wreck umbrellas, and upend our best prepared picnic plans. Wind can be unsettling. But this is just our (legitimate) experiential feelings towards the wind. The Bible presents wind, for the most part, in a highly favorable light.

In Hebrew (the Old Testament) wind and spirit are the same word: ruah. Along with fire, wind commonly represents God, or his creative and redemptive work. Right at creation, once he formed Adam, God breathed into his lungs the wind of life; the very Spirit of God was in the first created human being (Genesis 2.7). In the story of the Exodus through the Red Sea, a strong east wind came and drove the sea back, affording a path of dry ground for the Israelites (Exodus 14). Who can forget the powerful image of Ezekiel and the valley of dry bones? After God put bone and sinew and skin back together, the wind came and brought the vast sea of dead humanity back to life (Ezekiel 37). Jesus compared the work of God to the wind, as told in his conversation with Nicodemus (John 3). The wind is invisible, but you know it is real and powerful by the evidence it leaves behind; in the spiritual sense, lives that are born again and hearts that are transformed. At the Pentecost event in Acts 2, the Spirit descended with the sound of a rushing wind, ushering in the new era of renewal.

Although the word for wind itself is not used in Psalm 29, the imagery of a storm implies its noticeable effect. As the voice of the Lord goes out, the Spirit or wind causes it to move in powerful ways. “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon…The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forest bare. And in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!”” See? The wind can seem unsettling, after all! So the Spirit, when it convicts of following Jesus in ways that call us to deny ourselves, or die to ourselves, may unsettle us. The Apostle Paul says that we enter the Kingdom of God through struggles (Acts 14.22). However, as the wind of the Spirit gets under our skin, we trust that it will ultimately and always bring us to his presence and cause us to proclaim, “Glory!”

-Pastor Tony


July 12, 2020

As the province of Alberta begins to open and we emerge out of the initial shock of the Covid crisis, we may begin reflecting more as to how this whole experience had affected us, as a community and as individuals. The life and faith of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) speaks into this exploration, I believe. Through no fault of his own, Joseph found himself in dark places, figuratively and literally. Once he was thrown into a dark dry well by his jealous brothers, really left there to die. He was spared death, only to be sold into slavery in a foreign land (Egypt) – certainly a despairing position for a young Hebrew lad who had been born in freedom and privilege. Soon he found himself in the depths of a dungeon, due to unjustified charges of assault against his master’s wife. There, it says he was forgotten by everyone. Dark indeed.

But Joseph’s story does not end there in the pit. God had not forgotten him. Ultimately Joseph becomes second in command in the nation of Egypt, and is instrumental in saving hundreds of thousands of people from starvation, both in Egypt and beyond. Even through seven years of famine, nobody suffered hunger through what the Lord did through Joseph. When he had two sons, he called them Manasseh and Ephraim. They are Hebrew names. Manasseh means ‘the Lord had caused me to forget all my hardships.’ Joseph let go of the injustices and despairing darkness of the past, held no grudges or resentment, and lived in the gratitude of God’s faithful remembering and deliverance. Ephraim means ‘God has made me fruitful.’ The Lord has brought him from the dimness of prison to the heights of national influence and power, which was used to deliver the civilized world from starvation. In fact, for the first seven fertile years of bumper crops, so much grain was grown that they had to stop keeping a record of it – recording books has all been filled and with no more left!

Do we see how Joseph’s story – really the Lord’s story through the life of Joseph – speaks into our circumstances today? Through all of this we need never doubt that the Lord remembers us. Something to keep in mind and heart in faith at all times, but perhaps we do so with a little more urgency when we are in a dark place. And in Jesus our loving Father has shown us that he will bring us through the valley to places of streams of water and green pastures. That is not all. Joseph, when he was near the end of his life, prophesied that the descendants of his father (Jacob) would leave Egypt and be given a land of their own, the promised land of milk and honey (Genesis 50 24); a future new earth and heaven for us. For today, the Apostle Paul proclaims (Romans 8.18): “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”

-Pastor Tony


July 5, 2020

This past Wednesday, July 1, we as a country celebrated our birthday. We are thankful to the Lord for all he provides to us through our country: natural resources, beauty, democracy, freedom, justice, security and protection. At the same time we recognize that our country is not without faults and needs change for the better. Our history reminds us, especially with Indigenous peoples, that the need for meaningful dialogue, reconciliation, and healing remains imperative. May we as the church be active in our country as a presence and agent of change motivated by the Gospel and the grace of Jesus.

- Pastor Tony


No meanderings, these past weeks. Regular e-mail communications are being sent out. Notify the church office if you would like to receive these.

June 14, 2020

Among the numerous outcomes of the Covid realities we are living in, the opportunity to engage in online worship is surely one prominent one. In fact, it seems that a number of us are surfing the web and finding a variety of worship offerings and preaching on Sunday mornings. (MaryAnn and I have done this on a regular basis). I’m not sure you could call it ‘binge worship watching’, but it comes close.

This means that we are being exposed to a number of preachers/speakers. Inevitably we see that some preachers are more comfortable in front of the camera than others. Some appear to have experience, while others look like they do not. As I was and still am learning and dealing with the dynamics of these new modes of communication, I try to remind myself to keep the main thing the main thing. That is, in whatever mode, that the Word of the Lord be proclaimed. May the Spirit take the word which is being brought and cause it to fulfil its work in the hearts of those who hear.

This reminds me of the Apostle Paul. We usually assume he was a powerful speaker with a commanding presence. However, there is overt evidence to show that this was far from true. In II Corinthians he himself says this is not the case – in fact, the very opposite. When he was being compared to other apostles (super apostles) he admits he is untrained as a speaker (11.6). Apparently he did not have a silver tongue – his speech was not eloquent. And concerning his personal presence, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing,” (10.10). Perhaps he could write well, but in person he did not make much of an impression. This may seem surprising, because aside from Jesus, the Apostle Paul is arguably the most influential leader in the New Testament church, and in the formation of early and subsequent Christianity. Consider how much of the New Testament was written by Paul; consider that he was its first missionary, and most of the churches were a result of his zealous efforts. Perhaps all of this is by no means an accident. It was also Paul who prayed to the Lord to remove a thorn in his side, and was told that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” (II Corinthians 12.9).

It is God’s amazing way: through humble, imperfect, human vessels his Word goes out and his plan of renewal and restoration goes forth. This is probably why as a pastor one of my favorite Bible passages is from Isaiah 55: “As the rain and snow come down from heaven and do no return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish...so my word that goes out from my mouth will not return to me empty, but accomplish and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” May the Word of the Lord bless the earth, no matter who he uses to bring it!

- Pastor Tony

(None for a bunch of weeks in a row) Note - Pastor Tony is sending out regular e-mails throughout each week to the congregation to help keep everyone informed and connected. If you are not receiving these e-mails, contact Alex VanOmmen or Pastor Tony.

May 3, 2020

The Heidelberg Catechism speaks into our current coronavirus crisis. It begins by asking what comfort we have in times of life and death. This word for comfort did and does not mean comfort like sitting in a Lazy Boy chair (I don’t think Lazy Boy was in existence in the 16th century, when the Catechism was written). The word ‘comfort’ leans more toward trust, fortitude, certainty, protection, and security. What is your only trust and safety in times of trouble? What gives us strength to carry on? Those who wrote and read this Catechism originally knew about trouble. The sixteenth century was filled with persecution and war in Europe. They were not worried about lack of toilet paper or sanitizers; they worried about having enough food to stay alive and encountering a violent death.

The answer to the question, “What is your only comfort and life and in death?” Is that “I am not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.” This confession is based on the Bible, of course. “Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord,” Romans 14.8. And, “You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price,” I Corinthians 6.19. John Calvin expounds on this truth in terms of how it applies to our daily lives in attitude and action. “We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as a goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.”

It is this truth – that we belong to Jesus, who gave his life to redeem us - that has kept believers steadfast through the trials of life over the past centuries. And this is not just since the 16th century, of course. Jesus said that we are his flock. He has purchased us, and will watch over us as our Shepherd. And nothing – no thief or wolf or danger or disease – can snatch us out of his hand (John 10-27-30). Christians have been sustained by this fact for twenty centuries. May we find this biblical and confessional truth to be a source of comfort – in the original sense of the word! – during this time of turmoil.

- Pastor Tony

April 26, 2020

(None this week.)

Note - Pastor Tony is sending out regular e-mails throughout each week to the congregation to help keep everyone informed and connected. If you are not receiving these e-mails, contact Alex VanOmmen or Pastor Tony.

April 19, 2020

Our present conditions of home confinement, decreased work hours, and closed public places have given us more opportunity to read the Bible (at least, that is what I have found for myself). I am not only reading passages that I have not read for a long time (such as Leviticus, II Chronicles) which have uncovered new insights and revelations for me, but I am also discovering that the Bible speaks so directly into our current circumstances. (Some of which I have been sharing with you through emails).

Increased reading of the Word has also given me renewed appreciation for what theologians call the profundity of the Scriptures, which basically means the depths of truths that are revealed that plumb the deepest meanings of life in this world, many of which go beyond our finite comprehension. One of the earliest Christians leaders, Origen (184-253 CE), who loved the Bible since an early age and taught it for his whole long life, described the profundity of the Bible in this way: “Scripture is like the world: undecipherable in its fullness and in the multiplicity of its meanings. It is a deep forest with innumerable branches, an infinite forest of meanings: the more involved one gets in it, the more one discovers that it is impossible to explore right to the end. Deep heavens, unfathomable abyss. Treasure of the Holy Spirit, whose riches are as infinite as himself. Vast sea, where there is endless voyaging with all sails set. Oceans of mystery.” In other words, we could read the Bible for our whole lives with deliberate attention and never exhaust it precious truths – through his Word God just keeps giving; an eternal fountain of divine insight, inspiration, and spiritual nourishment.

And that last note is critical: the Bible is the Lord’s message that imparts life to us. Origen said that the Word is, “…a table set by Wisdom, laden with food, where the unfathomable divinity of the Saviour is itself offered as nourishment to all.” Origen’s passion for the Bible was grounded in the conviction that it was through the Word he experienced the real presence of Jesus, the Word in the flesh. One time when Jesus asked the disciples if they wanted to stop following him (which others were doing), Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6.68). As we read the Bible in our new realities, I pray that we not only see the depth of meaning that helps us understand our experiences, but that even more we encounter our living Lord and Saviour.

