Christian Reformed Church of St. Albert

 Pastor's Corner (Meanderings)

Almost every 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 posted here.

May 19, 2024

Once in a while I find myself dreaming about the perfect church. Usually, Acts 2.42-47 comes to mind, the New Testament church that was formed after the Holy Spirit was freshly poured out upon the believers in Jerusalem. This community worshipped and prayed together, explored the Bible, shared meals together and served one another, shared the Gospel with their neighbours, and grew by God’s grace. My daydreaming has been abruptly shattered when I remember the comments of a fellow believer, who reminds me that there is no perfect church – not even the one in Acts. He is right, a close look reveals that even the New Testament church is no exception. In Paul’s day it had its very thorny problems and substantial interpersonal challenges.

Having said that, I do wonder if there is any place for dreaming, and in particular looking to the past as inspiration for what the future might hold. In other words, can nostalgia be a good thing? One heart aching memory of one’s youthful past was poetically written and sung by Adele, in her song Someone Like You: “You know how the time flies. Only yesterday was the time of our lives. We were born and raised, in a summer haze, Bound by the surprise of our glory days.” Is there anything helpful in going down such a path of remembering, even if selective? Bruce Springsteen would say not. In his Glory Days, such memory is foolish escapism and only serves to make the present more dismal. However, Alan Castel, a researcher in memory and aging, says nostalgia is good and helpful. In recalling the past, we bring back images of overcoming hardships and challenges. Nostalgia also serves an existential function by bolstering a sense of meaning in life and social connectedness. Furthermore, remembering allows us to enjoy the events and experiences of the past again with positivity, and can bring us the pleasure of reliving uplifting, emotional, and defining memories of our lives (Better with Age, 2019).

These reflections, I think, may help us in our thoughts about the Holy Spirit, our Christian walk, and our search for the ‘perfect church.’ God is always at work, but sometimes we are more attentive to the Kairos moments of the Spirit at work. We can recall highlights in our spiritual journey such as summer Bible camps, mission trips, worship services and retreats, special friendships, family gatherings and spiritual milestones, conferences and celebrations…then they end, and they become the ‘glory days’ in our memory. Remember Mary Magdelene when she saw the resurrected Jesus? She wanted to embrace him with excitement and joy. Jesus told her to refrain for he had not yet ascended to the Father (John 20.17). Mary recalled fondly the glory days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, friendship, and love; she wanted to hold on to those glorious times. But she and her friends were about to experience something new again; the generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, with new believers added to the family (Acts 1.14; 2). No period of glory lasts forever, but God always seems to move us on into new kinds of glory (as spoken by pastor Ben Gresik). More, what the Lord has done in the past, locked in our memory, is part of his renewing work for today and into the future. The past can inspire us and prepare us for what is to come; remembering the blessed experiences of ‘church’ in our personal pasts can inspire us in the Spirit to be a better church today. God is preparing yet another new glory for the future, which will climax in Jesus’ return, when he will make all things perfectly new – the church included!

-Pastor Tony


May 12, 2024

We know very little, indeed nothing specific, about the Apostle Paul’s mother. As a mom caring for her children in a Jewish home, she no doubt had a significant impact on him. She may have been on his mind when he spoke tenderly to the church in Thessalonica, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother caring for her own children,” (1 Thessalonians 2.7). Jesus himself, no doubt impacted by the love and example of his mother, Mary, described himself in tender maternal images. As he entered Jerusalem he lamented, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing,” (Matthew 23.37). Most likely, both Paul and Jesus have their maternal perceptions also rooted in the heart of God: “Just as a mother cannot forget the baby at her breast and fail to have compassion on the child she has borne, so the Lord will never forsake or forget me, (Isaiah 49.14,15 paraphrased). And, through Zion, the dwelling place of the Lord, “…you will be nursed and be satisfied…you will be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you…” (Isaiah 66.11-13 paraphrased).

The book of Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman. I think it is accurate to say that in general and for the vast majority of us specifically, our Moms have been treasuries of wisdom. Their insights - wrought from living life for years in busy homes, marriages, and families, church engagements, involvement in schools and the workplace - have guided and inspired us in our navigation of life and faith. Here is how King Lemuel (the author of Proverbs 31) celebrated the wisdom of our mothers. “She speaks up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of those who are downtrodden. She is quick to assist anyone in need and reaches out to help the poor. Like a trading ship that sails to faraway places, she brings back exotic surprises. When she speaks, she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly. She faces tomorrow with a smile. She keeps an eye on the members of her household and keeps them busy and productive. Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in honor of the Lord. Give her everything she deserves! Festoon her with praise!”

All this to say, “THANK YOU, Lord, for our MOMS! Their maternal care and compassion in our lives flow directly from your maternal heart.”

-Pastor Tony


May 5, 2024

When Paul and Silas visited the synagogue in Berea and brought the Gospel, we are told that the congregation, after listening eagerly to them, “searched the Scriptures, day after day, to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth’ (Acts 17.11). We might initially be a little surprised at their response. Who would dare to question and test the words of the Apostle Paul!? But this was clearly a good response; Luke (the author of Acts) relays their response as a positive thing. Here are people eagerly digging into the Word, searching for truth, exploring Paul and Silas’ application of the Bible. It is a reminder that preaching, today too, should not be a one way monologue, but a dialogue between pastor and people in the ongoing journey of faith.

And, consistent with the long biblical traditions stretching back to Moses and Miriam, through the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist and Jesus, Peter and Paul, on through the past two millennia, verbally proclaiming the good news was and is done through imperfect human beings (Jesus excepted, of course). This is a humbling truth; God uses mere human beings to bring his eternal word week by week. Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century Baptist pastor who drew crowds in the thousands as he preached in his tabernacle church in London, did not let the ‘success’ of his rhetorical skills and oratorical gift go to his head. He once said, describing his own abilities, “The silver of a sweet speech and the gold of deep thought I do not have, but what I have I give to you.” (A take on the words of the Apostle Peter, who said to a crippled man begging for money, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you,” and then proceeded to share the good news with miraculous results, Acts 3.6). So too, the Lord uses men and women in their ordinary means to bring the message of salvation. We bring it with the limited skills and gifts we have been given.

Another preacher, George Herbert, who lived in England about two centuries before Spurgeon, who faithfully brought the word in sermons every Sunday to his small congregation, is more known for his poetry. In one poem, The Windows, he shares his perception of what God was up to when a sermon is shared – like the light of heaven streaming through stained glass windows.

 

Lord, how can man preach your eternal Word?

He is a brittle, crazy glass;

Yet in your temple you to him afford

This glorious and transcendent place,

To be a window, through your grace.

But when thou dost anneal (forge) in glass your story,

Making your life to shine within

The holy preachers, then the light and glory

More reverend grows, and more does win,

Which else shows waterish, bleak and thin.

Doctrine and life, colors and light, in one

When they combine and mingle, bring

A strong regard and awe, but speech alone

Does vanish like a flaring thing,

And in the ear, and conscience, ring.

 

The Apostle Paul once referred to all of us, every Christian, who bear the message as broken vessels (2 Corinthians 4.7). May the treasure of the Good News shine through our brokenness.

-Pastor Tony


April 21, 2024

Thanks for tuning in on our ‘discussion’ about the supernatural power of the Word to fulfil what it was sent to do (Isaiah 55.10,11), against all odds. Should we explore a little more how that might play out, and what our response to it might be?

How is it that the Word of the Lord goes out into the world and does what he intends it to do? The Holy Spirit is key. We cannot understand the message of God’s redeeming work unless the Spirit is active in our hearts and minds (1 Corinthians 12.3). And he is critical in causing the message to be active and bear fruit. This means that there is a substantial amount of mysteriousness. The Spirit comes and goes where he wills, like the wind (John 3). This means not only we’re in for an adventure; it also means we need to trust the Word’s way among us, even as we bear witness to the effects of its work in our lives and relationships. It’s actually quite humbling. Jesus told a parable of how the Word brings the Kingdom (Mark 4.26-29). The farmer goes out to sow his seed. Whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, and he doesn’t know how. All on its own (automatically) the seed germinates, grows, and bears a harvest. In such a way the Kingdom comes, Jesus is saying. God alone brings his righteous and peaceful rule (I Corinthians 3.7). Only the Spirit through the Word can convert the human heart. Only Jesus (the Word embodied) is the author and perfector of our faith (Hebrews 12.2). So, the Word of the Lord will accomplish what has been divinely ordained, and we get to simply participate, bear witness, and wonder.

Now, how do we respond to this amazing truth? Besides the wonder and testimony we are to bear, how do we then act when we live in the Word and share it? Myself, I am often tempted to share the Word and then tell others how to respond. “This is what the Bible says,” I think, “…now, this is how we are to act or speak in respond.” There may be a time and place for such practices; any of us who are parents know this. (As preachers, admittedly, we often feel a sermon is not quite complete unless we include a list of at least three things ‘to do.’) However, given the way we can only partially discern the way of the Spirit in the Word among us, even in our own hearts, I find I need to be more trusting that God in his sovereign ways will direct the Word to his plan and glory. In John 12.44-50 Jesus says he has come into the world to bring the light, so we may not walk in darkness. Then he goes on to say that he has not come to judge any person - “If anyone hears my words but does not do them, I do not judge that person” - for he came not to judge but to save. He shares the Word, and he leaves the judgment up to God, who will come one day and judge all things. Am I able to trust this promise? Am I (are we, are you) able to be faithful in sharing the Word, living it out best I or we can in grace, and trust God to let the Word do its Spirit-inspired work, automatically – and mysteriously?

-Pastor Tony


April 14, 2024

If we were to describe in one word the role of the Apostle Paul, it would probably be ‘missionary.’ He invested his heart and soul and mind into the calling to preach the good news, motivated by a passionate conviction of God’s redeeming love. He trained others to preach in order to get the word out beyond himself. To the young pastor Timothy he charged, “Preach the word; be prepared in and out of season…” (2 Timothy 4.2). Keep bringing the message even in the face of congregants who hanker to hear words that are more palatable to their own desires and ideas (4.3,4). He instructed another pastor, Titus, to be faithful in proclaiming sound doctrine, (Titus 1.9; 2.1,2), in spite of an inhospitable Cretan culture (Titus 1.10-16). Paul encountered many obstacles as he went about his missionary work: persecution, suspicion, beatings, imprisonment, shipwrecks, hunger, snake bites, angry mobs…). Indeed, in just about every city he went to, the ending was always the same: he was run out of town.

