Category Archives: Blog

The Dance (Stephen Haughland)

“And now I’m glad I didn’t know.
The way it all would end.
The way it all would go.
Our lives are better left to chance.
I could have missed the pain,
But I’d have had to miss the dance!”

Today, most Garth Brooks fans would recognize immediately the words from the refrain of his hit single, simply called “The Dance.”  They are words which speak truth to our human condition: telling us that life is a  dance that requires our presence, participation and enthusiasm – no sitting on the sidelines, no hanging back, and only one way forward – get up and do it…! Even if we don’t always know the steps, and even when there’s pain, in the end what’s most important is the effort. We don’t want to miss the dance!

Long ago, a certain man also invited us to a very special dance. Many, however, doubted him because he seemed so awkward and unspecial: The poor child of an unwed mother. Uneducated. Unattractive. Utterly homeless. Acquainted with sorrows and familiar with grief!  What dance could he possibly teach us?

But he knew us, and better than we know ourselves. He wanted us to hear and remember the music that God had placed in every human heart. He knew that we could learn again that dance called faith, that dance called hope! Called love! Called joy! Called courage!

Then, suddenly, he was taken. Called to solo-dance with the sad music of betrayal, pain and death. Was he gone forever?  Would our dance with life end?

But no! Incredibly, amazingly, his sad solo was really a victory!  Because of him, the dance of betrayal and pain became the dance of joy and hope. Because of him, the dance of death became the dance of life! Because of him, we can hear again the music of God which never ends and cannot be stopped. Because of him, we can learn again the melodies of joy, hope, and love! Because he lives, he gave us back the dance!

Because He Lives, He gave us back The Dance!

Today that dance has many names. Some call it a religion. Others call it a way of life. Still others call it a faith.

I call it the dance: the dance with Life that will never end.  I call it Christianity.  I call it Life itself!

The Rev. Stephen Haughland
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Chauvin AB

Sharing a Cold Drink of Water on Jesus! (Charlie McNeil)

I was part of a conversation the other day.  A bunch of clergy were talking about church politics.  As an aside one would think we’d have better things to talk about, but there you are!  At any rate there was a comment about a sister denomination’s national meeting coming up in the summer.

The comment regarded brothers and sisters in Christ who did not share the speaker’s theological, Biblical, and general perspectives.  He basically indicated that whoever didn’t share his perspectives were expendable!  Not only to that particular denomination,  but also to the church and more pressingly to the kingdom!

I came away from that conversation with a heavy heart.  Not so much because it involved another denomination and their fellowship or lack thereof.  But because I began to reflect upon how I relate to others who do not share my views, perspectives, or practice!

In my reading and responding to the Biblical critique and the theological journey; they do not really have anything to do with anyone else but me!  As the Old Testament witness had one character ask – am I my brother’s keeper?  That reference had to do with the Biblical character’s attempted evasion of God’ question about where his murdered brother was?  The evasion didn’t wash with God!

The flip side of that reference would be that both Testaments make it clear that we or better put I are called to be not so much another’s keeper but neighbour to others.  What is the litmus test of being neighbour to others?  Clearly it is Jesus’ teaching as outlined in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  In brief that parable teaches a loving care that costs each something.

That cost is expressed in the kind of love which Jesus demonstrates.

That demonstration of love calls upon me is to clean up my act through the intercession of Christ Jesus and the interaction with the Holy Spirit.  Its my life, my faith, my practice that is to come under the microscope and not my neighbour’s, my brother’s, my sister’s, or my anyone else’s!

The conversation mentioned above gave me a great deal of food for thought about how I relate to others – not only in the church – but particularly in the church!  I regret to say that the tendency to show the door to others lurks somewhere in my DNA alongside the powerful love of God.  Perhaps not my words but my actions and body language may well give the message that others are not to let the door hit them on the way out – as the Irish used to say!

This morning in my devotional, meditation time, and prayer I was directed to Colossians 3 and particularly to Colossians 3:17.  Funny how its Jesus Who is the plumb line to which all words and deeds are to be squared, and not me!  That chapter calls the reader to be raised with Christ Jesus out of the muddle of our human condition into a powerful new experience of growing through liberating love and transforming grace!

That chapter refashions how Christians and the church are to relate one to another.  It is rather striking that it is through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that we are to mutually learn something anew of the ways and means of God at work in our very midst.  The praise of God speaks volumes into life and the practice of the faith.

