Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Blogging has not been high on my priority list lately. I did want to wish everyone a blessed Christmas. This is indeed a bittersweet time for our family. I said in my last post that we are enjoying one another. That is true. It is also true that we really miss Emily. I was looking through the beautiful calendar that Juanita made for my mom this afternoon and was really moved by the lovely pictures of Emily.

Christ has come, however, and we celebrate His victory over sin and death. We can enjoy the day tomorrow - and we did enjoy the day today - because our Saviour has come.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on this blog and to the people from our church who read this blog. We really appreciate you.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mid December Update

Life has been busy lately. Most of it has been good but some of it has been quite stressful. I won't try to give an itinerary of activites, calls, visits and etc. in this spot. I will say that we are humbled and thankful for all the expressions of kindness and concern that we have been shown. We've done many thank you cards, but we'll never do enough.

One interesting thing that happened recently was that we received a care package from camp - usually that goes the other way. Jim and Wendy from Sunnybrae sent us a pack of cards and notes that came with gifts to the camp in Emily's memory and they included some cookies and other goodies. That was very nice. They also sent along Josh's camera - the one that he left at camp, but thought he brought home. It had pictures on it from the summer, obviously, but one of them was particularly special to me. I thought I'd share it here.

This picture was taken at the beginning of a youth night when the family camp teens and some staff went to Salmon Arm for the evening. They had a dress up box and were able to get spiffed up for the occasion. No, my shirt wasn't from that batch, it was just the one I was wearing that day (it was a gift from a Sri Lankan friend).
I feel a general tiredness and sadness. That is quite expected, I guess. The rest of the family is doing well, considering. We're keeping pretty busy and enjoying each other. Thanks for your continued prayers.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Inadequacy of Words

Lots of thoughts and feelings are churning around this week. I don't find writing on this blog particularly satisfying because there are so many restraints in writing publicly. It was a strange thing to see quotes from this blog in the National Post and other media. That reminded me to be prudent in what I write.

I came across a quote from a ficiton book that I'm reading (at my wife's recommendation):

Every time a writer tries to put some experience, memory, feeling or observation into words, even in his own native tongue, he's translating in a sense. He's changing the intangibles of life into printed matter.*

That's good. It exposes some of the limitations of blogging that I've been sensing, but haven't been able to articulate. I can't translate life into words in this blog, particularly not in the last several weeks.

I'm sure I come across differently here than I do in person. That's part of the reason I've been careful with giving interviews. I do like to think ahead and have the opportunity to edit before I publish something. I don't merely want to keep up appearances (enough people who know me in real life know that I don't have it all together), but I don't want to say anything here that could be hurtful to my family, church or community.

I'm thankful that at least with my sermons and Bible studies, I get to simply point to the Master, the Creator of words. The word of God is living and active. If I work at keeping my public teaching less about me and more about what God has said, the people in my church will be well served.

It is astonishing that God would condescend to speak to weak, fallen human beings using words.The Bible is supernatural. When we learn to read it "back-to-front" with Christ at the center, we can't help but be astonished at God's light.


For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7

Now that is writing. Reading back from the unveiling of this Son in the New Testament, these verses are not only beautiful, but so important - life and death important.

This is the Christian's hope - the hope of the world - that God's Son, Jesus Christ, is the Good King in the absolute sense of those words. Salvation is of the Lord. When salvation is fully and finally revealed, all the clouds and hints and shadows of inadequate words that reflect our inadequate lives will be blown away and the light of His glory will shine forever. If we are in Christ by grace through faith, then we will reign with Him as adopted sons and co-heirs eternally.

*Jamie Langston Turner, A Garden to Keep, p. 251.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

An Arrest

The news of the arrest of a man charged with Emily's murder has brought, as you can imagine, mixed feelings. We are thankful for this step, and we are particularly thankful for the RCMP's "above and beyond" work on this case. On the other hand, this news brings many difficult feelings to the surface. We're doing pretty well, though we're lying low today. We continue to trust in God for His strength and comfort.

We don't know the man charged, though I have seen him once or twice at different town events.

This begins another phase in this whole experience for our family, but we appreciate the dilligent work of the RCMP and the support of our church and community.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Radio Interview Link

As I have mentioned, CBC Radio 1 has interviewed us and featured a story on Emily's death on the Edmonton AM program this week. CBC has posted a story and an audio link (on the right side of the page under "Related Items).

We are grateful for the sensitive way the media has treated our family and this story is no exception. Thanks to Adrienne Lamb for a job well done.

I would have liked to have heard a little more about our hope in Christ on the radio, but I guess that's what this blog is for. We're not in any hurry to grant any more media interviews, but we do want to exalt our Saviour when we get the opportunity.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Family Update

It has been a while since I've written, so I'll just do some point-form personal updates.
  • We were in Calgary on Friday and Saturday. Josh was in an Alberta-wide quiz meet at Calgary Christian School. He did well, and his team finished second overall in a nailbiter of a final. The final between the three best teams went to overtime (between 2 teams) and Josh's team of 4 only lost by 10 points (teams are awarded 20 points for a correct answer).

    Josh and Ocean (a rookie quizzer from our church who did great at her first meet) were adopted by Southgate Alliance in Edmonton and we are thankful for their thoughtfulness.

    Juanita and I were able to announce a scholarship in Emily's memory at that meet.

    It was nice to touch base with some friends on that trip. Special thanks to the S. family for putting us up for the night and to D. and G. for supper on Friday night.

  • Josh and I went to an Oilers game on Thursday night. They lost to Detroit, but they made it interesting. They came back from a 3-0 deficit and lost 4-3. Josh and I had a great opportunity to talk, particularly on the way home. A big thank you to my niece and nephew for making that possible. Josh and I logged about 1400 kms on Thursday to Saturday, but it was worth it (Edson is 200km from Edmonton and 500km from Calgary).

  • We did an interview with a radio interviewer from CBC Radio 1 for a series that is running on Monday to Wednesday mornings this week. I just caught the tail end of the interview this morning at 6:45. It takes a few steps to find the live feed. A 6 minute clip of us talking is supposed to be aired on Wednesday morning at 7:15. The series will eventually be available on the web archives. We're supposed to be getting a CD of the series. The interviewer was Adrienne Lamb. We were impressed with her thoughtfulness and professionalism. She warned us that we will get new media requests after this airs. We've been pretty good at setting boundaries for ourselves, but this is all new. We appreciate your continued prayers for us that we will be a good witness to our Saviour.