- Pastor Tony

April 12, 2020 (Easter Sunday)

This Easter the church around the world will not be gathering in person to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Of course, the cause of this is the coronavirus pandemic; a disease that has claimed many lives and cast a pall over our Easter commemorations. The health crisis brings with it many challenges, such as fears for our health and that of family members, isolation and loneliness, hoarding and social tension, potential lack of financial security, mental health uncertainty, and others.

All of these need to be recognized and addressed as we move forward. However, on this Easter Sunday, may I suggest we stop to consider some possible ‘silver lining’ outcomes that this difficult situation has brought us? A brief notice of these may even be good for our mental outlook; something positive to buoy our spirits. What might they be? It seems that more people are outdoors, enjoying nature. With less work, some have more time to exercise. Less traffic has taken pollutants out of the air, reducing smog. Children home from school presents challenges to parents, but it also means parents and children spend more quality time together. Closed stores means we spend less money on (possibly superfluous) material goods. We eat more (healthy) home cooked meals. We get to listen to more music, or read an extra book or two. There is time now to do that house renovation that’s been on the back burner for a few years. I have heard of a number of instances in which members in our congregation are ‘dusting off’ old hobbies and discovering a renewed creativity: quilting, in one case; and in two other homes, members have (re)started ‘fine arts’ painting.

This last example makes me think of Isaiah 61.3, the image of the Lord making beauty out of ashes. Isaiah spoke these words to people in exile; they had lost everything and were at the mercy of their captors. Out of a crisis that can produce darkness and uncertainty, God is at work making something beautiful. (This is literally happening for those who have taken up painting). And how is God going to accomplish this transforming work in our lives? Read the previous verses, Isaiah 61.1-2: “The Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has appointed me, to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the broken hearted and to proclaim that captives will be releases and prisoners be freed...” These are the words Jesus used to announce the beginning of his public ministry. And this Easter Sunday – even under the weight of a pandemic – we proclaim Jesus fulfilled his prophetic mission. Out of the dark grave life is bursting forth. In glorious resurrection light we know that God is making beauty out of ashes.

- Pastor Tony


April 5, 2020

Often in my conversations with others about Bible reading, he or she will say something like, “I’ve read that passage many times over the course of my life, but recently it has taken on new meaning, or I see it in a different light.” I find the same. As we experience new things in life or simply mature, the Bible continues to enlighten and inform; maturing in life causes us to see the passage with new or nuanced meaning. This is no less true with the Covid-19 crisis. I’m finding our experience with this pandemic is opening up or uncovering Bible truths that have previously been buried.

This is no less the case with Palm Sunday. What does this health crisis say about our understanding of what went on when Jesus entered Jerusalem that last week of his earthly life? “Hosanna!” the crowds called out as he entered on the donkey; “Save us, O Son of David!” That Sunday was rife with kingdom expectations. The critical issue was, however, what does one understand by ‘kingdom’? Apparently, Jesus did not bring the kingdom many were expecting, for within a week they were seeking to crucify him.

So in the midst of this world health crisis, I am again exploring the central truth of the Kingdom of God among us. Jesus began his public ministry with the announcement, “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near!” (Mark 1.15) In Luke 12.32 Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” On another occasion, he said that the kingdom is not something that can be observed (when people say, ‘Here it is! or ‘There it is!’) for the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17.21). And at his trial under Pilate, Jesus told him that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18.36 )

How does the kingdom look in world in which the coronavirus and all its related implications (present and future) have captivated our attention? In a sense we are just at the beginning, or so we are told; what might the health, political, social, financial/economic, and emotional fall out be over the next months, maybe years? And for us who walk with the Lord, who proclaim his kingdom here, how does the kingdom manifest itself in this time? How do we experience the rule of Jesus? How do we proclaim and embody the reign of God’s grace? More specifically, how might the practice of social distancing actually help clarify and maybe deepen our appreciation for others? How might self-isolating at home with our families strengthen our awareness of one another as members of the one body of Christ?

Whatever answers we discover to such questions – easy or challenging – we move into the future in faith that the one who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey that Palm Sunday amid enthusiastic acclamation is alive today and will lead us through his Spirit until his kingdom comes in all its fullness.

- Pastor Tony

March 29, 2020

Someone on the news said that this health crisis that has engulfed the globe has created conditions of life that are worse than the Second World War. I am not sure, since I was not alive in the 1940’s, however I do find myself thinking about stories of the war a lot these days; comparisons do seem to keep coming to mind.

One comparison is how important communication is. The Nazi’s tried to confiscate all radios from all Dutch homes, so no one would know the news; the occupied would be isolated from the broader community. When a platoon was captured, the first person they removed or confined was the radio operator (so I have heard). The spiritual radio broadcasts of C.S. Lewis in England were a source of inspiration for many during difficult times. And the voice of Prime Minister Winston Churchill crackling over the radio in the dark of night while London was being bombed brought hope, strength, and resolve to millions in their battle against evil. Words that share thoughts, prayers, support, and encouragement – words that foster connection are so critical in the crisis we find ourselves in.

Jesus was a very powerful and effective communicator. His words took deep and complex spiritual truths and expressed them in ways that anyone interested could understand. For example: The Kingdom of God (complex) is like a host giving a banquet (everyday); or, the truth (complex) will set you free (everyday thought). His words are powerful to comfort: come to me if you are tired, and I will give you rest. What is so reassuring is that Jesus is among us now, speaking his word, communicating with us, through his Spirit. Before he left his disciples and ascended to heaven, he promised the Spirit, which would come and remind them of all he had taught them. This Spirit would guide us in the truth (John 16.12-15).

Keith Doornbos, a pastor who leads the Renewal Ministries, called this time “Our finest Hour” in one of his talks. He means this time of darkness is an opportunity for the church of Jesus to shine the Gospel light of hope, comfort, and compassion. Keith borrowed this term from the great speeches of Winston Churchill – those late night radio broadcasts that gave the English and the world a ray of hope as the Nazi juggernaut threatened to enshroud the world in terror, suffering, and fear. Churchill ended one speech with these words: “We may find that the final extension of a baleful domination (the Third Reich) will pave the way to a broader solidarity of all people than we could ever have planned had we not marched through the fire.”

This sounds similar to what we read in Peter: “In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while he will restore, support and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.” (I Peter 5.10). What powerful words!

Let’s keep communicating!

- Pastor Tony

March 22, 2020

The coronavirus crisis has caused us to move away from our Lent series, Friends of God: Sacrificial Friendship and Mental Wellness. However, as I prepare messages in light of the current health situation, I find there is indeed some overlap. For example, one Lent message was to focus on stress and anxiety, which is indeed pertinent in our concerns that press upon us now. Another area related to both mental health and today’s situation is the act of listening. Listening is absolutely critical to good friendship, and good friendship is critical to getting us through the Covid-19 crisis. Even as we practice social distancing, we still intend to communicate with each other through means available. So, here are a few tips about active and effective listening. (Thanks to counselor Harry Van Belle for his insights).

One, adopt a listening attitude. An active listening friend genuinely wants to hear what the other has to say. If you are in the presence of the person, establish consistent eye contact, and let your facial expression communicate a desire to engage.

Two, be quiet. Let the one talking talk. Pauses or moments of silence are okay – do not feel you need to fill those times with words. Give your storyteller time to formulate their thoughts and find words to express their feelings.

Three, ask open ended questions. Rather than questions that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, converse with leading comments and questions like, “Tell me about yourself? What happened next? How did/do you feel about it? Can you explain your thoughts to me? What are your plans?”

Four, listen with empathy. Try to understand what the person is feeling; something that is often not overtly expressed with words, but perceived ‘between the lines.’ Try to imagine being in their shoes as they are expressing themselves.

Five, avoid evaluative or judgmental comments. Resist trying to express your own opinion or disagreement. To listen is to try and understand what is being said, not formulating one’s own perspective on the topic or issue.

Six, at the appropriate time paraphrase what the person has said. You could say, “So, if I get what you are saying you are telling me...?” Or “Let me see if I am following you, are you saying...?” In this way your friend knows you are listening, and it can clear up any misperceptions.

Finally, relax. Don’t be too anxious about how you are doing as a listener. Just attend to your friend as she or he is telling their story. People who are lonely or in distress have a deep need to talk about their struggles and share their thoughts – it is therapeutic. Personally, I feel I underestimate the power and blessing of an active listening ear. Let’s practice these tips as we listen to each other, and listen to the Lord as we travel together on this unfamiliar path.

- Pastor Tony

March 15, 2020

No meanderings this week, but here is a message from Council:

As a Council and as a congregation we want to be vigilant about the possible spread of germs and potential illness. Thus we are taking measures to help protect one another, such as reduced handshakes, sanitizer availability (while supply lasts), and possibly cancelling or postponing meetings. To date we are continuing to meet on Sunday mornings, and certainly hope we may carry on doing so through this health crisis. We will stay informed through the Alberta health authorities as we move forward. Thank for your understanding and cooperation.

- Council

March 8, 2020

The idea and experience of friendship seems to have changed to some degree in the era of Facebook. It seems through social media you can have countless friends who ‘like’ you. It may depend on our definition of ‘friend’, but are these individuals really our friends? Aren’t they more like contacts and perhaps acquaintances? According to what the Bible depicts as friends (think of Jonathan and David, Naomi and Ruth, Paul and Timothy), it seems that friends mean a relationship that was intimate and deep; people who know us – our thoughts on numerous life matters and issues, our feelings, our personal histories and experiences, our dreams, values, struggles, questions...in other words they may like us, but they also love us. How many of our online friends know us this way?

Drew Hunter, in his book Made for Friendship, says that friendship of the biblical kind offers a number of blessings, which he calls ‘the unique joy of real friendship’ (page 59f). One, friendship doubles our joys. An inexplicable atmosphere of joy and well-being often settles over a gathering of longtime friends. The joy we have in our hearts is increased when we get to share it with those we love. Two, friendship halves our sorrows. Friends help ease our difficulties and troubles by sharing the burden with us through their presence and their words. Third, friends help us figure out life issues through their counsel, offered from a context of knowing our personalities and our histories. “...the sweetness of a friend comes through earnest counsel,’ (Proverbs 27.9). Friends are sounding boards and sources of experiential and learned wisdom. Fourth, friends strengthen our good resolves. They encourage us to follow through on good ideas and fulfill noble intentions. Stated another way, friends help us make the world a better place. Fifth, friends shape our character. We choose our friends, and then they influence us and are used of God to shape who we become. Through the power of affections, we become more like who we love. Finally, sixth, friends make us less weird; they iron out the more obnoxious wrinkles in our personality. They help us learn how to relate to other people and our world. This is not to say a friend removes all our unique features or idiosyncrasies. Rather he or she celebrates and enjoys our particularities, even as they smooth our characters. Something like stones in a river, each stone retains its unique shape and colour, even as the water smooths the edges.

