Pastor John Van Sloten's Blog 2001-2007

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How we see

Jan 07, 2006

Painter, come photographer, David Hockney originally had a big problem with photographs. He found that they didn’t accurately represent how we saw things. This realization was made especially clear when he first took wide angle lens photographs; the curving of lines, the sheer width of perception, they were all wrong. The human way of seeing was different than that; we see in much smaller snapshots... over time. This led him to create collages of images; groupings of much tighter photographs, proportionate to how our bio-lens’s might operate.

“From the first day I was exhilarated,” Hockney recalled as he showed me (author Lawrence Weschler) a reproduction of the house collage. “First of all I immediately realized I’d conquered my problem with time in photography...
It takes time to see these pictures—you can look at them for a long time, they invite that sort of looking. But, more important, I realized that this sort of picture came closer to how we actually see—which is to say, not all at once but in discrete, separate glimpses, which we then build up into our continuous experience of the world. Looking at you now, my eye doesn’t capture you in your entirety. I see you quickly, in nervous little glances. I look at your shoulder, and then your ear, your eyes (maybe, for a moment, if I know you well and have come to trust you—but even then only for a moment), your cheek, your shirt button, your shoes, your hair, your eyes again, your nose and mouth. There are a hundred separate looks across time from which I synthesize my living impression of you. And this is wonderful. If instead, I caught you in one frozen look, the experience would be dead. It would be like-- it would be like looking at an ordinary photograph.”

I wonder if this is how we see God; and if God built this way of seeing into us on purpose. So that we could take him in?

If a human face takes that many snapshots to percieve, I imagine that seeing God’s face would take all of time, over multiple dimensions; an infinite number of images. And each shot might be either visual, auditory, sensual, whatever (imagine the variations). And the whole while, we mere mortals try to put some kind of collage together. But we really have no idea.

Must be why God sent us an object lesson; something we could reach/perceive. Must be why God put himself into a frame size that we could see and understand. Knowing our perceptive propensities, our lens limitations, he made himself small enough. Incarnate. A baby. Human.

(And I guess, on the flip side, I imagine that this way of seeing is not how God sees us. He sees all that is, while being outside of time and space. For the great, ‘I am’ everything just is. One giant still. One huge frame of reference.)

Authored by: joal on Monday, January 09 2006 @ 01:21 AM PST

What's unique to note is that only after God sent Christ (for us to 'look' at) could He then 'look' at sinful man again. All of God's wrath was averted through Christ's sacrifice for us on the cross, and as a result, Christ acted as a sponge for the sin of the world - in turn allowing God to view us again with love; the only love that comes through Jesus.

Pretty cool to think about.


Eternal Presence

Jan 04, 2006

Back to work. Over the holidays I read a book entitled, Vermeer in Bosnia, by Lawrence Weschler (writer for the New Yorker). My kind of book! The guy has this amazing ability to meld, interweave, and synergistically co-illuminate real life stories. And he does it in such a creative way; using a Vermeer painting (and it’s era) to help us better understand the war in Bosnia, the thoughts of Aristotle to elucidate historical happenings in Belgrade, director Roman Polanski’s messed up life to help us better recognize our all too common human natures, the light of Los Angeles to teach us how to better see. Weschler seems to possess a prophetic insight into reality; a keen discernment into the truth within things. All I could do was stand in awe; deeply resonating with his God given gift, wanting so desperately to do the exact same thing; connecting God’s truths in all of creation together, seeing His face in the most mysterious of places, knowing God more in all that he has made.

I long to capture and experience those moments. I want nothing more than to catch a glimpse of Him there, mysteriously overhear His voice, experience being caught in that mystical moment where I see God seeing me.

One of Vermeer’s most famous paintings is commonly entitled, “The Girl with the Pearl Earring...”

Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, January 04 2006 @ 08:43 AM PST
How could you find time to read when you're supposed to be watching CSI episodes over the holidays.

Sounds very interesting though,

If you study it, you’re not sure if she’s just turned her head toward you, or if she’s just about to turn away. Or both. Weschler saw it as both... that split second of time between turning toward and turning away... that very fleeting and present moment where one stops, sees, knows. The eternal present. A divine moment.

And to think that all of life is filled with these.


Calgary Christmas images

Dec 23, 2005

I've had some time to walk and watch this week...

Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, January 01 2006 @ 08:28 PM PST
Beautiful stuff again. I really like the railroad track - cool!


Dealing with Silt

Dec 19, 2005

Over the past two years I’ve heard a lot of, “How in the world could you do that?... What makes you think that belongs in church?... Why in the world would you talk about that topic on a Sunday morning?” Live Fashion Shows, Metallica music, Johnny Cash, Simpson’s episodes, Movies galore, Lance Armstrong, etc... A lot of people think this kind of stuff should never enter into a sacred event/place like a church. While part of me hears what they’re saying, another part pushes back. I think, “All that God made is good, even if it’s a bit tainted, stained, broken. And nothing, including all of us tainted and stained churchgoers, is broken beyond reparation. And nothing exists in a purely good state, not on this side of the creation/ Creator divide, everything is a mix of good and bad.”

Last week I attended a prayer meeting and ended up praying, quite fervently,
“Don’t let us call things unholy, that you call holy, God!” I felt a deep passion at the time, a huge heart for things that we often write off as lost, irreparable, not significant, below us. This morning I’m reminded of the dream that the Apostle Peter had in Acts 10... He ate Kosher, and God told him in a dream he didn’t have to any more, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

That verse’s truth reminded me of a story Rob Bronson send to me yesterday re: seeing God in a river in Chile...

What’s the river saying?

I’m staring down at a torrential flow of water and asking the question, God what do you want to tell me through this river? There aren’t a lot of other thoughts in my head. No thoughts of jumping in or anything like that. In fact, except for this thunderous murky brown river, the scenery is peaceful and the day is warm. All the more reason to be mesmerized by the thrashing spectacle below me.