All this makes me wonder about the ‘return’ on Gospel proclamation. If spreading the Word is like sowing, how much of it actually takes root, germinates, and bears fruit? Have you ever poured your heart and soul into helping someone, only to find that it was all for naught, as far as you could tell? All your prayers, efforts, good deeds in generosity of time and energy resulted ultimately in the person breaking off the relationship? Was it worth the investment? I wonder if Paul ever felt that way about preaching the Word? It is interesting that in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), three of the four types of ground on which the seed landed did not bear any fruit. Only 25% of the seed actually ‘took.’ It seems this is how it works when it comes to communicating with words. When we read an article or a book, how much do we actually retain? Is it more than 25%? Probably more, at least 60%. Certainly not 100%. Authors feel this acutely.  They spend months if not years writing their masterpiece, only to find the hard truth that it is not a bestseller. Indeed, for those copies that did sell, many end up being sold for three bucks in the bargain bin. Lots of words, many (most?) of them wasted. In spite of all this, it did not seem to stop the Apostle from carrying on, from one city to the next, relentlessly preaching the Good News.

Admittedly, these are just meandering thoughts. From a biblical perspective, the Word goes out and does exactly what the Lord has ordained it to do. Not one letter is wasted. As Isaiah proclaimed, “As the snow and rain come down from heaven and do not return without watering the earth, causing it to bud and flourish…so is my word that goes out of my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55.10,11). How much do we trust this promise, all of us who seek daily to spread the Word? We’ll reflect on that in next week’s Meanderings. 

-Pastor Tony


April 7, 2024 

In an Easter message Pastor Eugene Peterson described how our belief in resurrection has three parts: past, present, and future. The past is the historical resurrection of Jesus (John 20), and the future one is the general resurrection of all people at the end of time (Revelation 20). In between – the present – is the resurrected life we live now as Easter believers. In Colossians 3.1 we learn that we have been “raised with Christ.” That is the present tense; today we, as people who live in Christ, are raised with him, just as he is resurrected. It is like two mountain peaks: One behind us (Jesus’ resurrection), one mountain ahead of us when we will all be physically raised from the dead: today we are in the valley between these two peaks. This present resurrection may not be as dramatic as the first and third one, but it is no less important.

In some ways, actually, the first great resurrection (of Jesus) seems less dramatic and spectacular than we first might think. Yes, there was a shattering earthquake and the stone rolled away from the grave, with soldiers knocked off their feet. But other than that, such a momentous event seems understated as told in the biblical record. For example, when Jesus joined the two travelling disciples in their way to Emmaus, they failed to recognize him, so ordinary was his appearance. And Mary thought that the risen Lord was simply a regular gardener. And some of the disciples weren’t quite sure who it was on the beach one early morning making some breakfast over a little coal fire. Eventually, all the disciples discovered that this ‘ordinary’ person was in fact Jesus, back from the dead, fully alive.

And so it is that Jesus appears to us today, as Paul says in the aforementioned Colossians passage; in the Spirit by faith, we have been raised with Christ. The risen Jesus lives in us. We experience his presence through one another. He appears among us in the ordinary circumstances of life, in the midst of real struggles and real questions that life asks. In our recent church Council meeting we reflected on a devotional that speaks to this blessing of Christian community. The author, Alyson Keida, reflects on a difficult time in her life when she was tempted to withdraw from attending worship. But she continued to attend. She wrote, “Although my situation remained the same for many long years, worshipping and gathering with other believers in service, prayer meetings, and Bible Study supplied the encouragement I needed to perseverance and remain hopeful. Often, I’d not only hear an uplifting message or teaching, but I’d receive just the word of encouragement, listening ear, or hug I needed from others. That’s a big part of what encouragement is. Someone may need your loving encouragement; and you may be surprised by the encouragement you receive in return.”  

Like the original disciples, who, upon seeing the risen Lord, were instructed: Go and tell! May we too, among our selves and in our world, encourage one another when we bear witness to the risen Jesus who lives in us.

-Pastor Tony


March 31, 2024

Did you see coverage and video footage of the collapse of a large bridge in Baltimore (Maryland) this past week? A fully loaded tanker ship lost complete power and was unable to avoid crashing into the structure. A mayday call went out from the ship three minutes before impact, which helped clear the bridge of most traffic. However, there was a construction crew working on the bridge, which did not have time to evacuate. All members of the group perished in a horrible death as the whole bridge collapsed and plunged into the water. I can’t help but wonder how this tragic event has impacted the family and friends of these workers as they try to come to terms with their difficult new reality on this Easter weekend. 

The utter devastation of death must lay heavy upon their hearts. For them, and for any and really all of us (the young among us too) when death visits and interrupts the lives we live, it seems so definitive. So last word-ish; there is nothing left to say, it seems, death having spoken with such dead-end gravity. In our own feelings death comes and that is the end of the loved one; all we seem to have left is a gravestone, maybe an urn, some flowers, and a few pictures of the beloved departed. And an empty ache in our hearts. In the limits of our minds, we try to minimize sorrow and pain. We talk about having the beloved ‘live on in our memories’, we tell stories to celebrate the life that is gone, and many of us preachers are wont to talk with figures such as the rejuvenation of nature, the romantic appearance of blossoms the signal new life in spring, or the mystical-like spirit of the deceasing carrying on in some vague, spiritualized way. We do all this, understandably, to help ease the sorrowful pain.

But God has something much better in mind. It’s called resurrection! That is, the dead person actually comes back to life. Indeed, it is not just an idea; he has turned it into fact. Listen to the Gospel: “But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…and raised us up with him…” (Ephesians 2.4-6).  While were spiritually dead in sin, God took the gracious initiative and made us alive, now and for eternity. This he did through his Son, Jesus. This is the Good News of Easter. The last word is not death; the last word is now love and Life!

Admittedly this message may be hard to fully grasp for us who are confined with mortal minds and mundane experience. It is a miracle, after all. Pastor Karl Barth, in an Easter sermon, describes it this way, and encourages us on this Easter Sunday: We might say, ‘I cannot understand it, I do not sense it. It does not harmonize with my experience…In short, I do not have any rational grounds to trust myself to it…’ But it is not a question of whether we can grasp it or comprehend it. It is a matter of believing in faith, simply to take God at his word, and his acts. Yes, for truer than your sin, truer than all your experiences and thoughts, truer than all your doubts and afflictions, truer than death, graves, and hell…God give us the freedom to breathe in his atmosphere, even though we have a thousand griefs, to rise from the dead in the victorious power of Christ. A blessed Easter to all!

-Pastor Tony


March 24, 2024

Repentance and Renewal: these two realities in the Christian life are closely tied together. Last week we considered Repentance. Both John the Baptist and Jesus called for repentance; indeed, it was the first word Jesus proclaimed as he began his preaching ministry. Repentance was necessary in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Repentance involved confession, which is different than an apology. An apology acknowledges that we’ve done something wrong, possibly hurt someone, and we apologize to admit our mistake and manage and mitigate the consequences. A confession, in contrast, goes beyond admitting our wrongdoing and seeks restoration of the relationship. In confessing we not only take full responsibility for our misguided actions or words, we also say we want to reconnect with the offended person and restore and build up the relationship. Confession is a part of repentance. As we confess and ‘clear the clutter’ of our sins, we are doing it as a part of repenting. And repenting, as we noted last week, is about change for the better. Leaving the old behind and entering into what is new. The Apostle Paul called it taking off the old self and putting on the new person we are in Christ, New Creations.    

Which brings us to Renewal. Paul wrote to Titus that we are “saved through the water of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3.5). This work of being reborn (this is what regeneration means) is a work of God; we cannot manufacture spiritual renewal on our own just as we cannot be physically born by our own will. Remember Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus (John 3)? New birth, or being born from above, can only happen through the Spirit, which is like the wind. (It blows where it will, we can never know where or when; invisible, but we do see the evidence of the wind’s work).  So too in renewal: the Spirit is at work bringing revival in our lives and in our churches. The suffering journey of Jesus to the cross is what the Spirit uses to bring renewal; He applies the redemptive life and sacrificial giving of Jesus to our lives, and so revives our hearts. What encouragement to know that the Spirit is always working, even as we are not always aware, even as we sleep (!), working to bring renewal.  

Which may have us asking, ‘Don’t we have a part to play in this process of renewal?’ What does it mean when we are encouraged to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (Galatians 5.25)? Yes, in the biblical story we always find the Spirit at work when believers are reading the Word, or in prayer, listening to preaching, gathered together in worship or Bible study (Acts 2.1f; 4. 31; 8.26f; 16.11f). When we exercise these spiritual disciplines, let’s do so expecting the Spirit to bring renewal. One note of caution: following the Spirit and knowing his renewing work may lead to unexpected places. At least this is what happened to the crowd who lined the streets on Palm Sunday. They expected a certain type of Messiah, only to find out that his Spirit-led mission called them to places they were not prepared to go (the cross). Unexpected perhaps, but life-giving in the end. Lead on, Holy Spirit!                                    

-Pastor Tony


March 10, 2024

Temptation is a reality we face, I would say every day. Sometimes we succumb to it, whether it is the penchant to pride, greed, unjust anger, lust, slander, prejudice, spite, envy, idolatry…Usually the result, once we have succumbed, is to feel, after possibly the initial thrill of gratification and release of pressure, a sense of defeat. (We’ve hurt a family member or friend, we’ve disappointed God, we’ve let ourselves down). Jesus was tempted too, without ever giving in. When we trust and walk with him, we can live in victory through every trial and temptation. This means that we find ourselves living in ‘two worlds’: the world of struggle and sin, and the world of peace and victory over sin.

This reality (living in two very different worlds simultaneously) is illustrated by a true World War Two story. It took place in a prisoner of war camp in Germany, holding American and British soldiers. Their living conditions were bleak - cold, little and poor food, awful sanitation, interrupted sleep, constant fear of execution, no communication with the outside world. This was one world in which they lived. But they were introduced to another world through a crystal radio set that was smuggled in one day by a captured soldier. To keep it from being detected, each morning they took it apart and hide the pieces in recesses throughout the barracks. At night, they would assemble it and listen to the news on the outside. Then one night, breaking news came over the airwaves: the Nazi’s had been defeated in Normandy, on D-Day, which signaled the beginning of the demise of Hitler and the Third Reich. Even as the German soldiers manning the camp were ignorant of this, due to the German propaganda machine, the prisoners of war knew they would be set free, in due time. For three months they lived with this optimism, at which time it came into reality. In those months they were indeed living in two very different worlds. As one author described it, “They wore prison clothes. They ate prison food. They smelled the stench of prison life around them. But because they knew the outcome, their confidence soared. In their hearts they were free.” (Wayne Brouwer).

