Pastor John Van Sloten's Blog 2001-2007

John Van Sloten's Blog 2001 - 2007

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U2 - Bigger than Bono

Feb 25, 2005

For the Calgary Herald's Swerve Magazine Feb. 2005

"There is something about U2's music that compels me to preach it. It's just so tempting I can't help myself."

See article, PDF format - 295 kb

Everyting we have done on "U2"


Tsunami, an act of God?

Jan 07, 2005

Editorial for the Calgary Herald

Over the past week, many have questioned God’s role in relation to the catastrophic Asian tsunami. Some have distanced themselves thinking, “If God really does exist, how could he allow something like this to happen?”, while others have drawn close, desperately clinging to their faith, “Without God’s help in times like these we’d all be in trouble; where else can we go?”
Both are understandable responses, but I wonder if there’s a third way to see God through this terrible tragedy; a perspective that allows us to both recognize and maintain God’s goodness even as we continue to struggle with our desperate sense of vulnerability, confusion and loss.

Thinking back on the events of last week, it seems that one of the big reasons this calamity so shocked us is the fact that it’s rare. Prime Minister Paul Martin described it as, “…nearly beyond measure or human comprehension.” It’s not very often one has reason to voice such a statement. That’s because ‘Acts of God’, by their very nature are rare occurrences; tsunamis are anomalies.

While this truth must never minimize the tremendous suffering of the afflicted, or take away from the mystery of why God would allow this to happen in the first place, it does present a balancing worldview in terms of discerning God’s place in all of this if we’re willing and able step back and honestly consider it.

Think about it. 99.9% of the time millions of people, around the world, safely reside in coastal communities along side their oceanic neighbour. For the most part, God given boundaries between land and sea are being honoured and maintained. This fact, while rarely articulated or acknowledged, is irrefutable, thank God.

The same truth can be applied to earthquakes, hurricanes, lightning, tornados, whatever. Most of the time most of us, whether rich or poor, live in complete safety; unshaken, unburned, untouched by the ravages of nature. God’s providential goodness is simply taken for granted.

Ironically, the cataclysmic events that most often lead many to question God, can, in their absence, provide some of the strongest evidence of God’s caring and protecting presence. And sometimes it takes a disaster to wake us up to this fact.

Perhaps this is a time where we need to remember that the natural world that we live in is incredibly hospitable toward human life, whether we see it or not. Despite our mere human limitations the earth continues to maintain its orbit, the ozone layer continues to filter out most of the dangerous ultraviolet rays, and gravity continues to hold all things together. Right now the vast majority of us are safe, well fed, warm and protected.

There are so many good things in this life that we take for granted. Maybe God’s mysterious providential care is one of them. This Tsunami has led many of us to pause and reflect on the meaning and richness of this gift of life. There is so much good in what we’ve been given. Perhaps we need to think further and consider its Source.

God has not left the room. God deeply cares for the poor and suffering.

Right now millions upon millions of His creatures, human beings who were made to reflect some of his nature, are offering visible evidence of these truths; through the powerful outpouring of their genuine compassion, by means of their selfless sacrifice and giving, in doing unto others as they would have others do unto them, and perhaps, most mysteriously, via the fact that they are alive and well enough to help.

See article as a PDF (1.1 mb)


Putting faith in fashion

Jan 01, 2005

In November of 2004, John teamed up with Calgary fashion designer Paul Hardy and Mode Models to bring a fashion show to New Hope for the Sunday morning service.

Calgary Herald Article Nov. 9, 2004 (pdf 400kb)

The Banner Magazine Article Jan. 30, 2005 (pdf 350kb)

More from New Hope Church


The Pop Culture Preacher

Dec 17, 2004

The Calgary Herald's Swerve Magazine did a little bio on John back in December of 2004.
View it here in PDF format (474kb)


Pro Sports!?

Dec 01, 2004

Wild Rose Forum, Pro Sports!?
CBC Radio 1010 Calgary

52 minutes

A phone in discussion on Pro Sports and it's impact on our culture.

Streaming mp3 audio - high speed

Streaming mp3 audio - dial up


Switchfoot - Meant to Live

Nov 07, 2004

We were meant to live for so much more!...

