Category Archives: Blog

Making sense of Sabbath rest in the 21st century (Heinrich Grosskopf)

One might wonder whether there is any sense in pursuing Sabbath rest in the society we live in currently. By way of a show of hands (virtually) how many of you reading this blog take a regular solid Sabbath rest?

If God says I can accomplish my work in six days, who am I to say I can’t?

While I personally endeavour to take a day out of my week to rest, I have found that my Fridays (my day-off) can easily be squandered if I don’t make the best use of this day. I am still to make the most of such a day.

Gordon MacDonald, author of among others, the book “Ordering your private world” devotes his last section of the book to Sabbath rest. I recently revisited this 1983 oldie, and found some nuggets in there.

The chapter on Sabbath rest is entitled “Rest beyond leisure.” I find three pointers in the chapter very helpful.

He mentions how Jesus didn’t spend most of his life on hours and hours of sleep, but He rather spent these times alone in conversation with God, his Father.

There might be three dimensions to this type of rest.

  1. The first could be found in looking back and doing some introspection about what I have accomplished in the last week, or even in my life so far. It is a time to “close the loop.”
  2. The second might be to look at today, at how I converse with my Lord about current things.
  3. The third is to look forward into the future, towards my mission, to what I’m about to do. What are my plans for the next six days, for the future? Where am I heading in my service towards God?

Furthermore, the day of Sabbath can have much meaning, if I use this time to make sure the important beliefs and values are acknowledged. The times of rest that God gives us, without any need for guilt about them, are cause for us to interpret our work, to press meaning into it, and to make sure we know to whom it is properly dedicated.

Finally, how about considering a “tech Sabbath”, a time when all emails, social media and technology are fasted from for the period of Sabbath rest? Maybe then I will be of more help towards a world that is in such desperate need of spiritual care.

Heinrich Grosskopf
Dayspring Presbyterian Church

It’s Good Friday Morning (John Dowds)

It is Good Friday morning.  Snowy, cold, sun that is trying desperately to brighten and warm the earth.

I find this time of year somewhat difficult.  We are on the cusp of Spring, but not there yet.  We are on the cusp of sunshine that warms the ground and elevates our mood and energy, but we are not there yet.  We are on the cusp of new life, happening all around us, but we are not there yet.

And I suppose, at some level, that is what Good Friday is all about – cold, dark, and yet on the cusp of light and hope.  It is a difficult day.  And it should be a difficult day……because that is part of the story of our faith, that is a part of the story of our lives, that is a part of the story of our world – always has been, always will be…

Without darkness we would have no idea about what light is all about, without despair we would have no idea about what hope is all about, without pain and difficulty we would have no idea of what it feels like to be pain free……..

All of this is life.  Whether we like it or not is somewhat irrelevant.  It is life.   Scott Peck, in his book, The Road Less Travelled, begins his first chapter by saying, ‘life is difficult.’   One of Buddhism’s tenets is, ‘all life is suffering.’

And that is not a ‘bad’ thing.  In my work as Chaplain for the City’s 14000 employees, I spend many hours with many people in the midst of their suffering, hurt, pain and sometimes overwhelming grief.  It is in those dark, foreboding  places that they often learn so much about themselves and others, they experience depths of emotion that they may never knew they had, they come face to face with their own mortality, their own failings, they experience life in all of its reality – dare I say, in all of its abundance….

You see, I believe (more and more) that when Jesus said, I came that they might have life and have it abundantly – I think what he meant was, I came that they might live authentic lives, true to oneself lives, – lives where we are honest with ourselves about our failures and our successes, lives where we draw lines in the sand for our own care and wellbeing, lives where we recognize and understand that life can be pretty darn awful sometimes (maybe of our own making, or that of others, or both), but that things can be different, better, and that we will get there – with the help of others, with the help of our faith, with the assurance that not only are we on the cusp of light and warmth and new life – but that new life does happen, the sun will begin to warm the earth again.

Life is difficult.  No-one knew that better than the One who went to the Cross today.

Life is difficult.  But there is always hope and light.  No-one knew that better than the One whose resurrection we celebrate and who came to teach us about abundant/authentic living.

John Dowds, Lead Chaplain, City of Edmonton

About Orphans (Harry Currie)

Did you ever notice how many fictional characters are orphans, especially those who have super powers or magical powers. Superman is an orphan. Batman is an orphan. Spiderman is an orphan. Luke Skywalker is an orphan. Harry Potter is an orphan.

Why is that? It is because being an orphan resonates very deeply with the human psyche. It helps us identify with the character, because every one of us feels at time alone, and a little bit like an orphan.

Interestingly enough a number of these fictional stories about heroes seem to be based on stories in the bible. Moses was like an orphan, brought up by a princess, who is seeking his real identity and comes back to save his people, using special powers to save his people from an oppressive overlord who is genocidal. Luke Skywalker is an orphan whose sister is a princess who fins out about his real identity and seeks to save his people, using the force, from an evil overlord who has committed genocide.