So it is with all who struggle with temptation, but trust in Jesus: He was not only tested with us, he was on trial for us. And since he endured without giving in, his victory over temptation is what sets us free.  In him we live in triumph, even in the midst of our battles. Our hearts are free!

-Pastor Tony

March 3, 2024

Someone once said that all good things must come to an end, and so it is with my sabbatical. Having said that, it is surely good to be, ‘back in the office’ at church. Thank you for the opportunity to spend three months - one (October 2023) in Greece and Turkey on a trip following the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul, and the other two (January and February 2024) digesting and organizing the material and information gathered on that trip. The Lord willing, I plan to share about the things MaryAnn and I saw and learned on our journey in the form of a series of messages beginning soon after Easter.

 The season of Lent has already begun. Today (Sunday) is the third Sunday of reflecting on the passion of Jesus. Seasons in the church calendar year help us slow down and consider the spiritual journey of our hearts and lives. Perhaps it is just a matter of human nature, but it seems that in our ‘modern times’, where things seem to be increasingly going faster (such as fast food; global travel; internet speed; virtual instant purchasing power and immediate gratification), finding time to slow down and listen to our own thoughts, be in tune with our feelings, and acknowledge the words and emotions of others is an increasingly more rare experience. This may all be ‘helped along’ by the fact that we live in an age of exploding information (and misinformation); we can be constantly bombarded with sound bites of news and other information, 24-7 if we want to, without any time to really digest it and process its implications. Rowan Williams, an English pastor, calls this ‘undifferentiated time’, a hallmark of a secular society, ‘largely detached from the seasons, time feels like a headlong linear rush of news cycles punctuated by commercial breaks about Black Friday and Flyer Discount Days.’

Williams suggests, as an antidote, and something that helps us to ‘number our days’, the practice of recognizing the seasons of the church year. Doing so can help us recalibrate as we pay attention to what God is up to in our lives and our community. Liturgical traditions and rhythms such as Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Ascension, and Pentecost help prevent time from being just an accumulation of miscellaneous episodes and occasions; they help us pause and explore new aspects of the story of redemption as they intersect with us in our schedules. We give the Holy Spirit opportunity to speak into our hearts, and He (the Spirit) encourages us on the way of faith. May the Lord use this season of Lent to synchronize our hearts to his, and find the peace of knowing him in our busy lives.

 

-Pastor Tony

Liturgical Calendar. Image is from Comment Magazine, Winter 2023. 

Artist credit to Kathryn de Ruijter. 

Away on Sabbatical for January and February 2024


December 31, 2023

The passing of another year makes us wonder, where does the time go? That question might be about how fast our lives go by, but it also might be asking about the mystery of time. What is time? What happens to it when it is past? When we stop to think about it, that question is hard to answer. We might say it is seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks…but that  is only how we measure time, it is not time itself. Whatever it is, we are all subject to it, we might even feel it dominates our schedules sometimes, and it seems to go only in one direction – ahead and never back (which is actually a very unusual phenomenon in the world of physics). And whatever it is, we know God created it.

We might wonder the same about the makeup of the universe. Eighty percent of the universe is made up of what scientists call ‘dark matter’. What is so intriguing is that scientists do not really know what dark matter is. We know it is invisible, that it emits no light or energy, and is thus undetectable through conventional sensors and indicators. 80% of our universe is a mystery! Only God knows what it is, for he made it.

To mention one other intriguing question about our world and experience in it that is mystifying (to me, at least) is the way objects or people diminish in size as they move further away from us. Logic tells us that they are clearly not decreasing in actual size, of course, yet they appear to be doing so. Why is that? When I google this question, I find that I would need at least a Master’s degree in physics to understand the explanation. Yet it is such a daily experience we really don’t think much about. Another ‘hard to understand’ phenomenon God created.

These three examples of our created world and part of our everyday experience may make us feel like the author of Ecclesiastes, who looked at daily life and wondered about the One who made it all and had his hand on it still (Ecclesiastes 3.1-14). His reflections made him stand in awe of God. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval priest, wrote many works on theology. On December 6, 1273, he had a mystical vision of God. After this encounter he never wrote another word. When asked about this, he would answer, “After what I have experienced, everything I have written is like straw.” Apparently, his vision of God was so overwhelming he felt his writings of theology were woefully inadequate to express the God he had encountered.

May it be so for us as we embark on another time-bound year. With the preacher of Ecclesiastes, may our daily routines and quotidian activities overwhelm us less with their energy and attention requirement and point us more to the wonder of the God we believe in and follow. Whether we understand it or not, it all belongs to him, and he made it and will bring it all to its beautiful fruition (Ecclesiastes 3.11a). A blessed New Year to all!

-Pastor Tony 


December 17, 2023

One of the many things I learned on our trip to Greece tracing the Apostle Paul’s journey was that the culture in which he lived and evangelized was full of pagan gods. The list of Greek and Roman gods is almost endless: Aphrodite, Athena, Hermes, Zeus, Nike, Poseidon, Mars, Jupiter, Diana, Apollo, Demeter, Hades, Neptune, Persephone, Pluto…These gods were nothing like our concept of ‘God’ as we find revealed in the Bible. These gods were fickle, self-serving, subject to fluctuating emotions and passions, and most noticeable of all, they did not love humans, but used them for their own ends.

How utterly and drastically different is the God of the Christian faith. The birth of Jesus, God becoming flesh, is the profound event that proclaims his holy nature and his completely unique relationship with us. The poem below is written by Malcolm Guite, an English Anglican priest and teacher. It calls us to reflect on this unique event, and what it says to us about the God we believe in. In it, Guite compares the God Jesus to all other gods; a contrast that helps us reflect on God’s holy heart. Poetry, like the Bible, needs to be read over and over. Each time we read it something new catches our attention, sparks our imagination, or fosters a deeper faith. So, I invite you to read this Christmas poem slowly and thoughtfully, a few times at least. May it inspire worship of the babe born and laid in a humble manger. The poem is called Descent.

-Pastor Tony

They sought to soar into the skies, Those Classic gods of high renown. 
For lofty pride aspires to rise, But you came down.
You dropped down from mountain sheer, Forsook the eagle for the dove.
The other gods demanded fear, but you gave love.
Where chiseled marble seemed to freeze their abstract and perfect form
Compassion brought you to your knees, Your blood was warm.
They called for blood in sacrifice, Their victims on an altar bled
When no one else could pay the price,
You died instead
They towered above our mortal plain, Dismiss this restless flesh with scorn
Aloof from birth and pain and death,
But you were born.
Born to these burdens, borne by all
Born with us ‘astride the grave’
Weak, to be with us when we fall,
And strong to save.


December10, 2023

Jesus’ first advent was a humble entry. He came quietly, born to a lowly young woman in an ‘out of the way’ village, inhaling the smell of cattle in his first breaths. Only a few shepherds were excited about his arrival. And not until about two years later did the wise men show up to express their joy at this coming. His first coming created hardly a ripple in the public world.

As we know now, two thousand years later, through Jesus’ message (behold the Kingdom of God is here!), his life, death, and resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit, the course of world history, and the world of people and nations itself, has been irrevocably changed by the fact of Christmas. His humble birth ultimately has brought monumental impact for billions of individuals, countless communities and hundreds of countries. And, by His Spirit, he continues to come among us; through reading of His Word, prayer, the community of the church, worship and preaching, podcasts, social media, charity…Jesus continues to be present, encountering and calling us, working out his redemptive drama (Matthew 18.20).

And he has promised he will come again, in person (John 14.3; Mark 14.62). We do not know when this will be. Jesus will come like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5.2). But we are not to be alarmed, he says (Matthew 24.6). Even though we do not know the hour or the day, the signs of the times (war, earthquakes, famine, apostasy, evangelism…) continue to call us to be ready for his return. Are we ready? Are you ready? That is, are we in right relationship with the Lord?

A story is told of a meeting Satan had with four of his leading demons. He commanded them to come up with a new lie that would traps more souls. ‘I have it!’ one demon said. ‘I’ll go to earth and tell people there is no God.’ ‘It will never work,’ Satan said, ‘People can look around them and see that there is a God.’ The second demon said, “I’ll go and tell them there is no heaven!” Satan rejected this idea. ‘Everyone knows there is life after death and they want to go to heaven.’ ‘Let’s tell them there is no hell!” the third demon piped up. ‘No, conscience tells them that their sins will be judged,’ said the devil. ‘We need a better lie than that.’ Quietly, the fourth demon spoke. ‘I think I have solved the problem. I’ll go to earth and tell them there is no hurry.” 

-Pastor Tony


December 3, 2023

This Sunday we begin our advent season; a special time of year for all who find life in Jesus. Many years ago (1958) a pastor, Karl Barth, brought a Christmas message to inmates in a prison in Basel, Switzerland. The prayer he offered is cited below. As we embark on this advent journey today, I would encourage you to read this prayer in a prayerful way, that is, read it as if praying. Please pray it for yourself as a worshiper of the newborn babe in Bethlehem, and for our church. Even though originally this prayer was offered in a different time and place (some 60 years ago in a prison chapel in Europe), it gives a sense of the universal longing of all who wait for the coming of Jesus, our Prince of Peace.

-Pastor Tony

O Lord, our God!
You have chosen to dwell not only in heaven on high, but also down on earth with us;
not only to be exalted and mighty, but lowly and poor like us;
not only reign, but also to serve us;
not only to remain the eternal God, but to be born, to live and to die as a man of our salvation.

In your dear Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, you have given us no less than yourself so that we may belong to you once and for all.
This gift is offered to us all, even though not one of us deserves it.
What else can we do but rejoice in wonder, be thankful, and build on what you have done for us?

Grant, we ask you, that this may come true among us and in us all.
Let us become a true Christmas congregation, as we sincerely and willingly pray and sing, preach and listen.
Let us become a true congregation of our Lord’s communion.
For yours is the kingdom, the glory, and the power forever.

Amen.


November 26, 2023

Are we living in the end times? It is a question on many minds today as we witness countries going to war, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, famine and floods, and people leaving the faith (apostasy). In his sermon on the last days (Matthew 24), Jesus said something that for some reason has caught my attention for a number of weeks (hence the sermon in St. Albert CRC today). He said, ‘And because of the increase in lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold,”(Matthew 24.12).

Jesus’ prediction of this sign of the end times made me wonder about the relationship between lawlessness and love, and the contrasting relationship between (God’s) law and love. We often feel, according to our natural intuition, that laws inhibit our quest for love, and the pleasures and enjoyment of life. “Don’t eat that; don’t go there; don’t do that...” Don’t all these prohibitions seek to restrict our full engagement in life? Professor Thomas Nagel (NYU), applies this idea to God himself. Nagel, an atheist, is honest enough to say that he actually doesn’t want to believe in God, (he hopes there isn’t such a God as depicted in the Bible) because he feels this would restrict his enjoyment of life; he’s a God who limits our freedom, stifles our thinking, and ruins our fun.