So do I make a list of those “who would clearly not be missed” a la Gilbert and Sullivan?  Or do I make a prayer list that is open ended and which seeks God for me and we – not to proscribe but to intercede?!  Or better put do I seek God in prayer and be open to God’s directions in a great many things – including and especially how I relate to Jesus’ many little ones?

Jesus takes it rather personally how I treat you!  Can I offer you a cold drink of water in Jesus’ Name and hang out with you for His Name’s sake?  I profoundly hope so!

And more to the point can I take a cold drink of water to the guy who prompted these reflections and offer it to him in Jesus’ Name?!  For he too is one of Jesus’ little ones!

Blessings for the journey!
Charlie McNeil

Who is this man? Reflections on Jesus (Janet Taylor)

Who is this man? It’s a fair question, one asked by Sadducees and Pharisees, by priests and Romans, Jews and Gentiles. Who is this man? We’ve been asking this question for over two thousand years, and we’re still asking it, still looking for an answer.

In Acts, when Saul meets Jesus on the road to Damascus, Jesus is a flash of light from heaven and a disembodied voice. In John’s Revelation, as he stands in heaven in a dream-state, or what we might call a trance or a vision, we see another Jesus: the Lamb who was slain. This is the exalted Christ, the Lamb that was slain for “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9) In John’s Gospel, though, Jesus is much more human, appearing at the seaside and joining the disciples for a fish-fry. Matthew’s Gospel records that the sight of the risen Christ made the tomb guards shake and “become like dead men.” (Mt. 28:4) Indeed, within all the different stories of the post-resurrection Saviour, no two stories describe Jesus in the same way. Is he recognizable, or a stranger? Is he bodily present, or not visible to the naked eye? Who is this man?

There are thousands of images of Jesus in the pages of Scripture, and most of us tend to play favourites with some of them, preferring to picture our Jesus as one thing over another: infant, precocious 12-year-old, full-grown son leaving home, battler of Satan, healer of the blind, comforter of the grief-stricken, miracle-worker and cross-bearer, friend, servant, rabbi and revolutionary. He’s the Son of Man and the branch of Jesse, Son of David and a boy from Nazareth. He’s a broken man who weeps at the tomb of his friend, and a risen Saviour walking the road to Emmaus. He’s as mysterious as the wind, and as intimate as our breath. Jesus heals the broken, rebukes the wind, brings redemption, judges, intercedes, and welcomes.

Mature Christian faith involves deepening and widening our understanding of who Jesus is; as a living Saviour Jesus never remains static, and neither should our understanding of him.

S. M. Lockridge was a preacher at Calvary Baptist Church in San Diego, California from 1953 – 1993. He offers a powerful answer to the question, “Who is this man?” I invite you to watch, and see if his words challenge your understanding of who this man is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqTFNfeDnE

The Rev. Janet Taylor
Braeside Presbyterian Church
St. Albert, Alberta

The Witness of “Nothing” (Christine & William Ball)

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.  Luke 24:1-12

Christ is risen, He is risen, indeed!

The angels said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?

He is not here, He is risen”

The tomb is empty. This is the great Easter surprise and joy.

To celebrate this Good news, our congregation brought brightly coloured plastic eggs to church, filled with symbols of new life.   We exchanged eggs and then opened them to find wonderful symbols for Easter.  A stone, symbolizing the stone rolled away from the tomb, a frog, dragonfly and butterfly that experience metamorphosis; seeds, bulbs, new sprouting plants, even some chocolate chicks and eggs.

One young fellow was unusually quiet at the front of the church and so I asked him what he found in his egg and he replied – “nothing.  There was nothing in my egg.”

My first thought was to apologize.   Sorry, that egg is a dud- a mistake, but then I thought…

It is an empty egg – You have the best symbol of new life – an empty egg.  You have the symbol of the empty tomb.   The women and disciples discovered the empty tomb on Easter morning and that is why we celebrate.  “Jesus is not here, He is risen from the dead, Halleluiah.”

The youngster gave me a little smile and held onto his empty egg.

Later, concerned that he might be disappointed, I sought him out during fellowship time to give him another egg filled with little chocolate eggs.  He looked at me a little surprised to receive a second egg.

As wonderful as symbols of new life like bunnies, chicks, butterflies, seeds sprouting are, it is hard for them to bear the full weight of the Easter miracle.  The first Easter proclamation was a “nothing.”  An empty tomb.  And that is all that the women at the tomb reported, as the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) relate.  He is not there.

