Pastor John Van Sloten's Blog 2001-2007

John Van Sloten's Blog 2001 - 2007

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Seeing God on the West Coast Trail - Day Two

July 30, 2006

Woke up at 5:00 am... and was too excited to fall back asleep. I listened to Tom breath for an hour. He’s a young man now, but then at one moment, as he whimpered in a dream, I heard my little boy again.

When he was young I prayed with him and for him every night; without fail or any self consciousness. Last night I wanted to pray with him again – it’s been years – but I was too self conscious. (from a pastor who does the public prayer gig all the time... hmmm) Seems I love and respect Tom too much to pray for him now... I did say a few ‘he man’ prayers once the lights were out though - “God, keep us safe on this thing... Tom and I and Ted and Andy and Cal... Amen”

I stepped out of my room this morning and was presented with big, glistening, granite rock face. I sat down on a nearby log and read these words in that day’s psalm...

“You’re my salvation – my vast, granite fortress... you keep me going when times are tough – my bedrock, God, since my childhood.” Psalm 71:3,5

7:00 pm , later that same day; sitting on a huge rock

I can’t begin to express how full my heart is right now; overflowing with admiration for my son Thomas. Leading the pack all day, mostly waiting for the rest of us, he knew the way to go (flawlessly), and he never once complained or argued. First rate character; my son. I am so proud of who his is.

After our first day of hiking I expected to write about tortuous climbs, slippery rocks and roots, a huge ‘feet right out from under me’ fall, mammoth old forest trees, an unending Pacific panorama, or lying on a thermorest in a tent after an amazing day’s hike. But what overwhelms me now is him; stronger than his father and a beautiful human being.

A person made by God, in God’s image, trumping, what it arguably, one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth! I can only imagine the pride that God the Father must have in his one and only son!!

Now, to hot chocolate and a camp fire.


Seeing God on the West Coast Trail - Day One

July 29, 2006

Last week I finished hiking the infamous 75 kilometre West Coast Trail (on the west side of Vancouver Island). Amazing journey, deeply spiritual, twice as tough as a week of, say, cycling!

While trekking I kept a journal, and since I couldn't post it then, I'll post it now. So, for the next 7 days, just pretend that this is a real time account of the journey.

Saturday night - 8:00 pm.

We just arrived at the West Coast Trail Motel in Port Renfrew. Nice little place actually... clean, simple, and a dark green carpet. As I lifted my fully loaded backpack out of the van it felt very light; heaving it onto my shoulders it felt even lighter! After repacking I removed another 2 pounds of stuff and now it feels even better.

This morning, while driving the Coquihalla highway en route to Vancouver Island, I earnestly prayed for some strength for this thing; sore back, queasy stomach – I was hoping to be able to ‘feel’ that I could do this hike. It’s nice to feel it now.

“Let all who love your saving way say over and over, “God is mighty.” Psalm 70:4

How does God change a psychology anyway?

Right now the weather forecast is amazing, 16 degrees Celsius and sunny for the first 4 days, then up to 26 for Thursday. Can’t ask for better.

I’ve been doing the road trip thing with Thomas (my 17 yr old son) over the past 36 hours. He eats constantly - I had no idea how much until I got into the position of having to hand him my wallet prior to every purchase! (Last night, at 10:00 pm, just before crashing - a 1 litre milk and 2 double cheeseburgers!!) I’m glad we brought lots of food.

“I’m hoping to see your face on this journey God...”


A Blessed future

July 28, 2006

Two weeks ago I met Prime Minister Stephen Harper at a backyard BBQ. We talked for a few minutes about religion and faith, and then his handler prompted him to move on to some other person. As we shook hands, I said, “God Bless you in your work.” As I spoke those words to him he said the exact same words to me. It was kind of neat.

I feel like I’m in a place of blessing now; like we’re on the edge of something very cool and exciting with the church. Last month we discovered that 5000 people were clicking onto the audio podcasts of our Sunday messages. Wow. Two days ago I had a discussion with a person who is willing to significantly help us with the resources to build on this growing part of the church. It feels like we’re on the edge of something that is about to explode.

