Runnymede Presbyterian Church

May all who enter as guests, leave as friends.

Triune Hearts

Messages from Rev. Dan West

March 2016

Over the last few weeks, leading up to and entering into the Lenten Season, I have been contemplating the word “Altruism.” For those of you that are uncertain, altruism is defined in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as:

  • Regard for others as a principle of action
  • Unselfish; concern for other people
  • Zoology; Sacrifice so that genetically close younger relatives would otherwise benefit.

As I ponder the actions of Christ in the Lenten Season, I wonder what it means when it says take up your cross and follow me. If Jesus has simply thought altruistic thoughts, would there have been any benefit for humanity? What would our world look like today if Jesus had thought about sacrificing himself for the good of humanity but hadn’t put his thoughts into action?

The first definition of this word is very telling, “Regard for others as a principle of action.” This leads me to believe that unless there is action there is no altruism. I would argue that altruistic thoughts without action lean more towards egocentric that altruism.

Egocentric is defined as:

Understanding the self as the centre of all experience with everything being considered only in relation to the self.

Self-centered, egoistic, little considering the needs, interest, ideas, etc. of others.

I would like to argue here that an egocentric individual is either unable or unwilling to act with regard to others. If there is an example of this, I believe it takes place only because it is in the interest of the egocentric individual as well.

During Lent we are asked to look inside and to search not only our mind and heart, but also our core values. We should ask the question, what identifies us as a human being? What is it that our goal in life should be? Are willing to do as Jesus commands; can we take up our cross and follow him?

When I think of the people who have directly enhanced my life or those who have come before me and with their efforts have created the good we sometimes take for granted. I believe these people have displayed true altruism. I think of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Plato, the list of names could fill pages and volumes of books, as I am sure you’re aware it does. I hope you will take some time to identify those you believe should be added to the list. Then determine what characteristics you admire in these people. Once you have done so, I urge you to incorporate these same characteristics into your own life and self.

Lent is a time of self-discovery. It is my hope and my prayer that you use this time wisely. Search inside for who you are; change is only required if you find something you are less than pleased with.

May 2015

This past week, I was reading an interesting article and wanted to share parts of it with you, along with a few of my thoughts regarding that same article. It seemed odd to me while reading Businessinsider.com that in the science section there would be an article on Successful Relationships. Since when are relationships, a matter of the heart and soul, science? The title of the article also drew me to it: “Science Says Lasting Relationships Come Down To 2 Traits.” Really? There are only two traits to a lasting relationship? This I have to read. The author didn’t keep me in suspense for very long, as a matter of fact she spilled the beans in the very first sentence. “Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.”

Psychologist John Gottman, has been studying the difference between successful or happy and what causes relationships to fail and lead to divorce, separation or a life of unhappiness. He has put those two groups into categories that he has labelled, “The Masters and The Disasters.” The Masters, are highly engaged with one another and look for the positive aspects in the other, the Disasters, look for the short comings of the other. I have often said, “We will find what we search for.” The research these people have done seems to prove that way of thinking to be correct. Throughout our relationships with others, we make requests for connection. Gottman says that when these requests are made the response is either to “turn toward” the person making the request or “turn away” from that person. The Masters, turn toward their partner 87% of the time, while the Disasters only turn toward their partner 33% of time. Ignoring one’s partner or replying with contempt tears a relationship apart, while responding with kindness and generosity glues couples together.

In 2006 another study was done by Shelly Gable. In this study they looked at how couples responded to positive news from each other. The findings concluded that there for four different responses, those being, passive destructive, active destructive, passive constructive and active constructive.

The scenario is that a woman shares news that she has been accepted into medical school. Her partner can respond in the following ways.

Passive Constructive: “That’s great babe,” as he looks at his phone and texts his buddy.

Passive Destructive: “You won’t believe my good news.” I got a new tee shirt today!

Active Constructive: “That’s great! Congratulations. When did you find out? Did they call you? What classes swill you take in the first semester?”

Active Destructive: “Are you sure you can handle all that studying? What about the cost? Medical school is so expensive.”

Active Constructive is the only response that displays kindness; all of the others are joy killers.

So why am I sharing this? Its great information if you are in a relationship and have a desire to strengthen that relationship but aren’t we all in relationship, they don’t have t be spousal. I’m wondering how we can take this information and apply it to our church life. How can we be more aware and determined to fill our church with kindness and generosity? What about outside our church family, can we apply these lessons? We are always struggling as Presbyterians when asked the questions about evangelism. St Francis said, we should go out and evangelize the world, only when absolutely necessary should we use words. Is this what he had in mind? Is it that simple? Are there only two basic traits to successful and happy evangelism? Are they—you guessed it—kindness and generosity?

The last thing I want to share with you from this article is this. That while some people are naturally more kind and generous than others, kindness and generosity should be thought of in the same way we think if muscles; the more you use them, the stronger they become. We go to school to strengthen our minds, the gym to strengthen our bodies. Let’s start strengthening the inner kindness and generosity that lies within each and every one of us. Perhaps then we can love our neighbour as ourselves and love others as Jesus loves us.

Spring 2015

On Sunday March the 8th of this year, the Lectionary readings include Exodus 20:1-17. For those of you who are not aware, this is the Ten Commandments. If I asked you to tell me what they are, I’m sure you could give me at least seven of them without thinking and given some time, you might be able to give me all of them. One of the things I have noticed in talking to people is that we seem to give more weight to certain commandments than others. There’s nothing in the scripture that suggests this is the right thing to do but our human condition seems to demand this type of thinking. We all do it!