  • We are seeing some new people at church. We're thankful and mindful of our responsibility to represent Christ well and to pray for one another and our community.

  • My brother and his wife are supposed to be joining us for supper along with my mom who lives in Edson. We're looking forward to that. Since Emily's death, we are enjoying more significant relationships with our families - particularly my side, seeing as I haven't been very good at staying in touch.

  • So, how are we doing? Pretty well, considering. Speaking for myself, I feel a general sense of tirednesss and sadness comes and goes. God is good, however, and I am plugging along.

  • I can't express how thankful I am for my wife. Maybe Juanita prefers that I don't express much here, but let me just say that next to Christ, God's greatest grace to me is her.

That's all for now. I'll try to be more regular with this blog this week.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Sunday Psalm

We used this Psalm for our Call to Worship this morning. It struck me as a particularly rich way to begin the service and it was well read (thanks, Daniel).

Psalm 85 (ESV)

LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah
You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.
Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!
Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.
Yes, the LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

An Evening for Emily

Juanita and I just came back from a community fundraiser at our local Legion branch. It was overwhelming to see all those people there - bands, local people and media. They had a silent auction as well. We left early (they'll be rocking into the wee hours), but we were thankful for an opportunity to say thanks to the community through that gathered group.

I can't begin to thank everyone here, and I know that it is not expected by the people that set up this event. I will extend a blanket thank you to these folks. I also want to thank the main organizer, Axel Axmann, for his courtesy and hard work (he can extend thanks to his team!).

The funds raised tonight will go to a music camp called Strings and Keys (this links to an old site - it's all I could find, but it describes it well). Besides the ticket sales and the silent auction, we were surprised to hear about some generous gifts from companies and individuals. This scholarship will be a good legacy for Emily.

If you are on Facebook, you might want to check out the Evening for Emily page. This evening is another reminder of how Emily's death has affected not only our family, but our community (and far beyond, from what we have heard).

Update: Here's a link to a Global News story on the event.

Friday, November 07, 2008

In God Alone

I’ve been reflecting on Psalm 62 this week as I am preaching from it on Sunday. This Psalm is the “God Alone” Psalm – for God alone my soul waits in silence. It is easy to say that we are waiting for, trusting in and following God alone, but what does that mean?

I was reflecting on this at the gym this morning. I had Caedmon’s Call Overdressed playing on my iPod. A line from the song Expectations caught my attention. The superficial promises of a church came across in the song as … an expensive ad for something cheap. Are we as professing Christians trying to sell something cheap as if it were “the answer” for life? “Come, follow Jesus and you will have financial freedom, great health and happy relationships.” The gospel doesn’t promise any of that.

Psalm 62:9 says, Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. The word translated “breath” in this verse (ESV) is translated “vanity” or “meaningless” in the book of Ecclesiastes. There is no inherent righteousness in being poor and humble, humanly speaking. On the other hand, the richest, most powerful man is like dust in the scales compared to God. It is in the perspective of this truth that the psalmist confesses, “in God alone.”

The rich and the poor, the powerful and the insignificant, even the Christian and the non-Christian have something in common: We are all going to lose everything. Our lives are dust, a breath – vapor.

Years ago I did a sermon series on the book of Job. It struck me – with a chill – that Job 1-2 is simply life in fast-forward. I’ve known elderly folks who had outlived all their children, lost their health and most of their strength and influence. If you live long enough, you lose what you hold dear little-by-little. If you die young, you lose everything at once. Isn’t this the cheerful message of Ecclesiastes as well? Yes, Job was restored. But then he died. Solomon had everything as the richest, wisest, most powerful king of Israel, but he confessed that it was “meaningless.” He died too.

Psalm 62 is a confession of David, a confession that becomes an exhortation. Get your perspective fixed, O my soul. Get your perspective right, O people. Wait for God alone. If you trust Him now, then He will be what is left after everything else is gone.

The most important application of this Psalm is reconciliation with God. How can we find hope and confidence in waiting for God if we are sinners and He is holy? If all we have coming is a “fearful expectation of judgment,” then we are hopeless – loss in this life followed by greater loss in the life to come. Jesus said, … do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:28). Nothing else matters if we are not right with God.

The most precious truth in this Psalm is found in a little word in verse 12 – chesed - translated “steadfast love” (ESV), “mercy” (KJV) or simply “love” (NIV). This is the faithful, pursuing, gracious, covenant love of God. It is God’s response to His promises to save a people for Himself. Chesed is fulfilled only in the redeeming work of Christ.

God promised to save, but no one believed God’s message. God promised to choose a people for Himself forever, but no one wanted Him. The only way He could resolve this ugly dilemma was to bring life and righteousness to a spiritually dead and sinful people. He Himself came to rescue us: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Through His death and resurrection, Christ has reconciled to God a great mass of people throughout the ages. This eternal salvation is in Christ alone, by grace alone, though faith alone. Justice and mercy met and were reconciled in Jesus Christ so that we who were once enemies of God could be adopted as sons.

If we trust this Good News – that Christ died and rose again to bring us to God – then the confession “In God Alone” is precious and glorious. If we can see our lives from God’s perspective, then God alone is indeed our rock, our salvation and our fortress even if everything else is taken from us.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


When I set the table tonight for supper, that's the number of plates I put out. When we get into the van to go to church, our family uses five seat belts. If we go to a restaurant, we say, "Table for five, please." Our home email address begins with "stauf6."

These are just a few of the countless, constant reminders that we are five, not six. For all that we trust God - and we do - this is just wrong.

Having shared that complaint, let me say that I am so thankful for my wife, Juanita, and Josh, Petra and Anne. We have each other, a wonderful extended family and a better church family than we thought we had (and we thought it was great before).

Life is going pretty well. I am going to preach this coming Sunday for the first time, Lord willing. It is a communion service and I am going to preach from Psalm 62. People say, "You are so strong" (there were two more today). Psalm 62 underlines the fact that I am very weak and fragile, but it is some consolation that God's Word says I'm not alone. God alone is strong. That He would also be full of loving-kindness to me and invite me to find shelter in Him is astonishing, humbling and, well, life itself.