Actually, according to the Bible, exactly the opposite is at work when it comes to God, and when it comes to the relationship between law and love. God is the source of all life (Genesis1, 2); we cannot have true and complete life apart from him (Psalm 104.29; John 15.5); and all the goodness of life we enjoy are given to us from his hand for our pleasure (1 Timothy 6.17). It makes perfect sense, then, that his law(s) are given to us to that we might be enlightened to know the way of true life; and in a more profound way, so that through them we might have a glimpse into the loving heart of God. This is how Pastor Dave Feddes (former radio preacher for the Reframe Ministries) describes it: he quotes Psalm 119 in which we read that ‘God is good’. Then, Pastor Dave writes, “When the Psalmist uses the word ‘good’, he doesn’t just mean ‘decent’ and ‘well behaved’. He means good in the sense that a meal is good (delicious and healthy) or in the sense that an investment is good (reliable and rewarding) or in the sense that a story is good (gripping and  insightful). God is good; what God does is good for us: delicious, healthy, gripping, insightful, reliable, and rewarding.”

So, it seems that this is the truth Jesus is getting at when he talks about lawlessness reigning and love growing cold. When we ignore divine direction and revelation, we each go our own way, invariably the way of sin, which leads to lovelessness and misery. When we don’t love and obey God, our world becomes hostile and cold. Therefore, let us say with the Psalmist, “I rejoice in following your statues as one rejoices in great riches... I delight in your decrees. How I love your law! I meditate on it all day long...How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey in my mouth!” (from Psalm 119).

-Pastor Tony


November 12, 2023

Recently I have had helpful conversations about the struggles we face in our church with two people, one a young adult member of our church and another with a pastor colleague. This ‘Meanderings’ is the partial fruit of these conversations (as well as many other conversations to some degree). As your shepherd I am called to help us navigate through this time. How indeed does a pastor lead through our current circumstances?

I would begin by apologizing for the times I have said too little on the topic of same sex relationships, and for the times I have said too much. I find it a challenge at times to know how much or how little to say. My ministry-experienced colleague and I spoke of how power and influence plays a role in each church, and no less in ours. Indeed it is a reality in all spheres of life and has been since the beginning; Jesus experienced this as well, see Matthew 10.16; Matthew 16.6; Luke 13.22, Luke 13.22; Luke 20.45-47. In church there are many who hold power through a variety of means: some by virtue of the official position(s), others by virtue of their history and investment in the church, by virtue of personality, by virtue of cultural persuasion, and by virtue of tradition and ritual, past practices and experiences. Many if not all of these are in play, and navigating them and being a community together with them in ways that reflect the love, truth, gentleness, and humility of our Lord is something that requires the wisdom and strength of His Spirit. When called to serve our faith community, about 7 years ago, I promised to ‘nurture believers in the faith and life of the kingdom…to shepherd the church which Jesus bought with his own blood…to love Christ and feed his sheep…” (Form for the ordination of pastors). By God’s grace and provision I seek to fulfill this promise, tending to the spiritual well-being of all members, each one of which deserves my respect and love.

With respect to the Human Sexuality Report, I have not to date made any public statement as to my own perspective. (I anticipate a time when I will do so in a pastorally responsible way). This is not to say I have not shared my understanding and views. Indeed I have. All of our council members know my views, as well as anyone of our congregation who have asked me or have expressed interest in knowing. I value honesty and transparency, and I would be happy to have coffee with anyone who would like to have a conversation about the HSR.

Both of the individuals with whom I had recent conversations said ‘be true to yourself.’ Good advice, I think, if this means seeking the Lord’s way as his Word and Spirit leads, honouring Christ in me. In the end I will stand in judgment for my deeds and words before the Lord. As a leader/pastor/teacher I will be held to high account (James 3.1). Most days I am peace with that – not because of what I have or haven’t done – but because of who my judge is. I am thankful Jesus (my judge) is fair, and just, and loving. I trust in his mercy, for all of us.

-Pastor Tony


November 5, 2023

In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd (Chapter 10). The image of a shepherd and sheep is a common and powerful image that we can find throughout the whole Bible: common because it was an integral part of both Old and New Testament eras in the Middle East (their economy, their culture, their religious rituals) and powerful because the relationship between shepherd and sheep was very intimate. In Palestine, where Jesus lived, sheep were kept primarily for wool (not food), so the sheepherder would normally have a relationship with his sheep that extended their (the sheep’s) whole lives. In John 10 Jesus notes how his sheep recognized and followed only his voice and will ignore or run from any other. He calls us, his followers, by name, and we listen to him and trustingly follow.


Jesus as the Good Shepherd is unique to all other shepherds. He is not like a hired hand sheep keeper, who runs away at the first sign of danger or threat. Nor is he even like respectable shepherds who risk their lives by battling preying animals and forge into steep, rocky valleys to make the path safe for their sheep. Jesus goes far beyond and actually gives his life unto death for the sake of his sheep, so they may be spared the ultimate end of eternal death. Scottish 19th century poet and hymn writer Elizabeth C. Clephane (she wrote the hymn Beneath the Cross of Jesus) wrote a short poem that evokes the mysterious, unfathomable depths of what Jesus did for us: 

None of the ransomed ever knew 

How deep were the waters crossed,

Or how dark the night that the Lord passed through

Before he found the sheep that was lost.

I’m not sure we will ever be able to comprehend with mind or heart the ‘deep water’ Jesus had to traverse to save us, nor the imperceptible darkness he had to pass through in order to find us and bring us safely to the fold of our heavenly home. But He did it, motivated by his deep love for us.  And having rescued us, he by his Spirit guides us today, his church, to pastures green and refreshing waters. Each day he calls us with his voice - a voice that is trustworthy and true. It is the compelling voice of our good and noble Shepherd: do we hear him?

-Pastor Tony


Away on Sabbatical for October 2023


October 1, 2023

Thank you to all who participated in our congregational meeting this past Monday.  I think it is accurate to say that our conversations were sprinkled with a fair share of tears.  As difficult as it was, my sense is that is was helpful and even essential in our journey through this time.  I am also thankful in the way we engaged with each other.  In a world where polarization often turns into harsh words that hurt, I feel we were able to talk together in ways that expressed the presence of God's Spirit and the love of Christ.  To state the obvious, I do not know how the future will unfold for our church, but I step ahead each day believing that Jesus loves his church and he will be with us and provide for us as he deems fit.

The apostle Paul saw his weighty share of troubles in his calling as a missionary and pastor.  In virtually every church there was something that was not right.  His letters are peppered with problems he faced.  Once in a while he mentioned the toll this was taking on his heart, his mind, his body.  What I find amazing is that, in spite of all this, his letters are also dotted with constant calls to be joyful, to rejoice.  "The word is tympanic, resonating through every movement of his life; we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing the suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been given to us...we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received reconciliation (Romans 5.33-5.11), " (A Long Obedience in the Right Direction, 97).  How could Paul be so joyful under such turmoil and trials?  He answers the question himself: His joy was rooted not in his circumstances, but in the awesome truth that he had been reconciled to God through Jesus, and he now lived in the fullness of that life.  All troubles paled in comparison to the glory of this truth (Romans 8.18).

The main thing, which we try to keep the main thing, is that we (as individuals and as a community) have been given eternal life through the saving work of Jesus.  Our redeemed lives now live for his glory.  This is cause for great joy!  Consequently, the Lord promises to use our trials and fill our pain with purpose to aid in growing closer to him and to each other.  With this in mind, I will leave us with a few more quotes about joy from Paul:

"And we rejoice in the hope of glory..." Romans 5.2

"I am glad and rejoice with all of you..." Philippians 2.17

"...sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything." 2 Corinthians 6.10

"Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, Rejoice...for the Lord is at hand." Philippians 4.4-5

-Pastor Tony


September 24, 2023

In his study of the Apostle Paul, theologian and author FF Bruce believes that a major theme in the ministry and theology of Paul was that he was free – Apostle of the Heart Set Free is the name of his book. From what, exactly, was Paul set free? We might be surprised to know that it was the law – Paul was set free from the law. If this is so, what did Paul mean by ‘the law’? This is a complex question that cannot be fully addressed in a ‘Meanderings’. However, if we consider Galatians 5.1-26, we can know this much: observing the rituals and practices of the law cannot save us, only by grace through faith in Jesus can we be reconciled to God. Before his conversion, Paul believed he was made right with God through his obeying the law zealously. Then he met Jesus, and he was set free from such a prison (Galatians 5.4). For Paul, the coming of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit meant the requirements of the law have been fulfilled and he was now set free from the constraints of the law to live in the fullness of Christ. We live by faith in Jesus’ redeeming work and live as liberated from the law (Galatians 5.6, 18).

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah foretold of this amazing reality (31.33, 34): no longer will we have to teach each other to know the Lord, for we will know him in our hearts. The external law once written in stone or parchment will now live in our hearts; indeed, by that Spirit we will live beyond the law, fulfilling it not out of obligation but from inner desire. We do more than is required, not out of seeking God’s approval, but out of gratitude. And what is the essence of that law? We know if we have been tracking with 1 John lately: Jesus said, I give you a new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you,” John 15.12. The freedom the Apostle Paul had experienced and now proclaimed was the freedom, in the end, to love others. Living in the Spirit he was empowered to love without fear, with reckless abandon, with godly passion. It was no longer an obligation prescribed by a legal code. No, it was an inner compulsion and conviction rooted in the gracious love of Jesus.

There is a scene in the book of Acts in which the church of Ephesus was saying good-bye to Paul, and they realized they were never going to see each other again. It moved them to tears; they wept as they embraced and kissed him (Acts 20.37-38). In his letter to the Ephesians the apostle of the ‘heart set free’ prayed for this group of fellow believers. He asked that they, and we today, may grow - as liberated disciples - into the maturity of Christ’s love. “I pray that you…may grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know the love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God,” Ephesians 3.17,18. In Jesus we have all been set free to live a life of love. Hallelujah!

-Pastor Tony


September 10, 2023

This October MaryAnn and I will embark on a trip of a lifetime (October 2-19). We are planning to trace the second and third missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul in Greece, under the guidance of a New Testament professor (Jeffrey Wiema, Calvin Theological Seminary). This learning adventure is possible because our church grants their pastors a three-month sabbatical after six years of service. (I plan to take the month of October, and then the months of January and February of next year to digest the material). MaryAnn and I are very thankful for the generosity you have shown, in terms of your spiritual and monetary support. It is our prayer and desire that in the end this experience will benefit all of us as a church in our walk of faith together.