So with that said, here’s the test. Which of the Ten Commandments is given the least value in our culture today? No, it can’t be number 7. I think that murder is still frowned upon. What about number 4. You remember that one, don’t you. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is the Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

Over the course of my life, which really hasn’t been all that long, the idea of Sabbath has changed greatly. When I was a small boy I participated in Minor Hockey, it was unthinkable that we would play or practice on a Sunday. Later in my life, not only was it common to do just that but Sunday shopping became the norm. Since then, we have had so called advancements in technology. The “Smart Phone” is the one that comes immediately to mind. No longer are we able to remove ourselves from telephone calls and email but furthermore, the individual sending such communication expects an immediate response. It doesn’t seem to matter what time of day or what day it might be. As one of the elders in our church so eloquently put as such, “We have been robbed of our Sabbath.” Sunday was at one time, a day for worship and family. What could be more important?

Many people I have spoken to regarding this have asked the same, if not similar question. What right does the Church or God for that matter, have in telling me how to live my life? My argument has always been that it is the same right a parent has in telling their small child how to live life. Not only is it the same right but the motivation is also the same. Why does God ask these things of us? Why does God put such rules in place? I believe the answer can be found in Deuteronomy, more specifically, Deuteronomy 10:12-13. This is known as, “The Essence of the Law.” It asks what God requires of us and then goes on to state what that is and then finishes with what might be the most important words in this text, “for your own well-being.” In other words, God does not lord over us and gives us these laws so that we might know his power over us and oppress us. He does so for the very opposite; for the same reasons that a parent creates and enforces the rules of a household. Because they are for the well-being of everyone involved and form a source or foundation of love.

So called experts in the field of well-being are now telling us that we live a life of sleep deprivation, that our lives are no longer in balance and that most if not all of us are spending far too much of our lives at work. They are recommending that people stop taking their smart phones and tablets to bed with them. (Can you believe, we have to be told this?) That we take regular breaks form electronic devises. That we spend less time online and more time in face to face communication with one another. I heard a comedian comment on this part of our lives a few weeks ago. It went something like this, “The power went out the other day, so I couldn’t surf the net. I went downstairs to spend some time with my family. They seem like nice people.” Comedians spend their lives exploring how we live our lives and then make fun of it. What makes it funny is that it is so close to the truth. In this case, a truth we may not be terribly proud of.

It may not be possible for you to take Sunday as a day of Sabbath or rest, I know it’s difficult for me but I urge you to find some time during your week and make it into a Sabbath time. To make it Holy and if for no other reason, do it for your own well-being.

Advent 2014

As we approach this Season of Advent and Christmas, I find myself with the same dilemma I face each and every year. That is, what do I give to my loved ones that will make this Christmas a memorable one? Each and every year and strive to make this one better than the previous one. It has always been the tradition in my family, like I’m sure it is yours, to find the perfect gift for each and every person. Now you might think that I’ve bought into the commercialism of Christmas and to some respect, I may have. However, I also believe that we exchange gifts each Christmas as a symbol of the gift of Christ. Jesus was sent to earth out of love for humanity, his life, death and resurrection are all examples of God’s love for humanity and the gift of salvation. There has been and I believe there never will be, a more extravagant gift. In our own way, we exchange gifts at this time of year in an effort to express the same love for one another.

Let me get back to my struggle. I want my gifts to be exceptional. I’m always on the lookout for the one gift that they will always remember. Sometimes I find them in the strangest places. Last week I had the privilege of presiding over the Celebration of Life for Stew Mason. As many of you know, Stew lived for just over 104 years. As is son Doug said when writing the eulogy for his dad, there are literally 100 years of stories to tell. Doug was good enough not only to share some of those stories at the service for Stew but told me many others during our week of conversation leading up to the Celebration of Stew’s life. This got me thinking of Christmas gifts. I know, my mind works in mysterious ways! What I learned while talking to Doug, as well as others who spent time with Stew was that it wasn’t things he bought but the time he spent with people. The stories Stew told and the memories that he created for all those who he touched.

So here’s what I have on my list of things to get my loved ones for Christmas. Create Memories and I want to encourage you to do the same. Think about it, God didn’t buy us anything for Christmas. He gave us the gift of his son; two thousand years later we are still thinking about it and reflecting on how this gift has touched our lives. The same can be said of Stew’s life. Each and every person that knew and loved Stew will remember not what he bought them, if he did but the memories that he created for us. When I think of all the people who have contributed great things in my life, none of it has anything to do with material possessions.

So I challenge you to create memories for those that you love this Christmas. You can still buy them a nice gift but it is the memories that you create that they will remember. The beauty of this is that you don’t have to give this gift on December 25th only; you can give it all year long. Isn’t that what Dickens said at the end of A Christmas Carol? “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Fall 2014

At the September meeting of Presbytery, I was informed that I had been selected to be a delegate for General Assembly in June of 2015. Knowing that the 2015 meeting would take place in Victoria B.C., I was elated. I thought to myself, what a great opportunity to visit the West Coast, see some of Victoria and I may even tack on a week of vacation at the end, to visit with my brother and his family, in Vancouver. My niece lives right in Victoria, so it should be easy to see her. There is nothing but positives coming from this request of Presbytery.

Then I saw the following Overture that has been submitted by the Presbytery of East Toronto. It is my understanding that a similar Overture has been submitted by the Presbytery of Kitchener-Waterloo. If this comes to the floor of General Assembly, I can only imagine what the discussion will look like.

