Christian Reformed Church of St. Albert

Pastor's Corner (Meanderings)

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

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

September 1, 2019

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

August 18, 2019

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

July 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

July 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

July 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

July 7, 2019

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

June 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

June 16, 2019

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

May 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

Or do I have some other response?

- Pastor Tony

May 19, 2019

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

May 5, 2019

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

April 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

April 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

April 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

April 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

March 31, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

March 24, 2019

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

March 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

- Pastor Tony

March 3, 2019

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

- Pastor Tony

February 24, 2019

As we travel the Renewal Lab journey the Team and I are growing in our conviction of the critical role prayer plays in being a vibrant church. If it is true, and we believe it is, that only God alone can renew and grow the church through his Word and Spirit, then it is all the more true that our primary calling is to pray continuously (‘pray without ceasing’, I Thessalonians 5.18). Through prayer our hearts are opened to see the Lord at work, to discern opportunities for ministry, to share in his work of bringing good news to people searching for Jesus.

Over the past several weeks I have come across a number of aids to help us pray. Here are a few of them:

PUSH: Pray Until Something Happens. Like the widow seeking justice in the gospel of Luke, we are to keep seeking the Lord in petition and praise until we discern his hand at work in the circumstances and/or people we are praying about.

Tabernacle Model: In this method we move from far away into the presence of God, just as Israel did when they met at the tabernacle to worship. This progress moves through the gate, through outer court, into the holy place, then into the

Holy of Holies. Jesus is the entrance gate into God presence, we pray in his name. In the court yard the priest would sacrifice for sin on the Alter, and wash his hands and feet in the basin. Thus in prayer of confession of sin we affirm trust in Jesus who made the perfect atonement for sins and cleanses us; focus on the cross, payment for sin, forgiveness and God’s grace. Next, prayerful entrance into the Holy Place; here was a candlestick, the table with the manna, and incense. Thus in prayer, reflect on the light of the Holy Spirit and his Word, praying for the fruit of the Spirit to be manifest; reflect on Jesus the Bread of life, and how he sustains us; and finally the incense helps focus on being the aroma of Christ. The final stage is the Holy of Holies; after working through the previous spaces, we are prepared in prayer to enter into the presence of the Lord and spend time with him.

ACTS: Adoration: worship the Lord. Confession: acknowledge our sins to God. Thanksgiving: offer a ton of thanks for all God has given and done. Supplication: bring our needs before him, and intercede for others.

BLESS: In terms of praying for others (intercession), pray for the following areas: Body - for health, energy, physical wellbeing. Labour - their jobs and careers, work environment. Emotions - inner life, joy, peace, stability. Social – their family (spouse, children, siblings etc.), relationships with friends. Spiritual – relationship with God, faith, struggles, holiness. I will conclude with one memorable quote about prayer from Bill Hybels, who said, “When we work, we work; when we pray, God works.” Let’s grow in the practice of prayer and watch God at work!

- Pastor Tony

February 3, 2019

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians we learn that a fellow named Epaphras was responsible for the Good News reaching the ears and hearts of the city of Colossae. Little is known about him, except that he was a faithful servant of

Jesus, may have actually been in prison with Paul, and that he prayed earnestly for the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis (Colossians 1.6-8; 4.12, Philemon 23). As far as we know Paul did not really meet or know the Christians in Colossae, even as he wrote this letter to them. The ‘birth’ of the Colossian church (or house churches) was due the Lord’s use of a relatively unknown individual. Indeed, there are very many people in the era of the new church, the 35 years right after Jesus ascended, who we know very little about (virtually nothing for most of them). For example, who was Demas, Epenetus, Andronicus, Stachys, Aristobulus, Tryphena and Tryphosa? And these are only a few names mentioned in the letters of Paul of whom we know very little. Yet each one was instrumental in the life of the new community of Christians.

Which brings us back to Epaphras Though little known, he was instrumental in the Gospel reaching unbelievers in Asia Minor. Ever since, God has been using virtually countless numbers of people to spread the good Word, including each of you/us. I invite you to read this poem by Jan Willem Schulte Nordholt (So Much Sky, 1994) to celebrate this wonderful blessed truth.