Last night I said to my wife, “I’ve always believed that the ideas that God has planted in our church had great potential. The concept of preaching from two books; the bible and creation is a powerful one. I’ve always dreamt of the possibility of this thing taking off; in thousands of churches, around the world. I had no idea that this ‘other way’ of making a mass impact might present itself.”

Yesterday, a technophile member of our congregation told me that podcast growth can often be exponential vs. linear. We’ll see.

I woke up with an old Rush song, “Closer to the Heart,” playing in my mind.

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones who start
To mold a new reality
Closer to the heart
Closer to the heart
The blacksmith and the artist
Reflect it in their art
They forge their creativity
Closer to the heart
Closer to the heart

Philosophers and ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the heart
Closer to the heart
You can be the captain
I will draw the chart
Sailing into destiny
Closer to the heart

I felt as though those last four lines were, in some sense, true for us as a church... as though they might be coming from the lips of God.

The psalm I read this morning included these words,

“He doesn’t scrimp with his traveling companions. It’s smooth sailing all the way with the God of Angel Armies.” Psalm 84

A Blessed future
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, July 28 2006 @ 07:26 PM PDT
So, when do we do the song?


A Blessed future
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, July 29 2006 @ 10:31 AM PDT
the moment you can sing as high as Geddy Lee Gary!



Godcast pioneer preaches online

July 17, 2006

John was part of an interview by Joe Woodard, Calgary Herald on podcasting and the internet. Photograph by : Tim Fraser, Calgary Herald

Link to the Herald Article, Sunday July 16.


Three Pastors and the World Cup

July 15, 2006

An interview by Calgary Radio CBC 1010 with John Van Sloten, Robin Bailey and Phil Reinders on faith, religion, church and the "World Cup" of soccer.

Streaming mp3 audio (13 minutes)

John's "God and the World Cup" Sunday message at New Hope


About John

July 10, 2006

is the guy who does most of the preaching at New Hope. He and his
wife Fran have three children.

About 10 years ago, John was a Toronto
real estate developer who seemed to have it made – big house, big
salary, nice car and lots of corporate connections. But all those
signs of material success still left John with a truck-sized hole
in his heart, and groping for meaning in his life. His youngest son’s
birth sparked a personal crisis that led John on a painful but rewarding
search for God. He soon left the corporate world, returned to school
and became an ordained pastor.


world cup editorial

July 09, 2006

Great week this week. Got to preach the World Cup on three 'pulpits' this week; CBC radio interview with two other pastors, an editorial in the Herald this morning and in church. Here's the editorial...

“What makes the World Cup most beautiful is the world, all of us together. The joy of being one of the billion or more people watching 32 countries abide by 17 rules fills me with the conviction, perhaps ignorant, but like many ignorant convictions, fiercely held, that soccer can unite us all.” Sean Wilsey, National Geographic, June 2006

U2’s Bono captures the essence of the World Cup in a voiceover for an ESPN commercial, "It’s a simple thing, just a ball and a goal. Once every four years that simple thing drastically changes the world; closes the schools, closes the shops, closes the city; stops a war. A simple ball fuels the passion and pride of nations, gives people everywhere something to hope for, gives countries respect where respect is in short supply, achieves more than the politicians ever could. Once every four years a ball does the impossible; and if history means anything, the world as we know it is about to change."

Hope for change is an irrepressible human desire.

We long to live in a world that operates the way a world ought to operate; where nations are allowed to be fully and uniquely themselves – nationally, ethnically, religiously, socio-economically - and yet still sing their anthems side by side in the stadium of life.

We yearn for a world where the playing field is truly level, where a poor boy from Algeria can become a global superstar, where a third world Ghana can defeat a first world United States.

We crave the kindness and humanity of a Muslim Iranian football squad that brings pre-game flowers to a Catholic Mexican goaltender who has just lost his mother.

We’re desperate for a force that can cause wars to cease, just as qualifying for the World Cup tournament did for the Ivory Coast.