I’m troubled by the fact that the river is brown. If this were Alberta, this would be a clear cold mountain river. But this river, the Rio Maipo in central Chile, has dredged up tons of silt, sand and gravel. The water has turned into a disturbing dark mixture. There are certainly no photo ops for Evian mineral water here.

The Maipo is born high in the Andes Mountains. The spring sun melts the snow and the resulting trickles of water soon becomes a torrent as it rushes in streams down through dozens of mountain canyons where it carries away the silt, finally to merge and form the main body of the river. The water crashes into the many boulders that fill the narrow riverbed creating this brown torrent.

Probably because of my experience with Alberta rivers, I imagine what it would be like without the silt and the boulders. A pristine flow of water rushing to the Pacific. Mountain fish would swim. Canoes and rafts would pass by with smiling explorers.

But this is not what God created. In His wisdom he mixes beautiful clear water with silt. He causes the boulders to restrict the flow. He allows the violent thrashing. But I don’t see it this way. What I perceive to be good coexists with what I think is bad. And as I look again at the murky brown water crashing this way and that, I’m convinced it is bad.

But the river is saying I am wrong. The silt and the boulders are real and good. There just as good as clear pure water. The river calls out to me to change the way I understand its reality. Not as brown and murky but a powerful mixture that overcomes the obstacles put before it.

How often do we make judgments with our limited experience? What if we tried to see more what God is telling us – through his creation.

Rob Bronson
December 2005


A Baptized Imagination

Dec 18, 2005

I got to baptize a little girl this morning; a toddler. It’s the most amazing experience I get to have as a preacher/pastor. It’s like you become the hand of God for just one magical, mysterious moment.

As I was preparing for this event, writing down a few segueing thoughts from a sermon on Narnia to the baptism, I was struck anew by the powerful significance of the whole baptism metaphor. C. S. Lewis wrote Narnia so that kids could 'reach' the profounds truths of the Christian faith (he wrote it to “baptize their imaginations”). So too, God came to us as a baby (to bring himself and his message in a form that we could understand/reach).
Jesus took kids onto his lap so that they could feel what God's love feels like on a lap (versus trying to understand the abstract Hebrew theology of their day). Today we baptize a little girl and God, at such an early point in her precious little life, via a few drops of water, lets her feel his touch, let’s her have a cool, cleansing foretaste of the idea (and reality) of a God that can make people clean. Those precious drops of water were a sermon to her, a foretaste of a living water, a sensory introduction to a profound theological truth. The baptismal act became a parable. God bent down and sprinkled this child with something, that at some level, she could understand. She felt it... it was wet... wet and very, very cool!

(image used by New Hope photographer Lara Palset)


Political Editorial

Dec 15, 2005

Sometimes I just can’t help myself. It’s not like I plan on doing it; it just seems to happen. Like this morning... I pick up my newspaper, and within minutes... in the front page section alone... I find myself wanting to do commentary on the text... three different editorial ideas begin to percolate (One on consumerism and how it feeds into the burgeoning US trade deficit; another on the irony in how Prime Minister Paul Martin is using fear of the US (The Bush administration being a conservative political force that uses fear a lot itself) to make political hay here in Canada... and I forget the third one now). Then I think, “Nah, not today, I just don’t have the time.”

Part of me wonders what’s going on... is this just opinionated buffoonery? Or is it more? An old Dutch Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper, said that we needed to engage our world with a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. God speaks through both texts, and the texts speak to each other. This fact can drive you mad sometimes. It just opens to door to so much Divine Revelation... so many sermons. “See this thing that’s happening? Could it be that God is saying this or that through this event... or showing us this or that about ourselves...” Sometimes you don’t even have to be that explicit. Sometimes you just state something true about a situation/world event, and that’s explicit enough.

The following editorial was in Tuesday’s Calgary Herald...

Isn't it ironic that a country founded on a cultural mosaic model would insist on sending all of its toddlers to the same publicly controlled and funded pre-school?

That is, in effect, what the Liberal Party is proposing through its national child care initiative. Rather than provide an environment conducive to a wide variety of child care options, including home care, they seek to create a huge, regulated, homogeneous experience for our most ‘value vulnerable’ citizens. They seek to standardize a vision of diversity.

What are they trying to do; create some kind of early intervention melting pot? Aren’t the first five years of a child’s life the most formative? Shouldn’t they be the optimal time for diverse Canadian parents to instill personal cultural values; to have control over moral and ethical shaping, to be able to choose child care options and early educational influences that best fit who they are and what they believe?

What’s next; Liberal guidelines on how to best utilize parental leave time? Or will the government now want to choose the tapes that we play to our kids inutero? Come on policy makers, give us a break (and stay out of our bedrooms will you)!

It seems to me that recent trends in education have a lot to offer this current ‘child care’ debate. With the huge growth in the separate school system, and more recently via charter schools and home schooling, the message is clear. "We want what we want for our children. We'll even put aside some of our spending on beer and popcorn to pay for it (over and above the "free" public system)! We believe in our values, and we believe in a Canada that lets us do that. So listen Paul, hands off our wonderful, multi-cultural, 'more important to us than you can ever know' children. You can trust us with them; we love them. "

Traditional families, blended families, same sex families, single parent families; we all want what’s best for our kids. It’s what the parenthood calling is all about; doing everything you can, to provide all you can for your children. Lord knows, no one is more motivated than a parent; no one loves a child more. And if we can’t bank on this fact, if we can’t leave the early childhood care and educational choices up to parents, then we’ve got an even bigger problem (which may be part of what’s at play here). Countless ‘on site’ studies, performed in multiple and varied socio-economic and ethnic environments, around the world, throughout the history of humanity, have proven that the parent/child model is an adequate means of sustaining and promoting the human race.