Thank the Lord for friends!

- Pastor Tony

March 1, 2020

Ray Oldenberg, an ethnologist, postulated that we are defined and shaped primarily by three places as we go about living our lives: home, work, and a third place for community experiences. That third place can be a variety of venues, such as a gym or fitness establishment, school, a sports bar, a bridge or chess club, a library, a dog park...It is a third place in which we connect with others in a different way (that is, other than home or work). Oldenburg explains that such a place has the following characteristics: It is neutral ground; it is inclusive and promotes social equality; conversation is the central activity; it is frequented by regulars and welcomes new comers; it is typically a nonpretentious, homey place; and it fosters a playful mood.

As I read this list I can’t help but think of the church. Even if it does not provide a complete description, should not all of these characteristics apply to the church? Is the church not such a third place? Leonard Sweet, a professor of Christianity and culture, says that the church used to be such a place, for centuries: it was a meeting place, a sacred space where the community gathered for governing, mourning, for celebrating, for relationship building (The Gospel According to Starbucks, pg132). Sweet argues that over the past several decades (in a movement that actually has roots in Europe in the 1700’s), the church has lost this position. It has become increasingly less relational and more propositional. That is, it has become more interested in articulating transcendent truth and doctrine from the pulpit and less attentive to building connections and relationships. According to Sweet, “The church lost its credibility as a place of sacred relationship when it chose to specialize in formulating and advancing a better spiritual argument,” (pg.132).

Do you agree with Professor Sweet? He may be generalizing a bit, but still I think his observation is worth noting. If anything, it can be a cautionary reminder that Jesus gathered and gathers the church to be first of all in reconciled relationship with the Father and in fellowship with each other; before we are a repository of doctrinal truth, we are a community of believers who live bound together in love. As Drew Hunter writes in his book Made for Friendship, for many, becoming a Christian brings us into a network of new relationships. Churches can serve relational feasts in a society in which many find themselves in a friendship famine. Where is your ‘third place’? Your condo social committee or curling club may be one of them, but I hope it is also your church community.

- Pastor Tony


February 23, 2020

Many years ago I was reading a biography of Martin Luther, the protestant Reformer. One comment on his life the author noted has stuck with me because at the time it sounded like an odd thing to say about a person. He said, something like, ‘Luther was able to have good friends.’ Over the years I have come to understand and appreciate that comment more and more. It says something about a person if they have good friends, especially friends for a long time. What exactly does it say about that person? We will not answer that now, because we will be exploring that question during our Lent series. But here are a few quotations about friendship to get us reflecting on the topic.

- “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jesus)

- “The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” Exodus 33.11

- “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.” Proverbs 16.28

- “One who has unreliable friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18.24

- “No longer do I call you servants...I have called your friends.” (Jesus)

- “To be a Christian is to know Jesus – and to be known by him – as a dear friend” (Drew Hunter)

- “An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels.” Proverbs 18.1

- “Let there be no other purpose in friendship than the deepening of the spirit.” (Kahlil Gibran)

- “If you ask me what’s best in my life, I’m going to give you names.” (Drew Hunter)

According to St. Augustine, friends are “essential to life”. That might sound a bit exaggerated. Is it not possible to live without friends? I mean, really live, the way God ordained it? I wonder.

- Pastor Tony

February 16, 2020

A cornerstone Bible text for the denominational Renewal Lab leadership is Acts 2.42-46. It describes life in the New Testament church, and serves as a model for any church since then in terms of a vision for who they and we want to be: a community in which worship and praise of God takes place, members support one another in their needs, pray for one another, instruct each other in the Way, and have fellowship together. The passage ends with the observation that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. The church community is to be a place in which people can find a home, a safe place to be nourished in love, faith, and knowledge. If you were to look at the website for the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA), you would find that its vision is to be a “Home to Grow in Faith” with the invitation, “There’s a place for you here.”

As I reflect on this, the word Hospitality keeps coming to mind. In biblical culture, both Old and New Testament, the practice of hospitality seems deeply ingrained. The Israelites had strict laws and norms about being hospitable to strangers (Deuteronomy 10.18,19; Leviticus 19.33-34; Psalm 87; Isaiah 56.3-7), and both Jesus and Paul told stories and gave encouragement to practice hospitality (Matthew 25.34-40;Luke 5.27-31; 7.36; 19.1-9;Romans 12.1; Titus 1.8). The Greek word for hospitality (philoxenia) is very instructive; it literally means ‘love of strangers’. It is the opposite of zenophobia, which is ‘fear of strangers’. As it turns out, hospitality is and can be a major way in which we reach out to others; or we might say, hospitality is a fantastic and very natural way to practice evangelism. By opening our homes and our hearts to strangers, we share the love of Jesus through conversation, giving our time and attention, food, and sharing a warm kitchen or cozy living room. By making room at the table, we can follow Jesus’ call to teach what he has taught us, and make disciples.

Jesus not only taught this, he modelled it. It appears as one of his main ways of getting his message out. He invited people to eat with him, to spend time with him (Matthew 9.10; Luke 10.38-42; 14.1; 19.1-10; John 12.2). When the church follows his example - that is, when the church is a community where strangers can come and find a safe place to experience the love and grace of God, it should not surprise us that such a church will grow! It is to such communities the Lord “adds daily those who are being saved.”

-Pastor Tony

February 2, 2020

This past week many people remembered and celebrated the 75th year anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration death camp of Auschwitz (Poland). Photographs of mostly Jewish prisoners in these camps remain to tell us of the horrific and despicable crimes and inhumane indignities imposed upon fellow human beings. We may wonder how it was possible for such atrocities to be committed. However, one of the speakers at the ceremony at Auschwitz, a Polish journalist holocaust survivor named Marian Turski, reminded the audience that the Third Reich and its evil ideology did not just fall out of the sky out of nowhere in 1939. Rather, it began in the early 1930’s with seemingly innocent signs that said Jews could not sit on a certain park bench or swim in certain swimming pools. Indifference to such discrimination at the beginning marked the stance that remained and eventually ‘allowed’ Hitler to implement the full scale campaign that lead to the murder of millions.

This year we also mark the 75th year anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands (May 5) by Canadian troops. Some of us have had direct experience of the Second World War, having grown up in the Netherlands or Germany. This past week I heard a few stories of that dark time. One was about living on a farm and being a host and refuge for children from the city for years, a place to provide food and protection. Another story was about a pastor preaching in church on a Sunday morning in a Dutch town, stopping mid-sentence to warn the young men sitting in the congregation to exit the building immediately and hide, for he heard German tanks coming down the street. Then the sad story of a Dutch family in the small town who, against the commands of the Nazis, kept a radio to stay informed about the progress of the war. When discovered with their radio they were hauled away, never to be seen again.

These stories and Marian Turski’s words call us not only to remember, but also not to be indifferent when we see discrimination today. It starts small and subtle, but can lead to conditions and practices that violate the message of the Gospel and the model of Jesus. To help us remember, Jerry Bouma, a friend and current honorary Consul of the Netherlands for Northern Alberta, has given us lapel pins to commemorate the diamond anniversary of the liberation. If you would like one, you are welcome to pick one up in a basket by the church mailboxes. May the justice and peace of the Kingdom be among us!

- Pastor Tony Maan

January 26, 2020

Charles Spurgeon, the popular 19th century London preacher, once said, “Prayer does not fit us for greater works; prayer is the greater work.” Quite an insight! But what does it mean? The Heidelberg Catechism, that 16th century document that serves as interpreter of the Bible and Christian life and practice, may help us answer the question. In Question and Answer 115, it talks about prayer as the way in which we are renewed by the Holy Spirit. “...while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image...” And the next Q&A (116) asks, “Why do Christians need to pray?” Part of the answer is, “...because God gives his grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking him for them.”

It seems that prayer is an essential means by which the Holy Spirt does his work in our hearts. When Jesus was praying in the wilderness, facing temptation, he was being prepared, strengthened in his communion with the Father, to engage in public ministry (Luke 4.1f). When he was about to choose his disciples, he spent a night in prayer so the Father through the Spirit could grant him divine wisdom to choose those who were of the Father’s will (Luke 6.12-16). Through our times of prayer the blessing of Christ are applied, our minds are transformed more to reflect His, and the work of renewal is being done. When the Lord brings renewal in his church, the heart of that movement resides not in increased ministries, or giving, or members, or activity – these are all important fruits of renewal – but this is not where renewal happens. It happens in our hearts. It happens in our heartswhen the Spirit is at work as we pray, drawing us closer to the Father, increasing our love for the Son, and nurturing a precious and holy communion among us as his people.

How does revival happen? Only through the Holy Spirit. And according to Spurgeon, the Catechism and the practice of Jesus himself, earnest and constant prayer is the quietly powerful way in which the Spirit works. Yes, prayer IS the greatest work - for the Spirit and for us. Let us be about the greatest work of prayer, and watch the Spirit work!

- Pastor Tony Maan

January 12, 2020

The further I journey along in following Jesus, the more I am finding that for me prayer is less and less about asking God for things. It is about that, of course. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to ask for everything from daily bread to the coming of his Kingdom. Today we will explore a passage about petition: we are called to ask, seek, and knock (Luke 11.9, 10). But even this passage seems to be no less about the God whom we are asking. Furthermore, prayer seems to be as much about listening to that God to whom we pray than about asking for things.

In her book, Speech, Silence, Action!, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott writes helpfully on this dynamic of prayer. “During the past decade I have come to believe that prayer is not a matter of my calling in an attempt to get God’s attention, but of my finally listening to the call of God, which has been constant, patient, and insistent in my inner being. In relationship to God, I am not the seeker, the initiator, the one who loves more greatly. In prayer, as in the whole salvation story unfolded by Scripture, God is reaching out to me, speaking to me, and it is up to me to learn to be polite enough to pay attention. When I do have something to say to God, I am rendering a response to the divine initiative...God speaks, all right. The big question is do I answer, do I respond, to an invitation that is always open.”