And deep inside we want to believe that there really is ‘one thing’ that can unite us all. We hope against hope that there is some greater force for good that can capture our imaginations; that can cause us to take our eyes off of our limited, sometimes selfish selves, and allow us to see the freedom of an unbounded bigger picture. We want to be a part of something significant, something larger than life, something beautiful!

In a world that is rife with sectarian violence, terrorized by an ever elusive evil, plagued by wicked forces of poverty and illness, strained by excessive anxiety and stress, bogged down by boredom and ennui, and deeply searching for a greater meaning – a world that’s lost it’s ability to play - we long for a better reality; for a new way of life.

The World Cup offers a pointer to this possibility. It ignites the child within and dares it to hope again, to move past the ubiquitous cynicism that says, ‘Impossible;’ to have faith. The World Cup begs us to grow young again, and dares us to dream of the possibility of glory, to believe that everyone has a chance and deserves to play the game.

There’s an Adidas commercial that you may have seen. Two poor boys, growing up in some poverty stricken Latino neighbourhood, are kicking a ball against a wall. Bored, they dare to dream of playing a game where each of them is a captain, and they get to choose from the best players in the soccer world. As each child calls out their picks, “Cisse, Kaka, Zidane, Beckham, Lampard, Kahn, Beckenbauer, Dafoe..,” the superstars miraculously appear, each in their team jerseys. The boys, like true captains, tell the stars what positions to play, and then the dream game begins; with a child leading them.

Who hasn’t dreamed of captaining such a team? Which of us ‘often picked last sorts’ doesn’t yearn for the chance to play in this kind of game? Who of us, later today, won’t be vicariously playing right along side the biggest boys in the biggest game on earth?

A prophet once described heaven as a place where, “The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” Zechariah 8:5 In a world where children starve in the streets, where some lose limbs, and others their very lives, this image is what, I imagine, we all hope for; simple yet beautiful. A beautiful game.

Now that’s heaven on earth.


From Pain to Gratitude

July 04, 2006

This morning, as I sat praying, I looked up and saw Edward playing on the computer. For many years now I’ve expressed gratitude to God for this little boy, but this morning was different; deeper. For the first time ever I thanked God for the night of his birth. As I did my chest quickened, I took in one of those, caught off guard, shuttering kind of breaths, and my eyes teared.

I said, “Thank you,” for what was, so far, the most difficult night of my entire life. Never have I been so distraught or broken. Never had anything this painful ever touched me. I’ve never gone through anything harder, or more life shaking. And now, so many years later, I can catch myself genuinely saying, “Thank you for bringing that event into my life.” Bizarre!

How in the world can a person ever get to the place where that would happen; where gratitude would be expressed in lieu of abject sorrow; over the same life event? How does that transition occur?

To me it speaks of mystery. The inexplicable, yet very real way, that God can make good out of bad, beauty out of bleakness. Redemption. It often only happens over time; where something that appears to be so wrong actually ends up working out for my good. Part of it has to do with pain making you stronger. Another part of it involves the resultant freedom that comes in knowing that life in not in control. And that ingredient of time, somehow it’s critical as well – allowing memories to fade, giving us the gift and wisdom of chronological distance, offering the rest of life a chance to balance off the painful event with all kinds of goodness. Life does go on, and it is good – in retrospect, exceedingly good.

I wonder if that’s how all of the pain and suffering of this world is going to look and feel like at the end of time.

From Pain to Gratitude
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, July 06 2006 @ 10:47 AM PDT
Well said. I think lack of control over life's circumstances or the feeling that life isn't fair can be very painful. Knowing - seeing that - in hindsight, God was there weaving the threads of my life, loving me so deeply, that is what makes it all worthwhile. That kind of love - similar to what you feel for your son - but immeasurably bigger - wow.

From Pain to Gratitude
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, July 09 2006 @ 01:39 PM PDT
That is beautiful to read. The love you guys have for your son, your family, is wonderful.


Economic Takeover

June 30, 2006

An editorial I wrote for the Calgary Herald, loosely based on our Theology of Oil sermon series.