Maybe the question of how we best provide early childhood care is bigger than we think. It’s not just about the logistics of ‘creating spaces’ (although government dollars do tend to make things happen... but so do market forces). It’s about core values; what we really believe about the ‘value instilling’ role of parenting. I guess this is where cultural mosaics face a conundrum. How do you balance the freedom that diversity demands with leadership on the multi-cultural vision? How do you give money and control to culturally unique and individual families and let parents make their own choices, while at the same time provide venues that promote the overall unity in diversity vision?

Again, it seems to me that the most important thing is the protection of diversity (ie: parental freedom and choice). If you don’t do this, then you won’t have a mosaic to acculturate; Canada will have lost all of its colour and vibrancy.


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Dec 11, 2005

I preached from C. S. Lewis’ famous book this morning; which sounds kind of weird I know. God centred, Sunday morning church preaching using the text of a children’s story? How does that work? Very well in my estimation. You need to look at the process as working something like how Jesus’ parables worked. Speaking to an audience that, for the most part, had a pretty good idea of the religious story of the day (The ancient Hebrew faith), Jesus told atypical stories that acted like ‘faith paradigm busters.’ Jesus’ parables did an ‘end around’ on the established religious world view. He played with people’s minds, woke them up, and sometimes shocked them out of their apathy. For many, Jesus brought faith to life; helped them see that the Kingdom of God really was all around them, and within them.
It must have been magical for his listeners. I’ve felt a bit of that magic recently...

I felt it last week. Telling the story of how C.S. Lewis finally connected his life to the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, it just blew me away when I realized that the story of JRR Tolkien helping Lewis realize that the Norse Mythology that had always intrigued him so much might have existed/been created to pre-figure the story/myth of Christ. By connecting the dots in this relevant and meaningful way, Lewis ended up getting it. The whole time I’m telling that story, I’m thinking that the same thing might be happening right now; right there in church. A person listening to that message, resonating with Lewis’ story (yearning his whole life for a melding of the imagination and the intellect), even as Lewis resonated with Norse mythology, now resonating with Christ’s story. And we, as a church, doing exactly what Tolkien did; via God’s Spirit connecting the dots. Very cool.

I felt it again this morning. Describing the scene where the traitor Edmund, having been graciously rescued by Aslan, is now having a face to face, heart to heart talk with the good king of beasts. No one knows what was said in that discussion... but we can imagine. I then invited listeners to imagine being there... standing in Edmund’s guilty shoes... standing there with all of your selfish pride... with all the teasing you’ve done... the terrible things you’ve said to others... the times you’ve betrayed them... betrayed Him... Can you imagine looking into his eyes?... LONG PAUSE... can you imagine really knowing what his name is all about?... Standing there... his perfection... beneath his forgiving and merciful gaze.” Then I didn’t say a thing... for 30 seconds.

That whole time I wondered if, at that moment, I was describing a place in Narnia, or a place that someone in the congregation has been in before (confessing a bad choice from their past to a loved one), or a place where an individual, or maybe even the whole lot of us in church that morning were standing, right there before God; looking into Jesus’ eyes. And then to imagine that God’s Spirit would apply these words in any, and all of those ways, all at once; it takes my breath away.

Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, December 17 2005 @ 11:12 AM PST
Narnia quiz in Calgary Herald (Sat. Dec. 17)
page B-05 [10 question version]

The 20 question version is found at:

David Buckna


What if traffic tickets cost time rather than cash?

Dec 10, 2005

Editorial for the Calgary Herald


That’s the price a cyclist pays for crossing a single yellow line on Highway 22 in Southern Alberta on a beautiful, clear blue, thanksgiving Sunday afternoon. A cyclist, pedaling... on a bicycle... literally crossing from one shoulder to the other! “I could nail you with 3 moving violations for what you just did buddy, and then you’d lose your driver’s license,” said the visibly irate RCMP officer (yeah he got his man!). I guess that means I should be real happy with only getting the one ticket.
Somehow that wasn’t the primary emotion that was running through my head at the time. I just grinned, and let him give it to me; as did the cyclist right behind me. Yeah, two for the price of one, we must have looked like a gang or something. The officer could have laid the two carbon backed tickets on top of each other and saved himself some writing time.

Cycling the 25k home, I was ticked, “It’s not fair. This is just a bloody cash grab. It was the safest time for me to cross. Aren’t there any real bad guys to catch? I pay his salary and I’m a positively contributing member of society. It must be near the end of his quota period.” 10k later I had calmed down a bit. I kept hearing the other words the officer spoke, about the cyclist he once pealed of the road. Safety. Maybe his passion really was motivated by a desire for my safety. Who really knows?

It got me thinking about the whole issue of 'ticketing for profit' vs 'ticketing for safety'. It’s hard to know when one or the other is at play; or where one morphs into the other. Seems to me that if we could clearly define where the dividing line lies, then all of the hullabaloo we're currently going through (especially with Calgary’s civic leaders suggesting police raise more revenue via fines) might abate somewhat. But how do we do that? Who’s trustworthy enough to make that call?

When city council makes the first move, in terms of attempting to sanction ticket revenue, they’re actually showing their hands. This causes us to question their motivations. Their short lived suggestion was a pointer to a much deeper problem; the willingness to engage in unethical behaviour in order to get a better deal on something, in this case a cheaper price on policing for Calgary. To some degree the Calgary Police Service might also face the same temptation. Seeing as they already raise $30 million of their $170 million budget via ticket revenue, what’s another mil or two?

When lawless drivers, like myself, cross yellow lines on our bikes, we too are giving evidence to our moral blind spots; engaging in unethical behaviour in order to get a better deal on something, in my case to get to the other side of the road as expeditiously as possible.

Unethical propensities on both sides; a reality that, perhaps we’d better face first, if we really want to resolve the problem. Fact is we’d all like to cut corners. We’re all a little bit selfish and want what’s best for us. We’re prone to pushing the boundaries, where we can get away with it. None of us can avoid that truth, not even one. So maybe we’ve got to start by checking our mirrors.

And then what? Well perhaps, once we’ve all come clean, we can then begin to be more gracious as we consider a reasonable common ground, an agreed upon yellow line. That’s what we all want right? Enough fair enforcement to keep us all safe.

