Tuesday, 31 March 2020

COVID-19, March 19, 2020

Dear Church Family,

Last night we had a meeting of our church’s elders, via Zoom.  The chair read this verse from Isaiah 26:20:  “Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while…”  Isn’t that great?  Then he read from the book of Joshua.  In that book of the Bible, God speaks a command, over and over again:  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go,” or, in our case, “wherever we stay.” 

That verse, Joshua 1:9, coupled with the one from Isaiah, in some way, set the agenda for our meeting. We spent most of the time talking about how to care for our church family.  And we spent lots of time in prayer.

It is easy to become afraid and discouraged, especially when we hear that we can expect the entire month of April to be more of the same.  God can use YOU to help someone feel less fearful and less discouraged.  Connect with someone today – in addition to family – and simply tell them that God placed their name on your heart.  Maybe read to them the verse for Joshua.  And, in order to extract a smile, the verse from Isaiah too!
Pastor Rita

Monday, 30 March 2020

COVID-19, March 30, 2020

Dear Church Family,
That’s three now.  Three Sundays where we worshiped on line instead of in our church building.  It’s not ideal, but it’s wonderful to have a this option.  The thing I miss the most, when I deliver these messages, is that you are not there.  It is far too quiet in church. Oh to have some whispering kids, or a crying baby, or that surprisingly ill-timed cough!

Our oldest grandson is in grade 6.  Last week they resumed their school work via Google Classroom.  Nolan’s mom made the comment that the teachers are rather enjoying the option to “mute” a student who might be talking too much.  I get that!  Haven’t we all wanted to “mute” someone now and then.

Please pray for our teachers this week as many of them will be getting back to their classes remotely.  Some parents want their children in class all day, others want the teachers to ease them in slowly.  Parents – please be gracious and patient; we don’t want the teachers pushing your “mute” button.
The preacher, in Ecclesiastes 3:7 says that there’s “a time to be silent and a time to speak.”  May God help students, teachers, parents, newscasters, politicians, pastors, yes, all of us, to be able to discern those times, to know when to speak and when to listen. 

Ça va bien aller.
Pastor Rita

Sunday, 29 March 2020

COVID-19, March 29, 2020

Dear Church Family,

Today has been declared a Global Day of Prayer.  And so, I invite you to pray with me, a prayer for a Pandemic, written by Cameron Bellm:

Dear God,
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be your loving embrace to our neighbors.

Be blessed,
Pastor Rita

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Love or Power?

Love or Power?  Those are two very different approaches.  Love seems so, well, so soft.  Our world prefers power.  During the COVID crisis, we are starting to see that power has not been very effective.  This Sunday, we turn to Matthew 27 where we see the choice between power and love played out as two Jesuses are place before the people - the Jesus of power (Barabbas) and the Jesus of love (the Messiah.).  Our service will be available by 10 a.m. tomorrow morning, from our church website, ancastercrc.org

COVID-19, March 28

Dear Church Family,

My granddaughter Kayla, made the observation that if you take out the middle of the word, “pandemic,” you get “panic”.  Which led us to wondering about the etymology of the word, pandemic.  Kayla’s mom has the girls doing some journaling and this was part of that discussion.

I looked up the word origins of “pandemic” and it was pretty simple.  Pan, means “all” and demic is from “demos”, as in democracy, so, “people.”  All- people. The COVID-19 virus then, is spreading to all people, all around the world.  The way it has spread so fast and so far continues to amaze me.  From one person, to another, to another, and so on and so on.  Highly contagious, highly infectious – “added to their numbers daily.”

That line is also found in the Bible – added to their numbers daily.  It’s in Acts 2.  But there it’s talking about people who were being saved by Jesus.  “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

I had a neighbour.  Her name is Catherine.  I talked to her about Jesus, and she got to know him better.  She told her husband Ken and their daughter Emily. And they talked to Tim and Stacey. And they told Evan and Paige and Abigail.  And so on, and so on.

After Paul and Silas escape from prison, the jailer comes to believe in Jesus and then we read this (Act 16:34): “The jailer brought [Paul and Silas] into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to  believe in God – he and his whole household.”
Yes, his whole household.  That’s because being a Christian is highly contagious. In the first century, Christianity spread because of the diaspora. Wherever people went, they spread the good news. It happens today too.