Superman’s real name is Kal –El which translated from Hebrew is “voice of God” His father sends his only son to earth to be a light to show them the way. He comes and is adopted by Martha and Jonathan which sound a little bit like Mary and Joseph. Superman is based on Jesus.

Jesus is a kind of orphan. Brought up by Joseph, his adoptive father, his real father is God. At his baptism, he finds his real identity, understands how much he is loved by God, and receives his superpower, which is the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of love, joy. peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control, At his baptism Jesus receives his mission, which is to share that Spirit with others.

And the people he shares his Spirit, his love, his superpowers with, is us. We too are baptized into this Spirit and we receive the same superpowers through the Spirit, the greatest of which is love.

At times we are all orphans, because we were all created in the image of God as God’s children and we have lost our way. And at times we all feel like orphans because we do not live like the children of God we were born to be. We at times feel like orphans because we know that there is another way to live that isn’t so full of conflict and drama, and hurt feelings and bad thoughts, and selfishness, and trying to get more money and get more things. We know there must be a peace that passes human understanding. We know that there is an abundant life waiting. We know we have a purpose and a destiny.

And it is simply this: to be doused or drenched in unconditional love and forgiveness. To be swamped with acceptance. And to turn around a go a new way or loving others the way God has loved us. This year we can all be superheroes and use our superpowers to love one another and share God’s spirit.

Harry Currie, First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

What I Learnt by Being A Thief

When I was a young boy I stole five dollars from my parents’ dresser. I was found out and duly discipled – how, I don’t remember.

How to understand my parents’ response to their young thief?
1. They didn’t like my stealing, and they didn’t like me…
2. They didn’t have a problem with my thievery, but they didn’t like me…
3. They were okay with my petty larceny, and liked me…
4. They didn’t like my stealing yet liked me.

What makes sense? My parents either liked or didn’t like the act of my stealing, and they either liked or didn’t like me. (I am using the words ‘liked’ and ‘like’ to avoid using words like ‘hate’ and ‘love’ that often incorporate large investments of emotion, which may skew one’s thinking concerning the situation in question) So, which is it?

Well, my parents didn’t like my stealing – not from them or anyone. Yet, they genuinely liked me – they really did! To understand my parents’ response of discipline for my stealing money I think the fourth option is the best explanation for their discipline; indeed, as a parent I would have the same position towards any of my children. They wanted me to learn that stealing is not good, nor right, their discipline was oriented to help me learn that, and their discipline was grounded in their affection for me.

Okay, here is where I’m going with this. There is an idea floating around our society, and even in the church, that it is meaningless, even hypocritical, to say to another person, “I don’t like your behaviour, or act, or word, but I like you.” Yet, isn’t that what my parents were doing in response to my stealing – not liking my behaviour, but still liking me? To think otherwise is to conclude that there is no behaviour that is not acceptable or not likeable, because if there were, then “I couldn’t like you!” The idea we can’t like another’s behaviour and not like them is a sophistry; is it true that I, or another person, are incapable of distinguishing the worth and value of another person from what they do? Perhaps for some people that may be a possibility, yet it wasn’t true for my parents, nor for me raising my children, nor it is true of the people I know.

Neither is it true of the Lord. The idea that another’s actions, even lifestyle, is not acceptable and liked, and therefore, that person mustn’t be liked is to deny the witness of Scripture, and to confute the common experience of many people of faith. Two great truths in Scripture (and reflected in the Judeo-Christian tradition of western society) are first, God is love, and therefore, loving and good in all decrees and works; the second is, humanity is broken and infected with what the Bible calls ‘sin.’ This ‘sin-infection’ results in all that is wrong with me, and you, and all other people. C.K. Chesterton, in response to a letter in the London Times asking, “What is wrong with the world?”, was allegedly reported to write, “I am.” Chesterton had a handle on the clear teaching of Scripture concerning sin and its consequences. There is nothing in Scripture that would support the thinking that God likes our sin, or our behaviour that flows so easily from what Jesus described as our ‘unclean heart’. Much is made concerning how Jesus loves us, and how his love shapes his relationships, and rightly so, yet, it is fallacious to suggest that Jesus’ love for us also means he doesn’t have a problem with our sin and sinful words and acts. There is ample support in the Bible for the contrary, as there is ample support for thinking that God likes us, no… God loves us! This despite our sin and our behaviour that expresses our sin.

So, my parents didn’t like my sin of stealing, yet they liked me. Similarly, God does not like my sin, but likes me (perhaps it would be right to insert the words ‘hate’ and ‘love here?).