What might that look like? Compromise no doubt. Last Friday the crown prosecutor at the Cochrane Provincial Courthouse did two things; she shook her head incredulously when I told her I got nailed on a bicycle (thank you!), and then she dropped the fine to $75 and removed the points. One solution, I guess, is fair recourse. But there must be others.

My daughter figures the whole quandary has to do with money. Remove the money and you’ll remove the problems. Ah yes, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” She’s right. Follow the money and you’ll find propensities to budgeting miserliness, revenue hoarding and personal greed. What if we took it out of the equation? What it we got more creative with the currency of our deterrents? What if it cost you time every time you violated a traffic law; community service via some sort of self supporting financial model? Surely the thought of a day’s volunteer labour would catch the attention of, fast moving, time starved Calgarians.

I can see the little sign on Highway 8 now, “This kilometer of Highway #8 is sponsored by the speedy residents of Elbow Valley.”

Can you imagine a police officer pulling you over in that kind of world? No ulterior motivate assumed whatsoever; it wouldn’t even enter either of your minds. You’d still be ticked, but for the right reason.

View pdf of news story


Church – For us or for others?

Nov 27, 2005

Just had a great “church meeting” this morning (no, that’s not an oxymoron!)
We talked about what it means to ‘do community’ (view summary - pdf) given the current ‘God is already at work in the world’ vision of our church. The discussion brought up all kinds of lively and interesting questions. One biggie was, “How do you balance the presentation of God’s truth in the book of the Bible with God’s truth in the book of creation?” (I’ll blog on that more at a future date) Another more foundational query had to do with the nature of the church community, “Who makes it up... Believers only, or both believers and non-believers?” Hold on, I don’t like those words. They connote a ‘you’re in or you’re out’ kind of worldview, which is, in my estimation is both pejorative and presumptuous. The way I see it, we’re all on a spiritual journey together, all part of one human race, all part of one church... wherever we’re at. Just because someone’s been living with an awareness of God’s presence in their life for years, doesn’t mean they’ve arrived. And just because someone still hasn’t figured it all out yet, doesn’t mean that where they’re at is somehow less. They both just are.

Having said that, the question remains, “When you do church, who do you do it for?”
For the faithful old-timer who has a faith history/tradition, one that you can assume and built upon (therefore allowing a certain depth of discussion/ and experience of community)? Or for the spiritual newby, who has no assumptions to build upon (thereby, de facto, limiting the depth of discussion/community)? Or both? Tough questions. Traditionally churches have been places for the converted to be trained up so that they can go out and do the converting. This has often yielded insular communities that have lost touch with the world’s reality... (watch a film called, The Big Kahuna, if you want to see what I mean). How so? Inside language develops; an us and them worldview is propagated; relevance and authenticity fade. It only makes sense. The less you are in contact with the world, the more you lose contact. The more you do your own thing, the less you understand their thing.

So what do you do as a church? Settle for the “limits” that come from always doing community in a way that everyone can understand (including newbies)? Maybe. Maybe these ‘limits’ are good things. Maybe they keep us from the excesses of diving in too deeply; becoming too abstract, obtuse or unreal. Maybe they keep us from becoming of such heavenly value that we are of no earthly good. Maybe the limits of having to do things in a way that even a child can understand, will keep us humble, selfless and submissive to the will of God... remind us that it’s not always about us.

I once heard a speaker say, “If Christians really lived out just 10% of what they believed then the world would be changed.” It makes me wonder.

Going Deeper - Preaching God in Culture by Calgary CRC Pastors

The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.

Church – For us or for others?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, November 28 2005 @ 12:41 PM PST
The Van Gogh image you choose for this entry really encapsulates the whole idea of community for me. It's my understanding that Van Gogh uses yellow to denote God, and yet there is no yellow in or on that building, the yellow is found outside and around that building. God is already at work in all of our communities, yet so often we feel the need to create one and claim "this is where God is". Everyday I realize a lttle more how much God is in love with and at work in this community, and I'm just supposed to try and love it and join in on what He's already doing!

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: johnvs on Monday, November 28 2005 @ 02:59 PM PST
A reformed (our theological tradition) worldview believes that the Holy Spirit (Spirit of Jesus Christ) works both inside and outside of the church. We believe that God is keeping things together in the world by this Spirit. God provides all that is truly good, beautiful, truthful and right in this creation. And He also restrains evil (from becoming even worse and overtaking us), even though we wish he'd do it more.

John Calvin (theological big dog) said, "All truth is inspired by the Holy Spirit." In another place in his writings he stated that if we don't attribute that truth to God, we show contempt for the Spirit of God.

"Whenever we come upon these matters (truth) in secular writers, let that admirable light of truth shining in them teach us that the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God's excellent gifts. If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of all truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonour the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself."

Institites II.ii.15

I sincerely believe this is true. And this is what, in part, inspires me to do community in all of God's creation (within the church and outside of the church)

Church – For us or for others?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, November 28 2005 @ 03:51 PM PST

I also think that while talking about community was a good and necessary thing to talk about, there were alot of people who haven't come on board with the vision. My guess would be that another discussion on the vision was needed before community was talked about. Several of the comments people made to me would indicate they were surprised that this is the adopted vision of the church and wondered how it came to be. This could be that at each meeting things seem final to some people, Ron is leaving, this is the vision. It leaves people who were not part of the discussion on these subjects rather surprised and probally feel like things are out of their control. A question - now the statements you have been using are they a rewrite of the vision statement or just a clairification? (nice to know for updating the web site and announcments also.) I think that little clairification would be helpful also. I hope that those who have concerns will approach you and the leadership team personally for further discussion. We may also be wise to have a special time of prayer over this for the next few weeks, as things can get distorted easily.


Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: johnvs on Monday, November 28 2005 @ 06:31 PM PST
Good insights on where some people n our community are on these issues Keith. You're right in your assessment I think. Recent decisions by the leadership team do have to continually be communicated to the church members. I think my next class on why we do what we do will be a busy one (I hope).