Often we pray and wonder whether God is listening and if he is going to answer. In our passage for today Jesus says the Father is always listening and he always answers. That is settled. The question then becomes, “Am I listening to him? Am I seeing the answers he is giving to my prayers in his perfect will?” It is a different way to look at prayer, I admit. Instead of us wondering if God is listening, prayer is about God speaking to us, and maybe sometimes wondering to himself, “Is he/she listening to me?”

- Pastor Tony

January 5, 2020

As the New Year daw ns to begin the third decade in the twenty -first millennium, I find myself trying to put our times into historical context. One historian named Phyllis Tickle has viewed the past since Christ in stages of 500 years. At the first 500 year mark (over the course of the fifth century), the Roman Empire fell as the barbarians invade from the north of Europe and initiated the medieval period. Five hundred years later at around the year 1,000, (1054 CE) the church which had dominated European society experienced a major schism between East and West believers. This resulted in a two forms of Christian theology, worship, and architecture: a western form and an Eastern and Russian Orthodox form. About five hundred years later the Western part of the church experienced the Reformation, which shook the foundations of the church’s authority and resulted in a Protestant church and a Roman Catholic church. And here we are today, in the early 2,000’s, about 500 years after the Reformed movement. We seem to be experiencing major changes, some might say upheavals, in terms of global economic (in)stability and political dynamics, climate change and the environment, gender identity and social norms, surging technology and scientific advances, and certainly lively dialogue about what it means to be a Christian, how this effects one’s relationship with the church, what role the church might play in our rapidly changing society.

My humble observation about these critical periods of transition and unrest is that the church appears to have not only survived, but actually played a key role in each of them. When the empire fell and institutions and infrastructure disintegrated, it was the church (many argue) that was the glue that held communities together and preserved culture. The East-West separation has given us two rich forms of exploring Christian faith and worship, and the Reformation clarified the heart of the Gospel message. In both of these later movements, Christian faith was at the center of the discussion. So, how about the church today and Christian faith in the latest 500 year marker of our changing society? What role will it play?

What might God have in mind for us? One opportunity to explore this is a talk being given at the King’s University on Millennials and Christian faith, (called Renegotiating Faith), Wednesday, January 15. Please see the bulletin ad for further information. Come and be part of the exciting conversation!

- Pastor Tony


Dec 8, 2019

In her sermon called God the Music Lover, Elizabeth Achtemeier proclaims that the Creator of the universe loves sounds. She tells the story of missionary Lesslie Newbigin, who she once heard share the experience of night in the jungles of India. “He (Newbigin) said the dark was full of sounds - the roar of lions and shrieks of jackals and jabbering of monkeys. ‘And,’ asked Newbigin, ‘who hears all these things – there in the depths of the jungle, night after night?” Well God hears them. His creatures sing him songs in the night...”

The sounds of nature are everywhere: bats sound almost ceaselessly to sense their surroundings by sonar; termites make percussive sounds to each other by beating their heads against wood in the dark; fish make sounds by clicking their teeth, blowing air, and drumming with special muscles against tuned inflated air bladders; wolves howl their mournful, haunting songs at dusk; whales, dolphins, and seals communicate with sound waves in their watery worlds; stars actually emit sounds in space; frogs croak; ducks quack; rivers rush; oceans waves swish upon the sandy beach or crash into rocks; winds whirl; leaves flutter, bees buzz, bears growl and lions roar...and we haven’t even mentioned song birds yet.

The earth exults in its Maker with songs of praise, the Bible tells us: “Praise him, sun and moon, Praise him, all stars of night...fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy wind doing his word. The Mountains and all hills, trees of fruit and cedars, wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and winged fowl...Praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.” (Parts of Psalm 148). All of these make a joyful noise to their Maker.

Indeed the sounds of music can do powerful things. Someone once said that Bach’s cantatas are a ‘fifth Gospel.’ Even the composer’s purely instrumental music can have a spiritual impact. One famous convert is Masashi Masuda, who grew up as an agnostic. He identified the beginning of his spiritual journey to hearing the Goldberg Variations performed by Canadian pianist Glen Gould, which have no Scriptural words at all. Masuda now teaches systematic theology at Sophia University in Tokyo.

- Pastor Tony

Dec 1, 2019

Today, we turn our attention to Advent, a time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. This year we will focus on the theme of Peace. Not surprisingly, the Bible refers to peace frequently. In the Old Testament it is known as Shalom – a sense of harmony in relationships between humanity and God, between people in community, and between humanity and creation. This sense of wholesome peace is present and elaborated in the New Testament. Here are just a few key Bible passages:

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34.14

“Submit to God and be at peace with him...” Job 22.21

“The God of peace be with you all.” Romans 15.33

“You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” Acts 10.36

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” John 14.27

“For he himself is our peace...his purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.” Ephesians 2.14,15

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4.7

“And the fruit of the Spirit is ...peace...” Galatians 5.22

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26.3

“And he will be our peace...” Micah 5.5

All these passages are trustworthy and true, because Jesus, God with us, is our Prince of Peace. May the peace of our Lord be with us all this advent season!

- Pastor Tony

Nov 24, 2019

Maureena Fritz, in her devotional commentary on Exodus, writes, “”...sharing stories of God’s gracious deeds is important. In the telling and retelling of stories, memories are kept alive, an identity as a people is maintained, and hope for the future is built. Without storytelling, the wonders of God’s gracious deeds would be forgotten; people would lose their identity. With no memory of God’s mercy and justice, they would have no hope for the future.” Through stories our worldview is informed and fashioned and our character is shaped. It is a matter of finding our place in the story of God’s grace.

I hear some people today wondering about the effects new communication technologies are having on our ability to remember and tell stories. Jerry Bouma, a poet friend, wrote about this in a poem called, The Digital Men.

We are the digital men,

Lost in our devices,

Our eyes focused and fixed,

On glass-cased universes,

Fingers a flutter,

Searching for content and data,

Interesting but meaningless

Our minds are set in worlds for away,

In places with no here or there.

We have friends but no kindred spirits,

Contacts but no connections

We do not know noon, Or morning or evening;

Night could be day Or day could be night; it does not matter.

The caress of a warm breeze, Does not touch us

The hue of the evening sun Makes no impression.

Our bodies like rusty buoys Float but are secured

In stilted harbours. Our self-appointed chains Weigh heavy

And keep us from our perpetual ephemeral pursuits.

Symbols without letters, Letters without words,

Words without narratives, Narratives without stories,

Stories without listeners.

We are digital men, Reduced to a zero-one world.

Jerry may have something. Or, of course, we can use our new communication abilities to indeed let stories stay alive in our hearts and share them with others. My prayer is that our consideration of Exodus and Hebrews has affirmed the basic biblical story, the one that gives us a God-inspired worldview and calls us to live in light of it. At the risk of redundancy, that story-relayed world view can be summed up as liberation from slavery/sin by the blood of Jesus to live a life of peace with God (or, Sin, Salvation, Service). No matter how we might put it into words, this verse in Hebrews states well our approach in light of the biblical story: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and sin that easily entangles. And let us fix our eyes of Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross...” 12.1,2)

- Pastor Tony

Nov 17, 2019

It is probably a huge understatement to say that we are living in interesting times. One might say confusing times. Take the whole question of identity ‘politics’ for example. It seems that today we in our society (frequently in social media, but in other forms as well) are quick to identify ourselves, whether in terms of gender, class, race, religion and age (others?). At the same time - this is the confusing part - there is a ‘push’ to erase any form of identity: to state that one is non-gendered, or to be ‘colour blind’ with respect to race, or in terms of Christianity, to declare that, ‘I am just a Christian’ with no other identity in terms of the particulars about one’s Christian faith.

I find this last one among Christians to be quite popular in our day. It seems cool to dissuade any association with the institutional church and proclaim that one is beginning a revolution of being a ‘real’ Christ-follower living in ‘genuine’ community. But we all come from somewhere, and we all have our subjective understanding of our Christian faith based on our interpretations of the Bible and life experience. Brian Bork, a chaplain at the University of Waterloo, compares it to a car. If I say ‘I am a car’ to you, this would certainly be an incomplete description; make, model, year, engine size...are all needed to identify what kind of car I am. So it is with being a Christian, if we want to be honest about our faith identity with each other.

Of course, we know that differences in our understanding of Christianity as witnessed by countless church denominations can and has caused division and much worse. We must repent of this and do all we can to heal and mend relationships. However, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. After all, the church is not a human idea, but Jesus’ creation (Cf. Matthew 16.13-20; Acts 2.43-47; Ephesians 2.12-21; I Timothy 3-13; I Peter 2.1-9). “The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity,” says Pastor Kevin DeYoung in his blog. In fact, the church is the very body of Christ in the world today, even if she is not perfect yet. When we live in the Spirit of Jesus, we do experience true community in the church.

So, if you’re considering, don’t give up on the church! It’s an integral part of the story of God’s work of redeeming this world. And it’s a story that helps form our identity.

- Pastor Tony

(Pastor Tony is away Oct 27 and Nov 3)

October 20, 2019

In our exploration of Exodus we discern the story of salvation in dramatic events: confrontation with Pharaoh, pass over and liberation from slavery, the Law given at Mt Sinai, sustenance through daily food from heaven (manna), and the building of the tabernacle, the dwelling of God on earth. All of these events are part of the history of redemption, the grand story of the Lord reaching into our lives to save us. The Lord’s Supper is an integral part of this storied journey. As we celebrate the sacrament today, I would invite you to reflect on this poem, Covenant Celebration, by Nancy Todd, which wonderfully expresses the grand narrative of the Bible. Pastor Tony Covenant Celebration,

We drink the cup

Of clinging red—

Sin-stained glass

For God’s blood.

As we stare into the clotted cup,

The wine becomes

Ancient pages

About

Garden and fruit

Serpent and sacrifices

Flood and rainbows

Jews and manna

An Exodus and a Cross—

About

A chosen race

The body of Christ

A peculiar people

Living stones

Gathered at the marriage supper of the Lamb

Feasting on the Living Bread and Wine

Offering praise

To a Lion

To a Shepherd

To a Rock

To a Morning Star

To Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

- Pastor Tony


Oct 13, 2019 Thanksgiving

“...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2.12,13.

On this thanksgiving weekend our hearts are filled with gratitude for all the blessings we receive from the hand of our benevolent God. Not least - indeed the most precious - of these is the gift of Jesus, his Son, and the blessing of eternal life in his Name. In Philippians the Apostle Paul urges us to ‘work out our salvation’ (2.12). Isn’t salvation a gift, that is, free by grace, and not at all merited by works? Yes, it is. We are saved by grace alone, a gift of God (Ephesians 2.8). (A true gift by its very nature is free, no strings attached). What Paul is encouraging is our active participation in God’s redeeming work in us: fostering Christlikeness by laying hold of grace, trusting in the work of Jesus, cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, and rejoicing in the fellowship of believers.

