Category Archives: Blog

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

Will you come and follow me? (Charles McNeil)

There is a wonderful hymn called “Will you come and follow me?”  Obviously the hymn was written with Jesus in mind and has the voice of Jesus speaking to us through the lyrics and music of the hymn.

One of the lines that makes me stop and think comes where the hymn asked by Jesus if my life attest or scares?  I usually want to laugh when I come to that part in the song!  Its one of those audacious questions that could make me either laugh or cry.  I’d rather laugh and yet the thought stays with me.  Does my life attract others to Jesus or does my life scare people away from Jesus’ side?

The answer to that question on any given day could indeed make me cry!  If I am honest with myself if not with you then I would have to admit there are times when I may very well scare people away from Jesus.

I say “may” because I don’t know.  My observation even when there’s an honest critique is flawed.  I have no way of knowing how I effect or affect others.

Now the reality is that the look on someone’s face can speak volumes.  The body language can be quite clear.  Other responses can give me no doubt as to the affect or effect I’ve had on someone.

But as those close to me often say – its not always about you.  And it isn’t always you that is the prime cause.  Not that doesn’t let me off the hook but it does give me some food for thought and action.

Case in point there was a man came knocking on the church door some time ago.  I talked to him and more importantly listened to what he said and what he indicated he needed.  After some time I suggested a number of avenues that were the most helpful and beneficial.  Off he went.

It turned out that he wasn’t satisfied with answers I gave him.  After a couple of hours the church phone rang and I answered it.  It was the chap who had stopped by the church earlier in the afternoon.  He was phoning around to all the churches still seeking help.

Now the help he wanted in retrospect was a short cut.  A bandaid solution.  Something akin to what Abraham and Sarah did in their Old Testament experience.  Instead of waiting on God to fulfil his promise of a son Sarah and Abraham cooked up the idea of Abraham and Sarah’s slave Hagar producing a child together.  Then Abraham wouldn’t have to wait on God and would have a son and that would be that!

As is known the babe produced by Abraham and Hagar was the older brother of the God provided babe Isaac who Sarah birthed.  Sarah felt threatened by the older son, and all sorts of troubles and complications arose because of the two baby solution.

The guy on the phone sought such a solution.  I must confess to my sorrow and shame I was short with the man having already dealt with him, and told him so.  Since then I have kept the guy in prayer and hope that God mends what I complicated.

I wonder if there’s not a tendency to complicate things?  Do we seek short cuts rather than wait upon God and see what God is doing and how God wants us to be involved?  Either individually or collectively is there the tendency to run ahead of God and think we have the divine sanction to do so?

In dealing with others individually or in dealing with other collectively is there the sense that we ourselves think we know best and anyone who contradicts that is summarily dismissed?  To connect with where we began do we individually and collectively say and do words and actions which attract others to Jesus or scare them away?

Is what we, as Jesus’ people, say and do consistent with the love and generosity of God in Christ Jesus or consistent with much less?

The short answer is I don’t know but the question is worth asking and pondering.  So I leave it with you to ponder, pray, and be open to God’s leading.

The grace and peace of Christ Jesus be with you as you do!

“A Parable” (shared by Annabelle Wallace)

I share “A parable” written by Rev. Paddy Eastwood of Haney BC.

Long ago all forests were filled with elves.  The deepest part of the forest, under the protection of large, dark green leaves, was the home for dancing elves.  These elves knew that to be truly elf-like, they had to dance.  They looked forward to the day when all the elves of the forest would dance, but in the meantime, they proclaimed their nature by dancing themselves.

The troupe included elves who wore green gowns and elves who wore white.  They said that it didn’t matter what colour the  clothes were (they were all dancing elves) but the truth is only the “white” elves actually danced.  The “green” elves were young and didn’t seem to dance with appropriate solemnity.  In fact, they often made mistakes in the steps and tired easily.  Dancing was important and so the white elves decided that until the green elves could dance well, they would study dancing.

Thus, the two kinds of dancing elves were separated – the white ones dance, the green learn about dancing.

The white elves told everyone that all dancing elves belonged to the troupe, but even though the green elves learned a lot, they did not feel a part of it.  Surely dancing elves dance, why not the green ones?  Don’t you learn to dance by dancing?

The white elves tried to answer the green elves’ questions, but it became more and more difficult to explain. Why didn’t the green dancing elves dance?

The white elves thought about the green elves for a long time.  They decided that all dancing elves would dance, not just the white ones.  But having said that, they also know it would be hard to change. Everyone was used to the old ways.  Everyone was a little bit afraid of what would happen once green elves started dancing with white elves. Some of the elves couldn’t even imagine what it would be like.  Would the dancing be as good?

With some trepidation, the white dancing elves opened the doors of the dance hall and invited the green elves to come and dance too.

I’d like to be able to report that were were no difficulties once everyone started dancing together.  But that would not be honest.  Not everyone liked the new ways at first.  There were more than a few “I told you so’s” and at least three last minute sessions, ironing out the bugs  (One white elf explained these sessions were to be expected – after all, dancing is serious business!)

And yet, something special has happened that little troupe of dancing elves.  It’s hard to pinpoint.  The dances are pretty much the same. Some steps have been changed.   Maybe they do the intricate dances a little less often, and the easy ones more often. There are more mistakes.

It’s really the elves who have changed. Their eyes twinkle more brightly.  Their smiles seem more ready.  The green elves are delighted to be dancing and the white elves are surprised by what they learn from the green elves.

The gospel is for all people, no matter what their age.   Yet we in the church, often divide ourselves as did the dancing elves – we educate our children (the green elves), expecting that one day they will join the adults (the white elves) in worship, pastoral care, and mission and outreach.  We baptise our children, welcoming them as members of Christ’s church and offer wonderful programmes for our children, designed to teach them the faith at their own age appropriate level.  We believe we do this for their own good. Yet, dancing elves must dance and Christians must worship.

Letting Go (Harry Currie)

Eckhart Tolle in his book A New Earth uses the example of two ducks who are on a pond and get into a fight. The fight doesn’t last very long and then they go on their way releasing their surplus energy with a flapping of their wings. After that they go on as if nothing happened.

He goes on to suggest that if those ducks had human minds they would keep the fight alive by story making in their heads. They would imagine the motives of the other duck and create a story in their head something like.

“The nerve of that guy. Who does that duck think he is? He thinks he is King of the pond, that’s what. He got into my space. The nerve of that guy. If he thinks he can run this pond he got another think coming.”

And on it goes and then the duck will share the story and emotions with its friends and try to turn them against the other duck, and maybe they even create factions on the pond, with distrust and lies and stories about that duck and its friends.

The point is that the human mind has this capacity to keep a fight alive for weeks and months and years. To take a painful story and not only keep it alive, but let it grow in intensity and meaning, and the human mind then can seek to draw others into the drama and create sides with allies and enemies. And this is how most humans live.

According to Eckhart Tolle we are a species that has lost its way. The point of the duck story is that we need to listen to the ducks and flap our wings and “let go of the story,” and move on in the present. But for most of us we are seemingly unable, but more correctly unwilling to let go of the past. Imagine life where you can never put anything down or let go of pain, stress, conflict, moral quandaries, guilt, grief, wounds, emotional scars and the like.    And every new pain, or stress just adds to the accumulation. And you understand what this world is like for many, many people, who carry burdens around all the time. Maybe, it is one of the reasons that Jesus said: Come unto me all you who are overburdened and I will give you rest.

I also think that when Jesus said that “if we forgive the sins of another they are forgiven, but if we retain the sins of another they are retained,” that Jesus was talking about the same idea. If we don’t forgive sins we will end up retaining them. When we do not forgive, when do not let go, the sins and the hurts and the wounds take up residence within us. And we retain them.  And that is why it is so vital for us to forgive. It is not just matter of loving the other, it is a matter of our own health.

If we don’t let go of our negative energy it will hurt us and others. So my advice is to take all our negative energy and give it to Jesus. Pour our hearts out to him. Tell him about our wounds, our hurts, our grief, our anxiety, our grudges and let it go. And when we tell Jesus about our wounds…when we touch the nail scars in our own hands, the wounds in our sides…the rejections, the betrayals, the misunderstandings, the bitter words, the blows… and let them go… When we forgive everyone who has hurt us, we will not only work on our own healing, we will have the potential to be healers. Those wounds in us, which heal, may become our source of energy to give out positive energy: To love, to forgive, to share, to turn away anger with kindness…to have compassion….to understand those who cannot let go of their inner hurt. Amen.

Harry Currie

First Presbyterian Church, Edmonton

what our words say… (Rodger McEachern)

What our words tell us about how important Jesus is to us.

There are over two hundred thousand word entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. It is estimated that the average person, and I include myself in this, know about twenty thousand words and uses two thousand different words in a typical week. Now this explains a couple of things. One, I’m not very good at cross-word puzzles. And two, the words I use likely reflect my interests and bias, and not just my lack of vocabulary. Let me explain.

In 2013 David Brooks wrote an Op-Ed column for the New York Times. Two years before, in 2011, Google released a database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008. From this database, you can do a word search; one of the things you can discover is how frequently a word or words were used at different times. Brooks suggests that the frequently of use of certain words over time can suggest shifts in culture.

For example, he cites three studies that examined usage of certain words that reflected three issues over the course of the twentieth century: the rise of individualism versus community values; demoralization versus moral virtues; the rise of governments and experts to solve problems. Now the interesting part is Brooks conclusion. He writes,
So the story I’d like to tell is this: Over the past half-century, society has become more individualistic. As it has become more individualistic, it has also become less morally aware, because social and moral fabrics are inextricably linked. The atomization and demoralization of society have led to certain forms of social breakdown, which government has tried to address, sometimes successfully and often impotently.

Now his applications of this conclusion are interesting but for us not the application that I want to make. Brooks summarizes writing, “these gradual shifts in language reflect tectonic shifts in culture. We write less about community bonds and obligations because they’re less central to our lives.” Wow! Here the point I want to make! The words we use reflect our interests, values and what is important to us.

This is the take away for me. Think for a moment the words we use daily, with our family, friends and such. Do they reflect our faith in Christ? Our desire to be a people of worship and prayer and holiness? Think about the words we use with other Christians, or in our churches, or in the publications and reports and plans that our churches produce? What do those words tell us about our interests, what is important to us, and more significantly the place of Christ in our lives and in the affairs of our churches?

The words we use tell a lot about ourselves, and by extension, our relationship with Jesus Christ.

16 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”
(Matthew 21.16; New International Version, 2011)

Notes:
The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. Oxford Dictionary, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/how-many-words-are-there-in-the-english-language. (accessed 22 April 2017).
David Brooks, What our words tell us, The New York Times, May 20, 2013.

Rodger McEachern

Callingwood Road Presbyterian Church