The following is a Draft copy of the Overture that is being submitted. I would like you to take the time to read this and give it prayerful consideration.

WHEREAS, it is twenty years since The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) adopted a statement on Human Sexuality in 1994, and

WHEREAS, it has been ten years since the 2003 reception and adoption of the report of the Special Committee re Sexual Orientation (A&P 2003 pp 526ff), and

WHEREAS, the Special Committee on Sexual Orientation’s recommendation that the Life and Mission Agency and the Colleges of the Church continue to study questions of human sexuality was adopted in 2003, and

WHEREAS, knowledge and the study of issues of human sexuality, both scripturally and scientifically, has changed significantly over the last twenty years, and

WHEREAS, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered (LGBT)* people are fully included in our Canadian society and discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited throughout Canada in private and public sector employment, marriage, housing, services provided to the public and publicity, and

WHEREAS, ecumenical partners of The PCC such as The Presbyterian Church: USA, The Anglican Church of Canada, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, The United Church of Canada and The Church of Scotland have developed nuanced and affirming theological positions on matters of human sexuality over this period, and

WHEREAS, more and more congregations of The PCC recognize and celebrate the diversity of their membership with the inclusion of LGBT people in full participation in congregational activities and leadership, and

WHEREAS, many LGBT people within The PCC struggle with the ambiguity of their position within the Church and the lack of pastoral affirmation and hospitality they experience in light of the 1994 Report on Human Sexuality and its interpretation, and

WHEREAS, those who are living in, or who may live in a committed same sex relationship, feel called by God to serve as ordained ministers of The PCC, and

WHEREAS, Christian organizations that used to seek to change people’s sexual orientation such as Exodus International and New Direction Ministries have recognized and apologized for deep spiritual harm and psychological damage done to LGBT people by not affirming their innate sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity, and

WHEREAS, in the residential school apology we confessed the “sin of trying to change someone’s fundamental nature”, and

WHEREAS, the assessment of the scientific and medical communities is that largely sexual orientation and gender identity is not a matter of choice or lifestyle, but a factor in place prior to birth, and

WHEREAS, our Leading with Care policy ensures that congregations, groups and organizations within The PCC will ensure “a safe place for all”, and

WHEREAS, the anti-LGBT stance of the Christian church in its many worldwide forms has resulted in approval of, or collaboration in, the persecution of LGBT persons, leading to verbal, psychological and physical assaults and killings, and

WHEREAS, the teachings of Jesus require that acceptance and inclusiveness of oppressed or persecuted minorities is central to the Gospel message,

THEREFORE, the Presbytery of East Toronto humbly overtures the Venerable, the 141st General Assembly, to affirm that The Presbyterian Church in Canada is fully inclusive of every person regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of church life, calling and relationship as a matter of justice and hospitality; or to do otherwise as the General Assembly, in its wisdom, deems best.

* The term “LGBT” is an acronym currently used to refer to people whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual and/or whose gender identity does not conform either to binary male/female categories or the “assigned” gender at birth. While variations of the acronym exist to emphasize the spectrum that exists with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity, LGBT will be used for the purpose of this overture.

I would appreciate your thoughts and comments with regard to this Overture. Please take the time to reflect on this and inform me of your position with regard to this. I would appreciate your comments in writing, so that I might be able to have your thoughts with me, while attending General Assembly in June of 2015.

Spring 2014

It’s mid February and as I write this contribution to Runnymedia, it is snowing again. It has been a long cold winter. The majority of people I speak to have had enough. While driving to a friend’s house yesterday, the DJ on the radio noted that we have had 26 extreme cold alerts this winter, last year we had 9. I don’t know about you but I’m feeling a significant degree of “Cabin Fever” and can’t wait to be comfortably sitting outside, feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders. Not only do people seem to be tired of winter, they appear to be tired. No matter where I am or what I am doing, there is an overwhelming sense of lethargy. We have experienced ice storms, snow, power outages of Christmas and a constant sense of struggle over the last three to four months.

The good news is that the days are getting longer and daylight savings time is only a few weeks away. This week our forecast calls for a few days above freezing. Compared to what we have been feeling, even a temperature of +5, will feel like a heat wave! With that said, the long term forecast is, that the remainder of February and March will be below normal temperatures.

So how do we overcome this feeling of lethargy and near depression? We can’t change the weather; as one person said, it’s Canada, we get winter.

A couple of years ago I received an invitation, it read as follows. “February Sucks!” Let’s get together and celebrate good friendship. The more I think about it, the more this makes sense to me. One of the things we can do, not only for ourselves but for others as well, is celebrate. While it is normal for us to go into semi-hibernation during these dark days of winter, it may be to our benefit to shake of the snow and get out there. Being with friends and family is good for us. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard people say, “I can’t wait for the good weather to get here and become a social being again.” What are we waiting for? Why wait? Let’s do it now!

One of the things we have planned for the congregation is our Winter Picnic and Crieff. This is a great way to get out of the house, spend time with good people, sing a few songs and share a good meal. It’s not the only thing we can do but it’s a great way to start.

Spring is coming and so is Easter. The Great commandment includes love for our neighbor. As Christians, let us be examples of this love and the Resurrection of Easter. One of the ways we can feel better, is to treat others with extreme kindness. It’s not just a theory, it has been scientifically proven, that if we treat of others with kindness, we ourselves, will feel better. As Disciples of Christ, it seems appropriate that we endeavour to display the love of others that embodies the spirit of Easter. Out of unconditional love, Christ set out on his journey toward the cross for us and for us alone. It’s time to celebrate!