It is a great comfort to know that Emily trusted Christ alone for her salvation. When God is big and we are small, Jesus - the shelter and rock of our salvation - is a treasure and a delight. Forever.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

As Long as You Are Glorified

There is strength to be found in confessing God's character and work back to Him in song. This song is from Come Weary Saints and it has been a leading contender for # 1 background music in my brain lately.

Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt

Oh let Your will be done in me
In Your love I will abide
Oh I long for nothing else as long
As You are glorified

Are You good only when I prosper
And true only when I’m filled
Are You King only when I’m carefree
And God only when I’m well
You are good when I’m poor and needy
You are true when I’m parched and dry
You still reign in the deepest valley
You’re still God in the darkest night

Bridge So quiet my restless heart, quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart in You
Words and Music by Mark Altrogge.
© 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI). Sovereign Grace Music, a division of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
From Come Weary Saints. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
North American administration by Integrity Music. International administration by CopyCare International.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rebecca's Gospel Theme

I encourage you to read a post over at Rebecca Writes. Scroll through and note the Gospel theme for the month of October. The Gospel is often a theme at Rebecca's excellent blog.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Gospel

In my post announcing Emily's death, I said, "We are realizing from the inside the value of good, gospel theology right now." What did I mean by that?

I didn't mean that we aren't suffering. We are weak, hurting and bewildered, but not despairing. If we didn't have the presence of God and the hope of the gospel, where would we be?

Gospel means "good news." The good news is that God sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. Christ died for sinners and rose from the dead on the third day. To believe this and to confess "Jesus is Lord" is what it means to be a Christian.

Years ago, I heard someone say, "The gospel is for Christians, too." I thought that sounded a little odd. My response was, "Well, I guess so ...but, what do you mean?" I would have said that the gospel is primarily for non-Christians, so I was confused. It now sounds very natural - I couldn't imagine not having this as the very center of what I believe. Jerry Bridges has popularized the saying, "Preach the gospel to yourself every day." This is excellent advice, and it is very biblical.

In the Spring of 2007, I heard a message by Dr. D.A. Carson from the first Gospel Coalition conference simply titled, "What is the Gospel." I highly recommend it. Right off the top he says that a lot of Christians think that the gospel is what just "tips people into the kingdom," and we get onto the "real work of discipleship" after that. This could not be more wrong-headed. Dr. Carson's message was on 1 Corinthians 15, where the Apostle Paul tells us what is "of first importance." What is of first importance is the gospel.

The gospel is central because I am a sinner and God is holy. The grace of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ - particularly on the cross - is my greatest need in every area of my life - every day. We human beings seriously underestimate the evil of sin. Sin "out there" that hurts us is a wake-up call about the power of this evil, but the sin inside us is a curse that alienates us from our Creator. That Christ has come to bring me grace when I only deserved wrath and reconcile me to God through His shed blood is The Good News - The Gospel.

If you are unclear about what the gospel really is, I urge you to get it straight. This really a matter of life and death. An excellent, concise summary of the Gospel by John Piper can be found here (text, audio and video). If you are not sure you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then I encourage you to walk through an online presentation called Two Ways To Live. Pray and ask God to open your heart to His truth and love.

If you are already a Christian but are unclear on why we you would still need to focus on the cross of Christ, buy yourself a copy of Living the Cross Centred Life by C.J. Mahaney and I trust that you will be captivated by a whole-life gospel passion. A couple of books by Jerry Bridges have been very helpful to me as well. I commend to you The Discipline of Grace and The Gospel for Real Life.

If you have been searching the internet for help with your Christian life, I'm sure you've found that there are many excellent resources online, but there is a lot of flaky stuff, too. What you'll find at the Gospel Coalition site, Desiring God Ministries and will give you years worth of solid, reliable reading and listening material that is Gospel saturated and God-honouring.

Last but not least, read the Bible with Christ at the center. The Lord Jesus said that the Bible is all about Him, so take Him at His Word and look for Him when you read the Bible. If you are not a Bible reader, then start with the Gospel of John and then read the book of Romans. The gospel of John will captivate you with the shattering personality of Jesus (as I think C.S. Lewis put it once) and the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans will walk you through the details and most important implications of the gospel. R.C. Sproul said one time that if every person in America who claimed to be a Christian actually sat down and read the book of Romans from cover to cover - just once - a great revivial would break out in the land.

Discover, study and be captivated by the gospel. Live it as the center of your life and you will not only have a sustaining faith, you will know and treasure the One True God who will sustain you with joy - no matter what happens otherwise in your life.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

How Are You Doing?

I have been asked this question a lot. It is amazing how much variety of expression there can be in the same words. Some people ask how I’m doing and then seem to catch themselves. They just asked their “hello” question and then realized what they’ve said and to whom they have said it. Others ask slowly and carefully, looking for an honest answer. Others are very apologetic, but really want to know, so they supply phrases like, “I suppose you’re asked this all the time, but how are you doing?”

I think I can speak for my family when I say that we don’t mind these questions in their varied forms. However, speaking for myself, sometimes I do feel like responding, “How am I supposed to be feeling?” I won’t say that, and I don’t want to say it with an edge, but it is how I am “doing” sometimes.

Regarding the habitual, “How are you doing?” question, I still do it myself, so I certainly don’t blame others for asking me!

I can go through long stretches where I’m just rolling along with the “new normal,” and then something will come out of the blue to bring back the grief. How distracted should I be? Should I feel guilty for having a good night’s sleep? When should I get back to the regular routine of pastoral duties (whatever that is!)? I think all of us are just figuring out how we should be feeling.