As I read about the life of Paul, his missionary work, and his theology as it comes through in his writings, these are a few observations. One is the centrality of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. This encounter radically changed his life, to put it mildly. From breathing murderous threats and actually killing followers of Jesus, to being arguably the greatest proponent of Jesus as the Christ, Paul literally gave his life up for the sake of Jesus, who had become his Saviour and Lord. All of this began and stemmed from his conversion experience; this encounter with Jesus was seminal to his faith. He constantly recalled this event (it is told three times in Book of Acts). It makes me wonder about my ‘first’ personal encounter with Jesus, one that happened when I was a teenager. My reading of Paul makes me think it was and still is much more formative and influential in the course of my whole life than I have assumed.  

A second observation is how Paul and Jesus were quite different in terms of their personalities and their ways of engaging others. As we read about the Apostle in Acts and discern in his dealings with the churches through his letters, he seems very action-oriented and results driven, a bit rough around the edges, impatient, impetuous, easily offended, quick to speak and  slow to listen, and humility was not one of the first characteristics that come to mind when we think of him. In contrast, Jesus was meek, humble, gentle, patient, mild, a great listener and very intuitive towards those he engaged, even as he was passionate and determinately driven about the will of the Father and his mission among us (Isaiah 42.1-4; Matthew 11. 28,29). The two men had similarities of course: both were uncompromisingly committed to the bringing the message of salvation, to battling the moral and spiritual darkness of evil; both loved people, shared the love of God, and gave their lives unto death for the cause of the Kingdom. 

Of course, Jesus was God; he was without sin. Jesus’ death brings redemptive life; Paul’s death may be inspirational but does not bear the fruit of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Paul was a ‘mere’ human like all of us, so it might be unfair to compare the two. Nonetheless, if anything can be said of such a comparison, it reveals and underscores the amazing and reassuring truth that the Lord uses everyone one of us who he calls and seek to follow him, with all of our individual and unique personalities, quirks, and gifts. Jesus told Paul after he knocked him off his horse on the Damascus Road, "Get up and go to into the city, for I have a plan for you.” (Acts 9.6b). How has Jesus interrupted your life? What plans does he have for you?

-Pastor Tony


September 3, 2023

As we anticipate a new year of ministry, we are not unaware that our path forward will require grace and love, large doses of kindness, and the diligent practice of patience. At one point we were planning, this fall, to move ahead on the proposals (renewed vision and mission and so forth) set before us by the Renewal Lab Team. As a Council, we sense these proposals need to be postponed until we work through matters regarding the Human Sexuality Report, which was approved and reaffirmed by Synod, 2022 and 2023, respectively. (Please see the bulletin communication from Council regarding upcoming engagement with the congregation). Personally, as much as I know we need to continue the conversation about the HSR, I feel the proposed new vision and mission of the Renewal Team for our church (Vision: A community of peace in Jesus; Mission: We Connect, We Care, We Communicate, We Celebrate) actually speaks into virtually all social issues we face, including sexual norms and practices. The world needs the peace of Jesus, and we are called to proclaim it and live it out in our communities. Is it possible to move ahead eventually with the Renewal proposals? Only the Lord knows at this point, but I am hopeful.  

Even as we go through these challenging times, it is my belief and conviction that the Lord can and will use this to help us grow in faith with him and with each other as a church. In preparation for my sabbatical (more details next week) I am reading through the letters of the Apostle Paul, the book of Acts, and a book called Paul: The Apostle of the Heart Set Free (F.F. Bruce). In every church, with the possible exception of Philippi, the apostle faced serious issues of a wide variety - some ethical, some theological, some personal, some regarding his authority. From this he once observed that we enter the kingdom of God through struggle (Acts 14.22).  Through all of this, Paul kept his eye on the prize, that is, Jesus and his glory, and his call to spread the message of good news of salvation. As we seek to be likewise faithful and focused, may we practice ‘patience in tribulation’ (Romans 12.11). The word ‘patience’ here means ‘to remain under’; not seeking to escape or avoid, but to remain and learn the lessons God has prepared under such trying circumstances. May the Lord use such patient perseverance to aid our growth into maturity in Christ, as individuals and as his body. In his sovereign will he will use it for our redemption and sanctification, and for his glory.

- Pastor Tony


July 20, 2023

As I have been preparing messages about Stories of Faith, I have come across numerous descriptions and quotes about Christian faith. Many of these never made it into any of the messages (some did), so for your reflection, here are a few. 

- We walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5.7

-Saving faith can be defined as a response to God’s call by the acceptance of Christ with the total person – that is, with assured conviction of the truth of the gospel, and with trustful reliance on God in Christ for salvation, together with genuine commitment to Christ and his service.  Anthony Hoekema 

-The fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, and the fruit of service is peace. Mother Teresa

-A firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence towards us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit. John Calvin 

-True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true. It is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, that out of sheer grace  earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation. Heidelberg Catechism Q21 

-As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead. James 2.26

-Don’t just keep the faith Joey, give it away! Joe Biden’s mother

-Faith is the assurance of things we hope for, the evidence of things we do not see. Hebrews 11.1

-Let us run with perseverance the race set before us, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Hebrews 12.2

May we all grow in faith - the knowledge of the beliefs we profess and the trust we have in the person and sacrificial work of Jesus - as we run the marathon of life; may our stories bear witness to the glories of God’s grace. 

-Pastor Tony


July 16, 2023

Although our summer here in northern Alberta seems to be normal in terms of temperature, as well as amount of sun and some rain, we would be remiss to ignore the signs of climate change that are affecting our globe. We are experiencing unprecedented high temperatures in some parts of the world, and the record setting wildfire season this year in Canada seems to underscore the fact. Ocean temperatures are indeed rising - a measurable fact - with resultant negative impact on plants and wildlife. It seems that our years of using the earth's resources - without adequate stewardship of replenishment - is catching up to us. It is indeed a social injustice: our actions are robbing our children and grandchildren of a clean and vibrant earth. 

Rather than feel guilty about this, it may be more productive to be proactive. How do we act justly? "Think Global, Act Local" when it comes to the environment and our daily habits. Repurpose stuff rather than discard it; reduce consumption; recycle and re-use; plant a tree or two; cycle rather than drive when that works; plant plants that help butterflies and bees; grow a vegetable garden; support local businesses; visit a farm; talk to a biology student or teacher; go canoeing or  kayaking; invest in renewable energy; pick up trash; don't litter....Many years ago my sister, Judy, who was years ahead of her time in being conscientious about the environment, refused to purchase plastic wrap (an unrecyclable product). All of these are ways to seek justice and not steal from future generations. 

One other way to help us combat global warming is simply spending more time in nature. Seeing the wonder of a whale, smelling early morning fresh pine in the valley, watching the sunshine on the water, tasting a local garden grown tomato, hearing a loon's lament or killdeer's call, getting lost down a forest trail, smiling at a brood of ducklings, gasping at the northern lights; spell bound by a clear, starry night...all remind us of the beauty of the world God has created. The 19th century American naturalist and author Henry Thoreau had a gift of describing the nature he saw around him. A frog was, "peculiarly wary and timid, yet equally bold and imperturbable. All that is required in studying them is patience." Water lilies, "out of the fertile slime springs this spotless purity!" In a common weed he saw, "A dandelion perfectly gone to seed, a complete globe, a system in itself." And fallen autumn leaves, "decay and bring forth new life."

The psalmist no less reveled in the glory of the Lord who fashioned the earth, and all that is in it. It seems he was in touch with nature. I would encourage us to read the whole of Psalm 104 to celebrate the blessing of our natural world. But here is a taste, "How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. There the sea, vast and spacious...the birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches...you made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down...May the glory of the Lord endure forever. May the Lord rejoice in his works...I will sing to the Lord all my life."

-Pastor Tony


June 25, 2023

The church has got to be one of the most intergenerational organizations I know of in our society today. In school we hang out mostly with our peers, at work we collaborate with colleagues mostly in our demographic, our social circles are comprised of people of similar interests and ages, and if we are involved in organized sports or community leagues, usually we rub shoulders with people in our general age category. But in the church, all this goes out the window. We let anybody through our doors, from infant to octogenarian, and beyond.

It is evident in our worship services. Babies are held in the arms of seniors. Children play in our Kid Zone; they take the Holy Spirit candle out to Kids Worship; some sing on stage once in a while; and last Sunday they helped us celebrate Father's Day with awesome images. Meanwhile kids connect with Gen Z-ers, and Millennials help host coffee. Seniors, teens, and babies mix it up in the nursery. Young Adults and middle-agers help teach in Kids Worship with tweens as helpers. Children engage the congregation in diaconal help for the homeless. Baby Boomers help teach Junior Highs. A few weeks ago we baptized Ethan, an infant, and this Sunday we baptize a child, an adult, and receive a number of faith professions from those in a range of ages. Some small groups are made of two or more different generations. Committees have a variety of demographics, as does our Council. All the while, we pray for each, talk with one another in various informal occasions, such as after worship, potlucks, community garden events, BBQ's, and other outreach events.

There are many blessings that come with being a church that engages in intergenerational community. According to Holly Allen in Intergenerational Christian Formation, these include:

• First of all, practical help: a Gen X-er takes our crying baby on her lap in the pew, or as a young family we receive the services of a trusted baby sister.

• Second, it can increase a sense of belonging; as we connect with others of various ages, we feel welcome, and sense this is a place to learn and grow together.

• Third, deepening in relationships and understanding life; as we talk and connect, our vision of faith expands and we learn about what life is like in different stages of life.

• Fourth, we hear testimonies of God's faithfulness, and see various ways in which God provides and guides. Intergenerational community is great for faith formation!

Although the Lord provides the blessing in this, we are called to do our part. In other words, it doesn't happen by accident. We need to be intentional in fostering intergenerational connections. Thanks for all leaders who are purposeful in including people of different ages into their ministries; for encouraging younger people to serve in leadership roles; for hearing their voices, and allowing them a decision making place. We can all do our part and reap the benefits. So, reach out to the pre-teen or the young adult, talk with a nonagenarian, share a story, pray for our adolescents, and enjoy the blessings of a person who brings us a new perspective or a new experience. After all, we are simply representing the true nature of the body of Jesus, his church that is for all ages.