Winter 2013

As Advent 2013 approaches, some of us become stressed with all that is expected. Advent by its very definition is a time of anticipation. At this time of year, we wait with great expectation as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. Along with that there seems to be a never ending list of things that need to be done. Not only do we look forward to the annual birthday party but there is also family, friend and even co-workers that have expectations of us.

There is a multitude of events and reminders taking place. Last Sunday, the Santa Claus Parade took place. Since that time, one of the local radio stations has been playing Christmas music 24 hours a day. If you go into virtually any store, you will find something to do with Christmas. As we grow closer to the American Thanksgiving, television shows with a variety of Christmas themes will begin to air. Magazines at your local grocery store checkout fill the racks with baking ideas, decorating tips and how to make this the, “Best Christmas” ever. It can all be overwhelming, to say the least. None of what we are exposed to on a daily basis, a reminder of the true meaning and purpose of this celebration.

Are there things we can do to focus on the true significance of Christmas and to reduce our levels of stress? I think there are and I hope that the following ideas will help you to stop and think about what you would want this Christmas, not only yourself but your families as well.

  • When sending cards to family and friends, ensure they have a message of Christmas, Christ and the love of God, rather than a “Season” or “Holiday”.
  • Don’t be afraid to wish those you come in contact with personally, a Very Merry Christmas. There is absolutely no legitimate reason that should stop you from expressing your beliefs.
  • Spend time in reflective prayer, thanking God for all that the birth of Christ has meant to you and your family.
  • Rather than being overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done, think of all that is done as a true expression of love. The best gift you can give to anyone.
  • Instead of being solely focussed on how Christmas Day needs to be perfect in every sense, take time to be in the present and enjoy each and every day leading up to Christmas. It is important for us to take time to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

I do hope that you will enjoy this coming period of time in a Liturgical Calendar, that you will take the time to join us in worship on Sunday mornings, as well as Christmas Eve and each and every day leading up to Christmas will be a blessing to you.

Spring 2013

Have you ever been asked the following question? What would you do if you won the lottery? Of course I know it is a mute question, because as Presbyterians, we don’t buy lottery tickets. Do we? Even so, I’m sure that you have been asked the question and could even answer it, whether you buy tickets or not.

Winning the lottery is without doubt, all about the financial aspect of life. If we won the lottery our decisions would be based on how we were to spend the money received. Would you invest it, give it away or just go on a spending spree? Would it bring you the happiness that you have often wondered about? The happiness that you believe comes when you have absolutely no financial worries. Would you have no financial worries? I’ve heard stories of people that won the lottery, only to find out that their phone rang off the hook, everyone that called was looking for money or had ideas on how they’re new found wealth could be best put to use. Is that happiness? Instead of possibly worrying about not having enough money, would we not find ourselves in a constant state of worry over what to do with the money, or what if it all disappears?

What about the, “life lottery”? Have you ever considered it? What? You’ve never heard of the life lottery? It’s the one we play every day of our lives. It’s how we interact with other people, what role we allow God to take on in our lives, and how we respond to the exterior forces that influence us on a daily basis.

A friend of mine was extraordinarily happy the other day. When asked why, she simply stated that she had come to the realization, that she was living life well. I had to ask for further clarification. She went on to say that she finally realized how much love and support she was receiving from family and friends and she concluded that she must be doing something right in her life, to receive such rewards. She said, “I feel like I won the lottery!”

It occurred to me that amazing and life changing events can occur when we invest in the “life lottery.”

Last week I went up to Owen Sound for a couple of days to visit my family. To be honest, I did it because my daughter told me that I should. She told me that my grandchildren were growing and changing so much, that I really should try and visit more often. While I was there, just sitting on my daughter’s backyard deck, really minding my own business, my 2 year old grand-daughter walked up to me and just looked at me. I asked what she would like. She responded by saying, “Grandpa, I think I would like a snuggle.” Of course, without hesitation, I told her I could do that.

I feel like I won the lottery!

Winter 2012

As we journey through Lent, on the road to Jerusalem, I often reflect on what this means for our Spiritual journey. Some people, if asked, would state that Christmas is the most important event in our liturgical calendar but I would argue that it is Lent and Easter. Although none of what happened in the New Testament could have been so, without the birth of Christ, our salvation is not in his birth but in his death and resurrection. With that said, I am convinced that Easter is the single most important event in the history of, not only the liturgical calendar but the world.

In the 13th Century, Thomas Aquinas stated that we do not only learn from what Jesus said but also by observing what he did. Prior to his public ministry, Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness fasting and praying. With that, Aquinas felt that he should do the same in preparation for Easter. Those around him, having great respect for Aquinas and his piety, believe that this was a good example to follow. Over time, this practice became the teaching of the Church.

As Presbyterians, this is not a discipline we promote, although, some do give things up in their life as part of their Lenten journey. If this is something that you participate in or have even wondered why others do so, I think it is important that we explore this idea. The forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and praying was also a time when he came face to face with the Devil and was tempted. We all know the result of this temptation, Jesus denied not only everything that the Devil offered him but in doing so denied the ways of the world.