Planting my pen in the heavy earth -

deep earth of true reality -

I plow the world with clear plowshare

of the Spirit who is guiding me

Until the time will be fulfilled,

the virgin give birth, her majestic son

go walking through the fields of grain

and hang on the cross until he has borne

all that lay hidden in the fields,

all the horizon’s secret pain,

silently buried from any view,

and on the third day rise again.

Everything that my word began

walks with him in the grass and dew.

- Pastor Tony

January 27, 2019

Thank you to Mary Ann Maan, a member of our Renewal Lab Team, as she shares these thoughts with us:

One of the overarching emphases of our Renewal journey is to become more missional. That can be an intimidating thought. Overwhelming, maybe even a little scary. We already do reach out in many ways, it’s true. We are “fabulous in the foyer” – sharing hands, hugs, coffee, smiles, listening ears, encouraging words. Time and again we’ve been commended on how friendly an atmosphere, how welcoming a church. We also help out in a number of parachurch and community agencies – The Mustard Seed, The Community Village, Edmonton Native Healing Center, our Friendship Club to name just a few. As well, we host events to which we invite our neighbours, such as the Rodeo barbecues, and our recent Ukrainian dinner. These, according to the Renewal coaching we are receiving, are very important “toe holds,” in the name of Jesus, in our community.

We exist, God’s Word teaches, to obey the Great Commandment (Matt 22) – to love the Lord above all, and our neighbour as ourselves – and to carry out the Great Commission (Matt 28) – to go out and make disciples of Jesus,

baptizing them, and teaching them to walk in God’s love. As we together read Acts, Ephesians, Colossians and more, we witness and experience God’s power in the New testament churches, through triumphs and challenges, and we see phenomenal growth! Why did the Lord lead us here? To this place in our journey? For such a time as this? Because He has plans for the CRCSA – like He did for Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Antioch, Philippi. We saw His hand among us as we recalled our history on a recent Saturday evening together. And we believe He is leading us into our ‘next steps’. God with us! Emmanuel! In our new testament church – the CRCSA – He is with us in the form of His Word and Holy Spirit, who provides us with ALL we need to go forward with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

In “The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit” (Presbyterian Renewal Ministries International), we are reminded of the functions of the Holy Spirit in relation to the church: The Holy Spirit is the agent who incorporates believers into the one body of Christ (1Cor12:13), lives in the church (1Cor 3:16), builds the church (Eph 2:22), inspires her worship (Php 3:3), directs her mission (Acts 13:2,4), appoints her workers (Acts 20:28), gives gifts to the church (1Cor 12: 1-11), anoints her preachers (Acts 2:4, 1Cor 2:4), guards the gospel (2Tim 1:14), and promotes her righteousness (Jn 16:8, 1Cor 3:16; 6:18-20). Wow! What an amazing God we have! We are not asked to do the impossible. No, He gives us All we stand in need of to carry out His plan. We just need to walk in tandem with Him. He is our ALL in ALL!

- Mary Ann Maan

January 13, 2019

Thank you to Erika Maan, a member of our Renewal Lab Team, as she shares these thoughts with us:

Some one recently told me “The Great Commission” is pretty clear, this is what we are to do “... go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18-19).

Yes, sure that does sound pretty simple, go and make disciples and baptize them. However after reading this over again my biggest question is what exactly is a disciple and am I a disciple? I believe I need to be a disciple before I can go and make disciples. When looking up the definition of a disciple in the dictionary it says, a follower or student of a teacher, leader or philosopher. Jesus says in John 13: 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another, As I have loved you, so you must love one another, By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Paul calls followers of Jesus to “ transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Following Jesus, loving everyone and transforming my life are just a few ways to be a disciple. Wow, these three seem like they would take some time with Jesus, studying and praying. If I would like to be a disciple I have to take time to learn more about who I am following, so I am able to teach others about who he is. I have to be conscious about how I treat others and to love them, so when others see me they will see a disciple of Jesus. And I have to transform my life so that there is no question as to whom I am a disciple of.