To your question... the idea of starting where God is already at work in the world is really just something that evolved from our existing vision as a church (which is essentially unchanged - see vision and values at ). From the get-go New Hope has wanted to be a Christian community that connects with people who aren't into church. This has not changed.

The emphasis on, and understanding of God already speaking in his world has grown over the years and has really come into its own over the past two years.

I remember when we were preaching the Lord of the Rings. There was a change that happened via that series. Up until that point in our churches development, we used contemporary stories as illustrations in the telling of the biblical story. Churches have done this since the beginning of time. Relevant stories to connect God's bible stories to people's lives.

But with the LOR, things shifted and we let Tolkein's mythical tale take the lead. IT became the narrative framework upon which we based the sermon and we attached biblical stories/verses/truths to it. In essence, we reached a tipping point of sorts.

We knew we wanted a series of sermons that would connect with our vision and so we did what we did. And then we did it again... and again. It got to the point where I started to worry about the legitimacy of such an approach. It was then that I engaged in a bit of a research project, and began to study the theological tradition of our church.

I began reading books by Plantinga (Calvin Seminary President), Richard Mouw (Fuller Seminary President), John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper (Dutch Theologian/ Politician), Augustine, and many more thinkers of the faith. I also intentially bounced these ideas off of the leaders of other churches within our denomination. (met with Plantinga and Mouw for a day last Spring... they loved the ideas... "You can't get more Reformed" was Plantinga's comment... have run it by hundreds of Preacher/pastors via workshops over the past year, with 95% buy in... I think... at least there were no tomatoes!)

Anyways, in all of this research I discovered that there is no other church on the North American scene where there is more 'theological permission' to engage in the kind of stuff we are doing.

I won't list all of the theology here... but tell you what... I'll email it to you right now and you can post it (a paper that we presented to Dr.'s Plantinga and Mouw). We've gone even further with the idea, but this will give you a good theological overview of why we think we can do this stuff.

enough talking... :)

Church – For us or for others?
Authored by: carol on Tuesday, November 29 2005 @ 09:24 AM PST
This topic has started a bit of a whirlwind in my mind… my thoughts have been running all over the place ranging from the issues surrounding ‘what community is’, how to intertwine the truths of God’s word with the truths of His work, to the whole vision of New Hope. I’ve thought of all sorts of things I could comment on here but with no real direction. I was out early this morning… enjoying the dark and the quiet and the sparkling snow and some good conversations with God (and if I’m honest I have to say that I was trying not to hear everything He was saying to me!) Anyways… everything kept coming back to the intro to your blog “Church – for us or for others?” and the thing I keep coming back to is that it’s really not for any of us. Who do we do church for? I’d have to say that Christ is the only one we do (or ought to do) church for. Are we worshiping Him, loving Him, acknowledging Him, clothing Him, weeping with Him, laughing with Him, feeding Him, embracing Him, wiping away His tears, offering Him a little more of ourselves? If we are… does it really matter how we do it? Some of us have walked a little longer on the road with Jesus… and know what He’s asking of us (doesn’t mean we always respond!) others are just starting out on that road… and others still haven’t quite taken the detours to get them onto that road. But we all have something to give and something to receive… God is in each of us whether we know it or not and He’s big enough to not really need us at all. Are we sincerely looking to Him to lead our church, do we believe He is who He says He is – if the answer is an emphatic yes, then we need to allow Him to work. Does this mean we sit back and wait for things to just ‘fall into place’? Absolutely not! If He is what church is about, He will inspire, and direct and lead and enable. If He is what church is about, He will also reveal Himself any way He chooses… to anyone He wants. From His perspective it’s all about us… distinction, no favouritism, no special privileges… we are all equally beloved, all completely undeserving of all that He offers us, but all lavished with the same amazing grace.
So – what should church (our church or any church)be?

Church – For us or for others?
Authored by: barb on Tuesday, November 29 2005 @ 11:08 AM PST
I have thought about all this quite a bit, and my answers all relate to why I joined New Hope in the first place. I joined because of the honesty and authenticity I saw communicated from the front (John and others). My kids really liked it because they liked the worship and the format of the services. Personally I always felt uncomfortable in traditional churches because of the language that was used and how insular it felt - and I just didn't feel like everyone else. So for me, and maybe because I'm of an artistic/creative bent, I really love the way we use creation/culture to see God. I have never had any difficulty seeing God's majesty or love in a flower or a tree, and have had my eyes opened to seeing God at work in movies and other areas. It has made it easier for me to talk to others about what I believe. It seems relevant for both a old time CRC'r like me and someone new to church and/or faith.

I can't see why what we do and how we do it can't be relevant for both people old to the church/faith thing and those who are new to it. If we are authentic and real, and learn how to communicate what we believe with some cultural relevance - this seems to me to be a plus for all.

For those who feel a need to go deeper, we have been having classes that meet some of those needs. If there are particular needs/wants for certain kinds of classes or groups, it would be great to have that communicated to the pastors or leadership team. Helping to organize or lead would be a big help in getting some more groups going too. I think we all need to realize the church is us, and we need to be part of the solution to finding community and going deeper by not waiting for someone else to start things - but by volunteering to start things ourselves. Does this make sense?

