Category Archives: Blog

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

Unity (Charles McNeil)

I hesitated to write on the subject of unity within the PCC being aware of the old adage – least said soonest mended!  However, the subject is front and centre in our hearts and minds these days. So, I felt led to contribute, what I hope, is a little light to the subject!

Unity can be upheld or disturbed by any question that becomes contentious. We aren’t going to tackle the unity of the Christian Church for obvious reasons.  But what about the denomination called the Presbyterian Church in Canada?

I was born, bred, and raised within the PCC.  The PCC congregation which raised me both spiritually and physically was a place of traditionally held views.  It provided a safe place to ask compelling, challenging, and open-ended questions.  It allowed for spiritual growth, and for growth beyond the traditional grounding. The then rural congregation was like many across the country finding its faith expression in the ebb and flow of the seasons passing one after another.

I remember very clearly one Sunday when I was in my teen years.  After worship people lingered and passed the time. Something was said about the sermon for the day.  To which I replied rather haughtily (I blush at the memory) that I didn’t agree with the sermon!

One of the older women in the congregation very gently, graciously, but pointedly responded.  Mrs. Bishop looked me squarely in the eye and said – Charles that’s not the point!  The point is that sermons are to make you think!

That is where Mrs. Bishop left it.  I didn’t take her comment as a rebuke.  It was someone of mature faith bringing a little brother along in the practice of living within the life, work, and witness of the congregation and the church!

That comment has stuck with me throughout my life and indeed has influenced me in the work of pastoral ministry to which God has called me!  God’s Word is to get us to think, and obviously to respond in kind to what was shared by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit!

Does everyone hear the exact same Word on any given Sunday or in a Bible study? Does God not speak directly to each of us customizing His Word in a prophetic, loving, gracious critique?  Are we not convicted and converted by the Word of God, however it is shared and through whomever it is shared?

It seems to me that unity within any congregation, presbytery, synod, general assembly or denomination has to do with lovingly accepting one another as God accepts us – even or especially if I am wrong!

Note the pronoun.   When I am wrong is there grace accorded me to be given time to see not the right thing but the loving, gracious, repenting thing?  The communion services from the Iona Community (among others) highlight the giving and receiving of forgiveness in the prayers of confession.  Those praying confess the need for forgiveness and seek God’s grace for the time to live out something of a forgiven lifestyle.

It’s a mutual thing expressed in that service because the minister laments his/her spiritual need and is supported in receiving reclamation from God. Then the congregation does the same and is supported as well!

I used to work for one of my older brothers.  He used to say, that yes, he could occasionally be wrong, but in whatever the present case he wasn’t!

I wish I were as certain, as my brother pretended to have been, in these times that are before us!  I wish I could say categorically on any subject – this is the way it is!

I sat through witnessing a heated argument between two friends recently.  It was a political rather than a spiritual argument.  However, at the end of the heated time together where they’d gone head to head it was clear that they both loved this county passionately and wanted only the best for our country – politically and socially!

I believe the same is true of brothers and sisters in Christ across the denomination.  There is an exquisite love for God in Christ Jesus.  There is a hungering to do what Jesus requires of us all.   There is a sacrificial spirit within our folk. There is a love of the church and denomination bar none!  There is a passion for the gospel to be shared far and wide for the benefit of all creation!

And yet the disagreements are threatening the health and welfare of the denomination!

Recently I heard two questions that made me stop and think.  And stop and think about me.

The questions were …
What is it in your own position that gives you trouble?
What is it in another’s position that attracts you?

If we answer nothing to both the above questions, then the discussion is over.  If we are honest and inquisitive, we then have opportunity to seek, ask, and knock.  To invite Jesus to be our guide in answering questions like the two above, or more pressingly the question of do we hate others who disagree with us?  Christ Jesus is to be the indispensable arbiter of whatever conflicts and disagreements arise!

Am I willing to be open to the possibility that I am wrong?  Am I teachable?  Will I accept others’ teachings, and most pressingly will I accept and embrace the person and teachings of Jesus?  Am I prepared to be liberated and transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit in being propelled forward in a significant leap of faith, love, and action?!

Echoing something of what the Apostle Paul wrote in the 4th chapter of Philippians: am I malleable to the work of the Spirit of God?  Are you?  Is the denomination?  Is the Church?

God willing and we are able – we are!

Respectfully submitted
Charlie McNeil
Knox Presbyterian Church, Lloydminster
Ganton Presbyterian Church

A Word of Hope (William Ball)

The bones of the earth were laid bare, trees looking like blackened sticks reaching for the sun which will never again bless them with energy and growth.   Scars upon the landscape, scorch marks upon the soil and rock.

I’ve seen wildfires before.  Growing up on Vancouver Island, every summer was a season of TV and radio reports about forest fires.  Smelling the smoke on the wind while camping, one always wondered whether it was coming from the other side of the campground, or down the lake, or from the fire on the other side of the mountain.

Mine was a family and region which made its living from forestry, and in pulp and paper particularly.  I knew how much our livelihood depended upon “good” fire weather.  When it was a bad fire season, everyone had to keep out of the forest, and activities were curtailed.

Travelling north to September’s Presbytery meeting in Fort McMurray had us wondering what we would encounter.  The horrific images of walls of flame and people desperate to flee their homes for the uncertain safety of “elsewhere” came back to us as we entered the fire zone.  What would we find there?  Have people stayed away?  Would the community come back to life again?

