Christian Reformed Church of St. Albert

Pastor's Corner (Meanderings)

Each week Pastor Tony Maan shares further thoughts on the sermon, spirituality, church life or current events.

They are published in the Bulletin each week, and are also posted here.

November 28, 2021

Hope may be in short supply these days. The pandemic and its multiple ramifications – social restraints, emotional sensitivity, physical fatigue, mental exhaustion, decreased motivation, and relational strains – have been wearing on most of us, and slowly dissipating the hope we may have been harbouring in our hearts for the past 18 months; hope for an end to the effects of the disease on our families and society, more regular work conditions, brighter days ahead, for a return to what we remember as ‘normal’. This first Sunday of advent we hear a message full of hope; hope came into our history like never before when Jesus was born!

This Gospel hope is like an anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6.19). A ship without an anchor is at the mercy of the waves and whims of the stormy sea. No anchor means being tossed to and fro in no direction, and inevitable shipwreck. An anchor provides stability and safety. So the hope based in the promises of God for his care and our salvation provides such strength and preservation, no matter our circumstances and challenges. Therefore, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope, for he who promised is faithful, “(Hebrews 10.23). Does your trusting hope in Christ provide you with such stability even as the storms of life surround you?

There is another passage in Hebrews that reveals in more immediate detail how we experience the hope of Jesus, or perhaps better said, how we impart the hope of Jesus. It is through the simple acts of helping another in the mundane places of daily life. In 6.11 we read that God will not overlook the deeds of love and service we have performed, which reveal and share the full assurance of the hope we have, until the end. Many years ago I was attempting to drywall a large room, and my lack of experience was evident in my lack of progress. Working at it late on one particular night, tired and discouraged, I was very quickly loosing hope that I would be able to ever complete the job. Then, unexpectedly, my (very handy) son-in-law, Mark, dropped by. “Let’s get this done,” he said, then grabbed a board of drywall and went to work. Thanks to Mark’s helping hand, my ‘hope meter’ went instantly from two to ten! Before we knew it the job was finished.

It reminds me of how the letters of the word HOPE can serve as an acronym, living in hope in practical ways: H-elping O-ther P-eople E-veryday! This Christmas, let’s take the hope we have in Jesus and share it!

- Pastor Tony

Nov 7, 2021

Since the beginning of Christianity, believers have been asking the question, “As followers of Jesus, how do we engage with our world and the culture in which we live?” Culture is always changing, which adds to the challenge. As Christians we have three essential helps: the Word, written (the Bible) and living (Jesus); we have the Holy Spirit illuminating our hearts and minds; and we have the body of Christ, the church community. All of these guide us in responding to the question, helping us engage in the world as faithful witnesses.

Another way of asking this question is, “How is the Kingdom of God – the Lord’s reign of truth, justice, mercy, and peace - present in the world? Jacques Ellul, a French lay theologian and teacher (1912-1994), believed that being citizen of the Kingdom in the world meant we live in constant tension. On the one hand we are called to be intentionally engaged in our ‘worldly’ communities, tangibly present in the rough and tumble of daily life on the streets, addressing concerns and needs in our cities and towns. Ellul himself served as deputy mayor of his home town of Bordeaux, as well as taught in a university. On the other hand, he did not believe that the Christian was called to or even could fix the world or transform culture or even make society more Christian. Indeed as members of God’s kingdom living in the world we were to bear testimony to God grace and justice, in word and deed. But the full and sudden redemption of the world and its complete transformation was to come only at Christ’s return. Indeed this world will pass away as we know it (cf. 2 Peter 3.7). This ‘fits’ with Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds: the farmer lets them both grow, and only at the harvest time are they separated (Matthew 13.24-43).

One other way of describing the approach and fulfilment of our calling as disciples of Jesus in the world is to be mediators. As our Lord is a ‘go-between’ us/the world and the Father, so in Him we are called live ‘in the middle’, acting as bridge between our spiritually searching neighbours and our Saviour. As Ellul observed, this role too involves living in tension: bringing a Holy God and a mixed up, often crude and wayward world together can create some friction. It’s wonderful then that the Spirit equips us, the Word guides us, and the church supports us to carry out the task. Or as Jacques Ellul puts it, “The Spirit is very much present in our ordinary lives the entire course of God’s action in history he uses a human means, to act by his Spirit.”

- Pastor Tony

Oct 31, 2021

This week, along with All-Hallowed-Eve (Halloween) we remember the Protestant Reformation. Our St. Albert church has been born out of this movement. What does it mean to be part of a community that calls itself ‘Reformed’? How would we answer the question of a friend or colleague at school or work, “What does it mean to be a ‘reformed’ Christian?” When I am asked this question, my ‘Reader’s Digest’ answer is a three-pronged response: historical, theological, practical.

Historically, it means we have our roots in a movement called the Reformation that happened in Europe in the 16th century. Leaders such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox lead religious and theological movements that affected the church in countries such as Germany, Switzerland, France, England, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia.

Theologically, the reforming movement had two distinctive emphases in contrast to the way the church had taught for about the previous 1,000 years. One was the conviction that the Bible alone was God’s inspired, direct word to us, and not human traditions; it alone is our ultimate authority when it comes to discerning the revelation and heart of God. Secondly, that a believer is saved by grace alone through faith in the perfect person and work of Jesus, God’s Son; this was apart from any works or human merit.

In practical terms, the movement teaches that we are always being reformed (the Latin words, semper reformanda, became well known). We are constantly being reformed in our hearts and minds through the Spirit to be more and more reflective of the heart, character, and deeds of Jesus.

This was what God has planned for us: God has called us from the beginning to be conformed to the image of his Son (Romans 8.29). Today through the Holy Spirit we are continually being sanctified; transformed more and more to his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3.18). With such inner heart reformation comes the call to be agents of transformation in society, reflecting the Kingdom through kind acts, gracious words, compassionate mercy, and calls for justice. All this in the certain hope that the transforming work of our God in our lives and in our world will come to a climax at his return: “And we eagerly await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so they will be like his glorious body,” (Philippians3.21).

Semper Reformanda until he comes again!

- Pastor Tony Maan

Oct 10, 2021

This is the second Thanksgiving we are trying to celebrate in the midst of the pandemic. We can be forgiven for wondering if we have made any progress since last time, given the social gathering restrictions that we are placed under again. Will we find it hard to get into the spirit of giving thanks - to put on an attitude of gratitude – as we feel tired and frustrated with this disease? What does the Bible say about this?

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the Bible tells us that giving thanks is not a matter of how we feel. Many, many time we are encouraged, actually commanded (imperative mode), to give thanks. A few examples: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm107.1. “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything...,” Ephesians 5.20. “...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” 1 Thessalonians 5.17. “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts...and be thankful,” Colossians 3.15.

Our sense and expressions of gratitude are not grounded in being wealthy or healthy or having all our wishes granted, as pleasing as that might seem to us. (We all probably know people who have lots of stuff – more than they really need - but are not grateful or even happy). Why is this so? The Apostle Paul tells us: “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your life in him, rooted and built up in him...and overflowing with thankfulness,” (Colossians 2.6, 7). Lasting and genuine thanksgiving is rooted in the spiritual satisfaction that comes by knowing God through his Son, Jesus. As I read in a Today devotional recently, “Our attitude of thanks is deeply rooted in our encounter and friendship with the Lord. It does not depend on external things or life’s circumstances. To put it simply, the better we know Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, the more thankful we are.” Our daily walk with him helps us experience the true abundance of godly thanksgiving. May the Spirit of Jesus live in us daily, and be the source of thankfulness in our present trying circumstances.

- Pastor Tony

Oct 3, 2021

The Ethiopian traveling to Gaza in Acts 8 was reading Isaiah 53, which he did not understand. He asked the evangelist, Philip, “Who is the prophet talking about?” Philip explained it was the Messiah, Jesus, who was described as, “A sheep led to slaughter or a lamb before its shearers...” This image for Jesus is astounding, when we stop to think about it.

Sheep and lambs are about the only mammal (even animal) that has no self-defense capabilities; when preyed upon, they have no way of defending themselves. They are completely dependent on another – their shepherd, mostly – for survival. This is what Jesus was like. He was defenseless, vulnerable, exposed, weak, and dependent. Further, he was homeless, not beautiful to look at, unwanted, rejected, forsaken and crucified like a criminal. And this man is the one sent by God to redeem the world. Could any of us have imagined that the Messiah would be like this? I feel that our (human) idea of what a God-sent ‘hero’ would look like would be quite different, perhaps more like muscular Superman or maybe charismatic King Arthur.

No less challenging, Jesus calls his followers his ‘little flock’ (Luke 12.32); just like Jesus, we are like lambs. As he sends us out into the world to serve him and others, he describes us as ‘sheep in the midst of wolves’ (Matthew 10.16). Do we indeed find this challenging? I do. My inner sense and drive compels me to be the opposite of defenseless and vulnerable: self-sufficient, self-protecting, independent, and in control as much as I possibly can. But as a follower of Jesus, I am called to be vulnerable, weak, trusting others, and defenseless. In being and doing so, we mysteriously bring the presence of Jesus to the world.

The miracle and mystery of this gospel truth is that this is the way of salvation. Through his humble servitude and humiliating death, Jesus actually conquers sin and defeats death. Yes, it is foolishness to the human mind; it sure would not have been our strategy for saving the world. But in the eyes of faith, it is the way of eternal life. In the words of the Apostle Paul, Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God to those who believe (I Corinthians 1.23).

- Pastor Tony

Sept 19, 2021

Today’s fascinating Old Testament story (2 Kings 7) of four very hungry outcast lepers who found themselves unexpectedly overwhelmed with an abundance of food proclaims God’s gracious and bountiful provision. In this story the feast acts as a venue through which the city of Samaria is liberated from the bondage of siege and starvation. Likewise today, the sharing of food, to the hungry, with our families and friends, can be an opportunity to share in the Lord’s grace.