For, “God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” The word work here, used two times, is the (Greek) word for ‘energy’ (energeo); it signifies dynamic energy God is using to effectively complete a task. Alex Motyer, in his commentary on this passage, conveys the sense of God’s working well: It is effective in its purpose, the outcome is guaranteed - our redemption is sure. The word, energeo, also signifies completeness: we may fail in both will and act to live in line with the Lord’s will, but the Spirit is ceaselessly at work to recreate our wills and impart his own capacity to work effectually at being Christlike.

Our role in ‘working out our salvation’ is being responsive and sensitive to the Spirit applying Christ’s work in us, and following his Word in loving obedience. Paul pictures it as his life being poured out as an offering of thanksgiving. In the Old Testament the priest would pour out wine or olive oil on an Alter as a final act of thanks to the Lord (the cherry on top? Icing on the cake?). On this Thanksgiving Day let us pour out our lives as an act of gratitude for the gift of salvation we have so generously been given by our gracious God.

- Pastor Tony

Oct 6, 2019

As we begin our reading and reflections on the books of Exodus and Hebrews, we will discover that Moses is a dominant leader. His call to serve God in leading Israel out of slavery, through forty years of wilderness wandering, and to the brink of the promised land alone make him a fascinating person. Other actions also point to his extraordinary role: through Moses the Lord gave Israel the Law, through Moses God spoke to his people, through Moses the Israelites learned how to function as a just society, and under the guidance of this man the tabernacle was built – a place for Jehovah to dwell among his people. Indeed, Moses led the Hebrews through the most formative years of their life. Under his leadership they were birthed as a nation and learned how to live in covenant relationship with Jehovah, the God who saved them.

The name ‘Moses’ is interesting in itself, and reminds us of how names in the past often identified the character and role of the individual who held the name. When the princess of Egypt drew the baby boy out of the Nile River, she named him Moses, which is a word play on the Hebrew meaning of “drawn out of water”, written as m-sh-sh (Exodus 2.10). At least, that is how the Israelites understood the story. Most likely, given historical facts, the Egyptian princess did not know the Hebrew language. It is highly possible that the name she gave the newfound infant was actually of Egyptian origin, Mose, which is the base word for ‘to be born’ (verb) or ‘son’ (noun). But to Hebrew ears that heard the story (and every Hebrew child did), this name sounds like moses, which is the word that sounds like, ‘to be drawn from water’. Thus unwittingly, the Egyptian princess gave the boy a name that would foreshadow his destiny. Not only was he drawn from the river, but years later he would be the very one chosen by God to draw the enslaved Israelite people through the Red Sea to freedom.

But alas, Moses, for all his might and moral magnitude, was but a forerunner of one even greater, the author of Hebrews tells us. While Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, Jesus was faithful over all God’s house as a son (2.5,6). Moses leads us to the edge of the promised land, Jesus leads us into it. Or more accurately, he earns it for us – just like his name says.

- Pastor Tony

September 29, 2019

We might find ourselves scratching our head at times when wondering about the people Jesus choose to be his disciples. Look no further than Matthew, a tax collector. If Jesus was trying to reach his people, the Jews, with the news that he was the chosen Messiah, surely he should not have chosen a man who was hated by the Jews as a dishonest traitor! But alas, his ways are higher than our ways. In the end, Matthew proved to be an effective choice, even writing the Gospel that proclaimed Jesus as Messiah for two thousand years (and counting) to countless generations.

It seems to be a very regular pattern in the Bile, this choosing of the ‘unfit’ to fulfil the plan of God. Think of Moses, who had a speech impediment. Think of Jeremiah, who felt he was way too young to be a prophet. Then there was Ruth, a foreign widow chosen to bear forth the lineage of the royal house of David. And yes, David, a youngest son (not typically chosen as king), became the greatest Old Testament king. Remember Jonah, chosen to preach to Nineveh, but had no heart for it? A young, insecure woman/girl, Esther, was called to stand up to the powers of the Persian throne to save her people. Jesus engaged a Samaritan woman of a troubled past to witness to his mission. He called an impetuous, volatile Peter to lead his church. One more, consider Paul: a fire-breathing, persecuting hater of Christians, is chosen to be the first great missionary of the fledging church. I am quite sure that those today who are involved in branding and marketing would have given God a failing grade when it comes to choosing people to fulfil his redemptive work on earth.

But here we are. Over the past two millennia the kingdom has continued to come and grow. And amazingly, it has come primarily through ordinary, even faulty people like you and me, just going about our daily call to seek first his kingdom and live in his righteousness, and trust that he will bring all things in his good time. Indeed, I believe it is precisely through our weaknesses that God’s glory shines, as Paul himself writes (II Corinthians 4.7). So let every and each one of us let our good deeds shine out for all to see, which may involve some weaknesses and vulnerabilities, that everyone will praise the Father in heaven (Matthew 5.16) .

- Pastor Tony

September 22, 2019

One of the best books I have found on the topic of reaching out with the gospel is How to Reach Secular People, by George Hunter III (1992). Thoroughly researched and well written, Hunter profiles people today who do not know the God of the Bible, and then in practical terms describes what sort of Christians and churches are able to reach such people. Part of the profile of people who are far from God are that they are indifferent, ignorant, and isolated. People who are far from God are not necessarily angry at the church, but they are indifferent: that is, they do not feel the church has relevance to their lives. Secondly they are ignorant of the content and message of the Bible; biblically illiterate, they would not be able to tell the difference between the Old and New Testament, cannot identify more than about three Bible stories (maybe they know about Noah, David and Goliath, and the Good Samaritan), and Jesus was just a nice guy that lived a long time ago. Third, people who are far from God feel isolated. Secularization in our society and advanced technology has contributed to increasing alienation and loneliness.

In his research Hunter found that Christians and churches with certain characteristics are able to connect with such people who are distanced from God. Not surprisingly, these features correspond with a nonbelievers’ profile. They overcome indifference in the non-churched neighbor by liking them, listening to their needs and sense of emptiness, and show how the church can address those needs. They address the biblical ignorance by offering opportunities to learn about the Bible and explore the gospel message through mentoring, Bible study, classes, and small groups. And third, responsive churches address the problem of isolation by offering community; a place to connect, to build friendships, and to feel that they belong to a group that is seeking to make a difference in the lives of others and in the world.

Of course, Hunter’s book has much, much more information, but this is a taste. Let me mention just a few other good books on Christian outreach that you may want to check out: Out of the Salt Shaker and into the World, Rebecca Manley Pippert (2005), Just Walk Across the Room, Bill Hybels (2006); Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer, (1961). If you would like to borrow any of these, just ask!

- Pastor Tony

September 8, 2019

This past week I dusted off an ‘old’ book (published in 1948) on my shelf called Reformed Evangelism. The title may sound like an oxymoron (a contradiction in terms); after all some have said (wrongly, in my opinion), “If God has already chosen his elect, what is the point of evangelism?” However, as this book clearly shows, outreach is an integral part of a Reformed understanding of the Bible. Of course, two centuries ago Jesus overtly taught and modeled a life of reaching out to those who did not know God (Matthew 5.14-16; 14.13-14; 28.18-20; Luke 15). The Heidelberg Catechism calls disciples of Jesus prophets, who share his word with the world (Q&A 32) and instructs that we are called to act and speak in good ways so that, “ our neighbours may be won over to Christ”(Q&A 86). Back in a day (the early 20th century) when we might feel more people in general were Christian and the need to reach out was minimal, our church general assembly, Synod (1932) agreed that , “The rampant neopaganism of our day and land requires that every one of our churches enter upon evangelistic activities.” Reformed Evangelism encourages that it is the calling of each believer to reach out: “...each member of the church must be a witness of the crucified, exalted Christ the Saviour of the world. He/she is called to bring the gospel to the people with whom he/she comes in contact...”

It is indeed biblical to say that God has chosen his children (Genesis 12.1-3; Isaiah 43.1; John 15.16; Ephesians 1.1-14). But this in no way excludes or even diminishes the need for evangelism and the call to reach our neighbours with the good news and love of Jesus. The harvest is ready and plentiful, Jesus tells all his disciples (us too), it is time to go and gather (Luke 10.2). He sent seventy disciples in groups of two to gather in his chosen. It is exactly through evangelism that God gathers and saves his people. That ‘old’ book, Reformed Evangelism is a worthy exposition (only a little dated) on the multiple ways in which the believer and the church may be faithful to this calling. It happens in numerous ways and contexts: in Sunday School and youth ministries, in pastoral and elder and deacon visits, in evangelistic worship services and open air services, in our schools and places of work and neighbourhoods, and through the distribution of Bibles and gospel tracts.

One last pertinent point from the book spoken as if just yesterday: Filled with the Holy Spirit, “when the members with burning hearts proclaim the praises of Him Who called them out of darkness into His wonderful light, they will set the church body aflame for the glorious work of evangelism.”

- Pastor Tony

September 1, 2019

Jesus seemed to be unusually in touch with nature. Along with the numerous plant images he used (vines, trees, seeds, flowers, wheat) he referred to over twenty animals. Birds were of special note: “Consider the sparrow...” When we do so, we quickly learn that birds are amazing creatures. They come in such colorful variety – from penguins to ostriches to hummingbirds – and can do such amazing things. For example an eagle can spot a rabbit in the bush three kilometers away; a sparrow’s little heart beats 800 times a minute (the human hearts beats about 70 times a minute); and an airline pilot once spotted a griffon vulture effortlessly riding air currents at 37,900 feet!

Here are two bird stories, one sad and the other a little lighter. In the 1950’s Chinese dictator Mao Tse-tung decreed that the tree sparrow should be eradicated from the land because it was eating too much seed, robbing people of their food. The campaign was successful and drastically reduced the sparrow population. As a result locusts and other crop-eating insects flourished with no sparrows to eat them. Massive crop failure resulted, and 15-20 million people perished by starvation. Who would have thought, a little bird(s) being so critical to the food supply?