Church – For us or for others?
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 29 2005 @ 11:19 AM PST
Hope this finds everyone having a great Tuesday...even with the snow:) I wanted to comment on Sunday's talk...and like others am finding it difficult to summerize all the feelings and thoughts God seems to be putting on my heart. The three words that keep replaying in my mind are VISION, MISSION and COMMITMENT. As a church family are we committed to the vision, do we know what our mission is both as a Church and perhaps more so what are our personal gifts we can offer to this service? Finally are we truly committed to following God and His vision and mission for this Church?
In many ways this isn't about is about God's will. It is also my understanding that as Christians we are to preach and share the Good News about God in order to give Everyone the opportunity to know and have a real relationship with Him. Therefore doing Church for others seems to fit more for me...and the us part is perhaps more of our own responsiibility...nurturing our personal relationship so we can confidently share with others what a great way it is to live...with God!
I could go on and on and perhaps that is enough for now. I pray that God keeps bringing clarity and peace to New Hope so we can all be a part of this awesome journey!
Thanks for listening and thanks to others for their comments.
God Bless

Church – For us or for others?
Authored by: carol on Tuesday, November 29 2005 @ 11:48 AM PST
As an aside - in terms of speaking to the whole thought that God really is in everything, and about engaging our current culture, I'd like to recommend the following article which really resonated with me the first time I read it a few years ago. It poses some points that might clarify some of the 'why we do what we do' question - at least as I see it...

Church – For us or for others?
Authored by: johnvs on Wednesday, November 30 2005 @ 09:10 PM PST
A friend just sent me a note wondering if the first question we should be asking in terms of definining the community of God is, "Who is God?"

She also sent this helpful link to an article entitled, "What is the gospel?"

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: joal on Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 02:55 PM PST
It is VERY important to note that the work of the Holy Spirit on the regenerate (confession of Christ) comes from the inside, and the non-regenerate (the world), from the outstide; convicting the world of their sin and need for Christ. Without this truth, nothing stops the world from assuming they have the Spirit, which guides us into all truth - AND, has been given as a gift to only those who confess Christ as Lord.

Church – For us or for others?
Authored by: joal on Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 03:15 PM PST
I am a little concerned about this quote regarding Church: “Who makes it up... Believers only, or both believers and non-believers?” Hold on, I don’t like those words. They connote a ‘you’re in or you’re out’ kind of worldview, which is, in my estimation is both pejorative and presumptuous.

There seems to be this common mindest in modern times of constant Church bashing being done by the Church itself. This is quite contradictory to what Christ had desired for the Church to be - 'United through the Spirit, His spirit; alone.'

I have found it quite distressing to see the lack of foundational understanding as to what the 'Church' actually is, and from this related quote and the discussion that took place on Sunday, my spirit has been put at unease.

The Church - Is the community of the regenerate; those who confess Christ as the Son of God and Saviour to the world. Without this confession of Christ by all members of the body, there is no 'Church.' This is quite clearly outlined in Matt 16:13-20, where the Church is founded upon Peter's confession of Christ.

I will caution myself to continue at this point for more reflection and prayer, but I will say that this issue - along with many of the underlining theological doctrines we are 'developing' at New Hope in the recent years, should be looked at in the VERY critical 'light' of Christ.

Peace be with you,
Your Brother

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: johnvs on Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 03:50 PM PST
I agree that there is a difference in the knowing of God's Spirit that occurs post coming to faith.

I agree that the Spirit of Christ can act in a way that convicts us as well. I've experienced it! But 'us' in this circumstance would include both regenerate and unregenerate, from both the inside and the outside (whatever that means :) ) And the same Spirit that convicts is also the Spirit that works out good things in this world (again through both the regenerate and unregenerate)

Dr. Neal Plantinga, President of Calvin Seminary writes, “...A slice of bread or a game of soccer may tell us of God’s goodness as sure, even if not as directly, as a tract, and this is true even if the baker and the player do not realize that their activity
has been sponsored by God.” (page 38, Engaging God’s World)

Don't you think the Spirit of God can work through whomever it wants, whenever it wants, whether that person knows God or not? I do.

God can speak through a donkey (Balaam's ass), or an unregenerate bush (Moses); he can make the words of an Old Testament prophet into blessings when all that prophet wanted to do was curse; God's Spirit can move in the hearts of unregenerate Assyrian kings in order soften them to let his people rebuild their hometown (Nehemiah), you get the point.

Just because a person does not know who Jesus Christ is doesn't mean that person can't be used, moved, led by Christ's Spirit. In fact I would venture to say that everyone who's ever come to faith in Christ was first moved there by the Spirit (while they were still unregenerate)

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: joal on Thursday, December 01 2005 @ 09:05 PM PST
what you are talking about sounds dangerously close to the blurring of general revelation and special revelation - which are VERY different things (you acknowledged this face to face at our last young adults meeting).

In regards to the Holy Spirit working on the inside and outside of the regenerate and non-regenerate: This is clear in the Bible as well. The Holy Spirit only dwells within us (working from the inside) upon the confession of our sin and need for Christ (baptism of the Holy Spirit).

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: barb on Friday, December 02 2005 @ 01:03 PM PST
Hey Joal,
I was thinking that when we are talking about the "Church" you're right, it's a community of believers in Christ - but there is a wide variation of knowledge, growth etc in that group.
I think when we're talking about the church "community" we may be talking about something a little different. There may be seekers who aren't committed yet, or those just beginning the journey, and some who are just coming because their parents/spouses want them to - but still part of our community and hopefully seeing the Grace of God in action. Does this make sense to you? Barb

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: joal on Friday, December 02 2005 @ 03:34 PM PST
I very much agree with those statements Barb. The issue is the blurring or rather - confusion of the Church's role.

Something I feel important to point out, was at the end of the discussion when everyone had put up there supporting 'red-dots,' there was one paper that said 'we cannot minimize the importance of the Bible' - this post-it had not even one dot on it. Going back and analyzing that board very quickly leans towards the Church of 'serve-us' rather than the Church of 'service.'

This should be a huge concern to our Church as a whole. Not to mention the unity of our Church - which is in obvious question (Jon pointed that out at the meeting).

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, December 02 2005 @ 03:50 PM PST
What I thought when I saw some with no dots, was not that people didn't care about those issues, but that they felt we were already doing a good job in those areas. The dots were (I thought) for areas that we could improve on.

If you look at the volunteer survey that was carried out recently, you'll see that New Hoper's have a high degree of "service" and that's not even counting the many things that are done outside of our community. Many of those same people who are busy volunteering in many capacities at New Hope are also out there serving in Inn from the Cold, Bethany Centre, Habitat for Humanity, Emma House, Sonshine Centre and I could go on.