I have made a habit of asking those who partake in this aspect of Lent, why they do so. For the majority of people the response is, because that’s what we do in Lent. There seems to be not theological reflection; they just do it without questioning. To me, it often seems like a second attempt at failed New Year’s Resolutions. For many, they give up simple pleasures in life. Just ask them, the most common response is something along the lines of chocolate or in my case it would be Pepsi. The problem with this is that it becomes a time of personal suffering and in that, the journey becomes solely about one’s self. This is not what the purpose of giving something up for Lent is intended to be. As a matter of fact it is just the opposite, it is not solely about you; it is intended to bring you closer to Christ. How does giving up one of our pleasures in life, bring us closer to Christ, if we focus on ourselves in suffering? If we look at the motivation of why Christ entered into the wilderness, we may be able to enhance our understanding. Of course, when we try to interpret another’s motivation without being able to ask them, it is assumption on our part. I don’t think this should stop us in our exploration of what we should be doing during Lent.

Christ denied himself and everything the world has to offer, in preparation of his Ministry. I believe that this is our learning. If we are to give up anything during this time of Lent, we should give up ourselves. What does that mean? It means that if our goal during Lent is to become closer to and more intimate with Jesus, then we must give up the things that prevent us from doing so. I believe that the greatest obstacle to becoming closer to Jesus is ourselves. It is when we put what we want out of life, ahead of what Christ calls us to be in true discipleship. If there is ever a time when you should honesty ask yourself what it means to, pick up your cross and follow him, this is the time.

I would urge you to spend this time in Lent, in a way that would help you come to a greater understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ; to renew your commitment to him and only him. To give up those aspects of yourself that prevent you from following in the way scripture teaches us to do so. Spend more time in prayer and discernment. This may take you to some dark places within yourself, places that you may not want to go to but this is what being in the wilderness is all about.

There is one promise I can make for you; Resurrection is just around the corner. Do not be afraid!

Fall 2012

Advent, anglicized from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming”, is a season observed in many Western Christian churches, a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. It is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday, called Levavi. The Eastern churches’ equivalent of Advent is called the Nativity Fast, but it differs both in length and observances and does not begin the church year, which starts instead on September 1. [1]

The progression of the season may be marked with an Advent calendar, a practice introduced by German Lutherans. At least in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, the Sunday from November 27 to December 3 inclusive.

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used in reference to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming. Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas.

The above is the definition of Advent as found at Wikipediea.com. What I would like to discuss is how we can best achieve this season of anticipation from a more spiritual place, giving all of the distraction we face during this time of the calendar year.

The Lectionary often begins the Advent season with an apocalyptic text. When I first became aware of this, it seemed odd to me that the Season of Advent, leading up to Christmas would begin with such a text. In my final year at Knox College, I was asked to give the sermon during our community worship service. This service is held primarily for students, staff and faculty at Knox. The text was an apocalyptic text and so my search for the meaning of such a text at this time of year began.

While working on the text, I began to realize what this time of year was like for me. I had end of term papers to complete, exams to study for and during that same time I needed to get my Christmas shopping done, attend numerous social events and if that wasn’t enough, I was also expected to install a silly little string of lights across the front of my house. There were family obligations and plans to be made in an attempt to meet the needs of everyone involved and keep all happy. After all, it is the season of Joy, Peace and Goodwill. Did I mention that I have term papers to write and exams to study for? I’m beginning to understand the idea of apocalypse now.

The intention of the Liturgical Calendar is for us to be calm, reflective and prayerful in anticipation of the coming of Christ. We are to not only celebrate the birth of Christ which took place some two thousand years ago but prepare ourselves, our souls for the second coming of that same Christ. This is not only a celebration of historical apocalypse but also of the coming apocalypse. I want to define apocalypse in Biblical terms, as not the end of the world but the end of the world as we know it. It would be difficult to argue that the birth of Christ did not bring an end of the world as we know it and the same must be held up as truth when we anticipate his coming again.

But let’s get back to the real world, the one we have to live in and experience each and every day. Some of you will be frantically working toward deadlines for end of year reports at work; others will have different expectations applied to them as they go to work each and every day. Just because it’s Christmas and there is added events, planning and work to be done, doesn’t mean that everything else can be put on hold. We have to somehow stretch our days, create that elusive extra hour and complete everything that is on the dreaded, “List of Things to Do.”

What I would like you to do, is take a moment now and consider what you may be able to complete leading up to this busy time of year. For example, Svetlana and I have already met and selected all the hymns that will be sang during worship, from now until the end of the year. Liz and Charlene, along with others on the Worship Team or currently planning Advent surprises for our Worship during Advent; while Lynda West and I have been discussing the Christmas Eve Service and are close to completing our plans. Personally, I have 80% of my Christmas gift shopping complete. I know where and when my family will meet for Christmas celebrations. All of this advanced planning will allow me to give time to the spiritual aspects of Advent. The stress of the holiday season has been reduced to a manageable level, where I can now focus on the coming Christ.

My hope and prayer for you is that this time of year is truly a time of Peace, Joy and Goodwill. A time will you will be able to give yourself time to sit, know that God is with you and participate in a season of tremendous spirituality. John the Baptist proclaimed, “Prepare ye the way!” Let us all do so in a fashion that we can experience this Advent and Christmas Season, in a fashion that would be pleasing to the One and Only Lord; Prince of Peace.

Lent 2012

Question: Dan, what’s the difference between a Pharisee and a Sadducee?

Answer: The high place given to Torah made it inconceivable that any problem could arise that the law did not address. Postextilic Israel was determined to bring all of life under control of law. Yet fluid cultural conditions often made the application of this instruction quite difficult. New circumstances, specific problems, or changing needs obviously would not be directly covered in old legislation. At the beginning the divine word might be clear, but the passing of time demanded new interpretations to keep Torah up-to-date. Out of such circumstances oral law developed as a means to keep Torah viable and applicable. This oral tradition developed over several centuries and gradually came to include a wide range of customs and decrees considered to be clarifications of original Torah.