Wouldn’t it be great to see the love of Jesus and love for Jesus spread as fast as the Corona Virus?  Let’s be infectious Christians.
Pastor Rita

Friday, 27 March 2020

COVID-19, Friday, March 27

Dear Church Family,

Have you been reading some of the funny memes that have been going around on Facebook and Twitter?  These jokes are usually the funniest when you can identify with them. Like the hymn selection one that says us pastors should avoid certain songs during the COVID crisis, like, “Breathe on me Breath of God,” and “Precious Lord, Take my Hand.”

Some of us can laugh at the jokes.  But others don’t see any of this as a laughing matter. 

Is it ok to be happy when so many are suffering?  It’s a question that comes up often in the life of a Christian.  Can I express, publicly, my thanks that I am safe and healthy and even able to laugh now and then when others are unable to do so? 

A nurse from our congregation shared this prayer request with me: Please pray for all the doctors and nurses, we are scared. We don’t have enough supplies; we are worried that we will get sick and make our families sick. Also pray for all those people in hospital who now can’t have visitors. So hard for them.

This is certainly no laughing matter.

And yet, on those days when you can laugh, consider your optimism and your cheerful attitude as a gift – a gift to be shared.  I remind people often, that being blessed isn’t about living the good life.  We are blessed in order to be a blessing. Already with Abraham, God chose him, decided to bless him, but for a purpose:  that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). And this great verse, II Corinthians 9:11:  “You will be enriched in every way (blessed) so that you can be generous on every occasion.”

If you are in a good place right now, then you have room to bless others.  Not necessarily to share a joke, but maybe just to encourage someone to have a “closer walk with God,” at least figuratively.
Pastor Rita

Thursday, 26 March 2020

COVID-19, Thursday, March 26

Dear Church Family,

Earlier this week we had a council meeting.  Yesterday I had my profession of faith class, and our youth group met as well.  It all sounds like a typical week at church doesn’t it.  Except, all these meetings happened via zoom, a video conferencing tool.

I’ve heard a few newscasters swapping out the term “social distancing” for “physical distancing.”  That’s a good correction.  In this era of social media, there’s no reason to limit our connections over email and Instagram and twitter…. (ya, you know the list), and even the good ol’ telephone.

We are social beings, and even the most introverted introvert was made for community.
·       *As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
·       *In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5)
·       *My command is this: Love each other as I have love you. Greater love has no one that this: to lay down one’s life one’s friends. (Today’s chapter from the Gospel of John, if you are following our reading guide, 15:12,13).

I could go on all day, but you get the picture.  And God himself, wants to be in community with us:  “I will walk among you and be your God” (Leviticus 26:12).

The students, with whom I met yesterday, said that they weren’t particularly frightened.  Bored, yes, but not scared.  One of them said that if feels as though Someone has their back.  I put a capital S on “Someone,” because I think they know that they belong, body and soul, to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, and he has our back.

Keep your physical distance today, but don’t slip into social distancing.  Make at least one social contact today, ok?
Pastor Rita

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

COVID-19, Wednesday, March 25

Dear Church Family,
Yesterday an announcement was made that, in order to quell the spread of COVID-19, only essential services and businesses would remain in operation in Ontario.  While I understand the intent and importance of these measures, it did cause me to pause and wonder, “What’s essential?” The Hamilton Spectator this morning asked that same question.  And then what followed was “A look at businesses that can stay open in Ontario.”  It’s quite a list!

The concept that any of us might not be essential runs contrary to what we read in the Bible.  Each one of us is created by God, in his image, to serve in his kingdom. That high view of humanity is what has inspired scientific advancement and technological developments and artistic endeavour through the ages.  Sociologist and author Rodney Stark says this:  “SCIENCE AROSE ONLY IN Europe because only medieval Europeans believed that science was possible and desirable. And the basis of their belief was their image of God and his creation. (The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World's Largest Religion).

I recall the words of a colleague of mine who spoke at his own son’s funeral. He said (I’m paraphrasing here) that when Christ returns and establishes the new earth, we’ll all still be working – construction guys will still be building houses, artists will still be painting, accountants will still be balancing the numbers.  The only ones who will be out of a job will be us pastors.  That’s because when people ask us to show them Jesus, we’ll just point and say, “there he is!”