The further witness of the women, of the 12 disciples, and of the “many” was that while the tomb may have been empty, Jesus was still present.  One can hardly imagine the shift in their hearts from grief and pain to joy, from fear to courage and boldness, from doubt to trust and belief.  It is upon this witness – the empty tomb, and the real presence of Jesus among them, that leads us to proclaim God’s great good news of New Life in Christ.

Christine and William Ball                                                                 April 29, 2019
Mill Woods Presbyterian Church

 

 

Who knew?  The empty plastic Easter egg did turn out to be the most significant of all.

Wreck it Ralph (Harry Currie)

Matthew 10:35:  Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.

The movie Wreck it Ralph (Disney 2012) is about Ralph who doesn’t want to be a villain in the arcade game any more and thinks that if he goes into another game he can be a hero and gain respect. Of course when he goes into another game he kind of wrecks the game. And the movie then is about how he works with a princess to fix the mess he made and in the end he is a hero.

And I want you to think of the times when maybe you wrecked it. It seems to be a fairly human thing, you know, to have the ability to wreck things. In fact one of the first games I played with my granddaughter Spencer before she could even walk, was that I would build a tower out of blocks and she would come and wreck it and knock it down.  All of us have stories of wrecked relationships, of personal failure, of leaving a trail of wreckage at work, or at home, or at church or wherever. We all have said things we regret, hurt people, acted foolishly, and made mistakes. Every one of us has been a “Wreck it Ralph” in some ways, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.

One time a bishop met with a man and his son and the bishop asked them what they did to celebrate Christmas. The man named Fred explained to the bishop and to his son, Sam that they would get up on Christmas morning, open their presents and then go to church. Sam replied “Church?! On Christmas? We’re going to go to church on Christmas?” Fred patiently explained, “Of course, that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about Jesus’ birth and God coming to us.” Sam said, “I know, I know, I know! But Christmas! Church wrecks everything!” The church wrecks everything. Yes it does. And the reason we come to church is to meet the child who was born to wreck everything.

It is the side to Jesus we don’t like to talk about. And it may be upsetting in an age where terrorism and violence always seem to be in the news to hear the words of the one born in a manger, that he hasn’t come to bring peace but a sword. But the sword that Jesus brings I think is the sword of truth, and the truth is that this world hurts a lot of people and is broken and so Jesus came to wreck the world as we know it.

I think Jesus came to wreck the whole system that thinks that people are expendable. Jesus came to wreck the systems of the world that deny a cup of cold water to someone in need. Jesus came to wreck the political systems that determine who is in and who is out. Jesus came to wreck the economic systems that make a very few people fantastically wealthy and the vast majority of the people in this world poor as church mice. Jesus came to wreck our world wide tribalism, that pits one tribe against another in competition, enmity, violence or envy, whether that be race, culture, political parties, ethnic groups, or faith traditions.

Jesus came to wreck our fear or death and exclusion, by telling us that we are all loved and included and that there is love and acceptance with him in this life and beyond the grave. Jesus came to wreck our view of the world which puts us at the centre of it, and everyone else a lesser light, and instead replace it with a view that love is the centre of the world and service to others is the way to be. Jesus even came to wreck our sense of family life, so that we would embrace a wider view of family, that all people are God’s children.

Jesus came to destroy our egos, …our selfishness, our self-centredness…which is the source of all our sin. Jesus came to wreck our value systems, which says that people are valued for their power, their wealth, their possessions, their looks, their talent or their heritage. I don’t know about you, but when I hold up the sword of truth to my own life, there are few things that Jesus needs to wreck.

For Jesus says: (and I paraphrase) For everyone who seeks to save their life will lose it, and those who let their lives be wrecked for my sake, will find life.  Amen

Harry Currie,
First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

Emergency Alert! (Kenneth MacRae)

One year ago my wife and I traveled with two other couples to go to Hawaii. While we were there we got the following text on our phones, “Emergency Alert. Ballistic Missile Threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate Shelter. This is not a drill.” Now to be honest this “alert” lasted for 15 minutes or so but we had not checked our phones for the first 10 minutes. We could hear a siren in the background and we wondered if there was a fire drill going in our condo. We looked over the balcony and people were swimming and others simply waved. No one was panicking. Then my wife checked her phone and found the message.

What was our reaction? Most of us said, “Well there are worse places to die than Hawaii!” Howard, another military chaplain, said, “I don’t want to die with Ken near me!” (He is such a loving person). We decided to sit on the balcony and wait for the flash! A few minutes later we got the next text message that essentially when, “Oops. Ignore previous message.”