The growing status of oral law on postexilic Judaism produced a variety of reactions within the religious community. All agreed that Torah was holy and ought to be made the basis for living. But could oral law rival written law in significance? Three options seemed to be open: (1) the covenant community could blend with historical circumstances and interpret law to meet changing conditions; (2) it could pretend that change had not occurred and focus on maintaining established cult and Torah under the supervision of a constituted priesthood; or (3) it could withdraw from the world and its flux, attempting to create a static environment. Groups within Judaism exercised each of these alternatives and toward the end of the postexilic period all these options were represented in Judaism: the Pharisees following the first alternative, the Sadducees the second and the Essences the third.

The most important faction arising in Judaism was that of the Pharisees, as a distinct group sometime in the second century B.C.E. Pharisees were zealous in their obedience to Torah, which they explained to make it fit new situations. The result of their interpretation was a collection of oral law called the “tradition of the elders.” Pharisees traced the oral law to Moses and considered obedience to it morally obligatory. Eventually the “tradition of the elders” was codified into the Mishnah (second law). The Mishnah in turn was explained, amplified and kept up-to-date. By the fifth and sixth centuries C.E., the Mishnah and its interpretation had been combined into Talmud, including both a Palestinian and Babylonian version. Hence, following the Torah meant for Pharisees also living by Talmud. Further, they also accepted the prophetic books and certain of the Writings as religious authorities. They also accepted doctrines not found in the Torah. They believed in resurrection of the body, in angels and demons and looked for the coming of the apocalyptic kingdom. The Pharisees survived the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. and thus had a lasting influence on Judaism.

The Pharisees had no ambition for political power itself and disapproved of revolutionary activity. They exerted political influence only in times of imperilled religious freedom. They felt that the kingdom of God would come when the people of God kept the law, written and oral.

A second sect of Judaism was the Sadducees, the most conservative segment of the Jewish population, both politically and religiously. They belonged to the priestly aristocracy and the secular nobility of Jerusalem. Torah was their only source if divine authority; they rejected the validity of the prophetic books the oral law of the Pharisees. They likewise rejected theological innovations such as belief in resurrection, rewards, angels and demons as well as most apocalyptic speculations. They were orthodox believers of the old school, holding fast to the spirit and principles of genuine Yahwism as expressed in the Torah, especially where it is centralized religion on the temple and priesthood.

The Sadducees would go to any extreme to maintain the status quo and generally followed a policy of collaboration and compromise with the powers in control of the Jewish state during later pre-Christian and early Christian eras. Hasmonean priest-kings, like Romans procurators of a latter period, found support in Sadducee ranks. The political direction of the nation was secondary concern to the proper administration of the temple cult and its law.

I hope that helps. The source of my research in answering this question is, People of the Covenant. Written by, Henry Jackson Flanders, Jr., Robert Wilson Crapps, David Anthony Smith. Published by Oxford University Press, 1996.

Advent / Christmas 2011

Even as a small child I remember this time of year as one of great anticipation. The reality of that time was that my anticipation was what Santa would leave under the tree for me. As I have aged and hopefully matured, the nature of my anticipation has changed accordingly. I don’t seem to get very excited about what might be under the tree anymore. As a matter of fact, I’m not convinced that whatever I hope for would fit under the tree. I seemed so much more simple when I was young; a new toy car, perhaps that TONKA fire truck, you know the one with the ladder, or even the traditional pair of socks from one of my favourite Aunts. Today I long for much more. I think of what it means to be in anticipation of the Christ and what that has meant or will mean to the world as a whole.

I sometimes wonder if the Beatles were filling out their Christmas list when they wrote the song, All we need is Love. For it is at Christmas time that we seem to be reminded of the love of God. After all, John did write, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”. John 3:16

Later in his own ministry when Christ was challenged with regard to the law, the apostle Matthew writes, “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40

As I look around the world through the lens of mass media, I have to question as to whether or not we have taken the time to learn these lessons. According to the United Nations the death toll in Syria has climbed to over 4,000 people, as the citizens of this nation continue to protest for human rights. In Libya hundreds if not thousands died at the hands of an oppressive regime while protesting for political reform. During the recent conflict in Afghanistan 158 Canadian military personal returned home deceased. I want to comfort myself by believing that this is all taking place far away and does not reflect Canadian or North American culture. However, one example is the near epidemic proportions at which young people are considering and acting upon thoughts of suicide due to bullying and hateful acts due to sexual orientation. These are just a few examples of what has happened in this century, you can only imagine what the numbers would be if we took into consideration the death toll since that first Christmas morning, some 2011 years ago. I have to believe we are failing when I read Luke 6:27-28. Where Jesus says, “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that the gifts I receive under the tree are given in love. I just wish, hope and pray that we could do a better job of loving throughout the world. So much of the injustice that humanity inflicts upon itself seems to be as a result of ignorance. Perhaps we should all sit at one table, let’s call it a Christmas Feast. One where we cannot only enjoy the company of others but learn from those in attendance so that we may have an enhanced sense of understanding. With understanding we may be able to heighten our awareness and through awareness increase our ability to love.

I will leave you with one final thought.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

May your advent and Christmas Season be filled with the love of Christ which surpasses all understanding.