"A cruel trick I once played on a wasp. He was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul and there was a period ... during which he did not notice it." George Orwell

How important is our consumer based economy? Are we giving it too much attention; too much buy in?

Observing the frenetic, frayed at the edges, flying at top economic speed, retail sales up, real estate values up, incomes up, jobless rate down, construction on every corner, no time for a whole lotta holidays life we’re living, one has to wonder if we’ve let our economy get a little out of hand. Who’s serving who? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves a few questions, “Are we winning in all of this? Is our city better? Are our families better? Are we better?”

The city of Fort McMurray is a microcosm of the problem; a socio-economic canary of sorts. No where else in Canada is the economy so hot. No where else in Canada has the economy so taken over! Like an overbearing junior high school bully, it’s leaving all kinds of destruction in its wake. Lagging community services? - who cares. A lack of serviceable land for housing? - get a tent. Increased crime and substance abuse? - take a pill. Employee loyalty anarchy? - get a job. The economy’s the new kid in town, and the rest of community life better fall in.

It’s kind of crazy when you think about it; insane. Is this really the place an economy ought to take in the formation and development of a society? Or have we got it backwards? Instead of understanding the economy as being an engine for the greater good of a healthy and cohesive community, instead of keeping it rightfully bridled, shaped and formed by this bigger thing, we’ve let it run wild.

The impact of this economic takeover is all-pervasive. We see it in a culture that commodifies nearly everything; great works of art reduced to multi-million dollar price tags, natural disasters measured not only in lost lives, but increasingly in terms of economic cost. Professional athletes are commonly referenced in terms of the “value of their stock,” homes - where lives are lived and families are grown - have become real estate investments. You can’t go anywhere in the city of Calgary without overhearing people talk about the increased value of their homes. I’m quite sure that few are referring to the strength of their marriage, increased quality time with the kids, or the better person they’re becoming.

Unhealthy signs of economic takeover are everywhere; the poor going uncared for, the rich not knowing how to give back, anxiety and stress levels at all time highs, relational indicators pointing down, city house prices now out of reach; to the point that our kids can’t afford to live in their own hometown.

Does anybody see the irony in all of this? We should do something; take our lives back, put that economic genie back in the lamp.

We are not just an economy, we’re a community! We need to remind ourselves of that. The Work Research Foundation’s Dr. Gideon Strauss writes, “Income, profit – this is economic oxygen. And just as we do not live to breathe, but breathe to live, so too, we do not work only to earn, or build companies just to make profit.” Economies are meant to serve our greater good. We grow economies so that we can grow a life and be human beings, not just human resources. We’re meant for so much more than mere economic success. We’re meant to fly.

But are we living to that end? Does anyone have a clear picture of what’s going on, of where we’re actually going, of how this hyper-capitalist heyday is affecting us? As one observer asked, “Are we so engrossed in eating jam that we do not even realize that our potential to fly is being cut away?”

Perhaps we need to pause for a second, step back, catch our breath, and take a look at where we stand. We’ve been given this huge gift of resource wealth, enabling us to possess one of the hottest economies in the world. To what end are we stewarding this endowment? What kind of cities are we building? What kind of lives are we living?

If you’re not sure you’ve got it right, then change something. Change your mindset re: the economy as the ultimate arbiter of all things great and small; recognize that it’s only one part of life. Change your schedule and go home at 4:30 once in a while; realize that the most valuable, irreplaceable commodity you have is time with loved ones. Change your influences by skipping the big shindig this weekend and volunteer instead at the Inn from the Cold; meet a homeless family, look the father in the eye. Change your manic consumer patterns; replace things only when they’re broken, build that deck yourself, hold onto that car for another year. Change your giving patterns; pull a Warren Buffett and practice some radical generousity. Change your newspaper section and read the obits instead; contemplate the future, live with the end in mind. Change your shoes and go for a walk by the river; get close to the earth, take in the rich beauty of a tree, breathe in life and find out who you are again.


CBC Radio 1010 Calgary, Wild Rose forum - Funerals

June 27, 2006

John joined the Wild Rose forum for a 1 hour talk show on funerals.