In her book, Tasting Grace, Melissa D’Arabian conveys messages of spiritual truth in the setting of a kitchen. A celebrity cook, her book gets pretty detailed about the nature of various foods, food preparation, and taste. A few examples: Consider the orange (the fruit). Their skins are like perfume with a touch of bitterness, and inside they taste both sweet and a little sour. In this way, the orange is like life, she says. And poultry: do we ever consider, when we enjoy a succulent leg or spicy wing, that a chicken has sacrificed its life for our enjoyment and nutrition? The bird does not require elaborate preparation either, “I’d clip whatever herbs needed trimming and rub them into the chicken skin with fatty European sweet butter, then roast the whole thing on top of new potatoes.

The result is easily the best chicken I’ve had to this day.”

And then there is soup – any kind of soup. One of the gifts we receive from soup is that it takes a while to make. Soup from scratch requires us to stay in the kitchen, chop vegetables, boil water, prepare the rice or add noodles, brown hamburger or pork, simmer, taste, season...all the time savoring the smells in the kitchen, linger and talk and connect with others and the Giver ...and then eat it slowly and thankfully.

Of course, the food itself is not the ‘end game.’ Rather, like the story of the lepers outside the city of Samaria, the food was an instrument through which the Lord’s abundant provision of spiritual food and the freedom of his eternal grace and love poured out upon his people. As we receive the bread and cup in communion today, and as we savor our Sunday dinner, may the blessing of Jesus be upon us. And may our hearts and lives generously convey the bountiful blessings we have received.

- Pastor Tony

Sept 12, 2021

What does it mean when we say “Jesus is Lord?” It is a common phrase and testimony among Christians to say that Jesus is my ‘Saviour and Lord’. As our Saviour we trust in faith that his sacrificial death and resurrection has earned us complete forgiveness and new life, all as a gracious gift. To really trust him completely (and not rely on our own good works, even just a little) may prove to be a lifelong challenge. But committing to live under his reign – to follow and obey him as our sovereign Lord – may be even more of a challenge. So, what does it mean that he is Lord, from the way we think to the way we talk, interact with others, and act?

Sometimes we may ask, (honestly) whether Jesus is some sort of personal God who needs us to worship and obey him to assuage his ego. We need to confess him as Lord and do all we can to honour and obey him to satisfy his needs, we think or feel or wonder. But this is the furthest thing from the truth; in fact, it is unbiblical. God and Jesus are holy (Job 6.10; Isaiah 57.15; Luke 1.35; Hebrews 7.26) and his thoughts and ways are absolutely beyond ours (Isaiah 55.8,9). Theologically, this is called God’s ‘aseity’: he is totally self-sufficient, and thus is not dependent on anyone or any force beyond himself. In other words, Jesus does not need us to worship or follow him for him to be fulfilled or complete. He is Lord simply because he is, and all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him.

So, when we call him Lord and seek to live in accordance to his perfect will, it is not for his sake but for ours. When we gather to worship and praise our God, we surely glorify him, but this serves to bless us and draw us closer to him and more into true life. Out of his sovereign autonomy and for our salvation he extends his grace to us. So, in the end, our confession of Jesus as Lord, and the implications for our daily lives, is an expression of his love for us and our love for him; a truth that is best for our present well-being and our eternal destiny. I like the way Rebecca Pippert describes it: “Is Jesus’ desire to be the Lord of our lives some little fetish of his? Why is it so important to him? Besides the fact that he deserves it, he knows he is the only one in the universe who can oversee our lives and in doing so bring us life. No one will ever love you like Jesus. No one will ever know you better, care more for your wholeness and pull more for you.

He will meet you wherever you are and he will help you...but we experience this fully only when we acknowledge him as our Lord...And the great and joyful paradox is that while he totally transforms us he makes us more ourselves than ever before.”

Having said all this, it is not to deny or downplay the fact that we are intimately and even inextricably related to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord. (for example, as believers we complete the sufferings of Christ...Philippians 1.24). But that is a discussion for another day.

- Pastor Tony

Sept 5, 2021

On this Labour Day weekend we celebrate the gift of work. I have been so blessed to be able to work through the 18 months of the pandemic, albeit in augmented ways I have never experienced before (meetings through a laptop, no in person visiting, preaching to a phone in an a mostly empty sanctuary, devotions on line...). Work, and the energy, creativity, emotional investment, and health to carry it out is truly not something to be taken for granted.

In her book about food and hospitality, called Tasting Grace, Melissa D’Arabian writes about getting more connected to the food we eat. Part of this is knowing where the food was grown (shopping local!), how it was produced (whether chicken, chick peas, raisins, chocolate, halibut, shrimp, milk or wine...), and how it effects our bodies. Another major way of being connected to our food is taking time to prepare it. She is a big advocate of resisting the skip the dishes or frozen dinner option, and making a meal at home from the basic, natural ingredients. We all know that this is more healthy for us, more economical, and also more environmentally friendly.

But there is another benefit, according to D’Arabian. Preparing a home cooked meal takes preparation and work, but in the end we enjoy the fruits of our labour in a delicious feast that tastes really good – in other words, doing so provides us with a God-given opportunity to experience healthy joy, especially when shared with others. The author writes, “Eating more whole foods takes a little extra time. There is no magic way to prioritize our health without spending a little time on it. But the good news is that cooking a simple, fresh meal really takes less time than you might think. And I promise you, I received such great joy from knowing I was loving my body, my family’s bodies, and the care of our

earth and its creatures by creating meals God’s way.”

So, on this weekend in which we give thanks for work, let’s be encouraged to view the labour of making home cooked meals as a wonderful daily gift - with deep gratitude to moms and sometimes dads, wives and sometimes husbands, who work so hard in the kitchen. The actual natural food from the earth, the preparation, gathering at the table, the sharing with friends and family...Thank you Lord! Bon Appetit!

- Pastor Tony

August 29, 2021

Memory is such an integral part to healthy living. Our memories not only help us remember events of the past, but in doing so, they provide us with connection to others and our community/world, help form our identity, and even help convey our purpose in life. In his book, Better with Age, Alan Castel gives comfort to any of us who are troubled by momentary lapses in memory (sometimes called ‘senior moments’). He says that we at times forget information for at least two reasons: One is that as we grow older we accumulate more and more information. And the more information we have in our brain, the more time it takes to retrieve the exact detail we are looking for. (Similar to a library of books: the more you have, the longer it may take locate the exact book and passage you are seeking to find).

Secondly, as we age and experience life more, we tend to focus our mental attention on things that are important, and pay less attention to details that we deem less critical. Thus, when we watch a movie we may not be able to recall the colour of the coat the main character was wearing, but we easily remember what she said and how it affected the plot.

All this reminds me of how important it is to memorize some key passages of the Bible. Bible passages that express the heart of our faith (Psalm 23.1; Psalm 119.105; Mark 10.45; Matthew 6.33; John 3.16; John 8.12; Matthew 22.37,38; I Corinthians 13.13; Ephesians 2.8; Romans 12.12), when firmly planted in our minds and hearts, provide constant strength and sustenance as we negotiate life.

Recently MaryAnn and I visited our Mom, who struggles with serious memory loss. Although there are many things it seems to us that she has forgotten, her eyes lit up and she smiled when we read familiar portions of the Bible with her and sang familiar hymns. These words of faith and God’s redeeming love are deeply rooted in her, from years of learning and living in the Lord. It was a joy to see them resonate in her aging mind and heart, bringing peace and assurance that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

- Pastor Tony

August 22, 2021

Jesus had a powerful way of portraying the call for us, his followers, to show the Gospel Word in our lives: “you are the light of the world,” he said. A light, by its very nature, is meant to shine in the darkness – otherwise it has no point. I’m wondering if this image has become so familiar to us that it has begun to lose some of its brilliant power. Do I realize that the light of the Word in my heart should be shining out each day? Do I underestimate how powerfully this light can make a difference in the world?

Max Lucado wrote a little story once about four candles. These four candles were living in a closet, and they refused to come out during a power outage. Each has a handy excuse. One needed more time to get ready; the next one said giving light was not his gift; the third said she was too busy, and the last one just did not feel qualified. In doing so, each candle was in fact denying their very reason for existing.

Jesus says that one of the main reasons we exist as a church, and as Christians, is to share his light in the world. In a Today devotional, Pastor Art Schoonveld asks, “Does our church do everything it can to let its light shine? Do we go out of our way to speak out, and do we do everything we can to reach out to people struggling, or oppressed, or persecuted, or needing God’s love and help in some way. There are so many needs and opportunities – in our churches, families, our neighbourhoods and our world.” Indeed, we have found that the Covid crisis has uncovered so many needs in our communities: there is so much loneliness, sorrow and loss, anxiety, and fear. People in places with wildfires, experiencing the reality of residential schools, in Haiti, in Afghanistan, in our churches and places of work all could use Kingdom good news. A listening ear, a word of encouragement, a prayer, and helping hand, funds, a meal, a visit and many other creative ways can be used of us to be the light of Jesus in their lives.

We have been entrusted with the Word of hope, love, and healing; not to keep to ourselves, but to share it and shine it in our world. In so doing, we fulfil our ultimate purpose: the glory of our compassionate and gracious Father.

- Pastor Tony

(Pastor Tony Away Aug 8 & 15)

August 1, 2021

“Who wants to hear a good story?” is an offer that is hard to turn down. Recently a few of our grandchildren were over at our place, and they asked to watch tv. We said. “Let’s tell stories instead!” And we did, enjoying a half hour of entertainment, learning, and laughs. Storytelling is an integral activity of virtually every culture. Through stories we share and remember history, children (and adults) are educated, truths and values are shared, laughter is enjoyed, encouragement received, and hope is given. Indeed, through stories we can truly share one another’s burdens. Through stories we build relationships and community.

Jesus was a master storyteller. He knew the power of a good story to reveal spiritual truths. He caught the crowd’s attention and sparked their imaginations with stories. The Kingdom of God is like....fishermen catching a net full of fish, a merchant who finds the most precious pearl, like a farmer going out to sow seeds in all sorts of soil, like a tiny mustard seed that grows to a huge tree, a young son who (rudely) decides to leave home with his inheritance, an employer who (unexpectedly) gives everyone the same pay no matter the hours worked, a bit of yeast that (surprisingly) transforms a big lump of dough...Jesus taught often, even mostly, through stories called parables.