- Pastor Tony


June 18, 2023

Happy Father's Day! Our dads are often people we look to for wisdom; they share words with us that reveal some helpful insights about life, about faith, and relationships. In this spirit I share a collection of proverbs, sayings, and quotes 3 ones that come from a variety of sources, from the Bible to wall plaques, historical figures to popular icons in our culture, T-shirts to coffee mugs.

− Wisdom begins with honoring the Lord (The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom).

− Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing when to say it.

− Relationships determine the quality of our lives and conversations determine the quality of our relationships.

− A smile costs nothing, but does wonders.

− Procrastination makes the burden heavy, taking it up makes it lighter.

− When a person can't find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.

− One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike us as the most beautiful.

− The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.

− Actions speak louder than words.

− Honesty is the best Policy.

− A stitch in time saves nine.

− Many hands make light work.

− Anyone who really wants the truth ends up at Jesus.

− You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

− Blessed are those who are humble; they will inherit the earth.

− Blessed are the peace makers, they will be called children of God.

The source of wisdom is ultimately God, our heavenly Father. His son, Jesus, is called the wisdom of God (I Corinthians 1.24). The wisdom of Jesus is not just words and thoughts of course, but his very being and way of life and love. As we walk with him, in step with his Spirit, may his wisdom guide our path and lead us daily into our eternal Father's presence.

- Pastor Tony


June 11, 2023

The peace and unity of his people was on the heart and mind of Jesus, according to his Gethsemane prayer (John 17), as he came closer to the cross. This peace is grounded in the peace we have with God through Jesus, and is a peace we share in our relationship with others, especially those of the ‘household of faith’. It seems that this call to live in harmony together as a church is being tested in our day, by a number of issues, but perhaps most pronounced now by the issue of human sexuality and gender identification. Synod 2023 (CRC) is meeting (June 9-16), and will have further discussions on the matter. How do we move forward and live at peace with one another in such a polarizing time?  

I have read numerous articles that say it is not possible to stay together as one denomination; one body of Christ. Those who ‘affirm’ and those who are ‘non-affirming’ will never see eye to eye, and may as well part ways, they say. A split or separation is inevitable. Personally, I disagree. I believe the love of our shared Saviour and the power of his gracious Spirit in our hearts will enable and equip us to experience and embody God’s peace. This does not mean we will all agree, of course, even on some of the deepest social and cultural issues. However, it does mean our shared faith in Jesus and our common commitment to live in his Word does provide a fundamental bond that makes for acceptance of one another and shalom in our community. 

This life together in harmony will not come without effort and good will, of course. As Andi Potter wrote, in a blog, ‘I believe God has called us to put down our weapons and get into the messy middle of disagreement…God does not call us to be certain about the road ahead, but rather asks us to be faithful to him as we walk in it.” The Apostle Paul encourages us to keep the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace, which entails being humble and gentle, patient and bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4.2, 3). Zachary King, the Executive Director of the CRC, shares that he has found many in our denomination who are ‘finding ways to love each other and minister together despite significant disagreement. Many of these have taken clear positions on divisive issues and have healthy, trust-building interactions amongst those who disagree. Speaking clearly and respectfully about one’s convictions and listening well to others are key. Prayer and spiritual connections are common themes with this group. Unity is important to this group, but perhaps more important is the fundamental relationship to God, nurtured by prayer and Scripture.’   

Back here in our own church in St. Albert, our proposed new mission statement can help point the way: For the glory of God and the growth of all people, We Connect (in relationship with the Lord and each other); We Care (with love, understanding, and kindness); We Communicate (with the Lord in prayer, the Gospel with others, and honestly talk together);We  Celebrate (the new life in Jesus empowered by his Spirit). Indeed, through God’s grace, I’m praying that this time will be one of spiritual growth as individuals and as a community of faith. Will you pray with me?      

- Pastor Tony


May 28, 2023

Of the three persons of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit might be the most mysterious. We see the beautiful and bountiful work of the Father in creation, and relate to him as benevolent, generous Father. We know Jesus, for he walked the earth with us. He was God incarnate; God in the flesh. When we walked with his disciples they could hear his voice, look into his eyes, see his facial expressions, and touch his hands. 

As the theologian and pastor, Abraham Kuyper once said, ‘Jesus left foot prints in the sand. But the Holy Spirit leaves no such footprints.’ Indeed, the images used in the Bible to describe the Holy Spirit are moving and hard to pin down. Pictures such as a river or flowing fountain, fire, and voices that are foreign yet familiar. Jesus said the Spirit was like the wind, ‘The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes,’ John 3.8. We cannot capture the wind and contain it in a bottle. Even as it (he, for the Spirit is a person, after all) is elusive and mysterious, he is no less real, powerful, and present. Like the wind, he leaves his mark. R.C. Sproul, another theologian and author, describes it this way:  "We see the effects of the wind – trees bending and swaying in the breeze, flags rustling. We see the devastation of the fierce hurricane. We see the ocean become violent in a gale. We are refreshed by gentle zephyrs on a summer day. We know the wind is there.” Even as he is intangible and invisible, the Spirit is essential and integral as the ‘third person’ of the Trinity in being God and doing what God does. 

What does he do? Just a tip of the iceberg: He was active in creation of the universe, making order out of chaos; He applies the work and righteousness of Jesus to all believers; He works in our hearts to bring us to faith; He transforms our minds to that of Christ, and purifies our hearts, giving us a desire to be like Jesus; He blesses us with gifts such as administration, teaching, charity, encouragement, hospitality…; He counsels and comforts; He bears in us the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…; and He creates community and unity in our body, the church. In other words, our whole experience of new and eternal life is dependent on the Holy Spirit! So let us ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ (Galatians 5.25) and walk in the joy of the Lord, or we might say, let’s open our hearts to the Spirit like sails to the ocean breeze, and ‘Sail with the Wind!’    

-Pastor Tony


May 14, 2023

The rest that the author of Hebrews talks about had its beginning at creation; on the seventh day God rested, and invited his creation to rest (Hebrews 4.3, 4). Such rest we are invited to enjoy is deeply embedded in the very structure of the world of God’s making. We ought not take this for granted! Other cultures of biblical times had very different versions of how the world came to be, and it did not include an invitation to restful life, at least not for human beings.

Take the Egyptian creation story, for example. The god Atum was a creative force that split into two elemental gods, Shu (air) and Tefnut (moisture). Tefnut bore two children, lesser gods, who ruled the earth. Humanity was an unplanned outcome; they were viewed as weaklings by the gods and were used as slaves to do the work the gods no longer wished to do. In Mesopotamia (present day  Iraq) the creation story has similar yet nuanced features. Numerous gods of varying levels of power and status struggled with one another with perennial pent up anxiety. Among them were Apsu [primal waters]; Tiamat [sea]; Lhamu and Lahamu [gods of silt]; and Anu [sky]). Anu gave birth to Ea-Nudimmud, the god of earth and wisdom. Eventually Marduk emerged as the superior god, who quelled the quarrels and created Babylon. Human beings were the product of the spilled blood of the gods; they were deliberately fashioned as slaves who did the earthly work the gods no longer wanted to do. (Thanks to Wayne Brouwer, Martyr’s Manual).

Notice how different the creation version(s) of the biblical Genesis are. A single, sovereign, personal Being creates a universe over the course of six ‘days’, stopping after each day to enjoy what He had created and pronouncing it ‘good’! There is divine planning and purpose in fashioning a world which was made to be home specifically for humanity. Indeed, people were created in the very image of their Maker. How different than the Egyptian and Mesopotamian creation renditions of restless fighting among the gods and the human race as a byproduct created primarily to do unwanted work; the setting is one of unrest and slavery. In the biblical revelation humanity is created and placed in an environment of close intimacy with their Maker, working together to care for the earth; the atmosphere is one of rest and partnership.

Which brings us back to our opening comments about rest; the Sabbath rest we are invited to enjoy – not in tension and turmoil, but peace in our work and from our work, in tandem with our Maker - is indeed deeply ingrained in the essence of creation. Today we are encouraged to enter into that soul-satisfying rest; to walk with the Lord in the cool of the evening, and know his perfect peace.                                                                                     

-Pastor Tony          


April 23, 2023

This past week our Men’s Group Bible Study had a vigorous and insightful conversation about preaching. We discussed what - according to what we could discern from the Bible - the pastor’s role is in the act of preaching, and what the responsibility of the congregant is. If preaching is the proclamation of the Word, the Good News, then the one hearing the message is called to respond, or better, engage in that Word. As I have noted before, my understanding is that preaching is not simply a one direction communication; rather it involves the active listening and responding of the people - in their minds, hearts, words and actions. This later part too is part of the sermon!

A while ago I had the welcome opportunity to sit in the pew and hear another pastor preach. It was actually at a funeral. The message was an invitation to celebrate the life of the deceased; but it was also a stirring call to see other people as Jesus sees us - in all his grace and love. I remember thinking to myself, "If we could all live out the life just described by this pastor, what a changed world we would live in - and for the better." It would be the world that Jesus envisioned; indeed truly living fully as citizens of his Kingdom. But alas, it seems we all have challenges living out the messages we hear. It is like James describes, reading (or hearing) the Word but failing to obey or follow is like looking at ourselves in the mirror and then promptly forgetting what we have seen (James 1.23, 24).

We may need to be reminded of this regularly. If anything, it may help us read and perhaps hear the Word with more intentional drive to follow it; to do what it says, as James would say. How can we respond when frustrated with our lack of progress in terms of living more like Jesus (1 John 4.17)? We can and need to remember the boundless, bottomless grace of God, who is forever patient with our failures and ready to forgive. But let’s not stop there, wave the white flag in surrender, and acquiesce to our lack of spiritual progress. For we have the Holy Spirit, breathed upon us by the resurrected Jesus, living in us. We have been born again. We are new creations in Christ; the old person enslaved by sin has died, and now we live a new life. In the Spirit we can indeed read the Bible, hear the Gospel, and follow it in faith and confidence. The Word dwells in us richly; let’s live in that Word in all its joyful power! And let’s watch the Lord use our faithfulness to reveal his kingdom, and all the peace that comes with it.

-Pastor Tony


April 16, 2023

This past Easter the people of Northern Ireland celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which established peace in their country, April 10, 1998. It was and still is a complicated situation, with a history of competing ideologies and ambitions. Catholic Nationalists, under the leadership of the Sinn Fein political party, fought to unite with the Republic of Ireland (supported by the Irish Republican Army). On the other side, Protestant Unionists favored association with England, and viewed themselves as British (supported by the British Army). The Good Friday truce brought an end to thirty years of bombings, urban guerilla warfare, violent deaths, and social upheaval. One politician commenting on the agreement says that peace takes a lot of work - much more than simply negotiating and signing an agreement, as important as that might be. The real work begins after the agreement is signed; it means doing the hard work of fostering peace in a religious and political climate that still retains much tension. 