Listen to the show in mp3 audio (52 minutes)

Low quality mp3 - 11.8 mb

High quality mp3 - 35 mb


A Dream at 6:18 am.

June 21, 2006

I hate waking up to these kinds of dreams... and yet...

I was sitting in my son Edward’s schoolyard, in the exact place where I last gazed on him in real life; a wooden deck and seating area, in behind the building and near the playing field. Two weeks ago I was watching him watch his brother play in an outdoor band concert. A late day sun was bathing the scene, the light was a crisp orange/yellow, music filled the air and Edward was sitting cross-legged on the deck; listening so intently, so beautifully.

In my dream I was sitting where he was sitting, and I’d just been told that Edward had died. I remember the shock feeling that was reverberating through me; an unbelievable and overwhelming sense of permanence. I was so deeply shaken, I felt to vomit. And nothing could change the situation. I kept looking out on the school yard where he played, on the asphalt pathway where we often walked home, hand in hand, and now they were empty. Permanently! All of the memories of what was - Edward’s gift of a life; kisses, smiles, evening walks, birthdays, swimming, the most out of form running style you could ever imagine, his warped sense of Down Syndrome humour, his tender innocent gaze and long, intimate, unconditional hugs – were placed beside the immoveable, unchangeable reality of permanent loss. The fullness of him violently juxtaposed with the emptiness of ‘no him.’ And then I was filled with a need to know how; I had to know every single detail of how he died. Some kind of last grasp at the mysterious, miraculous, frailty of life. Death made me want to know, and see, the intricacies of life; to pay full attention, if only in retrospect. The feelings were numinous and devastating; upsetting to recall even now... it was only a dream!
Last night I went to sleep thinking about my sermon topic for Sunday. The parable of the rich fool is about someone who spends all of their energies obtaining and storing up material stuff, and then suddenly dies. Jesus sets up the story by saying, “Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot." He then went on to tell his story ending with these words, “Just then God showed up and said, "Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods--who gets it?' Then, after a pause for effect (I’m sure), Jesus looks into his listener’s eyes and says, "That's what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God." Luke 12, The Message.

It seems that the last few years of my life are filled with this lesson. Don’t worry so much about stuff; material things, accomplishments, getting it all done, that urgent ‘next thing’ in life. They can wait. Jamming yourself full, until the barn doors are bursting, does not make for the richest and most full life. It about the people John; the relationships along the way! God first, and then out of ‘God first’; others. Wealth is found in the knowing, in loving and being loved, in the intimate touches.

6:50 am. and I hear Edward stirring in the adjacent room. As I exhale a deep breath of relief, Fran asks if I would mind taking a shower with Edward (at 14, he can’t do it himself and I’m teaching him... 3 months into the lesson plan now!). I walk into his room, “Wanna take a shower buddy?” He jumps out of bed, lumbers over and give me a big soft, still warm from the blankets, hug. Two plump guys in their underwear, totally uninhibited in their embrace. Then we take our shower. Edward still can’t get the water temperature right, he still shampoos the back of his head only (forgetting the front half completely so as to avoid soap in his eyes), he still washes incompletely, and he still insists on unabashedly hugging in the shower; Yikes!

Then he steps out to dry himself, a few minutes later I step out and he hands me a towel. He always hands me a towel; wanting to help me out in return I guess. Then we head down for breakfast, this time, arms over each other’s shoulders all the way down the stairs. In the kitchen we debate his daily chocolate milk request, I give in (blasted dream) and he sits down to eat. He won’t touch his food until I’ve prayed with him. Sometimes I forget for several minutes and he just sits there patiently waiting. Then we pray, cheek to cheek, his words parroting mine, Edward rushing to an ‘Amen’ if I get a bit too long winded. Then I sit and read my paper watching him eat; remembering when he couldn’t feed himself yet.

Half an hour later Edward is ready to leave for school. He gives me three long hugs over the 5 minute disembarking process, wrapping his entire face around mine. This is life. This matters. This is real. I can’t believe how rich my life is. Then the back door closes behind him as he heads out for that schoolyard.