God has created each of us with a purpose. Ephesians 2:10:  “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Go do something good today, something essential. 
Pastor Rita

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

COVID-19 Tuesday, March 24

Dear Church Family,

“Take your Bible, and take your newspaper, and read both.”  That advice from theologian Karl Barth, has never been more fitting than it is today.

The news about the corona virus filtrates almost every article in this morning’s paper.  It’s important to stay abreast of the news in order to be aware of the latest restrictions and closures and to know how we can help stem the tide of COVID-19. Basically, stay home.  But if you spend your whole day reading the newspaper and watching the news, you will soon lose perspective.  Other than the occasional feel-good story, it’s all bad news.

At the same time, don’t read your bibles without listening to what is happening out there.  As Christians, we can slip into Plato’s dualism and assure ourselves that this physical world doesn’t matter anyway; we’ve got a (spiritual) mansion just over the hilltop. The future promises that God holds out to us are beautiful and important.  But his salvation, this concept of “being saved,” is also for today, during the present crisis.  When God says he will uphold us, he means now, today.

“The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though [we] may stumble, [we] will not fall, for the Lord upholds [us] with his hand” (Psalm 37:23, 24).

You have lots of time on your hands today, so go ahead and follow the news.  But also read your bible.  As followers of Jesus, you can’t have one with the other.
Pastor Rita

Monday, 23 March 2020

COVID-19 Monday, March 23

Dear Church Family,

Our son sent me a picture this morning, of his little ones building a snowman .  This morning’s snow felt like a gift in its beauty and also in providing something for the kids to do; it was great packing snow!

Whenever nature sends me a gift like this, I think of Psalm 19 – “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”

That language, about day after day, night after night, might feel a little tiresome right now.  With March break officially over, we are now into that two-week extension, which sounds like it will continue beyond that time frame. Day after day, we are dealing with this pandemic.

Martin Luther, professor, priest, monk, reformer- spoke these well-known words:   "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree." That’s a word of hope and confidence, it’s a reminder that with God we know that there is a future for us, for this world, even if it does look as though the world is going to pieces.

It might be a bit early to plant your gardens, especially when the kids our outside building snowmen, but continue on.  “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).
Pastor Rita

Sunday, 22 March 2020

COVID-19, Sunday, March 22

Dear Church Family,
Just a week ago we were surprised to have taken the step to cancel our Sunday service.  Now a week later, no one was surprised that we were not gathering at 70 Garner Rd E.  How things can change in one week.

And now we wait.  We wait for things to get worse, or to get better.  I think for the first time, I’m getting a small taste of what the people of Israel were talking about when they said they were waiting for the coming of the Messiah.   Waiting.  At first their waiting would have been with a sense of urgency,  that the  Saviour of the world would arrive any day.  By the time we read about Simeon, who “was waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25), the waiting would have become more like a dull ache, always there, but in the back ground.

Waiting for God to rescue us from this pandemic  is nothing like waiting for the Messiah, of course.  And yet, the notion of “being saved” has suddenly become real to us.  To be saved is more than religious language.  God’s salvation impacts every aspect of our lives – our financial instability, our cancers, our social isolation and relationships.  What do you need to be saved from? And what does that salvation look like?

We’ve been reading through John’s gospel in preparation for Good Friday.  John talks about the “signs” that Jesus does.  Signs, not miracles.  Each sign gives us a foretaste, a glimpse, a sample of what salvation in Jesus will look like in the fullness of time.

And so, we wait.  May God give us a sign, soon, in the control of this pandemic,  that will give us a taste of what it will be like when ALL our diseases are healed, when all our worries are calmed, when all our tears are dried.

As we enter this new week, “wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Pastor Rita

Saturday, 21 March 2020

COVID-19, Saturday, March 21

Dear Church Family,

I hope that you are making an effort to stay in touch with one another. Please, please, contact your elder or me if you have any needs that are causing you concern. I talk to my kids almost every day – not sure if I’m checking up on them or if they think they are checking in on their parents!! But not everyone has that sort of regular contact.