Part of the Renewal lab Journey is to follow The Great Commission. We need to be a church that is full of disciples of Jesus and going out to make disciples. It starts with each one of us first. We need to be disciples to make disciples. To start we need to say we follow Jesus, we need to love one another as Christ has loved us, and to be transformed “... which is Christ in you, the hope of Glory.” (Colossians 2:27) If we can accomplish this, then we can help others to accomplish it as well.

- Erika Maan

January 6, 2019

On the threshold of a new year, we intuitively wonder about the future, not just of 2019 but of the times in which we live and the future of the world beyond a year. The biblical book of Hebrews encourages us to cast our eyes to the horizon, beyond the culmination of human history, and see the celestial, eternal city, whose builder and architect is God (Hebrews 11.10). Indeed like all the heroes of the faith, we are reminded that. “...this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come,” (Hebrews 13.14). This home, settled in the Jerusalem, will be set in a new heaven and earth (and the old heaven and old earth will disappear) (Revelation 21.1, 2). Lofty thoughts on the verge of a new year.

But wait! What about all that good Reformed biblical interpretation about God redeeming this good creation he made? What about this world groaning under the weight of sin, waiting to be liberated (Romans 8.23)? Did not Jesus come to bring the Kingdom here to this world (Mark 1.15)? And was not the physical body of Jesus resurrected – not just an ethereal phantom (John 20.20)? And will not our own earthy, literal bodies be resurrected, even if in glorified form (I Corinthians 15.35f)? The Bible seems to shout a resounding YES to all of these questions.

How do we reconcile these ostensibly contradictory emphases? Our faith fosters a longing, a deep spiritual yearning for our final resting place with the Lord in the land of glory. As the Negro Spiritual sings: “I’ve got a home in glory land that outshines the sun” (A biblical lyric indeed, cf. Revelation 22.4, 5). Jesus told his disciples that he would leave this earth and go to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house, where there are many mansions (John 14.1,2). And we’re called to proclaim the Kingdom here, and in this place seek justice and mercy, praying for peace in this world, and waiting for the ‘New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven,’ Revelation 21.2).

As far as I am aware, the Bible never really tries to reconcile the two. Instead, we live in a healthy tension, which we call the ‘Already and the Not Yet.’ Already the Kingdom has come, but not yet fully; already we have risen with Christ, but we still await the resurrection; already we are fully forgiven of our sin, yet we still struggle against sin until we are fully released; already we have the shalom of Jesus in the deposit of the Holy Spirit, yet our hearts are restless until the peace of heaven comes. As I studied the book of Hebrews this week, I was lead to consider a ‘twist’ on the ‘Already, Not Yet’ theme - namely, reversing the words: that is, could we say that as we enter a new year we could see it as “Not Yet, but Already’? The author of Hebrews seems to hint at this: the heroes of the faith longed to be home in the city God was building (Not Yet), but later in the letter he writes that we have Already entered into Zion (Hebrews 12.22-24) (!) This will take some more thought...

- Pastor Tony

Dec 30, 2018

“Follow your own star” is a saying we sometimes hear that encourages us to discern who we are, why we are here, and how we might go about fulfilling our dreams. It is the star that supposedly leads us along a path to fulfilment. I am not sure, but the saying may have its roots in the story of the Wisemen of the Christmas story. They followed a star that led them, not first of all to self-realization, but to the newborn King.

If we look a little closer at the journey of these Wisemen from the east who came to pay homage to Jesus, we see that it was a path that has several stages. It was the star that got them investigating world events, that is, the birth of an important world figure. But they needed more than the star. Once they got to Jerusalem they needed the Scriptures (Old Testament prophecy) to more specifically identify for them where exactly this baby had been born, which was, of course, Bethlehem. All this while we can imagine their sense of anticipation and desire to see the special child grew increasingly as they came nearer and nearer to the place Jesus lived. Finally, in his presence, they gave him their gifts and worshipped him.

The path of the Wisemen as they followed the star might mirror that of all believers. We stand in awe of the beauty and bounty of nature that surrounds us, no less the clear country night sky sparkling with stars (General Revelation). Intrigued with the Creator who made it, we want to know more, so we inquire of his Word, the Bible, for more specific details of who this God might be and what he has done for us (Special Revelation). In the Bible we read of Jesus as the bright and morning star (Revelation 22.16), who brings a new dawn, heralds a new age of Kingdom reign. And the Apostle Peter says this star rises in us (II Peter 1.19). Just as the wise men grew in their hunger to see the newborn child-king, so by the Spirt of Jesus grows increasingly in us. And finally we worship him: we give of our gifts, our love and loyalty.