The other story is a personal one. In January 1991 our family was moving from Brooks (AB) to Edmonton. Our canary, Burton, was making the trip with us. A blizzard set in, minus 30 degrees and howling wind and snow. Highway 2 was closed between Calgary and Edmonton, so we had to stay in a hotel in Calgary. The hotel did not allow pets. A canary will not survive a night in a van at minus thirty. What to do? The problem was complicated by the fact that Burton loved to sing, and would most likely not change his habits just because he was in a hotel. Well, without going into details, I will just say that the bird made it to Edmonton. Some stealth and a twinge of guilt, a very big winter coat and a surprisingly cooperative bird were all part of the solution. God was watching over us, including Burton, and made a way. His eye really IS on the sparrow!

- Pastor Tony


August 18, 2019

In the Bible the tree represents, among other things, fruitfulness. This fruitfulness comes in a variety of ways. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a seed that grows into a large tree and become a protective place where birds can raise their young. In the Psalms and Prophets the tree, drawing its strength from soil and water, produces products such as aesthetic beauty, wood for building shelters, oxygen or healthy air to breath, and shade from the hot summer sun.

In Revelation the trees bear a superabundance of literal fruit, a different fruit each month of the year. This is miraculous. However, even before the new heaven and earth, I am struck by how fruitful trees are already today. Here is a partial list of the fruits trees bless us with: plums, grapes, pears, apricots, apples, avocados, cashews, cherries, pineapples, bananas, berries, oranges, nectarines, mandarins, grapefruit, tamarind, feijoa, cranberries, lemons, figs, mangos, limes, olives, passion fruit, chestnuts, papaya, starfruit, soursop, pitaya, durian, Brazil nuts, kiwi, breadfruit, guava, walnuts, kumquat, lychee, loquat, mangosteen, plantain, hazelnuts, persimmon, sapodilla, sapote, sugar apples, pummelo, quince, almonds, coconuts, rambutan, watermelon, pepperfruit, and I’m sure I missed a few.

The variety of colour and shape, to say nothing of the riot of taste, that all of these fruits represent is truly delightful. And yet, as noted, it is only a foretaste of the way trees will produce in the new earth. We have so much to look forward to! And we have a rich sampling already now.

- Pastor Tony

July 28, 2019

When we think of the great rivers of the world - the magnificent Mississippi, the amazing Amazon, the regal Rhine – our little ‘mighty Sturgeon’ probably does not come to mind. Who of us hasn’t made fun of our St. Albert river - wondering why we even call it a river at all (stream, or creek might be more accurate, we say)? In the Bible the river is, among other things, a symbol of abundance, fertility, and blessing.

Here are a number of Biblical references. I invite you to read them and reflect on the message they bring, each one presenting its own nuanced meaning as it relates to a river. What does the passage say about the nature of a river? What fruit or effect does the river produce?

“You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain...” Psalm 65.9

“Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.” Ezekiel 47.9

“On that day living water will flow out of Jerusalem, half of it east to the Dead Sea and half of it west to the Mediterranean Sea, in summer and in winter.” Zechariah 14.8

“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within them.” John 7.38

“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; and he will lead them to springs of living water.” Revelation 7.17

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” Revelation 22.17

Our Sturgeon River may not be the splendorous Seine or the great Ganges of India, but at least, the next time we canoe it or walk along it, let it remind us of the eternally abundant river of God.

- Pastor Tony

July 21, 2019

We all have a worldview. That is, a mental framework or a way of understanding the world and how it works, and also our place in it. Some people are more aware of it than others, and may be able to articulate it better than others, but we all have one. A worldview is a helpful way to navigate life. Not to have one is like going onto a baseball field to play the game without a playbook or having a game plan. To play the game, let alone win, one needs an understanding of the game and an approach to play it.

Over time hundreds of worldviews have been proposed. Every religion has one. In the west we are familiar with worldviews such as secularism and humanism. How about materialism – a worldview which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature and all things are a result of material interactions, even consciousness? Then there is militarism, the worldview that nations are perpetually in a state of competition and thus it is necessary for survival to maintain military power and capabilities. From a Reformed perspective the Christian holds that the scheme of ‘Creation, Fall, Redemption’ is a biblically informed worldview. Or the Heidelberg Catechism articulates a worldview as ‘Sin, Salvation, Service’; this is the lens through which many look at the world and interpret their experiences.

The Gospel writer John had a worldview too: It begins with Creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God...through him all things were made...in him was life, and that life was the light to all humanity.” (John 1.1-4). John also includes the fallen nature of our world, which he calls the darkness (John 1.5); throughout the Gospel it is represented by such things as sin and sickness, social exclusion, hunger, spiritual blindness, animosity, and death. The next part of John’s worldview is redemption and healing. Because God loved the world he wanted to save it (John 3.16).

So the Word became flesh and dwelled among us (John 1.14), he forgave sins, healed the sick, raised the dead, and welcomed all people no matter gender or social class or ethnic background to receive the gracious love of the Father. Restored to communion with the Father, all believers are called to serve in the world for the Kingdom (John 17.13-24). Loved of God, we love him and each other, and so follow him by feeding his sheep (John 21.15-19). Creation, Fall, Redemption. Can you see this worldview fleshed out in John?

Have you thought much about your view of the world? What is your world view? And what is your place in it? Questions to ponder as we play the game of life!

- Pastor Tony

July 14, 2019

Recently I came across an article written by an Old Testament (OT) professor, Warren Gage. The lens through which he read the Gospel of John was something I had never come across before. Very intriguing, it conveys how closely the Old and New Testament are connected, and how Jesus is the fulfilment of the Old Testament in so many ways. Professor Gage essentially posits that John used the furnishings and rituals related to the tabernacle/temple to structure and understand the life of Jesus.

In the OT God dwelt in the very midst of Israel, his people, in the tabernacle, while they wandered the desert; later he did so in the temple in Jerusalem. On the annual Day of Atonement rituals began with the sacrificial lamb, lifted up on the alter of sacrifice. The priest would then come to the laver of cleansing water. Then he went to the table which displayed symbols of God’s daily sustenance (the twelve loaves/manna). He passed by the lampstand that spoke of God’s light, next to the alter of incense where he offered prayers for the people. Finally into the Holy of Holies; the ark of the covenant stood there, representing the throne of God. It was surmounted by figures of two angels, one at the foot and one at the head of the ark, looking down in wonder at the mercy seat. It was sprinkled with blood to indicate the blood of the lamb which cleanses the Lord’s people of sin. In this way the Israelites learned and celebrated reconciliation with God.

These rituals and beliefs anticipate the coming of God with us in Jesus, the incarnation, according to the Gospel of John. The Gospel’s opening words are familiar, the ‘Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1.14); the original word for ‘dwelt ‘is literally ‘tabernacled’: God tabernacled among us.’ And so it begins – John follows the OT days of atonement journey into the Holy of Holies, which is God’s presence here on earth. John the Baptist heralded Jesus as the lamb of God. As a lamb he is lifted up on the cross as an atoning sacrifice (3.14); he offerings spiritual cleansing through life giving water (4.10); he feeds 5,000 with the bread from heaven (6.13); he is the light of the world (9.5-7); he offers prayers of the people (17.1-16).

And he brings us into eternal life in God’s presence through his resurrection: in the empty tomb two angels stood, one at the foot and one at the head, looking at his bodiless grave clothes, sprinkled redeeming blood (20.11-12). The next time you read a part of John’s Gospel, remember the Old Testament tabernacle, and give thanks that Jesus is God who tabernacles with us.

- Pastor Tony

July 7, 2019

We’ve heard the cliché that nothing is certain but death and taxes. Like most sayings, it holds some truth - especially in the case of death. Every human being, no matter culture or language or historical period, has to contemplate and experience death. Our feelings about death, either our own future death or the death of a loved one, are often ambiguous. This may be especially the case for the Christian. Is death the antithesis of life and last enemy to be defeated? Or is death the release from a life of struggle with maladies and sin, the welcome final stop before we enter into eternity?

Perhaps it is a bit or a lot of both. God created us for life, and we love life! There is so much to enjoy in it: community and family, friendship, home, natural beauty, good health, fruitful work and purpose, creativity and a Maker who has redeemed us into truth life on this earth (to name a few). Death brings an end to all this. On the other hand, death for the believer indeed had been defeated, which means it need not be feared. God uses death actually as an instrument in his hand to fulfil his purposes for our lives. Through Jesus the sting of death is gone (I Corinthians 15.55) and we can anticipate our final experience on this old earth as mortals as the final act after which we enter into glory – the presence of the Lord. The Heidelberg Catechism describes the benefits or blessings that death will bring. Our death cannot pay for our sin - Jesus had done that in his death. Rather, our finishing the race of life puts an end to our sinning (and suffering, we might add) and is an entryway into eternal life, says the Catechism (QA42).

It is natural to have anxious thoughts and probably fears when we think about the last breath we will take. Pastor Scott Hoezee, in an article on ‘our final season’, imagines some questions that might come to mind at this point: “Will the Lord make himself large and plain and unmistakable in my last moment or in my final days? Will the promises I have clung to all my life seem more or less real when my end draws to a close?” Our apprehensions are answered by Jesus, who died and, now living, is with us in our final days. As our Shepherd he leads and keeps us through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23) to a place he has prepared for us (John 14.1-4).

- Pastor Tony

June 30, 2019

What words would you use to describe God? Holy, generous, righteous, fair, faithful, all powerful, all knowing, gracious, compassionate are a few that may come to mind. But how about choosing one word? If we were confined to just one word to describe God, which one would you choose? I think I would choose ‘love’.

This certainly appears to be the Apostle John’s word. He, the beloved disciple of Jesus (John 19.26), revealed God this way. In his Gospel we find: ‘For God so loved the world...”(3.16); and, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.” (15.9). Perhaps even more explicitly in his letters: “God is love.” (I John 4.8); “This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4.10); “We love because he first loved us.” (I John 4.19).

Having said this, the Apostle Paul no less taught the presence and saving power of Divine love. In fact, he wrote probably the most famous poem on love ever written, not just in the Bible but in all of history. (And there are practically an infinite number of songs and poems on love in history!) You have no doubt heard it numerous times. I would encourage you to read it here, and pause to reflect on each description of love; how is this aspect of love evident in my life in practical ways?

Love is patient and kind; loves is not jealous or boastful; it is nor arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails...So faith, hope, and love remain; but the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13).

- Pastor Tony

June 16, 2019

For a couple weeks MaryAnn and I were surrounded by the powerful and spectacular beauty on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Not just the sights of glittering water, ridges of mountains in the distant summer haze, orange and purple hued sunsets, a grey whale, majestic cedar and fir trees, but also the sounds of the waves, the cry of an eagle riding the currents, and ubiquitous singing of birds in the early morning.