Sadly this situation happens fairly often. Not necessarily pending death by Ballistic missile, but many people get news that they have cancer. People have a heart attack. People drive on the Anthony Henday and are surrounded by idiot drivers. The reality of death can sometimes hit us hard.

As Christians, we don’t have to be afraid of death. Ok…the dying part might suck…but the death itself is not something we have to worry about. John 3: 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

No one wants a lingering painful death. However an eternal life sounds interesting. I’m more surprised when people think that eternal life begins only after death. Why not think that eternal life begins now! Start doing the things that you want to take into eternity. Take harp lessons now (or pick some other musical instrument). Turn off the TV and invite some friends over for games and have a laugh or two. Pick some recipe that has a picture and try to recreate it with your family (In my case what I make and what it is supposed to look like is never the same!) Practice kindness to all people. Be loving. Be caring. Don’t hold grudges. Live your life as you would want it to be throughout eternity.

May God’s blessing be upon you.

Padre Kenneth MacRae
Chaplain – Canadian Forces

The wise still seek him (Janet Taylor)

Picture the wise men in your mind – are they tall, regal-looking fellows in slightly exotic garments?

We can thank St. Bede the Venerable for ascribing nationalities, names, and characteristics to the Magi some time in the late seventh century. Perhaps Bede was attempting to resolve some of the things we don’t know from Matthew’s telling of the story. Matthew says nothing about how many magi there were, or what, exactly a magi even is! He gives us no clues whether or not they are kings, he’s vague about where they’ve come from, how long it took to get to Judea, and we learn nothing about what they do after they ‘depart another way.’

So Bede the Venerable set about giving them names that had meaning – Caspar means Master-of-Treasure, Melchior means King, and Balthasar means Protect-the-King. Bede gave each of the magi a different ethnicity, age, stature, and even described their clothes! He took Matthew’s “wise men from the East” and fleshed it out to create concrete, specific characters for us to focus on. Legend even has it that the magi were later baptized by Thomas. It’s human nature to want to know specifics – we’re a curious bunch, and any time the Bible seems vague on a particular point, we’ve spent two thousand years and more trying to fill in the blanks.

More recently, Bede’s particularly clear and detailed description of the magi has come under scrutiny. Theologians now speculate that perhaps an early tradition of twelve wise men has merit; certainly they would have traveled in a large caravan, likely with horses and mules, rather than camels, for weeks, months, or even years.

When we paint the magi in a certain way; when we accept Bede’s description so that we know what they look like right down to their whiskers – we risk painting ourselves out of the story. Matthew is intentionally vague – if the description of the magi is clear down to the tiniest detail, there’s no room for us in the story. But if the description is vague, all of humanity can be represented in these people who came to see the child. We can see ourselves in the retelling – we are the Gentiles, being welcomed by God into this new story, coming from the far corners of the earth and kneeling, ‘that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow…’

The Rev Janet Taylor
Interim Moderator, Sherwood Park Presbyterian Church

In Search of a King (Stephen Haughland)

Lately in my travels I’m seeing more and more evidence of the approaching holiday season. Yesterday, it was a drugstore window, newly decorated with painted-on holly. Also a Santa Claus and sleigh, with smiling reindeer and jolly elves. And Mrs. Claus, too. Everything you would expect to find on a store window at Christmas. Except for one missing item: no King.

This afternoon, I’ve decided to tour our neighbourhood. I know that I’ll discover even more evidence of the approaching season. Windows lined with brightly-coloured lights. Spruce trees adorned with Christmas bells. Bouquets of holly strategically placed over doorways. More Santa’s. More reindeer. More elves.

Everything you would expect to see on display in a front yard at Christmas. But will I see the King?

This evening, I’ll carry my coffee mug to the chair that sits in front of the T.V.. A quick turn to the local station will bring me up to date on the recent activities of our local hockey team, the Killam Wheat Kings. On game nights, our arena is always overflowing with hundreds of cheering fans. In a world where royalty is measured in goals scored, games and fights won, our “Kings” have never lacked for plenty of loyal subjects.  To have such loyalty, must a true King do the same?

Tomorrow morning, I will continue my own search for a King. The search will begin in my office. On the computer atop my desk, and involving a game called “Solitaire”. I will seek not one king, but four. King of Hearts. King of Diamonds. King of Spades. King of Clubs. In Solitaire, the object cannot be reached unless the Kings have first place. Only when the Kings are first can the game begin.  Only when the Kings are first can the game be won. Not always am I successful. So many cards, and combinations, and choices. So many chances to misplace the King.