In a Skype conversation this morning, one son and daughter-in-law described some of the things they are doing with their children. They bought Catan Junior; each game lasts about half an hour – “perfect length,” they said, “for their 6-10 year olds.”  One of their girls is into animal rescue shows. They haven’t yet got into home-schooling mode – but it’s coming.  The other thing they are dealing with is the questions from their children.  “If a friend’s birthday party has been cancelled, will mine by cancelled too?” Parents need to find the balance between what are real concerns and what are inconveniences, between what is urgent and what can wait, between looking on the bright side while also acknowledging the hurt and pain of the COVID pandemic.

No different than us.  Yes, we know God is in control and that the battle is his (II Chronicles 20:15); yes, we know that we are more valuable to God than those beautiful birds of the air (Matthew 6:26); yes, we know that after this life we will rise again in the resurrection (last week’s reading from John 11:24). But we also know that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33); we know that the whole creation is groaning (Romans 8:22); pure joy to face trials of many kinds?? (James 1:2) – really?

As we have these conversations, it is so important that the words are not just words.  Like the incarnation of Jesus, we need some flesh on our love.  So, let’s make it real. If you come across a scripture verse that touches you, share it with someone (thank you to those who have done so for me!). If God places on your heart someone for whom to pray, do it, and then let them know that you prayed for them. Find out if your neighbours and friends need groceries or if they need someone to pick up their meds for them. Even if you can’t get out yourself, let your elder know and he/she will make it happen.  Have you watched a good movie or read a good book?  Recommend it to someone.

We must not trivialize the severity of what is happening, but neither do we lose hope. May the God of all comfort, comfort us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (II Corinthians 1:3,4).

“See” you tomorrow morning.
Pastor Rita

Friday, 20 March 2020

COVID-19, Friday, March 20

Dear Church Family,

Yesterday I had a ZOOM meeting with about 15 other CRC pastors.  We checked in on one another and heard how our churches are navigating the COVID crisis.  All our churches are finding ways to be church while not gathering for Sunday worship or for our programs.  The internet continues to be a very helpful tool with most churches making their messages available online. 

Last week I preached the sermon in front of Gaele and Coby Visser.  We were socially distanced – Gaele in the sound booth, Coby in the back pew. I did my best to envision all of you in the pews!  Tomorrow Ben Wimmers and I will meet Gaele at the church where we will conduct the service for this Sunday. I will lead the service and pray with you; Ben will preach the message he has prepared.  

We fully expect to have the service on line for you to watch by 10 a.m. on Sunday morning.
You can watch the service at any time, of course, but with life being so uncertain right now, it is good to establish a routine as much as possible.  So, do try to gather, with your household AND with your virtual church family, on Sunday morning at 10.  I hope you have also found a special time each day to read your Bible.  If you are following our John reading guide, today you should be reading John 11:38-57. Enjoy that! (even though the second half of that passage isn’t a happy story.)  Your daily schedule can also include a time of prayer, a walk, and other activities you enjoy.

We have gone through a week of social distancing.  The novelty is fast wearing off and next week may feel quite different.  And so it is my prayer that God will reveal to you his glory:  “Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’” (John 11:40).

Yes, may you see the glory of God today.
Pastor Rita
ps:  my lights are flickering as I write this – praying our power doesn’t go out on this windy day!

Thursday, 19 March 2020

COVID-19, Thursday, March 19

Dear Church Family,

Today is the first day of spring.  I pray that you have seen signs of God’s faithfulness as some of your perennials poke their heads through the earth and the first buds appear on our trees. I’m no gardener, but even our gardens are showing new life!  Despite the discouraging news that we hear 24/7, life does go on.  I talked to someone today who was blessed with a new grandbaby. Birthdays are being celebrated remotely. The Oberammergau Passion Play, which we had planned to see this spring, will happen, but in 2022! 
We know that God is with us through this, but at the same time, we tend to ask, “Can’t God do something to fix this?”
That’s the same question that was asked when Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus died.  “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:37 – part of today’s scripture reading).

The question is not answered in this passage.  The obvious answer, is that, yes, Jesus could have prevented the death of Lazarus; God could have spared us from COVID-19.  The more difficult question is, “Why didn’t he?” 

I can give you answers about how God has granted us freedom to choose and therefore freedom to live with the consequences of our choices, or how, like in John 11, Jesus demonstrates his love most clearly in our times of struggle, or, quoting C.S. Lewis, that pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.  But none of those answers truly satisfy.