One final thought. If I have the love of God in me, transforming me through the work of His Spirit, conforming me to the likeness of Jesus, is it not reasonable to conclude that I don’t have to like what another person does, or even their lifestyle, but I can like that person? Isn’t this how the Lord relates to us?

Rodger McEachern, Callingwood Road

The Deacons’ Fund (Mark Chiang)

“And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.” Matthew 14:20

We have a Deacon’s Fund at St Andrew’s. I don’t know if we ever had deacons, but a small fund was set up in their name. It’s meant to be used in pastoral emergencies and to help the general community. But we never touch it.

It’s not that we’re not helping people. It’s not that we don’t need the money. But for some reason, our church as been shy about using the Deacon’s Fund. I can only speak for myself, but whenever I’ve handed out bus tickets or restocked the food pantry or made a small loan to a person in need, I’ve preferred to take the money out of my own pocket rather than the Deacon’s Fund. I think part of me is saving it for a “real emergency”, and I’ve been so afraid of using it up that it hasn’t been used at all.

At last year’s Annual Meeting, one member stood up and asked: “Why haven’t we spent any money out of the Deacon’s Fund? Are we not helping anyone?” The elders and I glanced at each other sheepishly. I suspect we were all doing the same thing: spending our own money in order to save money in the Deacon’s Fund.

We decided to change our behaviour. If we exhausted the fund, so be it. Receipts started pouring in, and money started flowing out. But somehow, the Deacon’s Fund remained afloat. At this year’s Annual Meeting, the treasurer was able to boast that — despite spending more out of it than we ever have before — the Deacon’s Fund had actually grown.

I imagine this is what the disciples felt when they gathered the twelve baskets of leftover bread. It’s humbling: a weird mix of feeling astounded and stupid. Why weren’t we spending the Deacon’s Fund? Why were we so afraid of running out? Why did we doubt that God would provide?

And worst still, how many times have I held back from being generous because I was afraid there wasn’t enough? The next time I find myself more filled with more doubt than faith, I’m going to remember this experience with the Deacon’s Fund.

Mark Chiang, St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

And God comes near … (John Carr)

I have been reflecting on the role of nativity plays, pageants, and tableaux in the formation of our spirituality. Here are my thoughts.

In December 2017, as I watched the children and young adults play their various roles in the tableau written by our Session Clerk, I felt a strong connection with the narrative. I knew many of the “actors” and their families – the braying and baa-ing little children who were donkeys and sheep, the three stately and tall young men who were the magi, the teenager who was Mary, accompanied by a teenaged Joseph. And then there were the narrators – who occasionally stumbled over less familiar words but who were obviously pouring their hearts and souls into the fulfillment of their responsibility.

Getting the details of the biblical narrative “right” was not important. The problem I have, as a scientifically-informed 21st century Christian, with “virgin birth,” with “prophecy” fulfillment, and with a “star” being “over” a specific location (and with special meaning) faded into the realm of trivia.

My imagination was freed up to experience the reality that Jesus was very near for the enactors of the story. In a very real way, Jesus had come alongside each person present in the sanctuary – including me. And that is trustworthy. That is real.

John Carr, Minister-in-association at Dayspring PC, Edmonton

The Golden Boy (Ken MacRae)

The Golden Boy

A childhood friend of mine recently published a book called The Golden Boy. Grant Matheson is the son of a Presbyterian Minister. He achieved high marks in school, ran marathons, became a Doctor, got married and had children. People looked up to him. He was respected in his community. In other words he was the Golden boy. Then drugs consumed his life. Eventually the addiction cost him his job, his marriage, his health and his finances. Thankfully he got the help he needed and is now living drug free.

It was hard to read his book. I wish I had been there for him during his time of struggle. Yet I didn’t know him during that period of his life. I knew him when he was the Golden Boy. We went to church together. We were in youth group. Before paintball was invented we had pellet gun fights with other friends. We played in our weekly church floor hockey games. During university we drifted apart. He had his own set of friends and I found a different set of friends.

Sometimes we get the impression that all addicts are losers. They come from a poor neighbourhood, grew up in a bad home, or intellectually lacking in life. The reality is that anyone can become an addict to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex or whatever. The good news is that addiction can be overcome. Help is available for all people. Help cannot be forced. One must want to get better. It is not easy. The temptation will always be there. One’s lifestyle will have to be adjusted. One may have to change friends. You have to learn to forgive yourself, but sadly others may not forgive you.

As a chaplain I read the book from a spiritual perspective. I kept seeing a void in Grant’s life. I have seen the same thing in many people. People who are never content. I’ve known people who are consumed with reaching the next rank level. People throw aside a marriage for another person who is more appealing. People go from job to job for the next one will always be better. Failure or remorse consumes them.