So, let’s follow our star, that is the bright and morning Star, Jesus. In doing so we find out who we really are, why we are here, and how we are to go about fulfilling his/our dreams.

- Pastor Tony

Dec 23, 2018

Thank you to Amy Summers, member of the Renewal lab Team, for sharing her thoughts with us this week.

At this time of year, most of us are looking forward to Christmas, a time for laughter, togetherness and celebrating the birth of the Saviour. As I am enjoying the festivities (and business) of the season, I am also reflecting on the past year and the one to come.

One of my favourite things about this time of year is that the first day of winter is behind us as is the shortest day of the year. I love that by Christmas Day, we are already experiencing a few more moments of sunlight than we did just days before and soon, we’ll see the sunrise happening earlier. The rising of the sun is an inspiring act in and upon itself. It supplies warmth, renews the heart and gives hope. Now, as we are slowly receiving more of this light, I can’t help but think of the symbolism of God’s own Light entering the world. Jesus provides us with warmth and comfort. He helps us to renew our hearts and minds and gives us hope for the future.

This is truly one of the best times of the year. It reminds us of the story about the birth of a baby that ends in the greatest sacrifice, yet also gives us reason to sing “Joy to the World!” As we continue to enjoy all that this holiday has to offer, let’s not forget the ultimate purpose of the season. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” (2 Corinthians 9:15)

- Amy Summers

Dec 16, 2018

Over the past two decades, or so, certain elements in our society have tried to ‘neutralize’ Christmas; they have sought to erase any religious symbols and connotations in the public sphere. You know: no manger scenes in city parks, or Christmas trees at city hall, no angel figures or wreaths and ribbons on lamp posts, Christmas carols playing in the mall, or carol singers on the street corners singing about joy to the world because a new King is born. It may only be my impression, but it seems to me that this conversation has become less prominent over the past couple years. Perhaps we as a western society at large are beginning to realize that it is actually quite ridiculous to try and perceive a celebration of Christmas without reference to the very main reason for the season.

Really, imagine if Jesus had never been born. What would our world be like with no annual celebration of Christmas? I am not even thinking of all the retailers out there who count on or even depend on this season to make their year profitable; malls crammed with shoppers spending a lot of money for loved ones. Just think of all the songs/carols that have been written and are being sung based on Jesus’ birth and the stories that surround it. Think of all the gatherings that happen, with family, and fellow believers, and work associates. Consider all of the special events – the concerts, Advent and Candlelight services, parades, sleigh rides, turkey dinners, carol sings, the hugs and expressions of goodwill and Handel’s Messiah. What about presents under the tree, ubiquitous glittering lights on trees and houses, eggnog and oliebollen? All of this and more happen simply because of one fundamental fact: Jesus was born, God with us. Without him, none of this would be a part of our yearly cycle. And we haven’t even begun to ask the question about how the history of literally the world would be very different if Jesus had not been born. (For example, can you even begin to imagine what the 1,000 years of the European Middle Ages would be like without Christianity?)

All this has given me less patience with those who say that keeping Jesus in Christmas is offensive to those who do not believe in him. And it has liberated me to fully embrace without reservation the spiritual truth and religious meaning of Christmas when expressed in the public square. So it was with joy and thanksgiving that I found myself with MaryAnn and friends a few weeks ago fully embracing with gratitude in my heart the nine carols and lessons in the (public) Winspear Center, singing: “Hark the Herald Angels sing, Glory to the new born King; Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled...” Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Pastor Tony

Dec 9, 2018

We are continuing in the listening phase of our Renewal Lab journey. Renewal requires us to respond to God’s call to enter into a deeper relationship with Him, a renewed commitment to walk with Him, be in communion with Him and seek to do his will. This will in turn affect how we live in community with each other.

God has been seeking us ever since Adam and Eve hid from God in the beginning. Jesus came to tell us about God’s love for us, to restore our relationship with God our Father and to show us how to live in and maintain this restored relationship with Him.