Soon, however, I will tire of merely playing. I will close my computer and open my heart to prayer and quietness. Aided by the Spirit and armed with truth, I will seek the true King. The real King. Who was born in a stable in Bethlehem. Whose mother was named Mary. Whose advent was heralded by prophets, angels, shepherds and sages. Who came to release His people and set the prisoners free. Who came to return us to joy.

Our King. Your king. My King. Whose plan can never fail. Whose reign shall never end.

Aided by the Spirit and armed with Truth, I will go forth to seek my King in the joy of this season. I will seek my King in the faces of friend and of stranger; in the young, and in those long in years. I will seek my King in laughter and celebration. I will seek Him in song, prayer, praise and worship. In generosity and even in extravagance will I seek my King. I will seek my King in faith, hope, and love. In this season and the next. In every season of my life I shall seek Him. With earnestness. And with true diligence.

And I shall find Him. Because He is here. Because He is with me. Because He has promised never to leave me.  And day by day I shall follow him. More nearly. See Him. More clearly. Abide in Him. More dearly.

Because He has already found me! Because He has already found us all!

Rev. Steve Haughland
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Chauvin, Alberta

Believe then behave then belong? (Gabriel Snyman)

It used to work like this. Through the working of the Holy Spirit you came to faith in Jesus Christ, accepting Him as your Lord and Saviour. You then studied the Word and the various creeds and doctrines of a particular way. You got to know their liturgy and rules. You started to attend this church’s gatherings and “behaved” in a way that proved that you did your homework. Only then you got accepted or inducted or whatever the case may be.

Sometimes for some it still works like this. But I do think a better and I dare say a more gospel like order is on the rise in the approach of churches. This order is: Belong, then behave and then believe. It works like this- churches practice radical hospitality, inviting people into their community and gatherings with open arms. This is done on the theological basis that every person being created by God and in His image is equal before God and therefore welcome. How deeply and how long a new person invited wants to partake in the community and its activities is up to the individual. If the person shows interest in the line of thinking and the disciplines that this community of faith sees as their “glue” he or she is then instructed and “coached” in it. The final step then is for this individual to come to faith, profess it and partake as a member that participate and extends the hospitality him/herself.

I say it is more gospel like because it is a recognizable pattern in the ministry of Jesus. He invited disciples to follow Him that is to live in community with him (belong). We can assume that involved for starters to do the simple tasks of life with Jesus like preparing food, getting ready for bed and joining conversations he had with people. Gradually as they were ready He taught them who He was and what his mission was all about. He also invited them to partake in His work (behave) until finally they came to a deeper understanding and professed their faith (believe)even at the price of martyr ship and death.

Most churches do not think and operate like this. We assume people who share our believe system will look us up, comply with our unique way of doing things and then be welcomed. Some do follow this script but it is usually with people from the ever-declining minority who share our denominational background from childhood.

Where do we start? By asking ourselves how we can practice radical hospitality.

Gabriel Snyman
Faith Presbyterian Church, Fort McMurray

Let’s Pray for Each Other (Janet Taylor)

One of the most encouraging experiences as a Christian is to be prayed for by someone else. When someone prays for us, especially in our presence, something special happens in our hearts – we feel cared for and encouraged. There’s a sense of intimacy, both between us and the other person, and between us and God. It’s like we’re knocking on heaven’s door together. It’s one of the best ways to build relationships between Christians – it binds our hearts together, and it’s one of the surest ways of ensuring unity in the church.

It’s pretty hard for division to exist and take hold when people are praying together. But we need to pray not only FOR one another, we need to pray WITH one another.

Robert McCheyne, a minister in the Church of Scotland, once said: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”

The Bible confirms McCheyne’s comment: Heb 7:25 says “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” It is by His grace, not by our own efforts, that we remain faithful today.

If we remember that it is through grace that we our saved, sanctified, protected an uplifted, we can turn to our brothers and sisters, whether they be Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Baptist – and even further than that: whether they be Jewish or Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, and see God’s grace at work in them as well.

Jesus doesn’t pray that we all be of precisely like mind, or that we blend into a homogenous grey blob. He prays that God will be with us, that we will feel the protection of God, that we will trust the intercession of Christ when we get things wrong, and that we love one another. If this is what Jesus prayed, do you, like me, believe that it’s time we started praying the same for (and with) one another?

Janet Taylor
Braeside and Westmount Presbyterian Churches
St. Albert and Edmonton, Alberta