Fall 2011

I have recently begun reading a book called; You’re Not Lifting Your Head, by Charlie King. Anyone who has ever played or made an attempt at playing golf has been told at one time or another that, “you’re lifting your head” or “keep your head down”. A sub title on the cover of the book states, “Read a story that will change your golf game!” The advice giving on the cover of this book alone flies in the face of everything I have ever been told about the correct way to swing a golf club. The very nature and structure of this book is different than any other instructional book I have ever read. This one, unlike others takes the form of a story between two long time friends, while every other book I have read is a clinical description of positional golf with both pictorial and descriptive coaching. After twenty years of golfing, I am being asked to look at a game I love, enjoy and am frustrated by, from a different perspective.

In the past I have been a relatively decent golfer, however over this past season, golf has been a struggle for me. I just can’t seem to get it right. If I could just get back to the way things were in the past, I’m sure I could find my form and enjoy the game once more. So why would my good friend, who just happens to be a Golf Pro, give me a book that would suggest I look at things from an entirely new perspective? Is it possible to teach this old dog a new trick?

In the same way that my golf game is not what it used to be, the church also finds itself struggling, we have experienced a decline of both human and financial resources over the past six decades. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard the people of the Church say in exasperation the same things I say about my golf swing. If we could just get back to the way it was, all would be fine. Over the last three years, I have undergone three surgeries and contracted a chronic autoimmune disorder, I’ve aged three years and it’s safe to say that my body and therefore my golf swing will never again be what it once was. The same is true for the world we live in today. Over the past decades, the world has changed tremendously. We have experienced unbelievable advancements in technology, Sunday shopping, we are more influenced by cultures other than our own through global media, live in a more diverse society due to immigration and now have neighbours representing an entire generation that have never stepped foot inside a church, with the exception of a wedding or funeral service. I now believe that like my golf swing, the Church will never be what it once was.

The question before us today is one of adaptation. Can I with my golf swing, accept that my body in ageing and changing? Can I adapt and make the required adjustments to my golf swing that will bring me peace of mind on the golf course? Can the Church lift its head from the sand (on the golf course, the sand is called a hazard) and recognize that the world in which we live has experienced great change, while we have fought with all our might to remain the same?

During the week I spend a great deal of my time sitting in meetings. I’d like to be able to boast that this time is productive but I’m not convinced that is always the case. It seems inevitable that the same questions continue to come up for discussion. Those being, “How do we get more people in the church?”: “How do we resolve the issue of declining revenue and increased expenses?” It appears to me that the common denominator in these questions is a desire to seek out ways in which we can coerce new people into serving the Institution. I realized that this may not be the correct path, when I finally accepted the fact that those new and expensive golf clubs were not going to fix my swing faults. New or more resources do not and will not resolve the core of any issue but simply exaggerate the existing. People are not to serve an institution; it is exactly the opposite, the institutions only reason for existence is to serve the people.

With that in mind I wonder if we can begin to explore some new questions. Is it possible for us to look at the same issues from a different perspective, with fresh lenses? What would happen if we entered into dialogue with a new set of questions?

Can we talk about the following?

  1. What’s the fundamental purpose of church?
  2. What difference is a congregation supposed to make in the lives of its members and in its surrounding community?
  3. What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
  4. What does it mean to be spiritual?
  5. What difference do spiritual practices make in our lives and the lives of others?

I’ve decided to keep reading this new book on golf that my friend has given to me and to do so with an open mind. I’m not going to kid myself and think it will be easy; I may need to reach out for help along the way. I don’t know if I will find the magic potion I seek or if it even exists. Right now the only thing I am convinced of is that my golf swing will never be what it once was. That doesn’t mean I want to stop playing golf or only play as I used to. I’m going to look at new perspectives, find ways of adaptation. The most difficult challenge may be that I will have to stop doing things the way I always have, put some of those old familiar ways behind me and learn new ones. This old dog is going to give it everything he has!

Spring 2011

Over the last few weeks, leading up to and entering into the Lenten Season, I have been contemplating the word “Altruism.” For those of you that are uncertain, altruism is defined in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as:

  • Regard for others as a principle of action
  • Unselfish; concern for other people
  • Zool. Sacrifice so that genetically close younger relatives or otherwise benefit.

As I ponder the actions of Christ in the Lenten Season, I wonder what it means when it says take up your cross and follow me. If Jesus has simply thought altruistic thoughts, would there have been any benefit for humanity? What would our world look like today if Jesus had thought about sacrificing himself for the good of humanity but hadn’t put his thoughts into action?

The first definition of this word is very telling, “Regard for others as a principle of action.” This leads me to believe that unless there is action there is no altruism. I would argue that altruistic thoughts without action lean more towards egocentric that altruism.

Egocentric is defined as:

Understanding the self as the centre of all experience with everything being considered only in relation to the self.

Self-centered, egoistic, little considering the needs, interest, ideas, etc. of others.

I would like to argue here that an egocentric individual is either unable or unwilling to act with regard to others. If there is an example of this, I believe it takes place only because it is in the interest of the egocentric individual as well.

During Lent we are asked to look inside and to search not only our mind and heart, but also our core values. We should ask the question, what identifies us as a human being? What is it that our goal in life should be? Are willing to do as Jesus commands; can we take up our cross and follow him?

When I think of the people who have directly enhanced my life or those who have come before me and with their efforts have created the good we sometimes take for granted. I believe these people have displayed true altruism. I think of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Plato, the list of names could fill pages and volumes of books, as I am sure you’re aware it does. I hope you will take some time to identify those you believe should be added to the list. Then determine what characteristics you admire in these people. Once you have done so, I urge you to incorporate these same characteristics into your own life and self.