For people that we don’t see regularly but read my blog, here are some point-form observations about how we are doing:
- We’re pretty much back to routine. I’ve been back in the office, homeschooling has been back on for a while and lessons and meetings are on the schedule again.
- Financially we are fine. All of our expenses are covered and then some. We are blessed and well-supplied by many gracious people.
- The kids seem to be doing alright. We’ll have to take care of each other and listen to each other more than ever to make sure that we’re all healthy. I know that as dad, I have an extra responsibility in this department.
- We’re been overwhelmed with cards, letters, emails, visits and phone calls. We are humbled by and grateful for these expressions of love.
- The pace of these responses has not been too heavy, but we can’t possibly respond with “thank you” to everyone.
- There is nothing to report on the investigation front. The RCMP have been excellent, however, and we are not getting frustrated with them. God is sovereign.
- We are realizing more all the time how rocked our community has been by Emily’s murder. I talked to a couple of people yesterday that could barely talk to me. This will take some time to process and heal.
- There have been community initiatives to raise money for a reward fund through Crimestoppers. There is also a community benefit concert scheduled for November 15th. The proceeds of this event will go towards a music scholarship in Emily’s name.
- There is still a large measure of unreality about all of this. Psychologically speaking, I think this is a protection, a defense mechanism.
- Another aspect to the unreality of Emily’s death is the fact that she is now more alive than ever. She has left the shadowlands and is now with Jesus in Paradise.
- God is carrying us still. We are reminded of that whenever we hear or read reports that people are praying for us. We appreciate that very much.
- Last point: We miss Emily very much.

Thanks to everyone who has come to visit my blog in the past weeks and for the many who have commented. Your encouragement is precious, as are your prayers.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Father's Funeral Address

I didn't know whether I was going to post this. However, I already shared it with a gymn full of people at Emily's funeral and the media has reported pieces of it, so it is somewhat public already. If you have seen some media reports (which have been quite compassionate and accurate, thankfully), this text may provide some more context.

Emily loved Jesus – and now her faith has turned to sight, the dream is over, the endless day has begun.

This is not just a greeting card sentiment that has its roots in human tradition. It is rooted in historical fact – the fact of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the living reality of the Gospel.

Gospel simply means “Good News.” The Good news is that God sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. We need a Saviour because we are sinners, and God is holy and hates sin. When Jesus died on the cross, he took our punishment in our place. If we trust Him, we can be forgiven and be right with God forever. Jesus rose from the dead to seal this promise and show us that we, too, will rise from the dead to be with Him forever. If we love Him, if we love this good news, it is because God first loved us.

Emily believed this Gospel. She confessed Christ as Her Lord and trusted Him as her Saviour. She was baptized on February 18, 2007. The verse on her baptism certificate is from Romans 6:4 and it says, “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

We saw too little of that new life – we expected to see her continue to grow as a Christian young woman – but we know that this promise of life is not limited to what we can now see.

We asked my brother Doug to read Psalm 42 because we know that some people who do not know God are asking, “Where was your God when your daughter was killed?” We certainly don’t know the reason why, but we know that God is still God – He is still Good and He is with us. His love sustains us constantly. Where else could we go?

You might be wondering why we would choose songs that talk about death and blood at a time like this. It is because the hope of eternal life hinges on the death of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. For one thing, Emily loved these songs that we are singing today. She listened to them and she played them on the piano and sang them in church. We will miss hearing her piano playing, the violin and her beautiful singing voice very much.

Yet it is not first the music that grabbed her heart, but the words – the Christ exalting, Gospel proclaiming words.

Emily read Scripture, read books and sometimes even listened to sermons on her free time in order to better understand God’s Story and its application to her life. She did not do this because she had some sense of duty to do what was right, but because there is joy in knowing Christ – great and eternal joy. One quote our family loves is from John Piper, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

Emily didn’t spend all her time reading the Bible and doing “church stuff” – she had very diverse interests. But, the foundation of a love for Christ was beginning to define Emily more and more. I saw this as I reviewed Josh and Emily’s daily Bible study with them on Monday afternoons. I was amazed at Emily’s depth of understanding and application of God’s Word. I know Josh’s confidence in God is carrying him through right now as well.

One of the evidences of God’s grace in Emily’s life was her willingness to serve. We loved seeing her growing sensitivity to others.

I loved to tease Emily, and she gave back as well. I have a habit of singing around the house and Emily was always quick to say, “Dad, you’re off key” or “you’ve got the wrong rhythm” – usually with a smile on her face.

When it came to my typing speed or photo-editing abilities – well, we just won’t go there.

I treasure memories of talking with Emily, particularly as we drove in the car to Edmonton or Brightwood Youth Ranch this summer. Our shared love for our Savior is the best kind of father-daughter bond.

Fathers and mothers: You might think that your teens need to be teens and not bother with faith matters until they are older. Please realize that faith in Jesus brings a fuller, richer life at any age – joy, peace, satisfaction, deeper richer relationships with people. Most of all faith in Christ brings the joy and contentment of peace with God. No one who is being drawn by the Holy Spirit to a deeper relationship with God regrets lost time in front of the TV or Xbox. Young people can find treasure in Christ right now.

We grow in our knowledge of God in God’s Word, the Bible. Juanita and I have noticed a change in Josh and Emily since they began Bible quizzing. As they memorized Scripture – particularly Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians last year, their hunger to know God more and live godly lives increased. As with all of us Christian pilgrims, there were ups and downs in Emily’s application of the Bible, but I am very thankful to God that His Word was living and active in her life.

When Emily’s death was confirmed on Saturday night, I was shocked and bewildered. All I could pray was, “O Lord, Help! Help! Help!” As I was on my knees, a thought came to me: “If all my talk about the Gospel and God’s goodness is not true now, then it was never true.”

That was a great comfort, for I know this great good news is true. I stand with my wife and family in a long line of Christians who have suffered loss yet look ahead to a “city not made with hands” and the fulfillment of God’s promise of eternal life to those who trust Christ.

We will see Emily again. I said to my daughter Petra last night that this clumsy, self-conscious dad is looking forward to dancing with Emily in Heaven as we celebrate God’s glory together.

But the first face I will see in Heaven will be the face of Jesus. He is the source of my life. He is the one who died willingly and rose triumphantly so that I might have peace with God. He’s bringing the people I love most to Heaven too as they learn from Him, repent of their sins and trust Him as Saviour. Without Him, there would be no hope, only despair, no peace, only fear, no joy, only sorrow unending.

With Christ, there is hope that does not disappoint, peace that passes understanding, and joy and carries us through the dark and restless nights until we see our Champion, our Saviour face to face.

We would like to share a slideshow with you to help you see some of the life that our precious daughter enjoyed. With it, we are playing a song that has recently become very precious to us.
This summer, we bought a new CD called, “Come Weary Saints.” One of the songs on that album quickly became a favorite – particularly for Juanita. It’s called, It is Not Death to Die.