Recently I had a conversation with a fellow church member about how we in western society have lost the art of storytelling. The scientific revolution, even with its blessings, has instilled a reverence for facts and figures, for ‘practicality’; time equals money and value is connected to productivity (Joyce Borger, Reformed Worship 134). In the process I wonder if we have lost the sense of how critical stories are to our understanding of self and the world, and our faith. My friend and I wondered about how, as a church family, it may be very important for us to tell our stories to each other about our experiences over the past 18 months. Can storytelling be a crucial avenue through which we can recover and move on from Covid as a community of believers?

Of course, we know of our God and our salvation through the greatest STORY ever told, so succinctly stated in the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life,” (3.16). What a blessing to know this story, and to participate in it!

- Pastor Tony

June 27, 2021

The search for truth is a journey we all go on. We’ve been created to live a life of meaning, and that involves knowing what is true. In our 21st century, with social media full of conspiracy theories and ‘alternative facts’, we might lament the feeling that the quest for truth has become very difficult, with everyone touting their own subjective version of what is true.

However, this is actually not totally new. The past tells us of some high profile instances when truth was up for discussion. For example, in the fourteenth century there was for a short while three popes, each one claiming their version of truth was the true one (!). The Protestant Reformation was a time of great social, political, and religious upheaval, with many variations of truth being circulated with the help of printing press technology. And of course, the French revolution (1789) did its best to convince us that reason or rational thought had replaced God as the final authority for truth telling. So, our challenge today about discerning what is true is not a new problem.

How do we discern the truth? That is a question too ambitious to answer fully in a little Meanderings piece. But perhaps we can say that a part of the answer is knowing about the past. Karl Marx said something like, “Those who forget the past are most gullible in the present.” Applied to Russia, Marx’s disciple Lenin did his best to erase the past so the crowds would subscribe to their new communist/marxist ideology. Knowing some history provides us with context, with information, knowledge and life experience, available to us from those who have lived life and learned. For the Christian - knowing the history of God among us, the narrative told in the Bible, and a worldview informed by the Kingdom of God – we have been given eternal truth. We hold a faith perspective and we know the presence of the Truth in person, Jesus (in our hearts by the Spirit), that give us balance for today and hope for tomorrow. Therefore, the Apostle Paul reminds us that, “We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ...” (Ephesians 4.14,15).

In such a way, knowing the past, especially the Biblical revelation, is a key ingredient of discerning what is true, what makes life meaningful, and what give us hope for the future.

- Pastor Tony

June 20, 2021

When we are on a walk in our neighbourhood and we hear singing or music in the distance, we are tempted to go and discover the source of the music and the cause of celebration. When Israel returned from exile after 70 years being away from home, they returned to their homeland, rebuilt the temple, and had a huge celebrative time of worship. We’re told that, “The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard from far away,” (Nehemiah 12.43). This was a time of great renewal; Jehovah had restored them to their home and the Spirit had revived them to communion with their saving God. At that worship service, the priest Ezra prayed, “Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise...You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you,” (Nehemiah 9.5, 6).

Our world, and our church to a large degree, has been in a sort of exile. For the past 18 months we’ve been restricted from meeting in public, visiting in our homes, and worshipping in person, and thus feeling like we are in a strange land. It appears that things are changing – we are able to go into public places, and we are now able to worship in person. By the fall of this year, we may likely be able to resume our regular ways of engaging in ministry together, in all its forms. What cause for rejoicing! As we look to the future as a church, the Lord willing, we will resume the conversation we had begun before the pandemic; that is, Renewal Lab. What vision does the Lord have for our church? What mission has he given to us so we may live out and realize this vision? How can we each be engaged in the building of his kingdom in our St. Albert context? How is the Gospel story unfolding in our community? These are exciting questions to ask, with ‘answers’ to be discovered as we follow the Spirit in faith.

The Lord is doing a work of renewal among us; after a time of pandemic ‘dormancy’, we are ‘returning home.’ May there be rejoicing in our hearts and in our worship as we look ahead together. And may our joyful noise be heard in our neighbourhood. May it catch the ears and imaginations of those who hear it, and draw them into the journey of living faith in Jesus. As Ezra prayed, even the multitudes of heaven were full of joyful worship when people return to live in the presence of the Lord. Or, as Jesus said, there is great joy among the angels in heaven over every single person who comes home to the arms of our Loving Father (Luke 15.10).

- Pastor Tony

(None June 13)

June 6, 2021

The heartbreaking news of the discovery at the former Residential School site in Kamloops , BC, has prompted much news coverage. For me, it has preoccupied my thoughts quite a bit since it broke, and I have had a number of heart searching conversations with others who have experienced a similar reaction. Of course, we are all familiar with the history of residential schools for Indigenous people in Canada. And we have made steps to address the difficult and tragic wrongs that have come out of this history, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Report in 2015. We as a group of Christian Reformed Churches in northern Albert, and we as a St. Albert church, have sought to reflect on our relationship with Indigenous peoples, and worked towards better understanding, reconciliation, and healing.

However, this breaking news out of Kamloops has seemed to have brought this history to a whole new depth and awareness of the injustice and tragedy; what heartache, sorrow, frustration, anger, and hurt this has all caused. There are so many questions that come up about the discovery of this mass grave of children: How did this happen? Why did so many children (215, who were supposed to be safe in school) die? How was such negligence overlooked? Were the parents notified, and given opportunity to grieve? Was this - horrible to contemplate – intentional genocide? Why were their graves unmarked? Who is ultimately responsible for this? What does this say about our government and about the church in the past? How do we begin to reconcile and heal as a people and as a country from this legacy?

As Christians we are called to be ambassadors for Christ – “So we are ambassadors for Christ,” (2 Corinthians 5.20). And Christ was a reconciler – “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself,” (2 Corinthians 5.19). Thus as agents for Jesus in the world, we are called to be about the work of reconciliation and healing. Many Indigenous people embrace and confess Jesus. And even for those who do not, as Christians we are called to represent the Christ of the Gospels to people of all ethnicities, and to seek truth, reconciliation, and peace.

How might we as a church make steps in practicing this call to be reconciling ambassadors in Jesus towards our First Nations sisters and brothers? If you would like to share any ideas, or would simply like to talk about all of this and share your thoughts and feelings, please get in touch with one of the members of our ‘Treaty 6’ Team: Douwe Vanderwel, Douwe Spriensma, or Pastor Tony. We welcome your engagement.

- Pastor Tony

May 30,2021

It is probably not an exaggeration to say that millions of songs and poems about love have been written over the course of human history. The first recorded love poem in all civilization was probably the one we find in Genesis 2. Can you recall it, off the top of your head? Adam had spent a few busy days naming all the animals in the garden, and realized at the end that all the animals had suitable partners, while he did not have one. Fortunately, God was not finished with his creating work. He caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and out of his ‘side’ he formed Eve, a companion for the man. Adam woke from his slumber and, beholding this beautiful new creature, poetically exclaimed his joy: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man,” (Genesis 2.23).

Since that day, marriage has been a part of human civilization in all cultures: partners joined together in bonds of affection and commitment, experiencing fulfilment, children, families, joy, purpose, challenge, struggle, accomplishments, gratitude, fellowship, blessing...A few millennia after Adam sang his song, the Apostle Paul also penned a peon of praise to the essential ingredient that makes marriage a blessed state that reflects Christ’s passion for the church: LOVE.

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongdoing.

Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.

(I Corinthians 13)

May this love flourish in our marriages to the glory of God and the blessing of our spouses and families.

- Pastor Tony

May 23, 2021

We celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this Sunday. In my youth while growing up the day of Pentecost was kept sort of quiet; we remembered it, but barely, for some reason. Once in a while I’ve heard that the Holy Spirit is the ‘silent partner in the Trinity’ – his role was to illuminate Jesus in our hearts and understanding, and give glory to the Father. He was like a spotlight, hidden behind a bush that served to highlight the features of a grand edifice at night.

I’m hesitant to subscribe to this way of looking at the Holy Spirit now. When we read the Bible, it seems that the Spirit is overtly mentioned often, and certainly very active – in both the Old and New Testaments. Although the Spirit serves to point us to Jesus and to bring us to put our trust in him as our Savior, he doesn’t seem to be too shy about it. Honestly, without the Spirit, we would not recognize our Christian faith; in fact, we would not have a Christian faith without the Holy Spirit. (We will talk a bit about this in the message).

So, to celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, I invite you to enjoy this poem. It was created by Malcolm Guite, an Anglican priest and chaplain in Cambridge, England.


Today we feel the wind beneath our wings

Today the hidden fountain flows and plays

Today the church draws breath at last and sings

As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.

This is the feast of fire, air, and water

Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.

The earth herself awakens to her maker

And is translated out of death to birth.

The right words come today in their right order

And every word spells freedom and release

Today the gospel crosses every border

All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace

Today the lost are found in His translation.

Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.

- Pastor Tony

May 9, 2021

On this Mother’s Day weekend we recognize the essential role mom’s play in God’s design of growing faith in the next generation. Children come to believe in the Lord as real, loving, gracious, forgiving, just...through parents who love the Lord, trust in him and follow his ways. We know that God does not wait until our children are, say, 13 years old, before they begin to have a relationship with him; it actually begins from the day of conception (see Psalm 139). Given this, here is a very brief sketch of the spiritual development stages of children as they grow to teenagers, and corresponding tips on how to share the Lord with them. As parents (and grandparents) we may find this helpful as we seek to disciple our children (from Home Grown: Handbook for Christian Parenting, by Karen De Boer).

Pre-schoolers: believes that God is real and lives in heaven; he loves them; readily accept what adults tell them about God. Nurturing Tips: let them know God loves and cares for them; share your wonder and awe of God (Look at these wonderful colours God has made!); read Bible stories together; sing songs of worship with them.

5-6 Year Olds: have a strong sense of God, and Jesus as their friend; engage their imagination with Bible stories; can express love for God in their own words. Nurturing Tips: let them know that they are an important part of God’s family; invite them to add their own words when praying together; encourage them to pray on their own; discuss the Bible stories you read together, and respond with a prayer or song.