Lent is a time of self-discovery. It is my hope and my prayer that you use this time wisely. Search inside for who you are; change is only required if you find something you are less than pleased with.

Winter 2010

As some of you may recall, in the January of 2010 we asked 30 people from our congregation to take part in a survey conducted by Natural Church Development (NCD). In the spring of 2010 we received the results of that survey. I, along with the Session, under the guidance of our Synod Representative and NCD Consultant have been studying the results of the survey and developing a plan for the future of this congregation. NCD is not the only tool we are using in an effort to map out our future path to health and prosperity. It is only one of the resources we have at our disposal and are currently employing to ensure the viability of this congregation as we head into an exciting future together.

The survey gives us a “snapshot” of our congregational health by examining eight characteristics of our community. Those eight characteristics are as follows:

  • Empowering Leadership
  • Gift-based Ministry
  • Passionate Spirituality
  • Effective Structures
  • Inspiring Worship Services
  • Holistic Small Groups
  • Need-Oriented Evangelism
  • Loving relationships

What we have been advised to do in the coming months, is to celebrate the characteristics where we are currently, not only healthy, but excelling. The most prominent of these is, “Loving Relationships.” This is no surprise to me as I look over the survey results. I have not only witnessed many acts of love within this congregation but have also personally experienced the love that abounds within Runnymede Presbyterian Church. With that in mind, I would urge you to celebrate the relationships you have and to be conscious of not on maintaining those, but working to develop new relationships within our community.

While we continue to celebrate who we are, the Session and I will be examining those areas of the survey which have been identified and less than optimal from a healthy congregational aspect. This requires more than a simple gaze of the graphs and charts, but an in-depth look at why these characteristics are what they are and how best to address them in an effort to uplift our community in the specific areas identified. Some of the issues are easily resolved and you may have already noticed some of the small changes that have occurred here at Runnymede. Others will require careful thought about our approach. It is important for us to resist the urge to go and buy a book or program until we have a clear understanding of the issues. This will allow us to review a potential resource to see if it directly addresses the specific health barrier we are trying to remove.

We have already added some NCD resources to our library and are currently waiting for others to arrive. I hope that you will take to time to sign these resources out of the library and make appropriate use of them.

As the process continues to unwind, we, the Session and I will keep you informed of the impact our learning may have on the community as a whole. If you have any questions with regard to this or anything else that is currently taking place at Runnymede, please feel free to ask either myself or your Representative Elder.

Before closing I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a joyous Advent and Merry Christmas Season.

Fall 2010

When I look at the increasing number of meetings, attendance in Church last Sunday as well as the volume of announcements in the bulletin, it is clear to me that the fall season has begun. This always seems to be the time of year when we get back to our usual routines. Summer vacations have come and gone, we are either back to work or school. While others who have completed their time there, are looking forward to the activities that come with this time in the calendar.

In my family, discussions on where, how and when our Christmas celebrations will take place have already commenced. Halloween candy is front and centre in the local stores, while back to school flyers seem to be a distant part of the past. Wasn’t that just a couple of weeks ago?

Over the summer months there have been a couple of people within our congregation relocate their residence, we have lost friends and family and others of us have taken on new roles in either our personal, or our profession lives.

The only constant we seem to experience is change. With that being said, change can be at times a difficult thing for us to deal with. Even those that first appear positive on the surface have an element of loss to them. It can be difficult, if not overwhelming to accept the change in our lives and to be positive about both the present and future. Each time we experience a turning of the calendar page, or change that brings something new to our lives, no matter how exciting it may be; we always seem to have to give up something or someone from our past. Even a promotion at work, means the loss our current position. A new home, no matter how nice it is, means having to walk away from the one we know so well. This summer my daughter had a baby girl and while we couldn’t be happier, it has changed all of our lives. My daughter Jennifer doesn’t get as much sleep as she used to. I have had to admit that my children are no longer children and with that I might be getting older. Each and everyone one of us has a similar story to tell.

Three of the churches within our Presbytery have lost their minister this summer, while other congregations wonder if they will have the resources to call another. Here at Runnymede we are faced with change. What it will be is uncertain at times. Will we grow in numbers, stay the same or decline? What will this change mean when it comes to financial security? What would it mean to me if I had to share my familiar space with new people, new ideas, and new ways of being a church? Whether it is growth or decline, it is evident that change is about to take place.

We may not know what this change will be or have any control over how rapid it takes place but there can be one constant. This is a family, a family that has endured over two thousand years of change. As a Christian family, we have experienced everything from persecution to unprecedented influence over societal norms. The “Church” is not a building, a structure of governance or a meeting place. The “Church” is “The People of God” that will never change. With that in mind I hope you will take some time as you turn the page of your calendar, plan your schedule and spend time with your biological families to remember that there is a family here at Runnymede P. C. who takes seriously the commandment of Christ, to “love others as I have loved you.”

If and when you are asked what is required to save the church, ask yourself, what church are they talking about? Is it the building? It can’t be the true Church, for we have already been saved by a much higher power that anything we could possibly be.

Please take the time to ask yourself the following questions and then through prayer, listen carefully for the answer.

  1. What is the role of the Church?
  2. As the Church, are we successful in fulfilling that role?
  3. What is the best stewardship of our resources when it comes to fulfilling this role?
  4. What does the Church mean to society as a whole? Does that need to change?
  5. What can I do as an individual to bring positive change not only to this congregation, but to the culture in which I live today?