How do we find contentment in life yet positively push ourselves to reach various goals in our life? I hate to use a cliché, but in our journey through life, stop and smell the roses. Cherish what we have around us. Enjoy our friends, and family. Laugh now and again. Focus on what we have and not so much on what we don’t have.

As for that void in many of our lives, I believe that people have a spiritual void. We have a yearning for something beyond us. We may try to fill that yearning with drugs, or excitements, or bigger pay checks and bigger toys. Yet I have personally found that people who have God in their life, a real faith that goes beyond just attending a faith service, tend to be more content.

Yes, I’m aware of ministers and chaplains who have addiction problems. Anyone can lose focus in their life. Anyone can get back on track. Even a Golden boy.

Maj Kenneth MacRae, 1 CMBG Chaplain

Karl Barth’s Prayer at Christmas (Peter Bush)

The following was posted by Peter Bush, Moderator of the 2017 General Assembly, at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2346973826/?multi_permalinks=10155969747183827&notif_id=1513873246848163&notif_t=group_activity.

Karl Barth’s prayers at Christmas have become a staple of my preparation for Christmas — and I confess that I have sometimes used his prayers on Christmas Eve in worship.  Here is one I particularly appreciate:

Lord our God, you have humbled yourself, that we may be exalted. You became poor, that we become rich. You came to us, that we may come to you. You became a human being like us, that we may be drawn into participation in your eternal life: All of this from your free, undeserved grace; all of this is your dear Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

We are gathered here, in view of this mystery and wonder, to pray to you, praise you, and to proclaim and hear your Word. But we know that we cannot do these things under our own power, that it is you who free us to lift our hearts and thoughts to you. So we ask you to come now into our midst! Show us and open to us the path to you through your Holy Spirit, so that we may see with our own eyes your light that has come into the world, in order that our lives may indeed be witnesses to you. Amen.

I Need Light (Lydia Calder)

I need light

November, December and January are dark in this part of the world. After all, we are in the northern reaches of the northern hemisphere.   We’ve just passed the winter solstice. On Dec 21 the sun rose at 8:49am and set at 4:16 pm.  About 7.5 hours of daylight. That’s 9 hours and 35 minutes less daylight than on the June solstice.  But who’s counting?

Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider wrote, “It is our unifying cry, ‘More light.’  Sunlight.  Torchlight.  Candlelight.  Neon, incandescent lights that banish the darkness from our caves to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators.  Big floods for the night games at Soldier’s Field.  Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep.  Light is more than watts and foot candles.  Light is metaphor.  Light is knowledge, light is life, light is light.”

At his time of year I normally feel frazzled – after all, Christmas is coming and as much as I love Christmas there is so much to do. But this year, on top of the frazzle-ment, I feel dispirited.

The world seems darker.

I need light.

I am standing in line at the grocery store.  Irritated. Grumpy. Rushed.  I glance at the magazine rack at the next checks stand and 4 words pop out from the cover of a magazine.  Joy To The World.

Joytotheworld.
Joy! To the World!

I start to sing, aloud, but quietly.

Joy to the world the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King.

As I slowly unload my laden cart I continue to sing…

Joy to the earth!  the Saviour reigns
Let us our songs employ…

And as I sing I feel my laden heart begin to lift.

In the darkness of these days I’m going to heed Professor Dumbledore’s words: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest times if only one remembers to turn on the light.”  (Thank you J.K. Rowling.)

So, I will light candles and stare at the twinkling Christmas tree and look at the sparkle in my granddaughter’s eyes and remember the star of Bethlehem and the love it represents.

In these dark days I will create some light of my own.

Who knows, maybe I can even shed some light for someone else.

Lydia Calder,
Sherwood Park Presbyterian Church

Practical Theology (John Carr)

Richard Osmer’s Practical Theology: An Introduction

I recently got around to reading a book I purchased some time ago. It’s a 2008 book published by Eerdmans. Osmer is Professor of Mission and Evangelism at Princeton Theological Seminary (NJ) has a particular interest in how persons learn.

My reason for sharing about this book is the interesting way Osman has structured the book. Here are the four chapter titles with a brief description of the content of each chapter.

1. The Descriptive-Interpretive Task (Priestly Listening): Gathering information that helps us discern patterns and dynamics in particular episodes, situations, or contexts.

2. The Interpretive Task (Sagely Wisdom): Drawing on theories of the arts and sciences to better understand and explain why these patterns and dynamics are occurring.

3. The Normative Task (Prophetic Discernment): Using theological concepts to interpret particular episodes, situations, or contexts; constructing ethical norms to guide our responses; and learning from “good practice.”

4. The Pragmatic Task (Servant Leadership): Determining strategies of action that will influence situations in ways that are desirable and entering into a reflective conversation with the “talk back” when they are enacted.

John C. Carr, ThM, PhD, DD (HC)
Retired (Minister-in-association at Dayspring Church)