This is often the question that people ask after their landscape changes.  When the world changes around us, can we find new life again after disasters?  Will God renew us?

Is there a good word to be heard?

Isaiah 55 says:
10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

The word of hope which God offers to us is one which looks like LIFE!  It feels like life which is renewed.  The Spirit of God works, sometimes slowly, often silently – but sometimes like a gust of fresh wind which blows out the cobwebs and leads us to places we did not expect to go.

So it is with Christ’s church.  The Presbyterian Church in Canada, among others, is facing a changing landscape, but as God renews the face of the earth, so also God can bring new life to us.

In among the blackened sticks of the Fort McMurray firescape, one could see the new life which God has crafted: grasses and bushes, small trees, the beginnings of regrowth.  Poplar trees, the first to take hold – a pioneer species, my friend Jerry the botanist calls them.  Maybe it’s not the same as what was there, but the process necessary for the ecological progression, from the pioneer species to the climax species

Just as fire is part of the dynamic nature of forests as they germinate, grow and replace themselves, change and renewal is part of the church.  But it is hard for us to be in the period of transition, the time of change.  Yet, Jesus spoke about new life coming to the vine of God’s church, and that pruning is part of the process.  Seeds of hope and new possibilities are released.  The shoots of tender undergrowth of faith are renewed and God’s church begins again.  It is not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last.  The church of the future will not look like the church of the past.  But God is faithful and steadfast and will renew us – individually and corporately.  What will the Church look like in this new landscape?  Are you willing to follow Jesus into that new adventure?

William Ball
Mill Woods Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

When awe evokes gratitude (Heinrich Grosskopf)

When the psalmist in Psalm 8 writes about our place in creation, “what are human beings that You are mindful of them, mortals that You care for them? Yet You have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour” there is a response that wells up in us. Doesn’t it lead us to become filled with awe? This creation is where we see the moon and the stars, and also the grandeur of the northern lights and the lovely bright colours of the trees during fall. This is when we can’t NOT be moved to a total stance of gratitude towards God.

Maybe Thanksgiving is not all about being supposed to bring thanks to God, but rather about being moved toward gratefulness.

This seems to be a time of deep awareness the God is the provider of so much. We needn’t be in a state of constant craving for more and more, we can fully rely on the Lord taking care of us. We are invited to be content.

How odd is it that the American Thanksgiving lies right beside Black Friday at the end of November? The turkey meal is barely swallowed, let alone digested, when folks miss out on the overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude as the page through the flyers to see what can be bought for Christmas. Run, run, run it becomes to get hold of the best deals for sale.

Yet, when we are stunned by the awe-some-ness of God, by God’s splendour and majesty, we are enabled to rest in the Lord and creator as our constant and loving provider at all times. Then we are able to rest in God’s care through thick and thin, because God loves us.

Heinrich Grosskopf
Dayspring Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

On Being a Leader (Peter Bush – Guest Contributor)

I was introduced to a new think tank this summer – Bain & Company. I have had fun reading through some of their research. A piece published in 2016 on what makes inspiring leaders has deeply impressed me.

Let’s stop for a moment to assess that word “leader” – all of us function or can function as leaders in some aspect of our life. From the recognized leader to people who by their lives and examples invite people to imitate them, we are all leaders.

The research team started by asking 2,000 employees this question: what leadership traits inspire you to follow a leader? They then tested those results with a larger sample of 10,000 employees and clients.

When I saw they came back with 33 characteristics of the inspiring leader, I was depressed. Thirty-three things leaders need to work on and develop. That felt overwhelming, until I read deeper.

One attribute stands out above all the others: Centeredness. The study defines Centeredness as “a state of greater mindfulness, achieved by engaging all parts of the mind to be fully present.” Centeredness “improves one’s ability to stay level-headed, cope with stress, empathize with others and listen more deeply.”

Okay, setting that aside, what else really matters. The answer is: any of the other 32 traits is fine; in fact, people who develop just three other traits in addition to Centeredness will be in the top 10% of inspiring leaders. Only 10% of inspiring leaders have four or more of the characteristics. In fact, people can be inspiring leaders with just one of the traits.

The researchers grouped the traits in four sets of eight each.

  • Developing inner resources: Stress tolerance; Self-regard; Emotional self-awareness; Flexibility; Independence; Self-actualization; Emotional expression; Optimism
  • Connecting with others: Vitality; Humility; Empathy; Development; Assertiveness; Listening; Expressiveness; Commonality
  • Setting the tone: Worldview; Openness; Shared ambition; Follow through; Responsibility; Unselfishness; Recognition; Balance
  • Leading the team:  Vision; Focus; Harmony; Direction; Empowerment; Co-creation; Servanthood; Sponsorship
    Definitions of these traits can be found  at  https://www.bain.com/insights/how-leaders-inspire-cracking-the-code/

The traits are diverse, at times seemingly contradictory. The diversity, however, reminds us that leaders come in all kinds of types. There is no single way to be a leader.

It would be interesting to ask friends and close colleagues what traits they see in you and build on those traits. It would be equally interesting to encourage colleagues to develop the traits you see in them.

Peter Bush
Former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada