I have a lot of favourite Christmas hymns and songs. They change frequently depending on my mood, but I have one or two ultimate favourites.  This year it’s “Be Born in Me” by Nicole Nordeman. I’ve noticed that a lot of my favourites have Mary at the centre.  Upon reading a recent devotion, I felt challenged to look deeper into why I am drawn to these songs, so I went back to where it all started , Mary’s Song or The Magnificat ( Luke 1: 46-55).

Timothy Keller referred to Mary as the first Christian, not in the sense of the first person saved or the first believer, but in that she was the first person whose life was CHANGED by message of Christmas.  “My soul magnifies the Lord”, Mary sings, revealing the very core of her being.  When I think of the soul, I think of something far greater and deeper than the warm fuzzy feeling I get when I sing, ‘O come all ye faithful’ or even “Joy to the World”.  Mary’s response to the news of her pregnancy reveals a transformation of epic proportion.

Mary sings God’s praises throughout the Magnificat.  He is holy and merciful.  He is powerful, mighty and he will come to bring peace, restoration and wholeness to his people.    She sings of his covenant with Abraham.  His promise.   Mary’s song reveals a heart that understands a need to live with God in faith personally and corporately.  She begins by singing about what God has done for me and then shifts to what God will do for Israel.  Like Mary, we must respond in faith personally.  We must also join ourselves to His people.  What God has done for Mary; He will do for all His people.

As 2020 approaches and I reflect on the year past.  God is a God of history. He is timeless.  God never forgets. God always remembers. I realize I cannot go back. Mary could only look forward and take the next right step in faith.

We were created to fulfill a different agenda.  God’s agenda.  Mary’s song reminds me that everything matters.  God is not only concerned for my spiritual salvation, but He is also at work in the comprehensive restoration of the world. God’s agenda is aimed at striking every last vestige of humanity’s sin.  Mary’s song reveals the church’s mission to share in God’s mission and play a part in restoring all life.  We can never go back to the way we were.

Mary sings ‘let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38).  Mary’s yes to God reminds me of my response.  The words of Nicole Nordeman’s song echo, “I am not brave, I’ll never be… I am willing, I am yours”.   A heart that’s changed.   She sings “I’ll hold you in the beginning, You will hold me in the end.  Every moment in the middle, make my heart Your Bethlehem.”   My goal for the coming year is to continually conform my life to the pattern of Mary and her song of kingdom justice.  Every moment of every day, my prayer is ‘be born in me’.

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Exemple

Hello Everyone.

As a way of introducing myself I’d like to share a story with you.

Last week I met with Dirk Vrielink at Tim Hortons to work out some of the details of my calling to the church. Ten minutes into our conversation, a police officer stepped up to our table. As soon as I saw the officer I pointed to Dirk and said, “It was him!” The officer knew Dirk from the school Dirk works at. Then Dirk introduced me, “This is John, my pastor.”

After we shook hands, I told the officer that I really appreciated the work he did. I told him about how I’d preached a sermon on the work of a police officer — interviewing 4 Calgary Police Service officers as part of my research and also doing an interview with the Calgary Herald — and gained a new sense of gratitude for officers who — in a God-like way — run toward the danger and whose work keeps crime in check so that the rest of us can have the space to live in security and freedom. I looked the officer in the eye and said, “Where would our city be without the work you do? Thanks.”

Before he could say anything a five-year-old girl ran up to him and asked if she could give him a hug. Surprised, he looked over at her parents and asked if that would be okay and they eagerly nodded. After the hug the officer said, “That doesn’t happen very often!” He asked about the denomination of my church and after I explained that I was in transition we spoke briefly about his faith background. After a quick goodbye he moved on to order his coffee.

I turned to Dirk and apologized for breaking into “sermon mode” (but I wasn’t sorry). Neither was Dirk. For both of us this was a bit of a God-moment. I told Dirk that this is the kind of interaction that is indicative of the kind of church we’re going to be; a faith community that names God’s already-there presence in all things.

Driving home from the meeting I thought about how perfect that little series of events was. A police offer was deservedly thanked for his work — theologically and via a hug — and Dirk and I got to experience our first church outreach opportunity together.

My hope and dream is that our faith community will be filled with people who experience these kinds of stories all the time.

So, this is who I am. I see God in all things; at work, in relationships, in family, art, sport, politics, the economy, nature and so much more. I believe that our world belongs to God and that all things hold together in Christ. And I believe that naming God’s already-there presence in the world is a beautiful and compelling way to be God’s witness.