7-8 Year Olds: can understand basic salvation concepts; can express opinions about God and church; include prayer in their daily lives; are becoming aware of the struggle of good and evil in the world. Nurturing Tips: provide opportunities to express their love for Jesus; encourage questions and spiritual conversations; help them process any guilt feelings, and remind them of God’s forgiveness

9-10 Year Olds: strong sense of right, wrong, and fairness; awareness of problems such as hunger, poverty; open to learning about differences among people; see God as a friend who is interested in the world. Nurturing Tips: talk about brokenness and hurt in the world, and the presence of sin; explore different cultures and peoples in the world; serve others together; practice prayer as a natural part of daily life, even while driving, walking, talking.

11-13 Year Olds: are developing their own beliefs and values in the context of family, peers, friends, media, school, church; quickly note injustices, and often seek to rectify them; identify with adult faith models; may have doubts and questions about their faith; begin to think conscientiously about integrating faith and daily life. Nurturing Tips: encourage involvement in active ministry – serve projects, worship, youth activities; help them reflect on moral issues they face; model God’s presence through your faith walk and talk, sharing God’s love and trusting his faithfulness; live in God’s grace; and have devotions together.

- Pastor Tony

May 2, 2021

Today we read in Mark (16.19, 20) that after Jesus ascended, he was present in the words and work of his disciples; through signs his Spirit affirmed their words and deeds as authentic, and many came to believe in him. When we stop to reflect on it, we can probably make a long list of experiences and people we have known through whom God has been speaking to us, working in us, blessing us. This week I read of one which I would like to share with you.

This incident comes from Joni Eareckson Tada. As a young girl, Joni was paralyzed from her neck down by a diving accident. She began the long and difficult journey of rehabilitation, and coming to terms emotionally, mentally, and spiritually with her life altering condition. She read her Bible, but admitted she was often irritated by it, because to her it seemed so out of touch with her reality. But she had friends who would come to visit her, bringing their Bibles, pizza, guitars, and Simon and Garfunkel albums. God used one friend in particular to help her, a 17-year-old fellow hockey player named Jackie. One sleepless night in her hospital room Joni felt totally alone, despairing, and hopeless in the dark. It was 2 am. And Jackie came. I will let Joni tell the story:

Suddenly I turned my head and saw coming through the doorway on my ward a figure crawling on hands and knees. I could not tell who it was, but the person crept closer past my sleeping roommates in the dark until her hands reached up to the guardrail of my bed and peered at me.

“Jackie!” I exclaimed. “Jackie, if they catch you, they’re going to kick you out of here!” “Shhh,” she whispered. I later learned that she hid behind a couch in the visitors lounge after visiting hours and waited for the all clear to sneak to my room.

She lowered the guardrail of my bed and slipped into my bed and lay beside me, as girlfriends will do at pajama parties. She snuggled up close, put her head on my pillow, and didn’t say a word. She took my hand in hers, intertwined our fingers (she knew my paralysis was so bad that I could not feel my fingers) and held up my hand to I could see it in hers. Then, softly in the shadows so as to not wake my roommates, she began to sing. “Man of sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim. Hallelujah, what a Saviour.”

- Pastor Tony

April 25, 2021

You may have noticed that the passage in Mark we are considering for our post Easter ‘series’ - Mark 16.9-20 - has a special footnote in your Bible. This footnote says that the oldest manuscripts do not include this passage. The oldest copies we have of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8. In this case, the Mary’s and Salome saw the empty tomb, heard an angel tell them that Jesus had risen, and then we read, “They went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.” What an unusual way to end the gospel story, we might thing. Later manuscripts include verses 9-20, and seem to give the ending a more ‘logical’ conclusion – the one we are considering in our Sunday messages.

The shorter ending actually seems quite understandable, if we stop to think about it. The women saw and heard an angel (frightening in itself) and were told the earthshaking news that Jesus had returned from the dead - quite a shocking revelation! We know from the other Gospels that the women believed the news (it was not a matter of not believing). This may have been Mark’s way of engaging us readers. He in a sense leaves the story unfinished, so that we, the readers, may also participate. As one commentator wrote: “Mark’s open ending beautifully catches the theme of the Easter story, which is unfinished. It is a story that never ends. Easter launched a new beginning for Christianity in Galilee. You and I are called to continue the Easter story in our own world, empowered by our risen Saviour.”

But what about the other, longer ending? If that is the one we prefer, do not despair! We can be at peace with knowing that it too is actually part of the canon of the Bible. Even if it is not actually Mark’s preferred ending, we know that all the events revealed in these verses have parallels in the other Gospels: Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20), the two travelers walking in the country (Luke 24) the Great Commission (Matthew 28) and Jesus’ ascension (Matthew 28).

In a sort of back handed way, this unusual and ‘undetermined’ ending to Mark’s Gospel indicates that the Bible is a living Word - it is not static and staid, fixed or ‘nailed down’. Rather, dynamic and alive, it is meant to move us to reflect, discuss, grow and be transformed for the glory of our living Lord.

- Pastor Tony

April 18, 2021

Women populate the Gospels and the life of Jesus in frequent fashion. They appear and regularly serve in prominent roles; often we read of their support for Jesus. Mary Magdalene is one of them. There are at least six different Mary’s in the Gospels, including Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus from Bethany, Mary the mother of James the younger, Mary the mother of John Mark, and of course Mary the mother of Jesus. In our minds the various Mary’s can get mixed up with each other. For example, people commonly confuse Mary Magdalene with the ‘Mary’ who anointed Jesus in the upper room, or the woman of loose moral character. But Mary Magdalene was neither of those.

What does the Bible actually tell us about this Mary, the one from Magdala (a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee)? It tells us quite a bit about her, actually. She was released from being possessed by seven demons, by Jesus. She became a close follower of Jesus, one of numerous women disciples. Mary was at the cross and watched Christ die. She helped bury his body. We see that Mary Magdalene was actually a very critical participant in the life and ministry of Jesus. Her help and quiet service, which often goes unnoticed, was in fact necessary for the fulfilment of Christ’s mission. Isn’t this often the way it is in the church and Kingdom? Over the past two millennia literally millions of women have faithfully and quietly gone about serving and bearing faithful testimony to the presence of Jesus among us – for the most part, virtually unnoticed.

One last note: Mary Magdalene (in some Gospels she is accompanied by other women) was the first to witness the empty tomb on Easter morning. And in the Gospel of John, she was the first to see the risen Saviour. What an amazing place she holds in history! This Mary was the first to see a glorified body, risen to eternal life from the tomb. She was the first to witness the dawn of a new age. And no less critical, she was the first to bear testimony to the fact. I’m glad God, in his wisdom, chose to reveal this first to a woman. Given the alternative, i.e. appearing first to a man, the results might have been less desirable. Just look up Mark 16.11,13,14 and Luke 24.11!

- Pastor Tony

April 4, 2021 Easter Sunday

This past pandemic year (plus) has exposed our vulnerable nature in a very visceral way; disease and death has made its presence felt. From a biblical perspective, we know that death is a result of our fallen state, the consequences of humanity’s decision to disobey our Maker’s will. When Jesus came to show the way out of the valley of death, the powers of our fallen nature, often ingrained in worldly systems, did its best to stop him from accomplishing his mission. John Stott, in his little book, The Authentic Jesus, describes how this took shape in the week of Jesus’ life before his death. “Jesus was condemned in a Jewish court for blasphemy by duly authorized legal procedures. He was then sentenced and executed for sedition by the Romans. Worse, he had been ‘hanged on a tree’ and therefore (according to Deuteronomy 21.22-23), had died under the curse of God. After that, he was taken down from the cross and buried, which was the final touch in disposing of him. The public rejection of Jesus could not have been more thorough. At every dimension he was finished – judicial, political, spiritual, and physical. Religion, law, God (due to our sin), man and death had all conspired to wipe him off the face of the earth. It was all over. The verdict was as decisive as it could possibly have been. No power on earth could ever rescue or reinstate him.”

But that is not the end of the story, was we know. Even as the world tried to cross him out, a power outside of this world sprung into action. Early Easter morning God intervened and raised Jesus from the dead. As the Apostle Peter proclaimed in his Pentecost sermon, “ put him to death by nailing him to a cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2.23, 24). All the machinations of demonic darkness and human fallen-ness to ex Jesus out were reversed, rendered impotent, to be used ultimately in the service of God’s redemptive plan. Death has lost its grip. The tomb is empty. Our resurrected Jesus reigns.

Even in the mist of this pandemic and its cursed consequences, we live in the power of Christ’s resurrection. As Paul so powerfully stated: “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining the resurrection from the dead,” (Philippians 3.10,11).

- Pastor Tony

March 28, 2021

We have been exploring the disciple Peter in his relationship with Jesus through our time of Lent. Today we consider perhaps his most famous act – that of denying his Lord. All four Gospels relate this heart rending event; clearly this was something that each writer felt was an important part of Peter’s journey - his spiritual growth - with Jesus to the cross. Perhaps even more so, it is an integral part of God’s mysterious way of giving each of us hope and bringing us his salvation. I invite you to read and reflect on the poem, Peter’s Tears, by the 17th century Dutch poet and pastor, Jacobus Revius. As the poetry conveys the feelings and failure of the moment that fateful night in the courtyard, can you also detect the quiet, redeeming hand of God?

Peter’s Tears:

O swaying steps, uncertain of your going!

O fear and hope that melt my heart with shame!

O fire that makes my soul a burning flame!

O eyes, no longer eyes but rivers flowing!

O blind bravado, lacking all direction,

Leading my reckless feet into this room

Where these wild beasts prepare my Master’s doom,

Thirsting to lick the blood of his perfection!

O servant’s tongue that drove my tongue to lying!

O rooster-crow that tears my soul apart!

What cheer have you to give my cheerless heart?

O Jesu, tasting anguish for my crimes,

Whose worthy name I have denied three times,

Stand still just once and see my bitter crying.