But I think the concern of many is that we lose people by not having enough "community" events that show concern and caring for those who are new to our community or have been here for a while but haven't connected - and that may seem serve-us - but is also service.

So, I guess it is up to all of us to make New Hope a place where Christ and others are served. What area do you see yourself serving in? You certainly have a passion - I look forward to seeing how and where it works out! Barb.

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, December 02 2005 @ 07:28 PM PST
I definitely agree with you Barb. My thoughts are that community is a natural human need. We all need to be in relationship with other people. Why should community in the church be different in nature to community we find elsewhere in our lives.

I've been running into a similar problem of a lack of community in the snowboard club at the UofC. We don't put on enough events where people can really get to know each other. We have a tight core of people on the exec who know each other really well because we work with eachother all the time. However, I've found that even with them, the only time we've really built our friendships is when we were on a slo-pitch team together this summer, and a dodgeball team together this winter. The rest has been all business, which only helps you to know people on the surface.

John, you don't wish to make a distinction between "believers and non-believers", and I don't think it is necessary to make that distinction in order to build community. Building community, at the basic level, could just be as simple as an increase in social events (which our church lacks). Social events by nature would include people within the church who have the same interests, but are things that anyone could come to, regardless of their beliefs, walk with God, etc. The events do not need to be directed specifically one way or the other (interior or exterior). They need to be there for the sake of the interior community, and they are a useful tool to meet the exterior community.

Also, in response to Joal's comment on a church of "serve-us" vs. service, you are being extremely short-sighted. The church, just like any other organization, must fulfill its needs. If you stop eating so that you can give that food to others, it will not be long before you die, and can't give food to anyone (except the worms). On the other hand, if you eat and stay healthy, you will be much more able to provide food for others.

I feel like people are getting much too theological to answer a question about community, which is a natural human need, regardless of how you approach it.

Dan Lozie

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, December 02 2005 @ 07:35 PM PST
Oh, and also, if we are starting with "where God is already at work in the world", then why wouldn't we build community the same way the world does? Are we that much better than them that our community must be based solely on reaching out to them? Why can't we just enjoy community, and keep an open door?


Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, December 03 2005 @ 10:25 AM PST
good comments dan...

I think that when we 'do unto others', 'love our neighbours as ourselves", 'love one another', 'serve others', submit to others, give up our lives for others, etc... (all biblical admonitions/directions re: community), we do meet our own needs. In my experience, feeding the needs of others, feeds me, rejuvenates me, builds me up, encourages me. I think the key to community is realizing that it's not about you, it's about others. This 'other orientation' is paramount to following Christ's example. Selfless sacrifice is a big part of having a heart of community.

Again, I think this kind of approach can play out in a group of people (some, followers of Christ's teachings who are part of the NHC community... some, not sure if they're followers of Christ's teachings who are part of the NHC community... some who are not followers of Christ's teachings but who are part of the NHC community... and finally, Some who are not followers of Christ's teachings, who are not part of the current NHC community)


Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, December 03 2005 @ 10:33 AM PST
Oh no... I'm replying to myself!

And on the idea of social events being a very important thing that we need to do Dan... absolutley right on. We're very weak in this area.

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: joal on Saturday, December 03 2005 @ 02:26 PM PST
"The church, just like any other organization, must fulfill its needs. If you stop eating so that you can give that food to others, it will not be long before you die, and can't give food to anyone (except the worms). On the other hand, if you eat and stay healthy, you will be much more able to provide food for others."

You're making my point for me. I think it's very easy to interpret what I am saying in a negative tone, or judgemental - this is not that case, but I can't convince you or anyone else of this until the spirit unifies us. I am simply sharing what is on my heart. I think you might find it interesting to hear what your parents think.

God Bless.

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: danlozie on Saturday, December 03 2005 @ 11:52 PM PST

First of all, I know what my parents think, and they know what I think. Although I am offended that you would assume otherwise, I'm not going to take it personally. I know from the past that we don't tend to communicate well in written form.

But now, after going back and reading your post, I'm not really sure what exactly your point was that I was proving. If it was about the church of "serve-us" vs. "service" I think we are simply disagreeing because I am approaching community as a basic human need, and you are approaching it as a means of helping others. My point was exactly the same as a point that was brought up but generally ignored at the meeting. It was an illustration of an oxygen mask on an airplane. You need to put yours on before you can help others put theirs on. In the same way, we do need to have some "serve-us" community in order to keep our church alive and provide service to the community.

The underlying question I was asking is "do we want to set up an idealistic framework for community that will not work in the real world, or a realistic framework for community that will work, but will not reach an idealistic potential?"

If the point I was proving was your point about being "unified in the spirit", then I'm not sure what to say here. I'm going to go to bed and think it over.


Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: joal on Sunday, December 04 2005 @ 08:09 AM PST
The communication lines here are getting very mixed up. Perhaps I am interpreting you wrong - I know you have taken what I posted not in the way intended. I will talk to you at Church instead?
See you there.

Church - For us or for others?
Authored by: joal on Monday, December 05 2005 @ 09:42 PM PST
Good talk man. As well, congrats with the engagement! Exciting news indeed. I pray this coming year is filled with much joy and growth.
God Bless.


Faith and Science

Nov 25, 2005

I’ve just picked up this book on Science and the Trinity written by British physicist/theologian John Polkinghorne. (What else would a person want to read on a Friday night?) It only took 5 pages before every atom in my mind exploded with epiphany. I had to put the book down, and just sit there saying, “Yes... yes... yes!”