Meditative prayer is one way to enter into His presence and listen to Him.

This calls for us to lose ourselves in His presence, trust Him and listen to His Spirit testifying to our spirit. We move from our human planning, striving and doing to being a child of God. He knows every need and concern already before we bring it to Him in prayer, and he has a perfect plan. So, the real issue is that we do not know what our role is in His plan:

Are we open to let God reveal his plan to us as we pray, meditate and read the bible, even as we live our busy lives?

Do we dare to live in this way of constant expectation that God will reveal himself and guide us in our day to day living?

Are we willing to stop trying to convince God to give us what we want or think we need, and allow him to care for us and give us direction through walking in his presence?

Are we willing to act and be His presence as the Body of Christ, the church, in a broken world?

I know from experience that God will answer our prayers when we seek him in this way. The question is: do we dare to listen to Him or do we, like Jonah, run away and hide from God’s call?

- Douwe Spriensma

Dec 2, 2018 - No Meanderings this week.

Nov 25, 2018

A (CRC) Synod 2018 statistic reports that 80% of Canadians who identify themselves as Christian do not believe you need to attend a church to live as a growing Christian. In my opinion the most troubling aspect of this information is that it indicates a high level of biblical illiteracy. The Bible is clear that Christian needs to be (with a very few exceptions) part of the church – the body of Christ – in order to be an active, fruitful, vibrant follower of Jesus (cf. Acts 2.42-46, Ephesians 2.14-16; 4.1-13). Thus it appears that many who identify as believers apparently are not reading the Bible very closely, if at all. As a result, it would seem that many are not aware of the essential stories of the Bible that reveal the redemptive work of God in history – stories which inform us as to how God works in the world today.

One objective of our Renewal lab journey is to help us read the Bible in a more consistent practice. This is one theme of the book the Team (and some others in our congregation) has been reading, From Embers to a Flame (Harry Reeder III). Our reading of this book has reminded me that the Bible is the only perfect book in terms of revealing God and his way of salvation and godly living. Although Reeder’s book is motivating in many ways, it is not without drawbacks. For example, he writes from an overt American context and seems to assume an American readership; he holds up a Civil War figure (Robert E. Lee) as a hero who in fact led the confederate side which supported slavery; and the author does not appear to support official leadership of women in the church. In conversations with some members of our church who have read the book, I felt I needed to be transparent and acknowledge these drawbacks. However, I believe that if we can see past them, From Embers to a Flame has much to offer (i.e. the primacy of prayer; reading the Word; living in the grace of the gospel; bearing witness to Jesus in our world) and to date has been a good source of discussion for the Renewal Lab Team.

Meanwhile, returning to the Bible, not too long ago MaryAnn pointed out to me a preface in a Gideon’s Bible. Here is part of it: The Bible reveals the mind of God, the state of humanity, and the way of salvation. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, and its histories are true. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. Amen to that!

- Pastor Tony

Nov 18, 2018

Thank you to David Appell, a member of our Renewal Lab Team, as he shares these thoughts with us:

Four Directional Listening:

We are in the “Listening” phase of the Renewal Lab Process /Journey. This first phase is six months long followed by six months of the “Imagine” phase and then one year of the “Do” phase. Today I’ll focus on four directional listening. I know you may be thinking, "I have enough trouble with one directional listening and now you want me to listen in four directions!" In a word, yes. Listening “from Above” is about what God is saying in His Word about His Will and His Way. Our exploration of the book of Acts is one example of how we are engaging in this type of listening as is contemplative prayer where we intently, patiently and quietly listen for the Spirit’s speaking and leading. In order to enter into this type of prayer we must halt our busy and often disruptive internal dialogue as we open our hearts and minds to hear from our God. We encourage you to practice this type of prayer. Be gentle with yourself as this type of prayer maybe something new to you and therefore may present some challenges. Do not be discouraged, keep trying and practicing and you are sure to see improvements. Contemplative prayer also addresses listening "from Within” which is listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying about what we are uniquely to do.