The peace that Jesus came to bring is a gift. Reconciliation with God through his sacrificial death, his love and grace, is all a gift we receive with no work on our part. And the subsequent contented peace we have in our hearts is likewise a gift. However, in another important way, as the Northern Irish know, living in peace, especially with our neighbours, does require conscious thought, humility, investment, and even sacrifice. The gift of peace comes with responsibilities. We plan to explore all this in our series of messages, A Time for Peace.

Here are a few primer passages from the Bible that may help us begin reflecting on our responsibilities when it comes to living in peace:

The clarion call to live in peace rings out from God's word; it is to be a hallmark of the disciples of Jesus. We surely are familiar with these passages. Being familiar is the easy part; the challenge comes with living them out. What does it take to live in such peace? 

-Pastor Tony


April 2, 2023

Jesus resisted the third temptation (to bow down to the Devil in exchange for to the kingdoms of the world) by stating, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only,' (Matthew 4.10). We probably have a good idea of what worshipping the Lord is all about. We do it every Sunday in church together, and engage in private worship in our homes and hearts. But perhaps in the secret depths of our mind we may wonder what it says about God that he exhorts and even commands us to worship him?

Why are we called to worship him? For someone who is not familiar with the Bible and Christianity, the command to worship the Lord may seem to identify a deity who is egotistical. When people demand praise of others, we sense it is not only unpleasant and wrong, but prideful and perhaps even a sign of unmet psychological and emotional needs. Is this the case with God? Is He looking for fawning admirers in order to boost his self-esteem, much like a celebrity requires Instagram followers to stay relevant (University chaplain Todd Statham, in an article, Why Would God Need People to Worship Him?). Of course, we know that none of this is true. Reformed theology has always been highly resistant to the idea that somehow God needs our worship to be fulfilled. God is totally self-sufficient, sovereign, autonomous, and perfect in his Triune self; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make one complete community in and of itself.

Why then are we called to worship him? True to his gracious and loving heart, it is actually for our sake. Out of love he wants to give us the one thing without which we cannot be fulfilled, happy, or at peace: Himself. From the very beginning, of human history and our own respective births, we have been created to live in relationship with the God who created us, and the God who redeems us. To worship and serve him only, with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind is our life's calling; when we live in it, we find our purpose and fulfilment. So, to worship Him is for our sake, really. When we, 'live for the praise of his glory,' (Ephesians 1.12) through our work, our witness, and worship, we experience sweet communion with our Saviour and our Lord; that is we taste of true and eternal life. In worship He draws us back to him, the Source of all good, so we may drink deeply from the well of salvation and taste the bread of life. So we may be in communion with Him! And, in his grace then, he actually (without needing us) covenants/partners with us in living out his presence in the world, so through us good news may be broadcast and his kingdom reign of peace may come.

So, let us resist temptation and overcome wrong by worshipping the Lord (and him alone!) in the splendor of his glory! "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him...for Great is the Lord, and most worthy of praise" Psalm 96.4.

- Pastor Tony


March 26, 2023

In the third temptation Jesus encountered in the desert he responded to Satan by reminding the devil that one should worship and serve God alone (Deuteronomy 6.13). Worship is integral to the Christian life; our essential calling is to worship the Lord, above and beyond everything/one and anything/one else. (Such worship engages our whole being, and calls us to offer all we have and do for his praise and glory. Our whole lives are to be ‘living sacrifices,’ Romans 12.1). When it comes to our communal, Sunday gatherings for worship, the pandemic has clearly affected us. In particular, we were ‘forced’ to employ and develop technology that allows us to worship from home. It was a ‘life saver’ that helped us through the most isolating days of the disease. Now that we are in a period when all restrictions have been removed, for some time now, we can meet in person safely. Nevertheless, the choice to be a ‘remote’ worshiper from our homes remains an option, and for some this choice may have solid grounds.

However, from my perspective, meeting in person is hard to beat if we are seeking a full orbed worship encounter with the Lord. Indeed, the author of Hebrews admonishes us to not neglect meeting together – literally, not virtually - for communal worship, heartening fellowship, and mutual encouragement (10.25). In a Q&A section of the Banner (denominational periodical) a person asked, “Our family has gotten into the habit of streaming worship rather than attending in person...” and he/she wondered whether their small group was a sufficient ‘substitute’ for in-person worship. Faith Formation Minister Laura Keeley responded with the following thoughts. Participating in a small group is a blessing, but not a substitute for the rest of the church; your church is much more than your small group. The experience of community is not just a nice bonus of church, but an important part of who we are. Worship is not about passive observing, but is rather something we actively do. We participate in worship; we do not merely watch. We praise God together, and we share each other’s joys and sorrows. Hearing God’s word preached is only a part of a comprehensive and multi-sensory encounter with the Lord. In addition, and no less important, if we stay home our children are missing out of the church community, as well as church education, children’s worship, intergenerational interaction, informal play time with friends, and other activities that make church community a blessing.

This resonates with the desire the Psalmists had for worship together with God’s people. “I was so glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!”’(Psalm 122.1). And, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord...My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord...Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” (Psalm 84).

- Pastor Tony


March 19, 2023

The resumption of our Potluck Lunches allows us to engage with each other face to face, in the same space and time, in an informal and casual way. Our ‘new’ Hospitality Team is helping us make this practice of sharing lunch together an integral part of our emphasis on hospitality. One dictionary describes ‘hospitality’ as, ‘the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors, and strangers.’ The Biblical word for it literally means ‘to love the stranger.’ We can easily see how the word shows up in our community: Hospital (a place to rest and heal); Hospice (care and comfort in the last stages of life); Host (one who receives and entertains guests); Hostel (a place for travelers to eat and rest). The practice of being hospitable involves all of these elements in some form. Of course, being hospitable is an esteemed biblical practice, both in the Old and New Testaments (Genesis 18; Deuteronomy 10.18, 19; Romans 12.13; Hebrews 13.2; I Peter 4.9).

Pastor Ian Wildeboer, in a Christian Renewal article, underscores the following essential elements of being a home that welcomes ‘strangers’, that is, anyone not part of our immediate families. 1. Pray for opportunities to invite people into your home; for spiritual discernment in considering their needs and hearing their stories. 2. Keep Christ at the centre of the visit; don’t worry about providing the perfect, spotless home or the five course meal; let your guests experience the kindness and compassion of Jesus. 3. Make it a safe place for your guests to be relaxed, and confident they can share their feelings, experiences, and convictions without judgment. 4. Be prepared for the possibility that things might get messy; opening your home to people you do not know that well may open the door to difficult situations in the lives of your guests that may need wisdom, patience, understanding, and compassion. At least, on the last point, this is what happened to Jesus often when he opened his heart to others (i.e. Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman at the well, Simon, Martha, Mary, Peter, Judas...)

As you may be beginning to sense, practicing hospitality may not come naturally to us, can make us vulnerable, and usually requires effort. But the Bible reveals that it is clearly worth the work, and a practice that is to be prevalent not only in our homes, but in our church community as well. Indeed, my sense is that it is an integral component to the unity of the church. (It is noteworthy that among all the virtues mentioned in the forms for the ordination of elders and deacons, ‘hospitality’ is one of the very few that is mentioned as a qualification for both of them). The practice of warmly opening our hearts to each other, others who may have stories and perspectives to share which may be significantly different than our own, is a fundamental element in being the church of Jesus; of knowing the communal peace he came to bring. May the Spirit bless us as we ‘welcome one another as Christ has welcomed  us,’ (Romans 15.7).

- Pastor Tony


March 5, 2023

When Jesus was tempted in the desert he rebuffed the ploys of Satan by quoting passages from the Bible (all from the book of Deuteronomy). For the first trial - to turn stones into bread - he responded, 'A person does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' The context for this quote (Deut. 8.3) is the way the Lord provided food for the Israelites as they wandered the barren desert for forty years. He gave them bread from heaven, every day except the Sabbath days, in the form of manna. "...he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven; he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them grain from heaven. Mortals ate the food of angels" (Psalm 78.23-25).

I find the daily, generous gift of manna that kept the Hebrews alive for forty years in a desolate and dry land one of the most understated miracles in the Bible. Perhaps the fact that it was a daily occurrence made it seem less miraculous. But it wasn't mundane; it was a daily miracle! Scientists aren't even really in agreement on what it consisted of as a natural entity, exactly. (Was it secretions from an insect? Airborne sap from a desert bush? A form of Coriander seed? Some atmospheric substance that came with the frost?). Thus, it is appropriately named: 'manna', which means, "What is this?" In spite of the ignorance, each day God opened the gates of heaven and poured angel food down, so his children could stay alive and not die in the desert. Eventually when the tabernacle, and later the temple, was built, the Ark of the Covenant, inside the most holy place, contained a golden jar of manna (Hebrews 9.4). A reminder of the quotidian sustenance Jehovah faithfully provided through four decades on the way to the promised land.

Jesus saw the loving, providing hand of the Lord in the miracle of manna. For him eating the manna or the food of God was the only way to really live, and know life to the fullest, free from sin and death. He said, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work', John 4.34. The will of the Father moved him and sustained him to go to the cross. And we all live, Jesus told Satan, not by physical bread alone, but by the words that come out of the mouth of God. Like manna, apart from this Word, we will perish in the wilderness of our sin. We know from the Gospel of John that Jesus is the bread of life, the word made flesh; he is the life-giving bread that came down from heaven. In our tribulations, we know that the Devil does not stand a chance against the Word of Truth; through the Living Word we triumph in the midst of our trials. Ultimately, any who eat of him (Jesus) will never die, but will be raised up on the last day (John 6.40, 51). What a miracle!

- Pastor Tony


February 12, 2023

Most, if not all, believers who look ahead to life in heaven have questions about what it will be like. What will our bodies be like? What will we do? Will we eat and drink? Will our pets be there? And there’s the one about golf (at least for those who play golf in this life): will we play golf in heaven? This last one is a little tricky. Golf lovers cannot imagine eternal paradise without it. Heaven would be incomplete without crisp sunny mornings, tweeting birds, tree-lined fairways, and perfectly manicured greens, to say nothing of that majestic swing and immaculate shot. But, as any golfer knows, that it not the whole picture. The game can spawn a surprising amount of swearing and cheating, to say nothing of frustration, weeping, and gnashing of teeth. That doesn’t sound like heaven to me!

