Seeing as I’ve been doing a run of video posts for Holy Week, I figure I should post one more for Easter to make a trilogy (or trinity) of it. In Sunday’s sermon I talked about how I always go searching through the media leading up to Easter for things to do with Jesus – every year you’re guaranteed to see something released, be it a variety of articles, a book, a documentary, or a movie. This year was pretty quiet though.

There was one exception though, and surprisingly it is a thoroughly orthodox look at Jesus and the Resurrection. It’s called Risen been released through a major studio (Columbia Pictures) and starts two well known Hollywood actors: Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love, Elizabeth, Enemy at the Gates) and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films); but it takes Jesus’ resurrection seriously and stays fairly close the Gospel accounts.

It’s also well written, directed, produced and acted. Not the best film I’ve seen, but well done. And it’s not overly preachy. It takes the perspective of Fiennes’ character, a Roman military Tribune named Clavius who is given the job of finding Jesus’ body after Easter by Pontius Pilate. Clavius is a hardened soldier, pragmatic and skeptical, and there is actually some genuine tension in the search (even though you can guess the outcome from what I’ve said so far).

In short it’s a rare gem – a Christian film I wouldn’t be embarrassed to take my non-Christian friends to see. Too bad it’s already out of theatres (it only ran for a couple of weeks up here in Canada and was gone by Easter). It will however be out on DVD and other media in May or June.

So if you want a Jesus film you can actually show to someone who isn’t already a Christian, or just a reminder of how unexpected and overwhelming the Resurrection was for those who first experienced it, Risen is worth looking at. Below I’ve included the better of the two trailers (mild warning: it does include a brief glimpse from the crucifixion), and a short clip from the movie itself.


Good Friday Video

As I sit at my desk here in the church, with branches cracking and booming, ice on the ground and the fog so thick I can hardly see the old school out the window, I am earnestly praying for better weather tomorrow. But if the weather keeps you inside tomorrow, or you’re travelling to be with family or otherwise occupied here’s another Holy Week video from Sparkhouse.

This more somber animated piece is helpful for reflecting on the challenging subject of Good Friday. I find it manages to give us some images of Jesus’ suffering and death to meditate on that aren’t too graphic or upsetting – though I suggest parents view it first and determine for yourselves whether you think it would be appropriate for your own children.

Good Friday can be a tough subject for us all, and especially in how we explain it to children, so I hope this will be useful for at least some of you.

Palm Sunday Fun

It’s been a busy week, so I don’t yet have a follow up for my last post written up yet. So in the mean time here’s a fun video for Palm Sunday from the good folks over at Sparkhouse. But while it’s fun for all ages (and good for a laugh) watch closely, because there are some things in the video to think about what Palm Sunday means, and where we’ll be going on our journey this Holy Week.


Call and Answer


“So how did you know you were called here?” is a question I’ve been asked more than a few times already in these early days at St. Andrew’s. I take this as a good sign, because even among Presbyterians who have a strong theology of God’s calling (on paper at least), all too often the relationship between a congregation and a minister is thought of in terms of a job search or hiring process.

Now, this can simply be a matter of honesty. Sadly there are far too many cases where the calling of a minister or pastor to a local congregation or parish differs little from the hiring or staff transfer process in a secular organization. Some churches in the name of honesty have given up on the language of “call” entirely for this reason.

That said I’m glad Presbyterians in Canada have held on to the language of call and calling, even if the process all too often falls short of such an exalted concept. And that’s because for me it’s not just a matter of abstract theology, it’s a matter of lived experience. As a preacher’s kid I watched my parents often wrestle with the question of call, especially in the difficult times of ministry (“Were we really called here?”) and in the long years where the higher principles of call did battle with the realities of keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table. And now as a minister myself I too have had to face those questions head on in the more challenging times of my first five and a half years of ministry.

So can we really know if God is calling us to be somewhere, do something or take up a particular role or vocation in the the church or world at large? The resounding answer for me is “YES!”

I won’t pretend that it’s always clear or obvious, but I can say with abolute certainty that God can and does speak to us. How can be so sure? Well I definitely would not be a Christian minister today if it weren’t for the words Jesus spoke to me in my residence room at McMaster University 15 years ago this past January.

This isn’t something that happens to me regularly, in fact to date that has been the only time in my life that God has spoken to me with such clarity. Never before or since have I heard actual words from the Lord. But I did that day.

I can tell you it was the strangest thing I had yet experienced. I was looking out my window in Woodstock Hall when all of a sudden in what I can only call words without words – I didn’t hear them as a sound in my ears, it was more like a message spoken directly into my head – I heard a voice say “John, there’s something I need you to do.”

Now that might seem rather vague, but as soon as I heard the words I also knew two things without a shadow a doubt: 1) the words were spoken by Jesus; 2) and what he wanted me to do was to become a minister. Don’t ask me how I knew, I just did. Which is why my first response was to be profoundly angry and mutter to myself something along the lines of “you gotta be …. kidding me.” Of course I immediately took that back, as I was still of the mistaken opinion that you weren’t allowed to be angry at God or talk back to him. But that was my gut response.

And that’s why I say I wouldn’t be a minister today if Christ hadn’t called me by name and told me to go and serve him as a minister in his Church. As a preacher’s kid I had seen ministry take it’s toll on my parents, known our struggles as a family to survive, and felt the kind of pain that only comes when the church hurts you. I wanted no part of that, and it was only after two and a half years of running away from God that I said yes.

I’m only here today looking out the window of the minister’s office at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Ancaster because Christ spoke to me, called me by name and told me to follow. I had no doubt then, and I have no doubts now. This is what I am called to do.

So does God call us, speak to us and personally guide us today? Absolutely. Is it usually that clear? Nope. As I said, it was only that clear once. But the longer I walk with the Lord, and the more time I spend learning to listen for his voice, and look for signs he gives us, I have found that yes, he does regularly call and guide us if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

So how do I know I was called specifically here to be the minsiter of St. Andrew’s at this moment in time? Well, that’s something I’ll save for my next post.