More than this confused fumbling around existence that life sometimes is…

More than the boredom and mediocrity we’re so often forced to endure…

Switchfoot Links


Baseball players thanking God for the help?

Oct 27, 2004

by John VanSloten Oct. 27, 2004 for the Calgary Herald

Re: Boston Pitcher Pedro Martinez’ pointing to God after retiring a batter (Front page photo, Sports, October 27, 2004)
So what’s with all those baseball players pointing to God in the World Series? I don’t get it.

Are they thanking God for allowing their sinker to sink, their swing at the plate to connect, or their throw to home to hit the mark? Does this then mean that God is only really present, at work, and worth recognizing when the right play is made and the right outcome results? Seems like some pretty bad theology to me, and it’s all over the sporting world. Are we that prone to believe that God exists solely to help us get what we want out of life? (Too bad then for all the fervent St. Louis fans who were praying for more runs last game) Perhaps players of faith ought to re-think how they communicate their beliefs, or at least attempt to balance out their message.

I can see it now, the World Series tied at three games a piece; Boston ahead by one run, two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a lazy left field fly ball is hit to Red Sox fielder Manny Ramirez, and he drops it! The crowd is horrified, the series is now in jeopardy, and in response to this horrible outcome, Ramirez mysteriously and resolutely lifts his hand and points to the skies! He does this not to blame God for his error, but as recognition of the fact that God is his only hope when a fickle crowd turns its back on him, and as his way of acknowledging that God will continue to be present in his life, even when things go south(perhaps especially so!). Standing there Ramirez gains a bit of personal perspective; he’s only human and baseball is just a game! Within seconds of observing Manny’s faithful posture the bewildered crowd does the same math. We pause and think, "He’s right," and after taking a deep breath and a sip of our beer, we eagerly await the top of the 10th. Nothing better than God’s gift of the game of baseball, win or lose.

View as PDF (440 kb)


Calgary Sun Series - Seven Deadly Sins by Michelle Mark

Sept 24, 2004

The Seven Deadly Sins of Christianity may be all but forgotten by many people today, but they are lurking around every corner, waiting for believers to fall victim to their temptations.

And awareness of their many faces are being brought to the forefront in the recent resurgence of interest in Medieval times and religion through pop culture such as the stories of Harry Potter, the book The Da Vinci Code and TV shows like Joan of Arcadia and Touched By an Angel.

Part 2 Anger (pdf 2mb)


Lance Armstrong, Cycling's Answer to Suffering

Sept 22, 2004

Cycling’s Answer to Suffering… or… The Gospel according to Lance…
by John VanSloten for the Calgary Herald
Sept. 22/04

"By now you've figured out that I'm into pain. Why? Because it's self revelatory...pain is my chosen way of exploring the human heart." Lance Armstrong, in his first book, It's not about the Bike
Lance Armstrong knows pain. He’s endured it on the Tour’s most infamous mountain climb, L’Alpes D’Huez , and he’s suffered through it while in an oncology ward undergoing chemotherapy eight years ago.

And, somewhat surprisingly, he sees pain as a gift. Unlike most of us (who try to avoid suffering at all cost) Lance seems to embrace it, viewing it as an integral part of the road to self understanding. Even cancer, which he has often touted as being the best thing that’s ever happened in his life, even better than winning the Tour de France, is seen in this light. "Cancer did not have to be a death sentence. It could be a route to a second life, an inner life, a better life."

Those who’ve run that race are probably best positioned to understand what Armstrong is getting at here. There is something about a mountain or a severe headwind that deeply engages and enlarges us. Pain can foster perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. Deep inner strength is often discovered, exercised and built up via the resistance training of suffering. Perspective can also be gained when we humbly encounter our mere mortal frailties and our need for others.

While these positive ‘self revelations’ will never fully justify or explain the mystery of the presence of pain, they do, to some degree, help us make a bit more sense out of suffering. They illumine a ‘self knowledge’ upside and in some bizarre way yield profound, life changing truth.

Which makes me wonder if Lance’s theory on the revelatory power of pain might not have a broader application.

For centuries, philosophers and theologians have grappled with the problem of suffering in our world. How can a good Creator be reconciled with a creation gone so terribly wrong; so filled with pain? The question has led many down the road of agnosticism or atheism; Lance Armstrong, apparently, being one of them.