Pastor John

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“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” IS 43

One of my favourite texts!

I just wrote this yesterday as a concluding thought for the introduction of my faith/science book:

A PROPHETIC IMAGINATION

Through the prophet Isaiah God says:

“See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you…. I am doing a new thing…. From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today. So you cannot say, ‘Yes, I knew of them.’” Isaiah 42:9, 43:19, 48:6-7, NIV

Even as Isaiah’s contemporaries had trouble imagining what God had in store through the coming of Jesus, it stretches us to think that the Jesus we know now (through the gospels) can also be known through creation. Yet, what else could contain the glory of God apart from a universe?

Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes; “If there is any point at which most of us are manifestly co-opted [by the commonly accepted view of reality], it is in this way. We do not believe that there will be newness but only that there will be merely a moving of the pieces into new patterns…. ”

To believe that God can be known through creation — in concert with the bible, in an authoritative, epiphany-inducing, life-transforming, all-things-filling way — is to trust that God can and will do something new.

Brueggemann goes on to write, “We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable.”

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Exemple

It is said that the only constant in life is that change will happen.  This often brings us a sense of fear and anxiety because we find that we cannot control what is happening around us.  This anxiety often expresses itself as anger or frustration with life.

The good news is that God has a plan for us both as individuals and as a congregation.  As we give up control over our path to God and allow Him to guide us to where He wants us to be, we can let go and relax and look forward to all the God has in store for us.  Our prayer can truly become “Your will be done.”

We soon realize that we are right where we need to be at this time and we can look towards taking the next best step forward by praying for His will to be made clear to us.  The change becomes something to look forward to and should not be feared because God is preparing us for this.  Isaiah writes in chapter 43 verse 19 “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  This is exciting and invigorating.  It is His promise to us and His promise is sure.

In the end we can only go forward in the promise that “…. we know all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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Exemple

Old and New

Matthew 13:52 English Standard Version (ESV)

52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

My year always starts in September unlike the rest of the world.  For the past 30 odd years, at this time, I could always be found in the school preparing for the new young scholars who would soon wander into the hallowed halls of learning.  I loved using the time to reflect and consider my praxis – to consider what treasures I could bring to each child to support their learning.

Thankfully, in the same manner, our faith, and, by extension- the church- is continually evolving.  I wonder what this means for us as the body of Christ, now and in the future.  What are we willing to let go of and what do we desire to give ourselves to?

The language and development of some of Jesus’ parables point to finding, discovering, being surprised, changing roles and status.  Jesus uses metaphors such as the maturing ear of corn, the seed, weeds and wheat growing together and yeast rising.  Life is not static.  Something new and good is coming into being.

What does this mean for us? Why is it important?  We humans grow and change slowly.  As we take the next steps of our journey this fall, let us remember to be patient and reflective, bringing out and considering all our treasures as we make room to welcome what is good and new.

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Exemple

If someone told me that I could go anywhere in the world, no holds barred, I would pack lightly, take myself to the airport, randomly choose a destination depending on my mood and hop on the first plane.  Planning is not essential for me.  I am all about the adventure of the journey.

Psalm 121 is a song that the Jewish pilgrims would sing on their journey.  This psalm is not only for going from one place to another, it also gives us perspective on our journey through life.  It’s my song.  And let’s face it, music always makes the journey go better.

I have traversed a landscape full of magnificent mountain tops and deep valleys.  There were times of great joy and times of great sorrow.  There were times of hopelessness, that scary feeling of being stuck, vulnerable and weak.  God has promised, however, that he will not let my foot slip. (v. 3)

I admit that when I read this, I am immediately suspicious of false hope.  I want to have confidence in the scriptures, but it’s a dirty road that I travel.  How many times have my feet slipped either inadvertently or on purpose?  How do I reconcile this?  What happens when God’s promise doesn’t seem to match up with real life?

My feet move in progress, but I stand firm in the foundation of God’s infinite power and goodness.

