Category Archives: Blog

What I Learnt by Being A Thief (Rodger McEachern)

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)

 

THIS BLESSED MOMENT (Stephen Haughland)

“Just to be, is a blessing. Just to live, is holy.” (Rabbi Abraham Heschel)

HOW TRUE those words are! Life truly is so much more than merely existing.  As many sages have taught, it’s those moments when we grasp how blessed it is just to be alive, that life takes on it’s highest meaning, and holiest. If we’re wise, we’ll look for those moments every day.

Sometimes, of course, that’s hard to do. Blessed moments are notoriously difficult to grasp, no matter how hard we may chase after them.  When I was much younger than I am now, I believed that every blessed moment must always be tied to certain, very specific events. Thus, as a child, I so looked forward to the day when I would finish with “elementary” school and finally make it to the “higher” grades…! As a teen, blessed moments would be mine only after I got my driver’s licence, or finished high school, or got my university degree, or found a really good job, or met the right girl, etc. Later, as an adult with a spouse and children and a home, true blessedness would happen only after our children had finished school and struck out on their own, or only after my spouse and I could finally retire, or only when the grandchildren began arriving etc…! How sad, and how foolish to think of all the truly blessed moments that were missed while working so hard at waiting for the next “blessed moment” to finally arrive!

How different are the teachings and promises of our God, whose Word assures us that each and every moment of life has it’s own blessedness, and can be found if we’ll take the time to look….! Rabbi Herschel might have said it once or twice, but in my New Testament are the words of another man, who offers us an entire sermon on how to discover true blessedness in each and every moment of living!  He tells us about the blessedness that is found not only in moments of strength, but also in moments of weakness; blessedness in moments of joy, but also in moments of sadness and mourning; blessedness in moments of success, but also in moments of failure; blessedness in moments of light, but also in the hours of darkness…!

Dear ones, our Lord has a message for us: “Doubt not that God is with you, but be assured that in every moment of life, God IS and is able!  Able to both shout and to whisper.  Able to heal and to save. Able to surprise and to delight…!”

And to bring each of us to that point, time and again and as many times as it takes, for us to know with ever-growing certainty: “Just to be, is a blessing. Just to live, is holy!”

Thanks, dear readers, for this opportunity to share, with you, this most blessed moment!

Rev. Steve

(The Rev.) Stephen Haughland

Westminster Presbyterian Church, Chauvin, Alberta

Imago Dei (Gabriel Snyman)

One of the most fundamental statements about the essence of being human is found in the creation account of Genesis. In Genesis 1:27 it says we are Imago Dei, created in God`s image. To understand yourself and others to be created in God`s image has enormous implications for your world view and approach to what is right and wrong. It is one of the most valuable contributions Christianity and Judaism can make to our understanding of what it means to be human.

You can think of us being created in the image of God along four lines. The first is the intellectual approach. Even though human beings have done some pretty dumb things we remain the species that has the greatest rational capacity of all species. We can think longer and deeper. Our imaginations are equal to none on this planet. This implies we should use our heads. Faith will always seek understanding and although thinking we can understand the world and God fully is arrogant, we should never be afraid to think through things we encounter.

Then we can think of us being created in God’s image along structural lines in terms of the work we have to do on earth and the dominion God has given us over the earth. Overwork is a form of idolatry but laziness is also not a virtue. We work hard because we know that God worked hard on creation and Christ worked unceasingly for our salvation. Yes, even when we retire.

Then we can think along relational lines. As God is personal and loving and seeks to live in harmonious loving relationship with himself, nature and humanity, so we should always remind ourselves to nurture care and grow in our relationships with God, others and nature…also in our relationship with ourselves for we are called to love others as we love ourselves.

Lastly, one you might not have heard of before is the eschatological. This is all about hope. God is going somewhere with creation and humanity, somewhere good. God has hope and we as his image bearers should carry that same positivity and hope in us. When we do it gives others hope. Christians were many times in history the people who remained hopeful when others have lost all hope. Hope is always that thing that makes you keep on loving because you know love will never be in vain. In time it will free, heal and redeem you.

You will most likely find yourself gravitating to one of these. You might like one of these so much that you wish you can only be God’s image in that one way and be excused from the others. But the fact of the matter is that you can and should display God’s image in all four of these ways and you should see and value all of these four in other people. We need all for to lead fruitful and full lives. There is got to be some kind of balance as it makes them all work together to enhance life.

Jesus showed us that this could be done. He outsmarted even the clever teachers of the law because he applied his mind. He worked unceasingly for our salvation. He loved fearlessly and he painted a hopeful picture of what is to come, one that inspires us to this day.

Gabriel Snyman, Faith Presbyterian Church, Ft. McMurray, Alberta

Remembering the Reformation – Looking Forward (Janet Taylor)

The story is often told that Martin Luther was reading the book of Romans, and that at Chapter 1, verse 17, he consistently got tangled up in the word “righteousness.” Luther himself says:

For a long time I went astray [in the monastery] and didn’t know what I was about. To be sure, I knew something, but I didn’t know what it was until I came to the text in Romans 1 [:17], ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ That text helped me. I learned to distinguish between the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of the gospel. I lacked nothing before this except that I made no distinction between the law and the gospel. I regarded both as the same thing and held that there was no difference between Christ and Moses except the times in which they lived and their degrees of perfection. But when I discovered the proper distinction—namely, that the law is one thing and the gospel is another—I made myself free.” (Luther’s Works, Volume 54, P442).

Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy and Leviticus, the law, when he tells us to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ [a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Yet how this is interpreted in the gospel is remarkably different than how it was used in the law.

Our righteousness is not at all based on whether or not we follow the rules, for we are all painfully aware of how short we come up; we’re all sinners. In the eyes of the law, we can’t ever be righteous. This is what tortured Luther for years, causing him to fast for days on end, beat himself, sleep outside in the cold, and sit with his confessor for hours and hours at a time. He was desperately trying to be righteous and falling short, always aware of his sinful nature.

It was only once Luther recognized the truth and heart-wrenching beauty of the gospel, that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” that he understood that the love of God doesn’t hang on what we can do or not do as humans, but stands instead on grace: God’s love is freely and abundantly given to us despite our inability to earn it.

When Luther and Calvin, Knox and Wesley, and many other courageous men and women, stood fast in their belief that God’s grace is all-sufficient, the world changed: literacy was encouraged, public education became a reality, and social programs were created. For the Reformers, the love of God and neighbor became the standard by which all of life’s activities and actions were chosen, undergirded with the blessed assurance that even in our weakest moments, Jesus is for us. When we no longer have to obsessively worry about saving our own souls, we are freed up for service to God and each other.

There are those who say that inevitably public education, literacy, and social programs would have developed purely as a natural result of the progress of humankind, independent of the influence of the Reformers. I am unconvinced that this is so. I believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the understanding of these chosen disciples, and that the world as we know it was forever changed by their passionate witness to a new interpretation of the gospel.

  • Sola Fide, by faith alone.
  • Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  • Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
  • Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  • Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.

So what does all this mean for us, five hundred years later? Today, Jesus reminds us what our response is to our salvation: to love God wholeheartedly, to serve God joyously, and to see God in the face of our neighbor. May it be so.

Janet Taylor, Westmount Presbyterian Church, Edmonton