- Pastor Tony

March 21, 2021

If you are a believer in Jesus, somewhere along the line you have a missionary to thank; someone who introduced the Gospel to another for the first time. The Irish have St. Patrick to thank. (He is one of the most well-known, celebrated annually). Born in Britain in the late 4th century, Patrick was kidnapped as a 16 year old and taken to Ireland and sold as a shepherd slave. While alone in the fields with sheep he had lots of time to reflect and became a Christian. He escaped and returned to Britain, where he became a priest. God gave him a vision of bringing the Gospel to those who did not know; coupled with a love for the Irish people, he returned to the island and brought the Good News. Consequently, the Irish have a long history of Christianity.

If we are of Dutch heritage, we have a man named Willibrord to thank. Also born in Britain (around 658 CE), he was commissioned by the church to bring the message of life to the Low Countries. Situated in Utrecht, he actually spent much time in Friesland, introducing the Gospel to pagan people. The Spirit was at work, and in time the Netherlands came to faith, and grew to have a rich Christian history.

And we can thank the Apostle Peter. One of the first missionaries, we witness his activities in the Book of Acts. We actually know little about the life of the twelve disciples after Jesus ascended. (Many traditional theories abound, but there is little actual historical evidence). But we know from the Bible that Peter was called and equipped to bring the news of Jesus as the Messiah to three people groups: the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles. Along with Philip and Paul, he took the message of new life in Jesus to many, and baptized many as they become members in the body of Christ (Acts 8, 10).

Of course, Jesus of Nazareth was the very first missionary. He came from heaven and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God among us on earth who had not yet heard or seen it (Mark 1.15). “We must go to other towns as well, and I will preach to them too. That is why I came,” Mark 1.38. Jesus preached it, lived it, died for it, so that we might believe and have true life. Indeed, many missionaries gave their lives literally in their quest to get the Word out (Jesus, Peter, and Paul, to name the most well-known).

Come to think of it, aren’t all believers called to be missionaries - giving our lives as living sacrifices for the sake of the gospel of Jesus? After all, each of us has come to faith through the message and ministry of a missionary, somewhere along the line.

- Pastor Tony

March 14, 2021

Many times we have been encouraged to ‘stay positive’ during this past year; through the struggle, restrictions, and isolation, authorities and leaders have reminded us to deliberately reflect on things we’re thankful for, appreciate the ‘little’ daily blessings of life, stay creative, and look for the ‘bright side’. In my experience as a pastor I have known many, many people who have steadfastly confessed the sovereign providence of God through their personal trials; even as we cannot explain or understand our troubles, in faith we know our circumstances are in the Lord’s hands, and in his mysterious design he will work out our salvation. As difficult as this pandemic has been - in so many ways - as we trust in God’s sovereign and gracious rule, we can in faith ask ourselves about some of the good that has come of it.

History also bears witness to many who have trusted in God’s faithfulness in trying times, and indeed they tell of good things that came of the tribulations. In a short article, Caroline Lieffers, a history professor at Kings University, shares some of these, one of which is a Canadian example. During the 1918 flu epidemic we realized that the disease was no respecter of anyone, regardless of wealth, education, social status, ethnic or gender identity. Some called it the “socialism of the microbe.” Canada recognized this and realized that the then current patchwork of underfunded health care boards and care providers was not up to the task of protecting the nation. So the Federal Department of Health was established in 1919. It helps us coordinate a collective response that more adequately addresses the need of every citizen. It is one significant example of ‘good that came out of bad.”

On an individual level, we have seen scores of people acting out of generosity, sacrifice, kindness, courage, and compassion through these dark days. As Lieffers notes, “...We might appreciate the resilience of community, the importance of the collective, and the beauty of courage and selflessness.” Or, as the disciple Peter encouraged, “If anyone serves, they should do it with the strength God provides so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” Perhaps the pandemic has caused this to be our experience more often and brought this truth to deeper resonance in our hearts.

- Pastor Tony

February 28, 2021

The Apostle Peter, in the Gospels, often represents the whole group of disciples. Quite often he is their spokesman, asking questions or making comments that more of the disciples have on their minds. So too, we may find something of ourselves in Peter. Although this may cause us some concern, it may also provide us with some comfort. He reminds us of our humanity, with all its emotions and experiences.

Leonard Griffith views Peter in his extremes: stability and instability, cowardice and courage, weakness and strength, despair and hope, selfishness and love. Griffith asks: Was Peter by nature a brave man who occasionally lost his nerve, or was he a man of extreme timidity who showed occasional flashes of courage? “The most likely answer is that he combined the two qualities in his character like two sides of the same coin. Sometimes the coin fell on heads, and sometimes on tails. Let’s say his soul was a battle ground between cowardice and courage...” The episode of walking on the waves demonstrates this dynamic in Peter’s heart. When the Apostle sees Jesus walking towards the boat, with enthusiasm he asks to come and walk on water himself. Full of faith he steps out onto the raging waves. Quickly his faith dissipates as the waves overwhelm him, and he begins to sink. In fear he cried out to be saved, which Jesus immediately does. Elated with the rescue, Peter is filled with wonder and worship of Jesus.

This event may serve as a paradigm for our own walk with the Lord, and the experiences, thoughts, and feelings that come along the way. We catch a vision of Jesus, and with joy and excitement we want to go to him, and walk with him in this miraculous journey. We step out in faith and trust. Soon, we encounter the ‘realities’ of everyday life in a broken world, and fear and discouragement can set in; we might even get that sinking feeling. We pray to the Lord, “Help us! Save us!” And he does: he sends his Spirit that we might sense his redeeming and refreshing presence. Then we respond in gratitude and worship, awed by his love, power, and grace.

There is comfort in knowing we can and often do find ourselves in the same boat as Peter. And that Jesus is right there with us.

- Pastor Tony

February 21, 2021

On this first Sunday of Lent we are embarking on a series of messages called The Passion of Peter. Simon Peter, the disciple who we know most about from the Gospels, is a bit like a threatening and often active volcano: at times quiet, but underneath emotions are lurking, ready to erupt into ‘foot in mouth’ types of words and unexpected actions. Perhaps this is why Jesus gave him the name Peter, which is Greek for ‘rock’. Who says Jesus doesn’t have a sense of humour, along with keen insight into human character? He gives Simon the nick name Rocky: not ‘The Rock’ as in solid and unmovable, but Rocky, as in unstable ground.

Given this, we might wonder why Jesus went on to make Peter one of the leading disciples, even THE one undisputed leader of the group. Indeed, according to the Roman Catholic Church, Peter was to become the bonafide leader of the universal church. In essence he is viewed as the first pope, and all subsequent popes represent the Apostle Peter’s authority. This doctrine is based on Matthew 16.18, when Jesus says to him: “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means rock) and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not prevail against it.” The Protestant church has a different interpretation. In the previous verses Peter has confessed that Jesus “ the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus is then calling this confession the ‘rock’ or foundation on which the church is built.

Either way, Peter figures prominently in the Gospels, as a leading disciple, and as a charismatic and influential leader in the New Testament church. But this does not take away any of the truth that he was rocky. Yes, Jesus knew exactly what Peter was like, and he still chose him to give him a major role in his mission. What are we to make of this? Many things, which I anticipate we will explore in this series. But for now, we can say that Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah was something he believed deep in his heart; so much so that he was willing to be crucified for this conviction (tradition tells us).

And it was this confession - the foundational ‘rock’ - on which he built his life, rather than his character, that ‘qualified’ him to be the leader he would become. None-the-less, we may just discover that the sovereign Lord actually used Peter’s volatile nature, explosive emotions, and unstable responses for the very purposes of his divine plan of redemption.

- Pastor Tony

February 14, 2021

Today we conclude our series of Following Jesus through John. John wrote his gospel account, recall, so that we might believe Jesus is the Son of God (the Messiah), and by believing, we would have life in his name (John 20.30,31). The Gospel, and this series of messages, is a small if important part of our ongoing call and journey to be disciples of Jesus; the path we take with him and with fellow followers is one of gradual learning and growth. Here are two poems about our Lord that I hope will give opportunity for insights and reflection.


He was a plain man
And learned no latin

Having left all gold behind
He dealt out peace
To all us people
And the weather

He ate fish, bread,
country wine and God’s will

Dust sandalled his feet

He wore purple only once
And that was an irony

(Luci Shaw)


Strong Son of God, immortal love
Whom we, that have not seen Thy face
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove.
Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, Thou;
Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.

(Alfred Tennyson)

February 7, 2021

The search for truth is a human endeavor; it seems that we are born with a desire to know what is true and what isn’t. We want to live a life in light of what is true, not what is false. So, the quest for truth has been with us since the beginning. However, for us living today in the intellectual and cultural climate (postmodern) we find ourselves in, knowing what is true seems especially pressing, and perhaps especially illusive.

As Jesus was telling his followers that he would be leaving them, he comforted them by saying the Counselor, the Holy Spirit would in a sense take his place. He is, Jesus told them and us, the Spirit of truth and he will guide us into all truth (John 16.13a). The Holy Spirit will bring the presence of Jesus – who is truth personified - into our midst. He will shepherd us into a deepening knowledge of the truth Jesus brought and is, and in so doing he will bring glory to God.

Of course, truth comes to us through the recorded Word, the Bible, as well. The same Word of the Scriptures is in perfect union with the Word made flesh. Often I have wondered aloud with you as to whether our Covid restrictions have given us more or less time to read the Bible and reflect on its message. Although most Bible study guides are good and helpful, sometimes I find the best way to engage is to read and ask three questions of the passage:

1. What is God saying in this passage? (Is it a word about grace? forgiveness? humility? holiness? sorrow? love? discipline? sin? guilt? joy? relationships? family? community? unity? possessions? beauty? glory? life purpose? peace...) 2. How am I reacting to this message? (A response of wonder? joy? empathy? heartache? gratitude? contentment? compassion? confusion? praise? worship? hope? encouragement...) 3. What does this passage call me to do? (Pray? Sing? Reach Out? Work harder, or less? Search more? Be still? Nurture my gifts? Bear witness? Practice hospitality? Make a sacrifice? Join a small group?...)

As you read and ponder, and respond to the three questions, may the Holy Spirit guide into the truth, the presence of Jesus.

- Pastor Tony

January 31, 2021

In the Gospel of John, Jesus talks a lot about God the Father. Jesus came to earth mainly because he was sent by the Father; his reason for becoming human and living among us was to do the will of his Father. At one point he says that his food is doing the will of the Father – this is what energized and motivated him. In line with this mission, Jesus teaches that we can know this invisible Father through knowing him. If we see/know Jesus, then we see/know the God who created the universe, and made us. Throughout the book Jesus explores his relationship with the Father, which is a very close and intimate one. He is in the Father, and the Father is in him. Through the Spirit, when we believe in Jesus, then we indeed share in this intimate relationship. The love Jesus and the Father share is extended to us who believe, and believing this means that we experience true life.

John Timmer, in his book The Four Dimensional Jesus, shares this about Jesus in John. The most outstanding self-designation Jesus makes about himself is that he is the one sent from the Father. It is Jesus’ fundamental understanding of himself. Jesus represents the Father, speaks for the Father, acts on behalf of the Father. But Jesus not only brings a message from the Father; he is the message. He not only reveals truth; he is the truth. He not only offers bread from heaven; he is the bread of heaven. He not only imparts life from above; he is the life. He not only is the bearer of divine light; he is the light of the world. John’s entire gospel is based on the understanding that Jesus comes from the Father and that everything he says and does flows from his oneness with the Father.

In many ways we see that John’s gospel, which was written later than the first three gospels, has a more elaborated proclamation of who Jesus is as a person. (Take for example all the “I Am” sayings: bread of life, truth and way, resurrection, water, light, shepherd, vine). The first three gospels, in contrast, are more focused on what he does. (This is a point worthy of discussion). Another commentator wrote that, when we also consider the letters of John, we see that as John aged and matured his message became more and more deeply simplified: namely, God is love, period. This is the heart of faith, and all the rest flows from it. All this is lots to reflect on; I pray that it will help us grow in our relational knowledge of God our Father, made known to us through his Son in the Spirit.

- Pastor Tony

January 24, 2021

The inauguration of a new American president this past week was filled with pomp and pride, as it usually is. The patriotism was palpable, and all the talk of democratic ideals forged and won through a history of struggle and effort got me thinking of the American Revolution, and in particular its roots in religious fervor. Did you know that? At least according to a number of historians, the spirit of independence and breaking from England was seeded in the sentiments fostered by the Great Awakening of the 1730-50’s in the English colonies.

The first Great Awakening in America (there were at least three of them) was deeply rooted in a Puritan faith and experience. The Puritans had come in the mid 1600’s to America from England. Fleeing persecution in their homeland, they immigrated to a new world to practice their faith without fear of government interference. In fact, many of them saw this move as the beginning of pioneering a new land, a new Israel, if you will, a city on a hill that would shine its light to the world. Under the revival preaching of pastors like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards in the middle of the 18th century, people felt the Spirit move and call them to a deeper experience and expression of Christian faith. Resisting the perceived inhibitions of church rules and traditional rituals and regulations, they emphasized a personal hunger for God, conviction and remorse for sin, a deep sense of the need for redemption, joy in the gracious salvation through Jesus, and a fruitful life of good works and testimony. Among other things, the movement resulted in an increase in evangelical church membership, and various parachurch religious movements were born. The emphasis on an individual relationship with the Lord and the freedom to express one’s own, unique faith fostered a sense of autonomy from the institutional church, and also from government oversight and legislation in the area of faith (religious freedom). You can see the writing on the wall. This sense and taste of individuality and freedom eventually lead to resistance against the old country (England, the Crown, and the Anglican Church), and a revolution that would see a new country established in 1776 – the United States of America.

Does all of this have anything to do with our theme for this Sunday (Jesus and Me) at St. Albert CRC? I think it does. This synopsis of a part of American history gets us reflecting on at least two things: How our Christian faith, and the Bible, repeatedly calls us to a personal faith in Jesus that is strongly individual. And secondly, that such personal engagement has implications for society at large.

- Pastor Tony

January 10, 2021


The fact that Jesus proclaimed that he has brought light into the world, that he is indeed the Light of the world, tells us that the need for light in our lives in the midst of darkness is a universal and age long motif. People of all places in all times have sought light in order to live. The sun is an obvious example; biological life would be impossible without the sun. Jesus uses this truth and takes it one giant leap deeper: we need him to know and experience life in the fullest sense. Henry Gariepy, in his book, 100 Portraits of Christ, unfolds some of the nuances of Jesus as the light of the world. Here are a few:

Light reveals. The most beautiful flowers, the most majestic mountains are obscured in inky blackness until they are rescued from the night and bathed in sunlight. Only in the light do they thrill us with the wonder of their beauty. Jesus is a beautiful Savior who illuminates the beauty of life with God on this earth in all its multifaceted wonder.

Light permeates. It travels at its phantom speed of 186,000 miles a second. It is unhindered by space and time. Christ transcends the barriers of time and space; he is eternal and omnipresent. He is always near to us.

Light is pure. Water may start out pure but can be polluted. Snow falls crystal clean white from the heavens, but can quickly turn brown or grey on the earth. Wind and air can become contaminated with toxic chemicals. But light may shine through the foulest medium and yet remain impeccably pure. Christ mingled with us among the corruption of our world, yet remained spotless and pure. He is unadulterated, pure light.

Light transforms. Through light plants grow and bear fruit; photosynthesis occurs and provides life-sustaining oxygen that allows creatures to grow; the light of knowledge illuminates our minds and hearts to help us grow in understanding. Indeed, when we walk in the light of Jesus, we ourselves reflect his light: “I am the light of the world, Jesus said to his followers” (Matthew 5.14). As the moon reflects the light of the source of light, the sun – without the sun the moon would be a sterile, invisible black ball in the sky – so we reflect the light of Jesus that has transformed our minds and hearts. May the Spirit continue to inspire and enable us to reflect the radiance of Christ in the dark places of our world!

-Pastor Tony

January 3, 2020

‘Hospitality’ might be the last word we would associate with the Covid pandemic. If anything, we are restricted from practicing hospitality as we are forced to isolate and stay in our respective homes. Yet, in many ways, hospitality has become even more prominent. For myself, I have gained a new and deeper appreciation for the blessing of gathering with others in physical space and real time to share each other, conversation, fellowship, food, and encouragement. Even during these past 10 months, we’ve managed to find creative ways, usually through technology, to be hospitable towards one another.

After Jesus rose from the grave, John records an account of his appearing by the Sea of Galilee (John 21). The disciples had been out fishing all night, and as they approach the shore at dawn, Jesus is there. He has a fire going on the beach and is preparing some bread and fish for breakfast. He invites them to sit with him and share in a meal. Jesus is practicing hospitality with his friends; their resurrected Saviour is sharing a mundane, ever-day type of meal with them. They are stunned and encouraged at the same time.

One aspect of this story is the missionary element and how it weds with hospitality. It was right along this shore, where they were eating breakfast, about three years earlier, that Jesus first called these men to be ‘fishers of men’; to follow him and go and bring his message to others. The disciples had just finished a night of fishing, and now Jesus meets them raised from the dead and shares the new life with them. Go and catch ‘fish’ - people of all nations into the web of the kingdom of eternal life. (It is interesting that Jesus actually miraculously provided the haul of fish for the disciples that night; he converts people to faith, we are simply called to spread the word). On this early morning, Jesus calls them anew to spread the good news, and he does it as they share a warm breakfast together.

Hospitality and Outreach. It seems such a natural combination. As Jesus invites us to come and dine with him, we are called to invite others to our tables and experience the presence of our risen Saviour and Lord. I have found in my life-long journey in the Christian Reformed Church that the Spirit has blessed us with the gift of hospitality. (It actually is a fruit of the Spirit, see Romans 12.13; I Timothy 3.2). As a Christian community we like getting together and sharing with one another, and often food and drink is involved. Jesus shows us, in word and by his modeling while on earth (to say nothing of his becoming flesh among us), that it is an excellent and effect method of sharing his person and good news with others. We look forward to the time, hopefully in 2021, that we can again open our homes and welcome our neighbors and strangers to sit at our tables, and share the blessing of the Lord.

-Pastor Tony

(Pastor Tony is away until early January)

December 13, 2020

Like the Old Testaments prophets, Jesus proclaimed that God was just, and that he called his followers to seek to live in just ways. One parable Jesus told was about a widow who sought justice from a judge. She had to be persistent in pursuing justice, and her persistence paid off. Gerald VandeZande, who worked for many years on behalf of our denomination in Ottawa, dialoguing with legislators, sees this parable as instructive on the question of being followers of Jesus who seek justice in our society. Here is a quote:

God stands with us at the beginning and at the end of history. He walks with us and welcome us home, saying, “I am here as the ever faithful God of justice, and I see to it that justice will be done. So do not fear the future. Do not worry about oppressors. Ultimately, they cannot win the battle, for I have overcome the evil one. I am available. If you ask for justice, I will give it to you.” Remember the ever faithful Son of Man, the just Judge, is always looking for faith-filled and justice-seeking, prayerful people…God has given us faith. God has given us hope. He has shown us the way of justice and reconciliation. We can therefore continue our work in the sure knowledge that, ultimately, we are not alone. We belong to God, and we are part of his people. Indeed we cannot lose!...Therefore be unafraid of the future. For the future belongs to God, the God of justice. It belongs to all who are willing to be followers of Jesus, until the end of time. Continue in faith and rejoice in hope!

May the parable of Jesus and these words of Gerald VandeZande inspire us to persevere in seeking justice for our world, in the sure hope that Jesus our just King, born to us in Bethlehem, will indeed bring it in the fullness of his Kingdom.

-Pastor Tony

December 6, 2020

The news is abuzz with a Covid vaccine; it is on the horizon! There is light at the end of the tunnel, many are saying. It can’t come soon enough. We are thankful to the Lord for scientists and science, for data and labs, and the relatively quick progress they have made in developing an antidote. Indeed, the interest, knowledge, and gifts researchers and medical staff possess are a blessing to our society. We have made so much progress is the area of medicine over the past century, so much so that it is hard to imagine how difficult life was in terms of health and disease only 150 years ago. (Louis Pasteur developed the principles of vaccination and immunology in the 1870’s). Thank the Lord for vaccinations.