I stand in faith (2 Corinthians 1:24)

I stand in grace (Romans5:2)

I stand in the gospel (1 Corinthians 15: 1)

I stand in courage and strength (1 Corinthians 16:13)

I stand in the Lord (Philippians 1:27)

Wherever my feet fall, my ultimate goal is to stand within the complete and perfect will of God. (Colossians 4:12)

“The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (v 8) God is just as present in the destination as in the journey.  No matter where we are on life’s path, God’s heart does not change.  The Israelites didn’t live to see their final destination across the Jordan.  Joshua lead them over a whole generation later. (Joshua 3). What does this tell me?  Just because it sounds true in our life, it may not come true in my life.  I am a part of a much bigger story. Reality is for all time. I stand, trusting the path of my feet to be woven into His story.   My destination is fixed, I need only keep my eye on the horizon and sing.

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This time of year is full of sorrow, then joy as we remember the passion and victory of Christ. For fellow believers, Christmas is for the perpetual child in us and is celebrated by many unbelievers. But Easter is the truly Christian passage, for it contains great sorrow. We are continuing Lent, which leads us to anticipate ‘Good’ Friday. As much as we have chosen to let go of some selfish habits that hinder our relationship with Christ Jesus and the Father—that amount of sacrifice can help us to comprehend the depths of suffering Christ accepted to fulfill the prophets and the Father’s will. His crucifixion was the passion (passio in Latin and Greek means suffering). In the first century Roman Empire, it was deemed by all to be humiliating, but Jesus transformed it by his humble demeanour when being condemned and mocked.

For me, one key motive of this act is from John 14:12-13, when Jesus said to the 12: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This loving sacrifice transforms his suffering death by becoming the amazing resurrection of Easter Sunday. As much as we have sacrificed selfish desires in our lives—only that much—can we comprehend the joy of his resurrection. The greater meaning of this was then revealed to the Apostles: the redemption of believers! Rejoice, he is risen indeed!

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In the fasting process, we prepared ourselves for God’s voice to reach us.    Our humanity, which asserts that we can do it ourselves, stands in the way for God to speak to us and to work through us.    Through withdrawing our access to physical needs and wants in our lives, we become more receptive and responsive to God’s calling in our lives.   I trust and hope that through these 21 days of fasting, God has indeed spoken to you and you have shared how His message and leading is applicable for the Calgary Community Reformed Church.   Although Fasting causes physical stress, as our cartoon shows, when we avail ourselves of life’s comforts and seek to follow Him, he sends his angels to comfort us.   

In fasting, I came to question and debate within myself what sovereignty means.    As church members and leaders, we are quick to interpret what is the will of God and through our interpretation, we attempt to impose our world view on an almighty and omnipotent God.   Fortunately, as Paul writes to the Colossians, God’s sovereignty does not depend upon us extending this honour to him.   Christ as the creator holds the position of a sovereign Lord and Master of all areas of our lives and His sovereignty is a natural outcome of His creative power.    In our fasting and our prayers, we are turning over our will and our agenda and seeking His will.   As Christians we believe that this is the Fathers world and that as He is sovereign over all, we can be assured that His will, will be done.  This is what we proclaim when we pray “Thine Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done.”

Our Reformed Christian theology includes the work of the theologian and former Dutch prime minister, Abraham Kuypers.     At the turn of the 20th century he struggled with how the church should fit into a modern society.   Through our prayers and our fasting, we are asking the same question, how will our church be relevant for the next 5, 10, or even 65 years.   Kuypers developed a theology known as Sphere Sovereignty that likely can be as relevant for us today as it was over 100 years ago.    Sphere Sovereignty asserts that within our lives there are a number of areas of knowledge, experience and expertise that should operate independently.   Based on a belief in an orderly creation, Kuypers envisioned a number of such spheres including family, government or the state, justice or the courts, education, science, the arts, agriculture and religionor in Kuypers time the church (which even for him was a multitude of church denominations and faith communities).    Fundamental to this doctrine is the separation of powers.   Kuypers asserted that each of these spheres need to be respected as possessing their own expertise, experience and is self-governing.    As such he believed that one sphere should not extend its power to another sphere.    This theology became a platform that would recognize the division of church and state, or church and science that did not exist before Kuypers time, but also respected boundaries between the government and the courts or education.  For Kuypers, who believed what the bible teaches that there is a sovereign God, the doctrine of Sphere Sovereignty acknowledged that it is Christ Jesus, as Lord of All who bring and hold all things together.    As the creator, His dominion extends to all these spheres.     

As we continue to live in uncertain times, where politics, science, the arts, and indeed at times even the Church appears chaotic and we are not able to make sense of what is happening, as Christians we can take comfort that we serve a sovereign God, who continues to exert his sovereignty in all areas of His Creation.