About a month ago, she said, “I don’t know why, but I just love this song.” Now we know why. God was preparing her, and us, for this time.

Please watch and listen with us. The words to the song are printed in your memorial folder.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Outlines From Two Significant Services

When Juanita and I considered songs and Scripture for Emily's funeral, the order of service fell together very quickly. My dear wife wrote a few things down - choosing mainly from Emily's favorites - and the following structure took form.

In Christ Alone
Welcome, Announcements and Prayer – Roy
Psalm 42 – Doug
When I Survey
How Deep
Terry & Juanita
Slide show with "It is Not Death to Die"
Message – Allen Hern (Papa)
I Know Whom I have Believed
Postlude - Josh K.

While this day is still very fresh, I will make some comments about the individual elements:

In Christ Alone This song gave us courage to make it through the service - particularly our part in sharing about Emily's life
Welcome, Announcements and Prayer – Roy This was beautifully done. We're glad we asked our friend to do this, even though we knew it would be hard for him, too.
Psalm 42 – Doug Stauffer Juanita and I read through Psalm 42 and 46 together on Monday morning. We decided on Psalm 42 because it just seemed appropriate. We were thankful that my brother agreed to read it.
When I Survey - Emily had the first verse of this hymn posted beside her bed.
How Deep - From the Valley of Vision. Emily loved this song and played it on the piano along with other SGM songs at our September Communion service at church
Terry & Juanita - God gave us grace and strength to be able to speak clearly and boldly. I believe our contributions complimented each other well.
Slide show - with song "It is Not Death to Die" played on CD. See also my previous post. Lots of tears at this part. We're thankful to friends who made the slide show happen.

Message: Ephesians 2:8-9 – Allen Hern (Papa) We thought of Juanita's dad for the message right away. He preached the Gospel, and we are thankful. Josh, Juanita and I quickly agreed that these are Emily's favorite verses.
I Know Whom I have Believed - This is my favorite "traditional" hymn - it is a family favorite, and a favorite of our church family as well.

Postlude - Josh K. - Emily's piano teacher played a beautiful piece that Emily had been working on. This was just the right way to finish.

I would be remiss not to mention the excellent music team that our church put together. It was made up of our leaders, and they did a fantastic job. We are blessed.

Though our church has been very gracious and found preachers for me, we still want to be at church. Our first Sunday back was October 5. The song leader, who shall remain unnamed, did a wonderful job putting together the song package. My friend Jim from Edmonton did a fine job on a message from Job. This service will be close to our hearts for a long time. I'm not going to do the links and commentary on each part, but I'll make brief comments.

Edson Baptist Church Order of Service for October 5, 2008

This is my Father’s World --“though the wrong seems oft so strong. God is the Ruler yet
Not Be Shaken
Welcome and announcements
Call to Worship – 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10 - This was breathtaking Prayer
He Giveth More Grace (to a new tune)
How Firm a Foundation - David Powlison presented a moving message on this hymn at Desiring God 2005
I Will Glory in My Redeemer - a rich, satisfying modern hymn - in any circumstance
Offering – Offertory: “It is Not Death to Die.”
Scripture Reading: Job 13:1-22 – Brian
Pastoral Prayer: Brian
Kid’s Song: Jesus Loves me – dismiss preschoolers to Jr. Church
Jesus I Come - Indelible Grace version
I Need Thee Every Hour
Abide With Me
Message: Jim R. – Job 13
Closing Song: For I Know My Redeemer Lives
Benediction: 1 Peter 1:3-9 – Brian

This was an overwhelming service, but in a good way. I felt that I needed to go home quite soon after the service, but we are all glad that we went. It was a rich service.

I had a history professor in seminary that said, "Young people today are not learning songs in church that they can sing at funerals." That is often true. I'm glad that's not true at our church.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

J.I. Packer on Peace

As I said in an earlier post, I have been reading J.I. Packer’s Knowing God at bedtime for the last little while. I read the following paragraph on Tuesday, September 30th. I read the paragraph twice, and that’s all I read that night.

What does the Gospel of God offer to us? If we say ‘the peace of God’, none will demur – but will everyone understand? The use of right words does not guarantee right thoughts! Too often the peace of God is thought of as if it were essentially a feeling of inner tranquility, happy and carefree, springing from knowledge that God will shield one from life’s hardest knocks. But this is a misrepresentation, for, on the one hand, God does not feather-bed His children in this way, and anyone who thinks He does is in for a shock, and, on the other hand, that which is basic and essential to the real peace of God does not come into this concept at all. The truths after which this account of God’s peace is feeling (though it misrepresents them, as we said) are that God’s peace brings both power to face, and live with, one’s own badness and failings, and also contentment under ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (for which the Christian name is God’s wise providence). The truth which this account ignores is that the basic pardon and acceptance into covenant – that is, adoption into God’s family. But where this change of relationship with God – out of hostility into friendship, out of wrath into the fullness of love, out of condemnation into justification – is not set forth, the gospel of peace is not truly set forth either. The peace of God is first and foremost peace with God; it is the state of affairs in which God, instead of being against us, is for us. No account of God’s peace which does not start here can do other than mislead. One of the miserable ironies of our time is that whereas liberal and ‘radical’ theologians believe themselves to be re-stating the gospel for today, they have for the most part rejected the categories of wrath, guilt, condemnation, and the enmity of God, and so have made it impossible for themselves ever to present the gospel at all, for they cannot now state the basic problem which the gospel of peace solves.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God, Chapter 18, The Heart of the Gospel, section VIII, p. 176. Emphasis in original.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


It has been hard to get back to this blog. We have had a pretty steady stream of people calling and visiting. This has been good - we've needed it - but we do get weary. I would recount evidences of God's grace through His people, but I can't count that high. God is good, and He does use His people.

My thoughts have been swirling and sometimes I don't know what to think or pray. Several times I've been on my knees and I've said, "Lord, you know ... and you have set many other people praying, so I'll leave it to you and them." Other times, I've been able to pray for a few key people quite fervently (beginning with my family). Some people have commented on our strength, but Juanita and I have never been more conscious of our weakness and fragility. We are weak, but He is strong.