Perhaps the better approach is one of humility and love.  Humility before a God whose ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8,9) and love for those who are having a more difficult time than you might be dealing with right now. Please check in on one another.  Stay connected with our church family.  And please, if you are not on the Bridge App yet, via your cell phone, or know of someone who doesn’t know how to make it happen, send an email or leave a message at the church office.

May God bless you, on this first day of spring, with evidence of his faithfulness.
Pastor Rita

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

COVID-19 Wednesday, March 18

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Dear Church Family,
If we count Saturday as the first day, then we are at day five of our social distancing efforts. Most of our church members are home by now, though I’m aware of a few families who are still out of the country.  I am praying that they will get home safely, especially those who are flying.  For those of you who are self isolating or quarantined, may God give you patience.
How has this social distancing been going for you?  Some of you might still be wondering, are we making too much of this?  The answer, of course, is that we don’t know.  So, let’s err’ on the side of caution.
I grew up on a farm, and my dad had a spreader.  It looked something like this, except not that clean.  Never, ever, stand near a manure spreader when it’s in operation! 

During this COVID-19 season, don’t be a spreader.  What is being asked of us isn’t anything too difficult.  We are being asked to stay in or around our comfortable homes.  That’s it.  We can do this.
If you are healthy and safe, thank God.  And then do what you can to make sure others are healthy and safe. In John 10 (today’s chapter) we find that wonderful verse about what sort of life Jesus wants for us:  “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (10:10). 

If you have stories or pictures of what that abundant life looks like for you this week, and if you are ok with having me share them with our church family, send them my way.
Blessings for today,
Pastor Rita

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

COVID-19 Tuesday, March 17

Dear church family,
Many of you have seen the video clip of the basketball player who publicly scoffed at how anyone might be afraid of being at risk of the corona virus.  As he got up from the table, he defiantly rubbed his hands over the microphones and the table surfaces. A few days later, he tested positive for the virus.
I watched a similar story played out on Sunday evening. It was a commercial that aired during the debate between Biden and Sanders.  It was an ad supporting the Freedom From Religion Foundation, in which the narrator, the son of President Ronald Reagan, proudly says that he is an atheist. He concludes the advertisement by saying, “Ron Reagan. Lifelong atheist. Not afraid of burning in hell.”
Reagan, like the basketball player, laughed in the face of something that is much bigger than him.  Of course, Reagan’s endgame will be much more serious than contracting COVID-19.
Today you are encouraged to read John 9.  It’s a moving story of a man who wants to believe in the Son of Man.  “’Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’”  We need to approach our Saviour with that kind of humility.  If you’ve been reading through John, then last week you read John 6, where many of Jesus’ disciples fall away. When Jesus asks the 12, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, Simon Peter answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (v68).
If you are doubting your faith today, remember the words of Simon Peter, and be assured that God has this.  Trust him. 
Blessings to all of you,
Pastor Rita

COVID-19 Monday, March 16

Dear church family,
Yes, church “family.” Like any family, our church family doesn’t stop being a family when they are not physically together.
As a church family, we worship together and are blessed to gather on Sundays and through the week.  But there is so much more that makes us a true family, and those things don’t end when our Sunday service is over.
And so, in this time of uncertainty, we are reminded that we can cast all our anxiety on God, our Father, because he cares for us (I Peter 5:7).  In these days of fear, our Father says, “do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10).  In these days of isolation Jesus reminds us that he will be with us always (Matthew 28: 20).
These are beautiful promises.  And with these assurances, we can continue on as God’s family.  Pray for one another. Check  up on each other, by phone or email. Encourage one another.  Continue to read through the Gospel of John, using the outline in the March Newsletter, knowing that others are reading those same words with you.  Follow the Bridge App for updates and prayer requests.  While we won’t be gathering on Sundays, until further notice, I will be sharing a message and prayer via our website and the Bridge App. 
We are the family of God.  That is our comfort and assurance for the days ahead.   
Pastor Rita

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Which Jesus?

Pilate asks the people, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" (Matthew 27:17).  The choice seems obvious.  But persuasive voices can cause us to make the wrong choice.  Join us this Sunday, March 15, 10 a.m. 
Note:  we will not be sharing the communion meal as we establish precautions re COVID-19.