Reading his books, you get the sense that religion is something he’s thought about and struggled with a lot. Early in life, Lance was forced to endure a hypocritical and abusive “Christian” step father. Since then, as a result of his cancer experience, and his subsequent involvement in cancer fundraising, he’s come into contact with far too many stories of needless suffering and loss.

How could God exist in this kind of world? In recalling his experience of 9/11’s Ground Zero Armstrong writes, "All you had to do was go to a wall or a fence, and look at those pictures of the missing, or go down to Ground Zero and smell that place. I was hard pressed to believe that God was in the air. Death was in the air…" Armstrong’s cynicism says it all.

But is that kind of rationale fair? Is Lance not being a bit incongruent here? How can pain, at a personal level, be a profound revelatory gift, while at another level, be seen as having no compensatory value or benefit whatsoever... even to the point of denying the existence of God? Seems Armstrong is trying to both climb and coast on this point!

What if the mysterious and revelatory power of pain worked both ways? Not just illumining self, but also lighting a path outside of oneself; a path to God. Lance would be the first to admit that his struggle with cancer taught him a great deal about depending upon and putting faith in others. Could our collective struggle not be teaching us the same lesson; revealing an innately human need to trust in an even greater ‘Other’?

Looking back on his struggle with cancer, Lance wrote, “I believed in belief, for its own shining sake. To believe in the face of utter hopelessness, every article of evidence to the contrary, to ignore apparent catastrophe—what other choice was there? We do it every day, I realized. We are so much stronger than we imagine, and belief is one of the most valiant and long lived human characteristics. To believe, when all along we humans know that nothing can cure the briefness of this life, that there is no remedy for our basic mortality, that is a form of bravery. Without belief we would be left with nothing… ”

I agree. And in the face of so much needless suffering and hopeless misery in our world, perhaps we can be brave enough to believe in something beyond our basic mortal selves.

View as PDF (650kb)

Calgary Sun Article, no text (PDF - 760kb) Sept. 18, 2004


"Humility, now that's something to pray for..."

Sept 10, 2004

for the Calgary Herald - Sept. 10, 2004

Excerpt of Time interview with George Bush – Sept 6, 2004

TIME MAGAZINE- Faith is important to you. Have you ever prayed for Saddam?
TIME MAGAZINE – There is that challenge to pray for your enemies.
GEORGE W. BUSH - Absolutely. But you asked me a personal question. Do I pray for him? No, I haven’t. I pray for a lot of things. I pray for the safety of our troops, I pray for those whose hearts are broken because of the decisions I’ve made, I pray for strength, I pray for wisdom. Maybe I will [pray for Saddam] now that you’ve asked the question.

Interview between Time and Bush, September 6th, 2004 edition

You’ve got to wonder how in the world George W. Bush could ever get tripped up by such a simple question of the faith. I mean, praying for your enemies, that’s Christianity 101 for most believers. Jesus was very explicit on the point, “Love your enemies… pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44. And yet, it never occurred to the President that this teaching might have application to his current situation? It took a Time Magazine reporter to raise the issue!

One has to wonder if, perhaps, there’s not more to this little faith faux pas than first appears. Could it be a microcosm of a much greater issue that the world’s only Superpower now needs to face?

In order to pray for one’s enemies, several things need to occur. First, to some degree, you need to empathize with them. Authentic prayer usually includes some level of compassion, an acknowledgment of our shared humanity, and a stepping into another’s shoes. In order to do this, humility is required. The problem with going to this humble place is that you risk the possibility of bumping into your own finiteness, into your personal and often prideful propensities toward bias and self aggrandizing.

Is the fact that Bush hadn’t even thought about praying for his enemy indicative of this kind of avoidance? Is the President’s behavior reflective of a nation equally blinded by its own hubris? After all, pride is the antithesis of humility, creating all kinds of blind spots and hating what humility requires. Pride doesn’t even consider the possibility of being wrong, or at least won’t consider it enough, and it is genuinely surprised that others would be offended by its ego-centricity. Seems that the United States has been expressing a lot of this kind of surprise lately.