There have been many evidences of God's prior work of preparation. Some may be offended that I would even talk like this, but a God that does not know the future or who is not sovereign is no comfort at all.

I don't have time or energy to list many of God's gracious providences right now, but let me list just three:
- C.J Mahaney's message on Psalm 42 (we chose Psalm 42 as a text for the Scripture reading at Emily's funeral and Ephesians 2:8-9, Emily's favorite verses, as the message text). C.J.'s message is one that we have copied and given out as its central idea of talking to yourself (God's promises / character / the Gospel) vs. listening to yourself (doubt, self-talk, etc.) is so helpful. When certain tracks start playing in my mind I, by God's grace, can say, "Trust in God."
- At bedtime, I've been reading J.I. Packer's Knowing God - it is one of those "should have read it a long time ago" books. I've been loving it, but the chapter I was reading on the 27th was "The Heart of the Gospel." I will be posting a quote from a section on peace from that chapter soon.
- Music. Sovereign Grace music, songs and hymns at the funeral and at church on Sunday. What a gift these lyrics have been - particularly in the middle of the night.

I will briefly list family, our church family, cards, emails and blog comments, the book Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett, Spurgeon's Morning and Evening - not to mention God's Word - as sources of comfort and strength that God has been using. I hope to blog more on these things sometime, but we're really taking things one day at a time - moment to moment, even.

Thanks for your continued prayers. Life is difficult these days, but God is still carrying us.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


God is carrying us. He is using our family, church family and friends. God is also carrying us by His promises which were precious last week and tested and precious this week.

So many people say to us, "I don't know what to say...." We understand that, but calls, notes and visits are eloquent all the same. We don't know how to begin to thank everyone for their expressions of love and support. Thank you, anyway.

I have been keeping some notes in a journal, but I won't be blogging much here until next week, at least. Some of you may see strength when you see us and hear from us, but please know that we are very human. We run through the full range of emotions, but God is our refuge and strength. If you see any strength in us, understand that the glory is God's alone.

He, most of all, is carrying us.

P.S. For those of you that notice such things, I changed the date of this post. It is actually Wednesday at about 10:40, but I want to keep Emily's picture up top. If anyone knows how I can do this more elegantly, let me know in the comments.

It Is Not Death to Die

In August we bought a CD from Sovereign Grace Music, Come Weary Saints. I posted a brief recommendation back in the beginning of September. This album, along with Valley of Vision and other Sovereign Grace albums have been a lifeline for our family since we received the news of Emily's death. Our little girls, 7 and 9, have gone to sleep listening to these songs the last two nights.

My wife Juanita commented that one song, It Is Not Death to Die, gripped her from day one. I remember her saying that when we first listened to this album. Now we know why.

We have mentioned the significance of this song to a few friends and family, but just a few minutes ago, we received another confirmation that this song is "for such a time as this." Bob Kauflin, Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, posted a comment on my post announcing Emily's death and he quoted from this song (Bob wrote the music, chorus and alternate lyrics for this song). Thank you, Bob!

John Piper (and others) stress the need for Christians to build a foundation in good theology in preparation for suffering, for suffering will indeed come. Juanita and I have lived an easy life in so many ways - blessed with healthy children, a great church and a sweet marriage. God was good then, and God is good now.

Death is the last enemy. We are still living in a fallen world. We do not grieve as those who have no hope, but we still grieve. The funeral for Emily will not be a celebration of her life, though she will be appropriately honoured. We desire this service to be Gospel-saturated and glorifying to Christ our Redeemer. I can honestly say that's the way Emily would have wanted it.

It Is Not Death to Die
It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God

It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just

It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore
O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

Original Words by Henri Malan (1787-1864). Translated by George Bethune (1847).
Music, Chorus and Alternate Words by Bob Kauflin.
© 2008 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI). Sovereign Grace Music, a division of Sovereign Grace Ministries.
From Come Weary Saints. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
North American administration by Integrity Music. International administration by CopyCare International.

Emily Joy Stauffer

May 8, 1994- September 27, 2008

Last night at about 4:45 our precious 14 year-old daughter Emily was attacked and killed as she was out for a walk. We don't know a lot of details, but we know that two young men came upon the scene right away, but it was too late for Emily.
I will write more as more details come available. Please pray for us, for our church family who are meeting without us right now, and for family that is travelling.

We are realizing from the inside the value of good, Gospel theology right now.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Desiring God 2008 Messages Arriving!

I was watching hockey with Josh the other day (first televised Oilers game!) and I made a comment about a routine, cross-ice backhand pass. I remarked that I sometimes try to notice - and be amazed at - the little, "ordinary" things that NHL players do. I put myself in their shoes with things I can almost identify with and have to admit that I could never do that. The spectacular stuff is fun to watch, but way beyond my ability to identify with.

I think it's a good discipline to be freshly amazed at the extraordinary / ordinary things - flowers, stars, sunsets, the regular work of gifted and disciplined people. We could all add to this list all day. The ability we have to see, touch, hear; music and good writing, humour - on and on.

I'm reminded of another wonderful "routine" - the practice of the Desiring God Ministries folks to get their conference messages (audio and video) up within minutes of the conclusion of talks and panel discussions. You can find them here. They are all free, high quality and easily accessible - not to mention the excellent speakers.

I would have loved to have been at the conference, but it is a blessing to have such quick access to these resources. Thank you Desiring God folks!

Tomorrow is Sunday. Follow C.J. Mahaney's advice to recognize and celebrate evidences of God's grace in your church family. Take time on the Lord's Day to thank God for His gifts that are evidenced in the small stuff!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Koinonia Blog

I've really been enjoying the Zondervan Academic blog, Koinonia. A post that I read today relates nicely to my last post here. Psalm 139 has more to it than meets the eye.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wisdom from Job

I've been reading the book of Job lately. It never ceases to amaze me how many times you can read a book of the Bible and find new things in it. I remember my dad saying that when I was a kid, and the older I get, the more I know it's true. I'm particularly seeing parallels between Job and Psalms and Ecclesiastes.

In 7:17-18, we read, What is man that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment? In previous readings, I hadn't made the connection with Psalm 8:4 before: ...what is man that you are mindful of him...(?). There is a very different application, of course, but it bears reflection. Sometimes, God's presence and care is a blessing. Other times, it seems oppressive (compare Psalm 139 - I have been known to use selected verses from that Psalm as a Scripture reading of confession in church). This should also make us think carefully about Matthew 28:20.