More seriously, our curious hearts and minds daydream about what the afterlife will be like. Here are few of the more common questions (Four Views of Heaven, Michael E. Wittmer, ed).

Where is the final destiny of the saved? Will we live in heaven, or on a new earth and heaven? Or is it on this earth?

What will our bodies be like there? Will we have a physical aspect to our bodies? What will our final glorified state be like?

What will we do there, for eternity? What will our worship of God be like there? Will we do anything else?

Will we have memory of our earthly, mortal life? Will we remember sin, or traumatic earthly experiences? Will we recognize loved ones? Will we remember a loved one who may not be there?

What will it be like to see God, face to face? Will we just see Jesus, or the Father and Spirit as well? If so, in what form?

Will we be married to our earthly spouses in heaven? Will the uniqueness of that relationship continue?

Will we have free will in heaven? If so, is it possible to make a wrong decision? Is it possible to hurt oneself or someone else?

How does my view of heaven influence my present life today? Does it influence my actions? Does it give me hope for today?

The Bible does have things to say about all of these queries and more. But it also leaves us to wonder, and encourages us to trust in the truths of many things our minds cannot comprehend. One fact is clear, even as it leaves us wondering in mystery: that we will have unspoiled fellowship with the God who loves and redeemed us, and goodness and mercy will be with us all of our days as we dwell in his house (his presence) forever (Revelation 21.3; Psalm 23.6).

-Pastor Tony


February 5, 2023

As we conclude our series of messages on Managing the Master’s Money, I thought to share a number of quotes I came across through my preparations. They come from a wide variety of sources, are randomly selected, and touch on a variety of matters related to material belongings. May you find some nuggets of wisdom pertaining to mammon as you reflect.

Do not favour the rich over the poor, for are they not all the work of the Lord’s hand? Job 34.19

Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow. Proverbs 13.11

A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man with discernment sees through him. Proverbs 28.11

They who work the land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty. Proverbs 28.19

A greedy person stirs up dissension, but they who trust the Lord will prosper. Proverbs 28.25

Small deeds with great love. Mother Teresa

It is my happiness that I have served Him who never fails to reward His servants to the full extent of His promise. John Calvin

Let temporal things serve your use, but the eternal be the object of your desire. Thomas A. Kempis

Make as much as you can, save as much as you can, and give as much as you can. John Wesley

He/she is no fool who gives what he/she cannot keep to gain what he/she cannot lose. Jim Elliot

We only keep what we give away. A St. Albert CRC church member

You never see a U-Haul being towed behind a hearse. Tony Campolo

I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess. Martin Luther

Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 5.10 

The poorest person I know is the one who has nothing but money. John Rockefeller

The earth is the Lords and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Psalm 24

May the Lord be revealed in the spiritually responsible use of our material possessions, and indeed through all that he has entrusted to us. May his kingdom come through our investments - until he returns in glory!
-Pastor Tony


January 29, 2023

Money and possessions seem to be on our minds a lot. No less so in the Bible. This tells us that our material belongings or desire to have stuff is a matter of the heart. Here are just a very few references to ‘mammon’ in the Bible:

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.  Luke 16.9

No servant can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and Money.  Luke 16.13

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Mark 10. 23

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.  I Timothy 6.8-10

Deacons should be worthy of respect, sincere…and not pursuing dishonest gain.  I Timothy 3.8

Now listen, you rich people…your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  James 5.1,3, 4

Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Colossians 3.5

What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar.  Proverbs 19.22

Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice.  Psalm 112.5

You trample the poor, and force them to give you grain.  Amos 5.11

Moreover, when God gives a person wealth and possessions, and enables them to enjoy them…this is a gift of God.  Ecclesiastes 5.19

Last, in one of the few times Jesus expressed anger in the Gospels, we see him upending tables and clearing the temple, frustrated that religious leaders had turned a place of prayer and worship into a “den of robbers”, re-appropriated for nefarious material profit ( Luke 19.46).

We live in a culture, under an economic system that is heavily dependent on consumerism. As Christians, this calls us to be ever vigilant about the temptation to make our possessions (material wealth) more prominent in our value systems than is warranted. Of course, God created us as physical beings, in need of material sustenance, and he gladly provides more than we need, even for our enjoyment (I Timothy 4.4,5)! As followers of Jesus, who had very little in the way of earthly wealth, the challenge is to keep away from idolatry (I John 5.21). To help us in this, we may find it helpful to honestly ask ourselves the following questions on a regular basis, posed by theologian A.W. Tozer. “What do we value most? What would we most hate to lose? What do our thoughts turn to most frequently when we are free to think of what we will? And finally, what affords us the most pleasure?”
-Pastor Tony


January 22, 2023
As I was preparing the series on ‘money matters’ (Managing the Master’s Money), it quickly became clear to me again that our work or jobs are central to the financial side of life. According to the Bible, however, our work is much more than putting in so many hours a week and earning a pay cheque. Indeed God has much to say about our day-to-day work that brings an income but bears fruit in many other ways. Whether we work as homemakers, farmers, caregivers, veterinarians, administrators, business owners or engineers, accountants or consultants; or in the field of health care, transportation, construction, industry, technology, energy or education, legislation or law, the sciences or arts, our work occupies much of our mental space, emotional investment, and physical energy.

In the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) Jesus describes the very close relationship between our work and our worship. The Old Testament, the Scriptures that Jesus knew, reveals an Israelite people who understood their daily labours in context of their faith in a sovereign God. The home, the marketplace, and the temple were intimately interrelated. All spheres and activities of life were holy to the Lord: spiritual and physical, emotional and material, liturgical and economic, private and public. When the Hebrews gathered for worship, it was not to escape the realities of the world inside their homes or outside their doors. Rather, “temple worship was meant to engage and challenge the economic, cultural, and political behaviors of the Israelites,” (Walter Brueggeman, in Work and Worship, by Matthew Kaemingk and Cory Willson, page 65). I have always believed and taught (you can’t grow up Reformed and not know this perspective) that our weekday work is worship; an offering to the Lord, no less than our songs on Sunday morning are an expression of love, praise, and adoration. However, I have been less deliberate (and more negligent) in bringing the vocations of the laity into the liturgy. As a pastor I have been remiss in not paying enough attention to incorporating the work-a-day world into Sunday morning worship. Too seldom have I included alarm clocks and time schedules, union and business meetings, machines and mandates, tired feet and preoccupied minds, bread and butter, rush hour traffic, rubber boots and dirty clothes into the liturgy. For this I am sorry.

In the parable of the talents, we sense the importance of work in both directions. We need to bring our offering of daily work into the church each Sabbath day when we worship the Lord. And we are called to go out from the sanctuary into the workplace Monday-Friday, holding a vision of the kingdom in our hearts, head, and hands. We invest our skills and gifts and offer the fruits of our labour with our eyes on the Master who is going to return one day. The words, ‘well done, good and faithful servant,’ will reflect a whole life lived in the presence of our Lord, who reigns over all the earth - in the daycare, the factory, the barn and bistro, the office and operating room, no less than in the church sanctuary.
-Pastor Tony

January 15, 2023
If you are a parent who at some point lost one of your children in a crowd, like in a mall or fairgrounds, you will know what Joseph and Mary felt like when they lost Jesus for three whole days among the festival crowds of Jerusalem!  We feel fear, panic, anxiety, adrenaline rush, and maybe guilt as we enlist all our resources in search for our beloved child. And what relief, and often some anger, when they are found! 

Many years ago our family of six travelled with another family of 11 (nine children!) across the country in two vans to Ontario. We were visiting Niagara Falls, when we realized suddenly that 4 year-old Jonathan was missing. Consternation and alarm! (If you’ve been to the Falls, you’ll know that the guard rails are woefully inadequate when it comes to keeping one from falling in the rushing water. A curious kid might easily climb in without knowing the deadly danger.) After lots of calling and frantic searching we found him sitting behind a garbage receptacle, seemingly oblivious to the wave of fear he had caused.

But as it turned out this was only a warm up to the next episode. On our way to Michigan we shared each other’s children in our respective vans. We stopped at a rest point a few kilometers short of the Windsor/Detroit border crossing to make sure all the documentation was in order. “Here’s Jonathan’s birth certificate,” Hermina (Jonathan’s mom) said to us. “Jonathan?” MaryAnn said, “We don’t have Jonathan in our van; we thought he was with you!” Panic! Where is Jonathan!? So we bomb back to Leamington, thinking of nothing/no one but the 4 year-old and what might have happened to him. We found him at the Canadian Tire store, our last stop. Apparently, he had had trouble pushing the heavy store door open and we mistakenly thought he was with the ‘other’ van. Poor Jonathan! As it  turned out, the kind store manager gave him some lunch, and called the police. They told him to keep him at the store; surely the parents would show up eventually. Needless to say, much relieved, we were astutely more careful about checking  what van had whose children from then on. 

Incidents like these are enough to make a parents' heart stop. But they are actually only a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the complete adventures of raising our children. Thankfully, in incidents little and big, short-lived or long in duration, as parents we give thanks the Lord watches over us and our children. “The Lord (who never slumbers nor sleeps) watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.” (Psalm 121.5) Thank you Lord! Please keep our children close to you.

-Pastor Tony


January 1, 2023

Happy New Year! In the book of Daniel God reveals a perspective that presents a view of the world, of history, and our place in it that is wide in scope; that is, it embraces all nations of all ages, and indeed includes the cosmos. It comes in the form of an amazing dream-induced image of a statue and a stone that neatly summarized world history and the final destiny of human history. We will be considering all this in our reflections in our time of worship at the beginning of 2023.

In this Meanderings, I would invite us to scale this biblical world view down to an individual level. At the commencement of a new year, how does the ‘spectacles’ of the Bible, in context of my daily life and relations, inform my attitudes and viewpoints? To help us do this I will quote Howard Thurman, from his Meditations of the Heart. He is considering what the new year may bring. “It may mean the beginning of a new kind of living because of marriage, of graduation, of one’s first job. It may mark the end of relationships of many years accumulation. It may mean the first encounter with stark tragedy or radical illness, or the first quaffing of the cup of bitterness. It may mean the great discovery of the riches of another human heart and the revelation of the secret beauty of one’s own. It may mean an encounter with God on the lonely road or the hearing of one’s name called by Him, high above the din of the surrounding traffic. And when the call is answered, life becomes invaded by smiling energies never before released, felt, or experienced. In whatever sense this is a New Year for you, may the moment find you eager and unafraid, ready to take it by the hand with joy and gratitude.”

As we embark on another year with a biblically informed worldview, may the Lord keep us and cause his face to shine upon us. A blessed and faith-filled New Year to all!

- Pastor Tony


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