One can only hope that President Bush’s comment to “maybe” pray for Saddam will somehow come to fruition and that American foreign policy will be influenced and enlightened accordingly. Not that our enemies will ever go away, nor will the necessity of war be averted; there will always be times for the good to fight against evil, but a simple prayer for an enemy might, at least, inject a bit more wisdom, compassion, and patience into those fighting for the cause of good. I imagine this was Jesus’ intent.

View as pdf (360kb)


Hockey: the new religion?

May 26, 2004

For the Calgary Herald, May 26, 2004

Flames bring Calgary to life
Prior to the puck drop at each of the last three Flames home games, as Don and Ron were doing their pre game shtick, Saddledome DJ’s have been faithfully playing an Evanescence song entitled, ‘Bring me to Life.’ Its lyrics could be the mantra for a city that’s experiencing, what can only be described as, a sporting revival!
Wake me up inside…
Wake me up inside
call my name and save me from the dark
bid my blood to run…
before I come undone
save me from the nothing I’ve become…
…breathe into me and make me real
bring me to life

Well our blood is running now and this is real! It’s been 15 long years since Calgary has felt this alive inside. For many long winters we’ve been yearning for that bygone playoff era to make the scene, for things to be the way they once were, to be ‘made real and brought back to life.’

And now, it seems, our time has come. Salvation is at hand… this is the day when Calgary goes for the glory… four more wins… if we can just believe.

It’s amazing to consider the impact a hockey team can have on a community. It seems that sport, in general, has increasingly wielded this kind of influence over our culture in recent decades. Many a sporting scribe has likened this phenomenon to our innately human pursuit of spiritual things. Some even surmise that sport has become the new religion.

Think about it. What’s the one thing that has received the most focus and devotion in the hearts of Calgarians in recent weeks? God or Iginla? Where have the majority of us found our sense of community lately? At a church potluck, or at a jammed pub on a Wednesday night? Where have we gone when we wanted to experience a sense of awe, transcendence or victory? To a third row pew near the stained glass window, or to a lower bowl seat at an electrifying game 6, ecstatically screaming with 20,000 others, the heat wave from the Flames fire pot washing over us, as Conroy roofs yet another one?

The parallels go on. Where do we celebrate the gift of our amazing human bodies or the experience the passionate joy of play? Where do we learn how to persevere and work through our losses, or how to finish well? At what venues do we most often express emotions like hope, faith and worship?

Maybe we’re reading a little bit too much into it all… maybe not. While the fact that sport has supplanted church in these many ways is undeniable, perhaps there’s another way to understand what’s going on.

Theology coach John Calvin once wrote of a spiritual reality called the ‘sensus divinitatis;’ an inner awareness and compulsion toward God, a sacred homing device implanted in the soul of every human being, including Flames fans. This sense of God runs in us like a river, even though we often divert it toward other things. The thinking is that we want God even when we think we want the acrobatic beauty of a Kiprusoff save, an extraordinary team effort by a bunch of ordinary guys, or the vicarious thrill of hoisting a Stanley Cup trophy. Could it be that our expression of these desires is really just a pointer to our more eternal yearnings, part of an even bigger game that’s being played out?

Conceivably all that’s right about this exciting playoff run is indicative of an even greater Rightness we’re all meant to know. We’re made to experience the elation and deep soul satisfaction of a sixth game victory; made to have heroes who bring us to our feet screaming, ‘Yes!’; made to live with a sense of hope and anticipation about the future, with a passionate joie de vivre coursing through our veins; made to live in real community where a honking horn is seen as a sign of camaraderie instead of antagonism, where total strangers share ‘high fives’ as we all share in the pursuit of a common goal; made to fully engage in and enjoy this amazing game of life we’re all playing.

And as for that distant memory we so deeply long for, that former time we all want to re-experience, maybe it goes back beyond 1989? Maybe we’re all just yearning for things to be the way the Maker always meant them to be, life as this amazing game lived out before and with God.

View as pdf (759 kb)


Anger & Metallica

May 09, 2004

Pastor John on Metallica "we're raging against who we really are as human beings, what do we do with that? Keep raging?"
Pastor John takes a look (and listen) to metal music. Part 4 of the "music" series, what is the metal music culture and how has it evolved. How does metal music relate to God, the Bible and Christians

Much more on this message


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