Some may be tempted to feel and say this vaccine is our salvation. One epidemiologist called it a miracle. A historian recently interviewed on CBC was musing about science being the new ‘god’ to whom society would now go for healing and solutions to our problems. Science has saved us! Such a view might be tempting (or not), given the immediacy of our crisis and the belief that a vaccine is indeed a big part of the path out of it. However, many health experts who are on the news recently are saying that even as a vaccine is essential to overcoming the pandemic, it is not a ‘silver bullet’; that is, it is not the singular solution that will take care of the virus and make it go away. We will need to continue caring for each other and caring for ourselves in other ways for us to overcome this completely.

Of course, as necessary and helpful as science and medicine is, it cannot save us. For one, even as a vaccine will help us partially through this time, who knows what diseases and maladies we will face in the future? For two, our problem is much bigger than a nasty virus. As a human race we have wandered from our Maker, and all the spiritual and social consequences of such a fall - greed, hedonism, materialism, self-centeredness, secularism, economic disparity, poverty, inequality, sickness, violence, corruption, social injustice, racism, exploitation and so on - cannot be fixed with a vaccine. Only God can save us from all this. (We’ve tried, over and over again in our past, and nothing seems to work – it always turns out to have something defective or worse about it). And as we know so clearly at Christmas, out of loving heart, God does save us. And one of the amazing parts about his salvation is that, he not only saves us spiritually, but physically too. His redemptive scheme included a new heaven and earth; it includes redeemed and resurrected physical bodies – yes, glorified bodies impervious to disease. Thank the Lord for our complete salvation!

-Pastor Tony

November 29, 2020: No Meanderings this week

November 22, 2020

Recently Rita D. blessed me with a book of poetry. The poet is Linda Siebenga, who lives on a farm near Lacombe, Alberta,

is a graduate of Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI), and was a school teacher for a number of years. Like all good poetry (in my

opinion), her poetry draws from everyday experiences and give us a glimpse of our spiritual and interior journey. Here are two of her

poems that speak into our reflections for this Sunday, which is living in the light of the Lord’s truth in the midst of a world challenged

with so much half-truths and falsehoods.

-Pastor Tony

A Little Light on a Walk through a Dark Bush

Enveloped by darkness

as if there was nothing else.

Probed by the cold

like intense loneliness.

Until a small beam of light

touched my path with warmth and comfort.

Walking on Water

Impossible feast

to make soles stride

on the water

The laws of nature

drag them down –

created laws

whose king treads firmly

beyond them

Our feet can follow his

into his kingdom

over impossible waters

only when we see

November 15, 2020

In 2018 our church Council received a communication from a member asking us to discuss the question of Treaty 6, the agreement between the government of Canada and Indigenous peoples. Council responded by forming a committee to explore this concern; the members of this committee are Douwe Vanderwel, Douwe Spriensma, and Pastor Tony. Our first task as a group was to learn about Treaty 6. We quickly felt that we needed to spend time and investment in exploring our relationship as a church with the First Nations people in our area, beginning with some history. This is what we have done over the past two years. Some of our activities include substantial reading and research, a visit to Pound Maker Lodge, conversations with Indigenous local people, including Harold Roscher (Director of the Edmonton Native Healing Centre), attending workshops and seminars, and a Council ‘retreat’ with Jesse Edgington, our Diaconal Consultant. And today (Sunday, November 15) we are blessed with the opportunity hear the message brought by an Indigenous servant of the Lord, Parry Stelter.

All this brings us back to Treaty 6. What is it, exactly? In one sentence, it is a legal agreement between the Canadian Government and the Plains Indigenous people (signed in 1873 near Prince Albert, Saskatchewan) concerning land ownership/title and rights, and includes agreements regarding health care, education, and land use (hunting, fishing, farming). (If anyone is interested in seeing/reading the actual document, it is available on line, or we could give you a hard copy). The city of St. Albert, and thus our church, is situated on Treaty 6 land. This means that our property is located on lands that were once live on, used and occupied by First Nations people. Recognition of this truth on a regular basis not only acknowledges the history of our land, it also reminds us of the need for us to care for the land, and to do so with gratitude. After all, we believe that all the earth actually belongs to the Lord (a truth Indigenous people heartily endorse and teach), which of course includes the land our church is planted on. A sample statement is: “The Christian Reformed Church of St. Albert acknowledges that we are situated on Treaty 6 territory, traditional land of First Nations and Metis people. We respect the histories, languages and cultures of our Indigenous sisters and brothers, and commit to truth and reconciliation in our relationship with them.”

Such recognition is a small part of a much larger picture, namely, our relationship with our Indigenous sisters and brothers. It is well known that the relationship of the past between European immigrants and Indigenous peoples has significant difficulties. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been established in Canada to seek healing in this relationship. Along with the Centre in Edmonton (mentioned earlier) the Christian Reformed Church has ministries related to First Nations peoples in Winnipeg and Regina. We also have a Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee. A number of members of our St. Albert church, and our church leadership, is active in reaching out to First Nations people and communities. All of this indicates our active interest in being engaged in the call to follow Jesus as ambassadors for peace. May the Lord bless and guide us in his Spirit so our efforts will bear fruit of healing in our province and country.

-Pastor Tony

November 8, 2020

At this time of year we often, at least in Protestant places, remember the Reformation of the 16th century in Europe, which had (and has) long lasting ramifications in the western part of the world, including North America. We as a Christian Reformed Church in Canada are evidence of the Reformation’s influence. Given the public political, social, and perhaps personal atmosphere of division and hostility (sadly) that we seem to be in, many voices question the validity or ‘rightness’ of celebrating an historical event that divided the church. Among all parties – Protestants, Catholics, and Anabaptists (and other radical reformers) – much persecution and pain was inflicted. Is this something we should celebrate?

I think it is a point worthy of discussion. Nonetheless, I still believe that the corrective measures for the church that the Reformers brought forth, for the most part, have been a blessing to the communion of the saints. One outstanding tenet was Sola Scriptura, the conviction that God’s word is all we need in order to know God, his salvation, and the way of true life. (Creeds and Confessions - and there are lots of them! – can be helpful, but are not essential to salvation). Our conviction that the Bible - all on its own, read with the aid of the Holy Spirit, fully reveals who God is and what he had done for us – is foundational to Christian faith and living. The Word provides for us a sure foundation as we encounter the storms of life (Matthew 7.24-27).

MaryAnn had a grandmother who survived not one, but two world wars. She knew her Bible. Sometimes the family would sit around the dinner table and someone would read a portion of a Psalm; without hearing the reference, Oma would be able to say which Psalm was being read. The living Word had held her fast through a life familiar with crisis and hardship. In a day when one’s worldview is often determined by partisan ideologies, and one’s lifestyle and values determined by the latest trends and popular cultural figures, the Bible reveals a relevant and ageless worldview (Genesis 1-3; Mark 1.15; Matthew 13.24-33; Mark 10.41-45; 10.29-31; John 3.16; Colossians 1.15-23; Revelation 21.1-1-8) and an invaluable path of meaningful life (Proverbs 3.5,6; Galatians 5.22-26; Ephesians 5-6; Romans 13.1-10; 1 Timothy 6.6-10; 2 Corinthians 9.6-11) that provides a firm foundation on which to live and experience true joy. A recent Instagram post exhorted these four goals for November: 1. Put God first everyday 2. Read the Bible more 3. Pray constantly 4. Trust God always. Simple and powerful, I thought. As children of the Protestant Reformation, let’s recommit to reading the Word of the Lord every day.

-Pastor Tony

November 1, 2020

As Moses and the Israelites made their way towards the land of promise, Jehovah began to increasingly reveal himself to them. One virtue of his heart that became very clear was that the God they were getting to know was a just Being. The revelation of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai made this obvious. Leviticus and Deuteronomy instructed on how this justice played out in the details of ever day life. The Psalms proclaim his just character and acts (“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord. “I will protect them from those who malign them.” Psalm 12.5). And the prophets no less depict him as righteous, and furthermore that those who follow him value, teach, and practice justice.(“The path of the righteous (just) is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth.” Isaiah 26.7).

Perhaps it is true of every age, but it seems that our age of increased awareness of the past and current events around the globe, afforded to us through communication/information through advancing technology, has made us more aware of the countless instances of injustices perpetrated against many. World hunger is one obvious one; worldwide enough food is produced for every mouth and stomach, but still over 650 million people are malnourished. A history of slavery has robbed millions of their basic human rights to freedom of expression and freedom of their will, let alone their dignity as image bearers of their Maker. Tens of thousands of children are exploited as child labourers, driven to such circumstances by poverty. Millions of refugees live homeless (and country-less) in vast tent cities escaping war and violence. Many Indigenous people are struggling to overcome the pain and turmoil of losing their culture and land in North America over the past centuries. Thousands of people who are minorities, and who do not fit into the mainstream, tell stories of being ostracized and treated unjustly.

The list can go on, and it can feel overwhelming. It is all the consequences of fallen world; one that his departed from the way of the Lord. But God is compassionate and will indeed bring justice and peace to the earth (Psalm 85.8). As he looks down in righteousness from heaven, “Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, and his glory may dwell in the land. Love and faithfulness meet together; justice and peace kiss each other,” (Psalm 85). Don’t be discouraged! With trust in his Spirit to move in us and through us, in faithfulness to the call to seek justice and walk humbly, we can bring justice upon the earth.

-Pastor Tony

October 25, 2020

In our beatitude for today, Jesus says that those who mourn will be comforted. Our Lord gives us comfort when someone we love is no longer with us. How does he do that? In his book, Mourning to Dancing, Walter Wangerin explores the thought that grief is good. The author writes that the mourning itself is a way in which the Lord provides comfort and strength. When we lose a loved one, it is good that we experience and express sorrow and sadness. Not to do so would be unhelpful, and indeed unnatural. It would indeed seem strange if, when our beloved is taken from us by death, we do not miss them, and do not mourn their passing. Wangerin believes that grieving is in fact a gift of God that he uses to bring healing. He says, ‘Grief is a grace of God! Grief is the gift slipped into our error, a hook to return us to him after all.” Through mourning God brings us closer to himself.