Another vital component in the listening phase is to listen “from Among”. In other words what is the congregation saying about gifts and passions? Have you thoughtfully and prayerfully considered your own gifts and passions? How might you share these gifts/passions? What are our collective gifts and passions as a church body? Fourthly we need to listen “from Outside”. This speaks to what our community/culture is saying about needs and opportunities. As with the other types of listening we are already doing some meaningful things in this regard e.g. community garden, rodeo community lunch, work with the Mustard Seed Church and the ENHC (Edmonton Native Healing Centre) to name a few. What else might we do? What needs exist in our community, especially in St. Albert? For example how might we reach out to those who are homeless in St. Albert (of which there are 138 as of October 25,2018, up from 85 in 2017)? How might we help those fleeing abusive relationships? We encourage you to listen to God’s leading. We challenge you to live and love boldly and trust in the ways we may be led even if it involves stretching us beyond our comfort zones.

Renewal or revitalization involves learning from the past in order to live in the present so the church can change the future (paraphrase of Harry Reeder from his book “Ember To A Flame”). God has done much in us and through us and now we must turn our attention to actively listening to how we individually and collectively can live now and change the future for His glory!

- David Appell

Nov 11, 2018

Thank you to Kevin Van Popta, a member of our Renewal Lab Team, as he shares these thoughts with us:

Listening to God. It’s not something we’re always wired to do. Through the Renewal Lab journey we’re in a time of active listening, trying to seek out where God is leading the Church. But listening can be hard. It can mean giving up control, and accepting that we don’t know what’s best. It can mean opening ourselves up to ideas outside our normal comfort


What does this time of active listening look like to you? For the Renewal Lab team so far, it has meant a focus on contemplative prayer and readings of scriptures (such as the Acts readings and discussions). And sometimes dreaming big. But the team is a small subset of the larger church. We’re extending an invitation to all regular attenders to open yourselves up to what God may be saying to our congregation. How do you effectively listen to God’s voice? What is God saying to you? Is there a growing need in our church or community that isn’t being met? Is there a triumph that needs celebrating? Is there a success story that should be built up into something even greater?

We hope that an outcome of this whole process is a clear, Christ-centered path forward. One that we can follow into the next stages of the life of the church. However, this process was specifically chosen because it emphasizes the journey as the important part, not the outcome or some concluding vision statement. Our hope is that the activities of Renewal Lab help us dive deeper into scripture, deeper into prayer, into deeper connections with each other and into deeper relationship with our Creator.

Join us in a renewed effort to create and develop disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. And through it all, if you have thoughts on what you believe God may be saying to our church, please feel welcome to bring these to the team members at any time.

- Kevin van Popta

Nov 4, 2018

In Acts 17 we read that the Apostle Paul made his way to Athens, the Greek city filled with philosophers who could be found sitting around in the city square discussing the meaning of life. Two types began to dispute with Paul, Epicureans and Stoics. Epicureans taught that the gods were not really interested in human kind. The earth and all of life came into existence by chance, a random course of atoms, and that there was no life after death. Thus, human life really had no purpose, and one’s best bet was to seek pleasure and enjoyment as the highest attainment in life. The Stoics, in contrast, taught that the world was not random but determined by fate; thus human beings must pursue their duty and resign themselves fatalistically to live in harmony with nature and reason.

Believe it or not, these philosophies have great staying power, and are evident today among us today. Perhaps the most famous contemporary proponent of the Epicurean type school is a British scientist named Richard Dawkins. For Dawkins life really consists only of atoms – anything that cannot be seen or analyzed materially simply does not exist. (Or, it cannot be empirically proven to exist and therefore one has to conclude it does not exist). He thus teaches a very limited view of life, and like the Epicureans, believes that our lives are totally without purpose – just a random collection of atoms that happens to have formed human beings (and the whole universe) and will eventually pass away into nothing. Even more so than the Epicureans, Dawkins does not believe in any type of god, let alone the God of the Bible.