Regarding human pride - particularly in the "good advice" category - I love 12:2: No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you. I do need to apply the point to my own heart and not think of other people (though the temptation is strong).

I have met people who think that since chapter 1 says that Job was a righteous man, that he didn't have any sin in his past. Of course, Job was quite conscious of his sins: 13:23 How many are my iniquities and my sins? Make me know my transgressions and my sin (note the plural "sins" and the singular "sin" in that verse. That's a study all on its own). 13:26: For you write bitter things against me and make me inherit the iniquities of my youth. That is an interesting one, for although Job is made to feel the sins of his youth because of the irritation of his miserable comforters, he knows that he does not carry their guilt because he is forgiven. Can you identify with that tension?

There is so much more that can be said about Job - the Mediator of 16:19 and the resurrection passage of 19:25-27 and of course the conclusion of chapters 38-40 - but the verses above were some of the truths that I had not really considered in previous readings.

It is really delightful to know that the next time I read through Job, I can count on new insights and applications. Of course, this is true of all of the Bible. This is not because I am a good reader, but that God's Word is living and active. That's the exciting part!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Come Weary Saints

What music plays on the tracks in your mind? If I stop and think about it, I can usually tell you what song has been running around in the background - usually it is an irritating song I want to get out of there! Lately, however, the tracks from a new album I really like have been playing - not just one or two, several of them.

We bought Come Weary Saints a month or so ago and it is excellent. Follow the link and check out some samples. Look at some of their other albums, too. Sovereign Grace Ministries has been putting out some great music lately. Valley of Vision and Savior are must haves, in my opinion.

Music is a subjective thing - you're allowed to not like them - but these albums appeal to a wide range of folks. The best part is the theologically rich, biblical lyrics.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What I Did This Summer

We’ve had frost on the pumpkin, Labour Day is behind us and the kids are back at their schoolwork. The summer is over. This is sad but true (the bit about the pumpkin isn’t true, though, because we don’t have any pumpkins). It is time for some reflection on the warm months that are behind us.

We were away for four Sundays this summer, and our people were in and out over the holidays, so I did a mini-series on The Unfolding Mystery of God’s plan of redemption. Here’s the outline:

July 6 – The Mystery of Revelation: Romans 16:25-27. What was hidden has now been revealed in the Gospel. God’s Word from the very beginning contained the promise that is now made manifest in Christ.

July 13 – The Mystery of Redemption (Communion Service): Leviticus 16

July 20 – The Mystery of Evil: Romans 8:20. It was God who subjected the creation to futility. In hope! I preached this heavy message and then ran away to family camp at Sunnybrae in B.C. for a week.

July 27 – The Mystery of Providence: various (Genesis 15:16, 50:20; Acts 2:24, etc). More of a topical message. I do those a couple times a year.

August 3 – The Mystery of the Gospel (Communion Sunday): Romans 1:16-17. Could there be anything more basic yet more mysterious than the power of the Gospel?

August 17, 24 and 31 – The Mystery of the Future: Revelation 21-22. This was only supposed to be two parts, but the second message spilled over into last week. The first message was more topical as I sought to build a framework of “what’s next” so that the messages on Revelation 21-22 would fit.

I was surprised by reaction to the Revelation messages. People had a lot of questions, and some said that the messages cleared up some misconceptions about the future. I love the book of Revelation, but I haven’t done a sermon series on it yet. It won’t be coming for the foreseeable future either. However, I must say I’m not opposed to preaching through it sometime. I am less bothered than I used to be by the people who accuse me of not taking the Bible literally because I don’t see the locusts of chapter 9 as Cobra Attack Helicopters.

Last September I began a sermon series on the book of Ephesians. This September I’ll be picking up at chapter 5:22 (after a review on Sunday) and finishing sometime before Christmas (my usually optimistic outline says November 19). I’m looking forward to getting back to this book and doing sequential messages again.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Free Not Free Good Not Good

You're right, it does sound like I've been reading Calvin.

This is right, though. We are free in the sense that we do what we want to do. Our will is free to follow our reason and our senses, but both of these are corrupted by the fall. If we follow the Apostle Paul - who was carried along by the Holy Spirit, unlike Calvin - then the root sin of humanity is failure to glorify God and give Him thanks (Romans 1:21). We are free to do as we wish, but what we desire in our old nature is not to give God thanks and glorify Him as our Creator, but to credit ourselves and glorify created things. Add to this the catalogue of evil in Romans 3:10-20 and you have a hopeless situation for natural man. So then, free to follow our hearts, but not free to worship God as He requires.

Free, but not free. But are we good? Who denies that man can do good to his fellow man? I am thankful (as is Calvin) for the abundant good that unregenerate man can do, but is this goodness good on the vertical scale of goodness? Jesus said to the Rich Young Man, "there is only one who is good."

If we trust Christ, then true, full freedom and goodness awaits that day when we see Christ face-to-face. For now, we live by faith in the righteousness of Christ credited to our account. We have a measure of freedom and goodness now because Christ is in us and we are in Him.

Free not free, good not good. That's not so complicated after all.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Calvin Confessions

No, no - I don't have the authors mixed up. I realize that Augustine wrote Confessions, not Calvin (but what's 1200 years between friends?). The confessions in my title are mine.

Confession #1 - I haven't told many people that I'm reading the Institutes this summer (I bought the LF Battles translation a few weeks ago). The reason for this is that I think it might seem pretentious to some people.

Confession #2 - I haven't told many people that I'm reading Calvin this summer because my theological friends might be surprized (and I might be embarassed) that it's taken me so long to get to them. I've read bits and pieces, but never the whole thing.

So, it's a lose-lose proposition: "You're reading that? What for?" or "You're only reading the Institutes now? What's up with you?"

Maybe I should worry less about what people are thinking (though my tongue is in my cheek as I write this) and press on with my reading.