Not to be outdone, Alberta presented its own beauty: the grand Rocky Mountains, brilliant and endless blue sky, rolling hills of green and endless forest, placid lakes and peaceful rivers, Grizzly bears (2 of them!) and Mountain Sheep.

In the Bible we read that God has made all things beautiful in his time (Ecclesiastes 3.11). Not just in raw nature, but all things: a good story, a smile, a spouse’s touch, a friends company, a child’s question, an Albert Cuyp painting, a Mendelsohn masterpiece, arresting architecture, a tasty meal well shared, a meandering conversation. All of these are gifts of God in which we experience a glimpse of his glory. In fact, the author of Ecclesiastes goes on to say that God has placed eternity in our human hearts, yet we cannot grasp it fully (3.11). Perhaps the experience of beauty in its multifaceted forms in this life whets our appetites for the eternal beauty we will experience when all ugliness will be banished and we enter into the eternal city of Zion in a new heaven and earth.

All this to say we need not necessarily go to the west coast to witness beauty, or even outdoors in Alberta (although we can surely find it here). The Creator’s beauty is everywhere! May we always have eyes to see it!

- Pastor Tony

May 26, 2019

In our Bible passage for today from John 7 we read that the crowds’ response to Jesus was divided: some believed he was the Messiah, the Saviour sent by God, while others did not. It appears that the life and teachings of Jesus tended to draw a wide spectrum of reactions. Many people followed Jesus as long as they liked what he had to say (often accompanied with healing and other miracles). But when he started talking about the challenges and sacrifices involved in following him, people began to drop off and the crowds got thinner (John 6.66; 12.34f)

The imposing presence of the cross in Jesus’ life and the life of his disciples seems to be at the heart of the matter. Jesus goes to the cross, literally. And he calls his followers to pick up their crosses, deny themselves, and follow (Matthew 16.24-26). Yet, against human intuition, and according to the mysterious will of God, the cross event or crucifixion of Jesus turns out to be the very place in which Jesus is glorified. The Gospel of John makes it clear that when Jesus was lifted up (that is, crucified) he was glorified (John 12.23). Glorification is nothing less than witnessing a revelation of the heart of God: on the cross we see who God is; that is, a God of love who redeems us in love. No wonder, in this sense, the cross draws or attracts all people (John 12.32).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who was martyred by Hitler in 1945, wrote this about the cross: “The wondrous theme of the Bible that frightens so many people is that the only visible sign of God in the world is the cross. Christ is not carried away from earth to heaven in glory, but he must go to the cross. And precisely there, where the cross stands, the resurrection is near; even there, where everyone begins to doubt God, where everyone despairs of God’s power, there God is whole, there Christ is active and near. Where it is on a razor’s edge, whether one becomes faithless or remains loyal – there God is and there Christ is.”

The cross calls us each to ask: does it draw me?

Or do I have some other response?

- Pastor Tony

May 19, 2019

A week ago MaryAnn, Douwe Spriensma, and I attended a conference on church growth and the Holy Spirit. We enjoyed inspiring worship, informative instruction, lively conversations, and meaningful fellowship. One practice that we engaged in regularly was communal prayer. It was common in these times to wait in silence; often we would sit or stand in prayer, quietly waiting. In the past I have been a bit uncomfortable with such silences. However, gradually I am learning that such moments of wordless attentiveness are opportunities for the Spirit of the Lord to speak. It provides opportunity for us to listen.

William Willimon, a Methodist pastor, describes his understanding of silence in worship. “In Sunday worship, it is helpful to build periods of silence into the worship service - times when there is no word, no music, no sound....The silence has a sort of cleansing effect on the worshiper. It helps to increase our sensitivity, our hunger if you will, for the sound of speaking or singing. Before a prayer, before or after the scripture, before or after the sermon – all are appropriate places for periods of intentional silence. We need a few minutes to gather our thoughts and savor the silence so that we may better savor the sound, so that there is space for God to come amid the cacophony of sound which glut our everyday lives.”

A time of intentional silence helps increase our sensitivity, our hunger, so the singing or speaking can be relished with deeper joy. Or, a moment of quiet can increase our anticipation of the Spirit’s voice through the Word. I like that thought. Maybe we should do more of that in our worship services?

- Pastor Tony

May 5, 2019

The Holy Spirit, sometimes called the silent partner in the Trinity because his role is to draw attention away from himself and all on Jesus, is difficult to describe. In the Bible he (Honestly, I actually am thinking more about referring to the Holy Spirit as a ‘she’. Although the Triune God has no gender, the Bible refers to God [the Father] as a ‘he’ given the limits of our language. The language is less clear with the Holy Spirit, and I definitely sense that God has a feminine aspect to his nature. But this is all for another discussion or meanderings) is very colourful and multifaceted in nature, which is matched by his/her works. She/He is represented as breath, wind, water, fire, a dove, a counselor, a comforter, and a lawyer/advocate. He/She helps with creation, convicts the conscience, regenerates and converts the heart, illuminates the mind, helps us prayer and at times prays for us, sanctifies and cleanses us, inhabits and glorifies Jesus, bears fruit in us, gives us gifts for ministry, gathers the church, and more....

The Spirit also blesses and equips God’s people with seemingly mundane skills. Even already in the Old Testament. As Israel was heading into the Sinai wilderness they were given instructions to build a Tabernacle. God appointed a man named Bezalel to supervise the project (Exodus 31.2, 3). Through the Spirit Bezalel was equipped with wisdom, with knowledge, and with all kinds of skills, it says. He led a team of artists to help them create the place where God would dwell.

It appears that nothing is too small or ‘insignificant’ for the Spirit. He/She attends to the important details in the ministry of the church. We might naturally see the Spirit at work in worship services, in music, in the offering, in proclamation, in visiting, in Sunday School, or in congregational or council meetings. But she/he is at work no less in coffee and juice service, dishwashing, bulletin production, ushering, cleaning, decorating, mowing and snow shoveling, fixing, and all the other endless deeds that make a church work. The Holy Spirit might be known as the silent partner, but never mistake silence for absence!

- Pastor Tony

April 28, 2019

Those of us who live with chronic illness or are feeling the creeping physical limitations of aging bodies can be forgiven for getting excited about the Easter message of being released from ailing bodies. It is true! When Jesus returns there will be no more suffering or sorrow or death or crying: all these are gone forever! (Revelation 21.4)

However, part of the glory of Easter is that our bodies will be resurrected. We will not be given completely new or different bodies; these bodies that we have now will be dead and then brought back to life. Paul’s analogy of the seed in I Corinthians 15 underscores this point. It will be sown perishable and be raised (the same body/seed) imperishable; it will be sown as mortal and raised immortal.

Because of this fundamental, biblical teaching about the integrity of the God-created physical body, the church has always defended the value and blessing of the physical life - a life we experience through our literal bodies. One example we might note are the martyrologies written during the 16th and 17th centuries in northern Europe, such as the English Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and a Dutch one written by a pastor named Adrian van Haemstede. These volumes record the sacrificial death of persecuted saints and were written to inspire readers to persevere in the truth of Christian confession in the face of opposition. A careful reading of these texts conveys astute attention to the details of the physical torment inflicted and extended descriptions of how the bodies were treated once the persecuted individual perished. To the authors (and readers) there was no sense of downplaying physical experience under the guise that ultimately Christian faith was about escaping the physical realm and finally being free of the natural world. On the contrary, just as we today treat the bodies of deceased loved ones with reverence and care, believers of all ages hold utmost respect for the body, for it is not only a creation of the Lord, but will ultimately live in eternal glory. And this is all because of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, who is the first fruits of life eternal: he is the first of a great harvest of all who have died (I Corinthians 15.20).

We may at times grow impatient when our bodies are tired or weak, or when we get a cold or suffer an injury. We may at those times long for new bodies unhindered by earthly maladies. Easter means one day we will have bodies like the glorified resurrected body of Jesus (Philippians 3.21) no longer susceptible to ailments. But remember, in a divinely mysterious way, that glorified and transformed body is no less than the one we have now. Happy (bodily) Resurrection!

- Pastor Tony

April 21, 2019

Those of us who live with chronic illness or are feeling the creeping physical limitations of aging bodies can be forgiven for getting excited about the Easter message of being released from ailing bodies. It is true! When Jesus returns there will be no more suffering or sorrow or death or crying: all these are gone forever! (Revelation 21.4)

However, part of the glory of Easter is that our bodies will be resurrected. We will not be given completely new or different bodies; these bodies that we have now will be dead and then brought back to life. Paul’s analogy of the seed in I Corinthians 15 underscores this point. It will be sown perishable and be raised (the same body/seed) imperishable; it will be sown as mortal and raised immortal.

Because of this fundamental, biblical teaching about the integrity of the God-created physical body, the church has always defended the value and blessing of the physical life - a life we experience through our literal bodies. One example we might note are the martyrologies written during the 16th and 17th centuries in northern Europe, such as the English Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and a Dutch one written by a pastor named Adrian van Haemstede. These volumes record the sacrificial death of persecuted saints and were written to inspire readers to persevere in the truth of Christian confession in the face of opposition. A careful reading of these texts conveys astute attention to the details of the physical torment inflicted and extended descriptions of how the bodies were treated once the persecuted individual perished. To the authors (and readers) there was no sense of downplaying physical experience under the guise that ultimately Christian faith was about escaping the physical realm and finally being free of the natural world. On the contrary, just as we today treat the bodies of deceased loved ones with reverence and care, believers of all ages hold utmost respect for the body, for it is not only a creation of the Lord, but will ultimately live in eternal glory. And this is all because of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, who is the first fruits of life eternal: he is the first of a great harvest of all who have died (I Corinthians 15.20).

We may at times grow impatient when our bodies are tired or weak, or when we get a cold or suffer an injury. We may at those times long for new bodies unhindered by earthly maladies. Easter means one day we will have bodies like the glorified resurrected body of Jesus (Philippians 3.21) no longer susceptible to ailments. But remember, in a divinely mysterious way, that glorified and transformed body is no less than the one we have now. Happy (bodily) Resurrection!