*If you are interested in learning more about Abraham Kuypers, please go to this webpage- http://people.ucalgary.ca/~nurelweb/papers/irving/kuyperp.html

The Supremacy of Christ (Colossians 1:16-20)

For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.   All things were created through Him and for Him.    He is before all things and

IN HIM ALL THINGS HOLD TOGETHER

He is the Head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and first born from the dead, so that in all things He may have dominion.

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There is something about the early saints and mystics that prods me to ponder the comfortable slumber of my soul.  Francis of Assisi lived his life, feet firmly planted on the land with his heart soaring to heaven.  Rumi, the Sufi poet, wrote “the Song of the Reed” which is a lyrical metaphor that speaks of a soul yearning to be complete. Then, there is St. Simeon the Stylite, from Syria, the ‘pillar hermit’ who lived in silence at the top of a pillar for about 30 odd years, fasting, praying and writing.  They are the ascetics, monks who lived simple, disciplined lives in deep pursuit of God.

As I read and contemplate the work of these saints, I feel like I am starving.  My soul thirsts for that matrix of spirit that is so evident their lives. Their stories are full of intensity and their lives fully devoted in faithful pursuit of God through prayer and fasting.  My efforts seem a bit half-hearted at best, no matter how intentional I am.

I think of the two disciples who followed Jesus and he turned and said to them “What do you want?” (John 1: 37-38). What do I want? What am I looking for?  What is my heart’s deepest desire?  We live in a world with a myriad of temptations all set to fill and satisfy anyone’s thirst or hunger.  And yet… And yet, there are echoes of that old Rolling Stones classic, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

Still, the heart and mind are persistent. Saint Augustine said that our hearts are only satisfied when they are satisfied with God.  David longed for God’s touch.  He writes in Psalm 63, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water” (NIV)

This is the essence of fasting, I think.  We thirst to know more of all that God is for us.  We hunger, not because we are seeking something we don’t have.  We fast because we know the new wine of Christ’s presence and our souls ache to know more of His presence and power in our midst.  A fast is really an opportunity to feast on God’s word.  To earnestly seek Him.

As we begin our 21 days of praying and fasting, I pray  with Paul, “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3: 17-19)

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By Rita Burkard

Every year after the Christmas rush, when we have been busy with church services, buying Christmas gifts, visiting people, parties to go to or have, making oilbollen, comes January.  The days are still short, nights are long and the weather is still getting worse before it gets better…it’s January and I get the January blues.  Do you feel the same way?  What do you do other than wait it out?

I thought I would research what experts would advise and found this tidbit on the internet (dialymail.co.uk).  It suggested to: 1) Exercise – that is a given – 10,000 steps a day or at least 30 mins of walking or exercising.  Besides you need to work off the turkey and trimmings!, 2) Plan a holiday – for us that is Palm Springs in February, but if you can’t afford to go anywhere, go for a road trip to the mountains, 3) Balance out your life – The idea is to draw a wheel with eight spokes. Each spoke should represent eight areas of your life. These include:

  1. Your health
  2. Your money
  3. Your social life (including fun and recreation)
  4. Your partner/relationship
  5. Your work/career
  6. Your friends/family
  7. Your physical environment such as your home
  8. Your personal growth/spirituality. This could include your religion, interests, hobbies, for example.

Now, for each area of your life represented by a spoke, give it a score out of 10. Where you score below five, take that area and try to focus on it.

When I look at these areas, the one that I need to focus on is number 8 because of our situation with calling a new pastor to grow our church.  I don’t know what this will bring and this uncertainty is going to take some faith on my part to see what the Lord is going to do.  We are at an impasse, a crossroads, and the only way is forward because doing nothing would be going backwards.  Choosing to go with the Nesting model means we still want to have a Reformed Church in Calgary that is spreading the gospel in the community.  Isn’t this what we want?  Isn’t this what we are supposed to do as Christians?  Then why is it so hard.  We need to support this vision and direction and do what we can to make it happen.  This isn’t a job for one person.  We are Jesus’ hands and feet and we need to step it up and support this for it to become successful.  Praying is a good start but it isn’t the only action we need to take….and it isn’t only for the young at heart, it is for the whole church community to figure out what their role is.

This will be a challenging yet interesting year in our church.  Be encouraged that we all want others to share in the joy we have in Christ.

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats[b]; do not be frightened.”[c] 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil  1 Peter 3: 13-17.

 

 

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