I believe the Lord uses friends, fellow believers, and family members to help us with our grief. If we know someone who is in a season of sorrow, we may wonder if we can really be an instrument of healing. Wangerin suggests a number of things we can do to support a grieving loved one. One of them is just to be a listening ear; something that may seem easy but can be difficult for many of us (We feel pressure to say something or do something to help ease the pain and sadness!) Walter Wangerin says just listen attentively is one of the most helpful things we can do. “Rather, listen with honest attention. Restate her sentiments asking if that is what she meant; so she’ll know that listening is happening. If she needs to be sad for seven months, allow for sadness. Affirm it. Trust that (in almost every case) the griever’s instinct is accurate, and she does need the time. If she wants to repeat certain memories over and over, let each repetition be new to you. The point is not to learn something you did not know before. The point is relationship, manifest in plain listening.”

Being a good listener for one who is grieving is just one small but very important way the Lord causes us to bring comfort as our loved one is mourning. Indeed, when we have such listening friends, we are blessed.

-Pastor Tony

October 18, 2020

The Lord willing, retirement for MaryAnn and me is still a ways off. We are thankful for relatively good health and energy, and we are excited about the work the Lord has still prepared for us. As a pastor I am blessed with the opportunity get to know the members of the St. Albert church family. A number of them are retired, and over the past year or so we have had a handful of members enter into active retirement. Most of these members are indeed active in their retirement years; they are invested and involved in our church ministry in numerous capacities. This week I spoke with one retired member who is wearing at least five different ‘hats’, serving our church. Another one was in this week to assemble some Ikea bookshelves. Others are willing to serve on Council. And those who are less physically mobile are constantly lifting our congregation and our individual needs up in prayer.

It is a cliché, but a true one, that Christians never really retire. We may conclude our ‘paying’ careers in office, business, store, factory, farm, school, hospital…but are blessed with many years of health and opportunity afterwards to serve in the Kingdom. In the Bible, our modern idea of ‘retirement’ is a foreign idea. The one passage it is actually mentioned is in Numbers with regards to those who serve as priests in the tabernacle (Numbers 8.25). At the age of 50, those who had served directly were required to stop.

However, rather than retreat and spend the rest of their days at the beach or on the golf course, they were called to serve as mentors to younger generations. They were called to share their experience, wisdom, and support with the younger people who would rise up to become leaders.

The seniors among us are leaders and models of faith that are invaluable to the blessing and growth of our congregation. We are so thankful to the Lord for the way you give of your gifts, time, and energy; for your heart commitment, prayers, and love of this body. Be reminded that your works reflect the Spirit of God in you, a Spirit that gives you supernatural energy. “The godly are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the court of the Lord. Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green,” (Psalm 92.13, 14). Thank you for generously sharing your spiritual energy in our community. May the Lord be praised in your service as you participate in the building of his church.

-Pastor Tony

(No Meanderings Sept 20 - Early Oct)

Sept 13, 2020

As the Apostle Paul turns to the practicalities of living the life Jesus has won for us in Romans 12, he exhorts us to offer ourselves as ‘living sacrifices’. This phrase will be the focus of our message on Sign Up Sunday. However, he also proclaims that we are being ‘transformed by the renewing of our minds’ so we may discern the will of God, ultimately maturing fully into the character or image of Jesus. Due to time constraints, we will not reflect much on this dynamic of transformation in the message Sunday morning, so we will take a little time to do so here in Meanderings.

The word and reality of transformation is central to a Reformed understanding of Christian life and faith. We are ‘always reforming,’ semper reformanda is the Latin phrase, going all the way back to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century. We are constantly being renewed and transformed through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the most exciting parts of being reconciled to God, on a journey of his redemptive work among us.

Gayle Doornbos, a millennial student, explores this Romans 12 passage in ways that ooze the joy and the challenge of being transformed in our minds and hearts (The Banner, April 2015). She writes that the primary focus of this transformative work is actually not us, but God. He is not only doing the work; he is the origin of it and he is also the ultimate goal for which this work is being done. “Your whole goal in life, your satisfaction, and your desires are fulfilled not just by something but by someone outside of you: the God of the universe...” It is a gift of our Maker. As we receive the gift of salvation through his Son, by the Spirit we allow the Lord to radically transform us from inside out. Doornbos notes that this can be challenging because it goes against our prideful human nature and our self-exalting culture. Yet, she says, “...not allowing ourselves to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit is akin to visiting the Grand Canyon and then dumping trash into it. That is not what we are supposed to do! Instead, we should stand in awe of this amazing gift of beauty and then commit ourselves to be stewards of that beauty.”

Such renewal involves the pursuit of holiness, righteousness and justice; not simple moralism or rules, but a living faith rooted in a dynamic, reconciled relationship. The fruit of such sanctification is described by Paul graphically in another letter. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are be transformed into his image with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit,” (II Corinthians 3.18). May the transforming work of the Spirit fashion our hearts and minds more and more into the image of Jesus. May all the glory go to the Father. And may the world see his glorious presence through us!

- Pastor Tony

Sept 6, 2020

One of the fundamental ‘rules’ of interpreting a biblical text and preaching on it – at least as I have been taught - is it must be ‘Christocentric’. In other words, we need to discern how Jesus is related to this passage that in the end Christ be proclaimed, for he is the climax of God’s revelation and the fulfilment of history. This can be a challenge sometimes, especially with some Old Testament texts. (For example, how do we discern Jesus in Leviticus 19.27, “Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards)? For the most part, however, this principle is not too difficult to observe. In most of the Scriptures, Old and New, Jesus is evident.

In the case of Daniel, we find many connecting points with Christ. For example, the minor prophet foreshadows the Messiah in many ways. Consideration of just the Lion’s Den episode shows many of these. As the satraps conspired against Daniel without true cause, the authorities conspired against Jesus falsely. As Darius, the king, unsuccessfully tried to save Daniel, so Pontius Pilate tried but failed to spare Jesus. In Daniel 6.23, we read that the prophet trusted in God; so Jesus trusted in the Father completely (Matthew 26.42). Daniel descended into the pit (of lions) that was covered in a stone and sealed; Jesus’ body was laid in a tomb, covered by a stone, and sealed. Daniel was found alive in the den early in the morning; “Very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had arisen, the three women went to the tomb” where an angel told them, “Jesus...has been raised...” (Mark 16.2,6). Daniel prospered after he had been saved; after Christ was raised, he was given all authority.

Of course, Jesus is superior to Daniel. What Daniel experienced is a prefiguration, a shadow, of the actual “Son of Man.” In Daniel we catch a glimpse – a very strong one, but still just a taste – of who and what the true Savior will be and do. Here we see how essential Jesus is to a complete message of the Bible. Imagine Daniel in the lion’s pit without Jesus: as thrilling as the story is, in the end it leaves us without hope. Daniel was spared death in the den only to die on a later day. But Jesus rising from the grave, overcoming the claws and jaws of death once and for all, assures and proclaims that we also will not taste eternal death. As Paul wrote, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died...Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ (I Corinthians 15.20,23).

Jesus is the fulfilment of the Scriptures – all its promises find their completion in him. Daniel whet our appetite, Jesus delivers the full meal to complete satisfaction.

- Pastor Tony

August 30, 2020

As I am reading through the Bible, back to front, during the Covid period, I am struck by the prominent but usually understated role that women play in God’s redemptive work. The Old Testament period was patriarchal – in public and official ways, it was the men who held power and attention. In the ‘patriarchal’ period of Abraham through Jacob women play ‘behind the scenes’ roles which are clearly pivotal in how circumstances unfold to bring about the Lord’s plan. At one point Abraham is told by God to do whatever Sarah (his wife) says, Genesis 21.12. And Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, orchestrated the blessing for the younger Jacob, Genesis 27. In Jesus’ day this was no less true. Although none of the ‘official’ disciples were women, women were critical in the sharing of the news of Jesus’ resurrection and subsequent spread of the Gospel. In fact, if it were not for their faith, obedience, and persistence in telling the news, who knows, would the good news movement ever have gotten off the ground? Leaving it up to wavering and skeptical men may have spelled the death of the kingdom message. So, the Lord enlisted women to ‘get it done’, even if in unofficial capacity.

The story of Esther is a shining example of this dynamic in the biblical narrative. Not only Esther, the main character, but other women as well reveal their mastery and influence. Vashti, the Persian queen, befuddles the king Xerxes by not granting him his vain wish of having her parade before other men in her beauty, and causes him to make a foolish spectacle of himself. Haman’s wife, Zeresh, instructs her spiteful and power hungry husband and speaks with insight and authority to his vain and wounded pride. These two women effectively control the actions of their husbands. And then there is Esther, of course, who single-handedly effects state-wide decisions with life and death consequences. While Xerxes made a supposedly irrevocable Persian law that would see the Jewish people exterminated, as instigated by the evil intentions of his prime minister, Haman, Esther deftly and astutely, with faith and trust in God, and with patience and nerves of steel, has the law revoked and indeed turned against Haman. He ends up being the master of his own demise, hanging on the very gallows he had constructed for the Jews.

None of this is to say that the voices in our society today and in the Bible that speak to equality among genders are to be excused or downplayed. In my opinion women need more recognition for their place, role, and contribution in our society and communities, and in our personal lives. Their ‘hidden’ engagement needs as much recognition as is given to male recognition, which includes equal pay for equal work. Having said this, I am thankful for millions of women who quietly serve in the Kingdom simply out of love for the Lord and for his people. Like Esther, and Sarah, Hagar, Miriam, Naomi, Ruth, Deborah, Elizabeth, Mary and Martha and so on, they recognize that God calls them to be his daughters and instruments of courage and love, for such times that he calls them.

- Pastor Tony

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 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, 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 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


Garden and fruit

Serpent and sacrifices

Flood and rainbows

Jews and manna

An Exodus and a Cross—


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

“ 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 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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