- Pastor Tony


April 14, 2019

We are near the conclusion of our Lent series on the truth of Jesus that speaks into our social media culture. The technology that has fostered an explosion of communication and information over the past 30 years has surely brought improvements to our society and our daily lives. We are much more informed and hopefully knowledgeable about the issues and challenges we face as a global human race, from hunger to nutritional needs; from refugees to immigration

policies; from climate change to ecological systems; from international relations to trade practices. For many of us advanced technology has also made our work easier and more efficient. We can communicate more immediately with

family, and keep up to date with the trips our friends are taking. We have also become aware of the challenges such advances have brought. Scams and fraud, identity theft, vote rigging, cyber bullying, hate speech, pornography, online addictions, social isolation, and uncountable instances of disinformation and deliberate deception are a few examples.

Jesus speaks truth to us in the midst of all of this. Although he lived on earth in a time when a cell phone was unimagined, his omnipresent and omniscient being assures that his truth is not only relevant but indispensable if we are to know the eternal life that he brings. An integral part of his ministry, the way he brought truth to bear, was through individual, face-to-face encounters. Whether it was Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman at the well, Nicodemus, the two disciples travelling to Emmaus, or numerous others, he engaged them in a personal way. Up close and personal. I believe that this is still the fundamental way in which Jesus does his ministry among us today, through his Spirit and in the community of believers. Of course, the Gospel goes out and reaches many through social media, and we are thankful for this. However, ultimately I believe we cannot grow in our faith without face-to-face fellowship, personal and group prayer, shared study of the Word, and praise and celebration through corporate worship.

Given all this, I would like to propose the following sacrificial Lenten offering: for at least a 12 hour period on either Good Friday or Holy Saturday (the day Jesus’ body lay in the grave) we refrain from using any social media device. Leave the

iPhone on the shelf; do not go online; ignore the ipad; abstain from Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Instead, read through a hardcopy Gospel, take time to pray, play a board game with your family, have coffee with your spouse or friend, take a walk or a bicycle ride, go to a park or visit a neighbor; do something face-to face with someone and taste the communion of the Lord.

- Pastor Tony

April 7, 2019

The information age of today, facilitated by technology, has a counterpart in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Some parallels might help us understand the blessings and challenges of our social media age. The central blessing was that knowledge was now available to all people who could read, whereas before it was limited to basically the clergy, teachers, and lawmakers. Aided by the recently invented moveable print, literature was made available to any who desired it. This increase in information resulted in the spread of a plethora of ideas and beliefs, not all of which, of course, were consistent with orthodox teachings. Diverse teachings, some heretical and some outright false, were rampantly published. As a result, the Reformation period also saw an array of creeds, confessions, canons, and catechisms – all seeking to define and articulate biblical and religious truth.

Can you see some of the parallels? New technology has resulted in an explosion of information and multiple ways to communicate it. The blessings are apparent: anyone who can read has access to information on virtually any and every topic. Wonder how to make Shoofly Cupcakes or Lebkuchen? Or what otiose, dwine, or emollient means? How far Monarch butterflies migrate? Who Hildegard of Bingen or Billy Sunday was ? Do you wonder if there are aliens in space? How inertia works? Just google for answers! The challenges comes, as we have been exploring in this Lent series, in terms of discernment. What is credible? What is disinformation? Discerning truth in all of this is clearly a challenge.

Another challenge that we face may have taken us by surprise: namely, the effect of too much screen or phone time on personal well-being and quality of life. Jean Twenge, a professor in San Diego who does research in this area, has found that a half hour to two hours per day of extra-curricular time (or less) on a phone (non-work or school related) is about right for our mental and emotional health. Those who use it more show increasing signs of unhappiness, depression and

distress. The relationship between technology and well-being is important in the light of increasing amounts of evidence that teens between the ages of 14-17 in the USA have experienced 60% increase in emergency room visits for self-harm and suicidal thoughts. As a parent of teens herself, Twenge offers three preventative steps to help respond to this challenge. One, no phones or tablets in the bedroom at night; two, no using devices one hour before bedtime; third, limit device time to less than two hours of leisure use a day.

In light of all this I have an idea we might want to try for Lent and the Good Friday Easter Weekend in particular. Watch for it in next week’s Meanderings!

- Pastor Tony

March 31, 2019

In the trial that Jesus had before Herod, we read that Jesus said nothing. He was silent. As I began to study the passage, I wondered how I would discern Jesus ‘telling the truth’ when he did not say anything. It did not take long to discover that he was actually saying a lot through his silence. We will explore this in more detail in the message today.

The concept of communicating through silence, or better, the meaning conveyed through silence was thus on my mind this week. Perhaps we’ve all experienced the pregnant silence of a ‘significant other’ when we asked them a question and their attentive silence spoke volumes more meaning than actual words. Silence clearly does not necessarily mean lack of communication or absence of meaning. We sometimes say, ‘Silence is golden.” What does that mean? Written as a proverb in 1848, the whole of it goes, ‘Speech is silver and silence is golden.’ Can silence speak even more powerfully than actual words? In some contexts it most likely can.

Over its two millennia of history the church has cultivated silence as an opportunity God gives to commune with him. Some monastic traditions require their adherents to take a vow of silence. The Benedictine order, for example, believes such a vow helps the believer to access the divine presence of God, develop self-knowledge, and foster a harmonious spirit in one’s heart and towards others. They surely were convinced silence can be fruitful.

Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song called the Sounds of Silence. In a way it speaks into today’s social media scene: so many words are being published on line, but so little meaning is being communicated. “In the naked light I saw, 10,000 people maybe more. People talking without speaking, People hearing without listening. People writing songs that voices never shared, No one dared disturb the sounds of silence.” “Words! Words! And more words!” we might imagine the writer of Ecclesiastes saying, “but what does it all really means?” There is a time to talk, and also a time to be silent, he observes (3.7).

For Jesus, his time before Herod was a time to be silent. But let’s not be fooled! His silence held a message – for Herod and for us, if we are listening.

- Pastor Tony

March 24, 2019

Jesus died for the truth. He made the truthful claim that he was the Messiah, the chosen one of God who would save his people. The religious leaders of Israel did not believe him, and they had him executed. On a more fundamental and spiritual level, Jesus’ commitment to the covenantal relationship he had with the Father, which meant he came to earth to fulfil the will of the Father and give his life as a ransom for many, meant he had to die a sacrificial death. He died because he was committed to telling and living the truth.

A pledge to know truth and live according to it can be dangerous. It was this way for pretty much the whole of Jesus’ life. At the very beginning of his public ministry it was apparent. When in the synagogue in Nazareth he read from Isaiah a prophecy of the Messiah and preached a sermon which said he was its fulfilment – that he was the Messiah - it nearly got him murdered (Luke 4.14-30). Right after this sermon the crowd was so furious with him they took him to the edge of a cliff and wanted to through him over. (Imagine that, a sermon so potent and powerful it caused the congregation to act in such a radical way!)

Standing for the truth meant a battle for Jesus’ whole public life and ministry. For example, he was in the wilderness for 40 days, hungry and fatigued, being tempted to deny the truth by the devil. In the garden of Gethsemane, tempted to not drink the cup and renege on his Messianic mission. On trial, he resisted the opportunity to call legions of angels to rescue him, remaining faithful to his truthful call.

Given this reality in Jesus’ life, it seems obvious that for any of us followers, standing up for the truth will inevitably engage us in a struggle. The devil, the father of lies or untruth, is working full time with all his energy to get us to buy into falsehood; to distract or derail us from following in the footsteps of our Lord and sailing with the wind of the Spirit. The Apostle Paul calls it spiritual warfare. Our battle is not against flesh and blood (i.e. other people) but against the strategies of the devil, evil rulers and authorities in the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in heavenly places (Ephesians 6.12). Believing the truth and living the truth will be dangerous, and will call us to make decisions and commitments that will entail sacrifices. Of course it is all worth it in the end: falsehood imprisons us and destroys life (Proverbs 19.9; 26.28), but the truth - the truth Jesus fought for and died for – it will set us free (John 8.32).

- Pastor Tony

March 17, 2019

Loneliness is not a new or modern human experience. It seems to be part of the human condition, and is intimately tied to our relationships with others. A book, Overcoming Loneliness, describes loneliness as, “a state of feeling that one does not belong or is not accepted.” Another description: “Loneliness is the painful realization that we lack meaningful and close relationships with others. This lack leads to emptiness, melancholy, and at times despair” (The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook). At its core, it seems that loneliness is about feeling disconnected, isolated, or/and alienated from others or from another person. There is so much to say about this universal human condition, but I will share only a few of the thoughts that came to mind this past week.

Although the feelings of loneliness are not new - read the Psalms for many signs of loneliness, in 1,000 BCE - it does seem to be increasing in our day. This is in some ways ironic: with technology today we are able to communicate with much greater volume and efficiency than any time before, yet more people are lonely. Why might that be? Not sure exactly, but I’ll bet that before the advent of telecommunication, TV, and the Internet, people sat around campfires or dinner tables more often - just spending time swapping stories, sharing experiences and beliefs, and being face to face in person together. Do we have to give that up just because we can communicate via an iphone?

Another thought is that being lonely is not the same as being alone. In general, most people do need some ‘alone time’, it seems. We need personal space to process our thoughts, reflect on our experiences, pray, and practice some selfcare. Also, feelings of occasional loneliness do have a benefit: it reminds us that we need other people – spouse, family members, friends, colleagues - in our lives. It can be the inner push that drives us to reach out and seek connections with others – connections and dialogue that is necessary if we are to live in the world with each other.

And finally, although it is common to feel loneliness at times, for the believer we are never really alone. Whether we feel him or not, God is always with us. Even when the Psalmist expressed deepest despair at being abandoned by friends, he knew there was no place he could go (heaven or sheol, the darkest place or the lightest realms) where the Lord was not present. Furthermore, this was a God who was so close to him, the very one who formed him in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139). The next time we are lonely and feeling disconnected, at least remember God has your name inscribed on the palm of his hand (Isaiah 49.16).

- Pastor Tony

March 3, 2019

Did you know that Jesus underwent no fewer than six trials before he went to the cross? Between his anguish in Gethsemane and being crucified he was questioned by Annas, Caiaphas, Herod, the Sanhedrin (Jewish court) and twice by Pontius Pilate. The goal of each trial was to discern truth: as Pilate asked, ‘What is truth?’ Truth is a big topic in our culture through social media these days. Fake news, false portrayals, fabricated stories, and unreal facts all make us wonder about what and who to believe. Some have said we actually live in a Post Truth era in which what is true really doesn’t matter anymore. Jesus said to his earthly judge, “I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” This Lent, we will reflect on the six trials of Jesus, and explore how his truth speaks into the challenges of social media, and ultimately into our quest for true life.

- Pastor Tony


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