Polkinghorne was outlining a few introductory considerations and mentioned one biggy as being the question of how one can reconcile the belief that God is providentially working in and through the world, with the claim that science can empirically explain how all things work. A demanding question, “It asks in what way one might hope to understand divine providential action to be exercised in the kind of world whose processes are described by the orderly accounts that science seems to offer.” Big problem right? It’s what the false dichotomy of Faith vs Science is often founded upon (from both sides of the argument). But then he goes on to say...
“No fully agreed consensus has emerged from these discussions, but it has been widely recognized that the intrinsic unpredicabilities that twentieth century physics has uncovered as limits on our knowledge of detailed behaviour, both in quantum theory and in chaos theory, have significantly qualified the kind of merely mechanical account of physical process that previously had seemed to be the deliverance of science.” (Stick with me on this, here’s were it gets really cool...) “As a result, an honest appeal to science cannot be used to discredit belief in God’s providence acting within the divinely ordained open grain of nature. Moreover, if creatures can act as agents in the world (a capacity that human beings directly experience but which itself is not, as yet, well understood in terms of a scientific account of detailed process), it would not seem reasonable to deny the possibility of some analogous capacity in the Creator.”

Freakin eh! Get what he’s saying? Already within our scientific “explained” world, human beings are making a difference, impacting what happens, affecting how things play out, even influencing what they are or become. If that can happen though us, why couldn’t it happen through God? Certainly it has to leave the door open! So cool. Scientists themselves may be the greatest proof of the possibility of a providentially intervening and involved God.

personal encouragement
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 29 2005 @ 03:24 PM PST
Just a brief note. I do not know much about how churches work but I want to tell you my life has changed radically since really being able to hear God's call from a New Hoper. I was very nervous of church and did not attend for a few months after my change of heart towards God. I wondered if only this one person believed the message in a way inspiring and believable to me. The reason I have continued at NHC is that I met quite a few people who shared such an open and expressed love of God that I felt this was the place I would be supported best in getting closer to God . I followed on the web for a few weeks and then the irresistible draw was seeing there was to be sermon on "Seeing God in Nature"The outer format of everything was very different and unexpected to me but the message is clear.
After some more thought I will be in touch again later but we must mostly luxuriate in God's goodness and love and pray that whatever issues there are never darken the great light. Evelyn
[ Reply to This | Delete | ]

* personal encouragement - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, November 29 2005 @ 06:33 PM PST


Little Green Men

Nov 23, 2005

“We who hobnob with hobbits and tell tall tales about little green men are quite used to being dismissed as mere entertainers, or sternly disapproved of as escapists... Realism is perhaps the least adequate means of understanding or portraying the incredible realities of our existence. A scientist who creates a monster in his laboratory... a wizard unable to cast a spell;... all these may be precise and profound metaphors of the human condition.” Ursula Le Guin, National Book Award Acceptance Speech, The Language of the Night; Essays on fantasy and Science Fiction

I resonate with this Sci-fi writer’s sentiments.
Many see the whole God enterprise as some kind of weird fairy story; a fantasy. The whole idea of ‘other worlds’, parallel realities, a mystical, mysterious kingdom of God, is often seen as escapist; unreal. And yet where does all our rationalistic, left brained, “only what we can see is reality”, worldview leave us? With a planet full of people yearning for more, searching for the magic in life, wanting more than anything for there to be something more; meaning, purpose. They... I want something more than this mere mortal human existence.

Preparing for an upcoming series of talks on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, I can’t help but think that it’s this nerve that this story gets at. We're all dying to walk through some kind of wardobe and enter into a new land. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, they all connect to that same yearning within us... for something more... for Someone more.

We've got to find a better way to help people make the connections.


Ursula leguin...
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, November 28 2005 @ 11:10 AM PST
Hi John,
I don't know if you have read any of Ursula LeGuin's scifi (it's good!) but i think that her quote in this case is entirely accurate. SciFi (and fantasy to some extent) are heavy in social commentary, even if they just seem like the result of an overactive imagination. In her book "The Left Hand of Darkness" she tells the story of a man as an alien in a world of androgynes... crazy... but you find somehow that the book really questions the portrayal and reality of gender in our society. What is even crazier, is that because of this imaginative blurring of gender lines, she can shed light on other lines that we are less willing to blur, such as nationalism. If we love our country, and draw lines around it, do we cease to love where those borders end? Anyhow... those are a few random thoughts on a really interesting topic.
Thanks for quoting LeGuin pastor John... I am now in awe of your intellectual prowess!!!
jackie w

Ursula leguin...
Authored by: johnvs on Monday, November 28 2005 @ 11:56 AM PST
Ah Jackie... thoughtful insights.

I have not read her yet, but am now inspired to. I came across the quote in a book on fantasy and the Narnia series.

If the quote quotes in the way that I did this quote (ie: without citing their source) I can then look a lot smarter than I really am.


Preaching death

Nov 15, 2005

I’m sitting in the Abbotsford airport waiting for my flight back to Calgary after just finishing a one day workshop in Lynden, Washington. The topic for the day was, you guessed it, preaching culture! (Preaching God’s truth as it presents itself in art, music, sport, business, science, movies, history, current events, nature, everywhere!) It was an awesome day. The best part for me was when a veteran pastor/preacher gets up after my morning talk and says something like, “I’ve been a preacher for some 40 years, and it’s amazing how you never stop learning how to do this stuff. Tomorrow I have to do a message at a funeral for a 9 month old child. She suffered severe fecal contamination in utero, was born blind and deaf in one ear, and had other severe complications. I was thinking that I needed to preach from the gospel of Matthew where it speaks of angels watching over infants, but now I wonder if I need to take another tack; maybe use the child as my text.”
What he was getting at was the idea that God might be saying something in and through the brief and tragic life of this child. The past nine months of all too human history might indeed be revelatory. In the mystery of terrible pain and suffering (for all involved, including God) some deeper, profound truth might be being spoken....if we have ears to hear.

I can’t stop thinking about what he said, and have been praying for him all morning; knowing that he’s working on his funeral message. I’m praying that God will speak to him through this event, and then though him at the funeral. I’m praying that the message will be real, relevant and not in any way trite. I’m praying that, through the stilled mouth of a babe, God might speak very powerfully.


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