What are we to make of this modern incarnation of an old philosophy that Paul himself knew about and discussed? I bring this all up because, like Paul, we are to be lights in the world that testify to the presence of the God of the Bible. And like Paul, it is very helpful to know what people who do not know the true God are reading and/or thinking about. And like Paul, we have a truthful message to bring of a purposeful God who created us to live meaningful lives. Aside from the very sketchy science and theological misperceptions on which Dawkins bases his theories (Cf. The Passionate Intellect by Alister McGrath for an easy-to-read and thorough analysis of Dawkins), we stand on solid ground through a well-informed faith and Holy Spirit-inspired knowledge when we believe the purpose-filled words of Jesus: “I tell you the truth...I have come to give you a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10.10)

- Pastor Tony

Oct 28, 2018 Renewal Lab Reflections

Today our Worship Director, Nathan Bootsma, brings his thoughts on renewal. Thank you, Nathan!

We’ve all got our own stuff. Work, kids, soccer, ballet, music lessons, friends, and family. House payments, car payments, insurance payments, student loan payments, tuition payments. Maybe a loved one has gotten into some trouble and needs our help, or we have an aging family member who depends on us. Maybe we are that aging family member who needs help but doesn’t want to be a burden. Life is busy and stressful, and can be overwhelming at the best of times; and if we let it it can take up all of our mental and emotional space.

I have been recently reflecting on how we worship and what makes for the most meaningful time of worship, and I think I have come across something very powerful. It might seem simple or insignificant but it is a major factor in how we experience our time of worship, and that is our mental state and our willingness to engage.

In our Renewal Lab meetings we have a time for silent prayer where we try to acknowledge what may be getting in the way of us listening to what God is trying to put on our hearts. Each meeting so far it has become incredibly clear to me that I am so distracted by my thoughts, insecurities, self doubt, and ideas for our church born out of a longing to have meaningful and powerful services that there is no room for God to speak to me over the noise I am creating.

So I stopped, quieted my soul, and listened. And in the quiet God gave me the lyrics to The Heart of Worship:

When the music fades and all is stripped away, and I, simply, come. Longing just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart. I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required... I’m coming back to the heart of worship. It’s all about you, Jesus. I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it. It’s all about you. It’s all about you, Jesus.

On top of all the stress we carry with us day to day, coming to church and entering in to a space of real worship can be extremely hard because not only are we carrying the burdens of our day to day life but there are the added distractions of Sunday morning. For me it’s noticing the guitar that’s not quite in tune or being too wrapped up in how a song is being done. For you it may be the nerves that come with being a reader that Sunday, or looking through the bulletin and noticing there are 3 songs you don’t like, or seeing that there is both communion AND a baptism so it’s going to be a long service.

I encourage you as we go through this renewal lab process that you take it also as an opportunity to renew your worship practice. Take all your stress into the church with you. Recognize what might distract you and give it all to the Lord in prayer. 1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you! Come into our time of worship with an open mind and an open heart, free of stress and distractions, and allow yourself to be swept away by the Holy Spirit- you may be surprised at what can happen when you get out of the Lord's way.

- Nathan Bootsma

Oct 21, 2018

Today we consider the Damascus Road conversion of Paul the Apostle, per haps the most famous conversion story every known. In my reflection on this account as recorded in Acts, I discovered anew how God sought Paul out, until finally Paul had to surrender to the gracious will of the Lord. The conversion account of C.S. Lewis came to mind. I quote him below, as he told it in his book, Surprised by Joy.

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing: the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.

Thank you, C.S. Lewis, for sharing your testimony of a determined and fiercely loving God who will stop at nothing, even the death of his own Son, to convert us to new life.

-Pastor Tony

October 14, 2018

Over the next two years members of the Renewal Lab Team will be contributing their thoughts in the church bulletin on a regular basis. This week Joel Buisman reflects on spiritual growth and renewal in light of a funeral he attended. Enjoy, and thank you, Joel!

This past Tuesday, Mandy and I attended Doug M.’s funeral at West End CRC. As family and friends shared stories it was clear, Doug could not only plan the perfect golf getaway, he had a desire for Christ that was felt by everyone that knew him. He always loved the challenge of grappling with big questions about faith and relationship. The family spoke about how Doug saw every moment, whether it be building a deck with a neighbor or painting an apartment with a daughter, as a way of living out God’s story for the world. Doug always challenged himself to connect his stories, whatever he was doing, with God’s.