Thanks God; for him, for life, for all of this incredible wealth.

Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, June 21 2006 @ 10:30 AM PDT
i am happy to know i am not the only dad who wakes up sometimes in a cold sweat because of dreams of bad things about our kids. Is it because i haven't learnt completely to trust God in all things that i doubt about Him caring for them?
It sure is a haunting feeling of emptiness and helplessness, maybe God's way of drawing us closer!

God Bless John!

ps i was priviledged to see you and Edward sitting at the concert, so it was very vivid while reading!


The Scream

June 12, 2006

This morning I was walking back from the food store with a couple of grocery bags in hand; praying. Saying thanks to God for the serendipitous meeting I’d just had in the meat department with a man who I was afraid to talk to (someone who I’d had conflict with in the past, and tried to avoid a few aisles earlier!). I got to see this person’s humanity, be reminded that he was a good guy. The seeing brought freedom.

About half way home I felt as though I should stop and sit on a park bench for a moment. Don’t think this too weird, but I had a vague sense that I was supposed to. I just sat there and prayed a bit more, and then I heard this yelping sound; like a dog or something. It was coming from a car sitting in an adjacent parking stall. After a few minutes of listening I realized that the voice was human, maybe a child left in the back seat of the vehicle. Squinting, I could see some motion inside the passenger area, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I got up and started walking toward the car. Inside was a, 20 something, young man having, what appeared to be, a seizure. He was moaning helplessly, hands contorted, and waving uncontrollably. I said, “Are you OK? Can I help you?” He didn’t hear me at first. “Are you alright buddy? Are you having a seizure? Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
I leaned in toward the open window. The stench was horrible and almost made me vomit. “Are you Ok?” Then the contortions slowed down, the tears ceased, he started breathing more regularly, and he opened his eyes. “Did you just have a seizure?” I asked again. “Yeah... no.... I don’t know what it was... this has never happened to me before...” He then went on to describe this horrible ‘coming down event’ he was going through. A drug addict. After a few more minutes he became more lucid, rolled himself a cigarette, and said he needed to get in contact with his mother. I was happy for the smoke smell, and I called his mom from my cell, “I don’t know if I have the right person, but are you D****’s mom?” “Yes I am,” was her reticent, trembling reply. I explained the situation to her. She was about half an hour away and said she’d come down immediately. I told her I’d wait until she got there, keep her son in conversation, keep him from leaving.

We must have talked for 40 minutes before she got there. Several times he said, “I can’t believe you’re listening to me!” As he was coming down he was hallucinating about being in a coma, wanting so much to say something to others, but being unable to communicate; being locked in. Several times he broke into tears, about his alcohol addiction, crack, meth, coke, E, and other drug use. “I work for the drugs now... I work my butt off for two weeks, then blow it all in two days.” He kept crying at the fact of the pathetic place he was in; a mess. In the course of our conversation I mentioned what I did for a living. He brightened up and said that he listened to Christian radio when he was coming off the drugs. "Really," I thought. He said it’s the only thing that gets him through it. Go figure. I had to laugh at my biased self.

Then his mom arrived. Tears in her eyes as she approached me, “Thank you,” were her first words. I told D** that I wanted to talk with him more if he was willing. He said he wanted to, so I left my name with his mom.

As they drove away I kept seeing their faces, his eyes, his tears; 27 years old, a good looking young man, quite bright once he got his mind back, so beautiful... and his mom’s concerned and thankful look... she was so happy that her boy was alive... so worried if this terrible spiral would ever stop, if there was any reason for hope.

Walking home I realized that when I first called her and asked if she was D**’s mom, she was probably worried that this was ‘the call.’ Her son had been out of touch all weekend, and I’m sure that she’d had the thought that this addiction might end up killing him one day. As I pondered what must have been going through her mind at that moment, the father in me trembled... and I cried.

The Scream
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, June 12 2006 @ 07:39 PM PDT
what a beautiful piercing story... a great reminder to all of us to slow down and live our lives with our eyes and ears and hearts wide open. thanks for sharing this...


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