This has really been on my mind over the week as it relates to the health of our church and our journey through renewal. What does a healthy church value? Moreover, what should a healthy church look like? Last week Pastor Tony suggested that though membership is important, growing in relationship and sharing in spirituality is truly the foundation for a healthy church. It is the moments we share with each other, in whatever capacity, that will help carry us forward as a church. One of Doug’s many mottos was if ever possible, say ‘yes’. This was always his way of creating new stories which could build new and better relationships. It seemed he never under estimated the transforming power of being in relationship and sharing in communion.

I guess my challenge as we journey together on this path of renewal would be to use our stories as an opportunity to grow in relationship and faith. Let us try to find God in everything that we do, to connect our story with His and together we can help God lay the foundation for a healthy and vibrant church.

- Joel Buisman

October 7, 2018

The Christian Reformed Church has been confronted with statistical information that many mainline churches across North Americas are facing: the number of people who attend and participate in church life is declining. A report to Synod in 2018 stated that in the USA church identifiers went from 26 million in 1948 to 18 million in 2004. In Canada today 80% of the population identify themselves as Christian but do not feel they need to belong to a church. The Christian Reformed Church is not immune to this trend. Although we actually increased in the number of congregations between 2002 and 2012 (from 982 to 1099), our overall church membership decreased from 276,376 to 251,727.

As a result, we as a denomination, and as individual churches, are having discussions about how to respond. One major response has been a call for renewal. Here in St. Albert we are not unaffected by this reality. When MaryAnn and I came to St. Albert, part of the reasoning behind the call was to help us, as a church, navigate this passage. After substantive research and discussion, we are now embarking on a journey of renewal. The day has come – an exciting day!

As we begin we are reminded of two fundamental truths. First, renewal is not first of all about numbers. That is, it is not primarily about increasing the membership of the church. It Is primarily about being a spiritually, relationally healthy church. And like any physical body, if it is healthy it will grow; I believe a healthy church will grow in a number of ways (more on this in later bulletins). Secondly, we do not grow the church (in whatever form), only God does. Only the Lord can transform hearts and convert minds; only he by his Spirit can cause us to grow into mature believers. Our responsibility as individuals and as a community of faith is to constantly seek him, keep our eyes on Jesus, trust in him and follow him, praise and worship him, and seek his glory – doing so in the many and various ways we have of being his body. He promises to do all the rest (Cf. Mark 4.26-29). So let us follow faithfully and watch the Lord do his redeeming, transforming work among us!

- Pastor Tony

Sept 9, 2018

The death and subsequent remembering and celebration of US Senator John McCain’s life over the past few weeks has caught my attention more than I expected it would. I have learned more about the person he was, his commitment to his country, the legacy he left, and the message he sought to bring to American (and indirectly, Canadian) public life. In the current political climate of the USA he was extraordinary and counter-cultural in the way he worked with members of his own party (Republican) but also many Democrats. He extended this even to his own funeral, which he planned: he asked a former Republican president (George Bush) and a former Democrat President (Barak Obama) to speak. They both were honoured to do this, and it was quite a powerful spectacle; politics and partisanship should never get in the way of building a humane and flourishing society. (In fact, this should be the goal of political work). In the last year of his life, in which McCain knew he was nearing the end of his life due to brain cancer, he spoke often of the need to be able to talk

and work together with those whom we disagree; let us always respect each other, even be friends together, no matter our differences on any issue.

This is a powerful message for the church as well. We are called to speak the truth, the truth as we understand it, but always in love (Ephesians 4.15). I understand this to mean that my expression of truth must have the basic motivation of building the other person up, and the church, in love. Our words are to be motivated by love for each other. I have discovered that difference of opinion is inevitable and unavoidable in the church, the community of faith. When be-

lievers who are invested spiritually and emotionally in the ministry of the church work together, we will indeed have varying thoughts on matters such as worship, vision, discipleship, procedures and approaches and so on. By the

Lord’s grace I have been blessed in my years of ministry to work with many, many fellow sisters and brothers who are gracious and compassionate as we have worked through numerous differences. The St. Albert congregation is no exception to this. It is something I am very thankful for as we begin a new year of ministry on our Sign Up Sunday.

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

- Pastor Tony

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