I will share a few favorite Calvin quips so far (though they are much better with context):

Regarding the naturalists who deny that the creation declares the wisdom of God:
Do all the treasures of heavenly wisdom concur in ruling a five-foot worm while the whole universe lacks this privilege? P. 56

Regarding the necessity of special revelation, i.e. the Scriptures:
Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it as some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. P. 70

On the Trinity, quoting Gregory of Nazianzus:
I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one. p. 141

An old classic (borrowed from Augustine):
When a certain shameless fellow mockingly asked a pious old man what God had done before the creation of the world, the latter aptly countered that he had been building hell for the curious.

Desiring God:
But, without controversy, just as man was made for meditation upon the heavenly life, so it is certain that the knowledge of it was engraved upon his soul. An if human happiness, whose perfection it is to be united with God, were hidden from man, he would in fact be bereft of the principle use of his understanding. Thus, also, the chief activity of the soul is to aspire thither. Hence the more anyone endeavors to approach God, the more he proves himself endowed with reason. – p. 193

Regarding God’s providence behind the scenes:
God’s providence does not always meet us in its naked form, but God in a sense clothes it with the means employed. – p. 216

I'm enjoying the Institutes, though I am working thorough it slowly.

P.S. For my few faithful readers, I'm sorry for the paucity of posts. The draft for this one was originally dated August 7th. I will try to be more regular this fall.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

How Can I Give You Up?

Tonight at Bible study we are working through Hosea 11. In Matthew Henry's commentary, I came across this quote regarding 11:8, How can I give you up, O Ephriam?:

"When God was to give up His Son to be a sacrifice for sin, and a Saviour for sinners, he did not say, 'How shall I give Him up?' No, He spared not His own Son (Romans 8:32); it pleased the Lord to bruise Him (Isaiah 53:10); and therefore God spared not Him, that He might spare us. "

This whole chapter raises questions about God's judgment and mercy that can only be answered at the cross.

Amazing, astonishing grace!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Here's a Picture of Me at the Grand Canyon

Awe inspiring, isn't it?

No, really, the Grand Canyon was astonishing. I had serious butterflies doing laps in my stomach when we walked along the North Rim (as opposed to silly butterflies, I suppose). Pictures don't begin to do that hole justice, but here are a couple of them anyway.

The statistics, as I remember them, are that this canyon is 10 miles wide, 277 miles long and a mile deep. Whew. The picture above is a little hazy, but the mountains in the distance are about 25 miles away.

We didn't spend much time here, but I would like to go back someday and do some exploring.

Our three-week holiday was good, and we are thankful. I am planning to do some blogging this summer. I know I have been away for a long time, but I've built up some things to write about and the summer schedule is less hectic.

Friday, April 11, 2008

"Shout to the Lord" on American Idol

If you watched this song being sung on Idol, or even if you haven't heard about this curious event, check out Bob Kauflin's take. He's nailed it, and his comments have significant Christ and culture applications. There is very much an, "on the one hand / on the other hand" response required for this application of a Christian song in pop culture, but the implications can be extended deep into popular Christian events and movements, and non-Christian events and movements that have adopted Christian content.

We live in interesting times.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Credit Where Credit is Due

I have posted some reservations regarding some of the new direction of our National Fellowship on this blog, so I thought it was only fair to do some cheerleading about an email I received recently. The National office recommended an urban church-planting conference, Dwell, which will take place at the end of April. They're already full, but I'm glad this event is taking place, it looks great.


I was just listening to Mark Driscoll, "Putting Pastors in their Place" from the recent Text and Context Conference and I went down to vist with my wife as she was watching TV. Turns out she was watching male figure skating from Sweden.

The juxtaposition was too weird, I had to get out of that room and come back upstairs. So here I sit blogging.

The message was great - preach the Word, rightly order the church. Amen.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Gnosticism Part I – Can Christianity be reconciled with Paganism?

This post is taken from a Bible study that I prepared for our men's study last Wednesday. I am a rank beginner in this study of paganism and Gnosticism. I know that this brief study is inadedequate, but if you catch any errors, please leave me a comment and I'll do a little more homework and try to fix them or substantiate my points a little better.

The Gnostic says, “We’re not sinful, we’re asleep ... we’ve forgotten who we are as divine beings, we need to wake up”. – From a message by Peter Jones

Gnosticism takes its name from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. The root of Gnosticism is salvation by knowledge – spiritual, deep, esoteric knowledge that comes from being in tune internally with the divine impulse that inhabits everything. Gnosticism was a highly experiential, sexualized, pantheistic, pagan and highly varied ancient religion.

Gnosticism reached its apex as a Christian heresy in the late 2nd Century, though it had its beginnings in the pre-Christian era and continued until the 5th Century. Formal Gnosticism is making something of a comeback in our time, but aspects of this teaching have a very wide influence indeed, from the radical Charismatics to Oprah Winfrey. This is because Gnosticism is a form of paganism. I think that paganism, in one form or another, eventually becomes a default position for people who reject the One True God.

Gnosticism has come to refer to a broad spectrum of ideas, though looking at the historical Gnostic religions, it is easier to assign common elements. Before we look at ancient Gnosticism, we’ll look at its broader roots.

Paganism is a primitive form of religion that seeks to manipulate spiritual forces found in nature through various means. The goal of paganism is power – power to manipulate the Force in nature. Paganism is found in many forms – ancient Greek religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca (witchcraft), Star Wars, native religions and other variations of monistic spirituality (see below).

General characteristics of Paganism:
· Pantheism: God is an impersonal force, not a personal being. God is identified with what exists and is not distinct from it. This divine, then, is found in rocks and trees and within all that is. The pagan worships the god within the individual and the god within nature.
· Monism: All is one. Monistic religions often use the circle as a symbol of reality. There is no distinction between creature and creator, because all is one. There is no sharp distinction between good and evil, light and dark, true and false, life and death – everything is a part of the great circle. Monism rejects the biblical, linear view of time and embraces endless cycles. Syncretism is a byproduct of this idea of monism – all religions ideas come from the same place and are going to the same destination. You can mix and match to your heart’s content.
· Dualism: Matter is seen as a deterioration or defect of the spiritual reality. This dualism is within the great circle, but it is a belief that the center of the circle – the purer spirituality – is superior to that which is on the fringes, the material. In this worldview, matter is bad and spirit is good.

Note the Christian counterpoint to each of these characteristics of paganism:
· Trinitarian Monotheism: God is personal, distinct from His creation, one in essence, three in persons and eternal. God is omnipotent and omnipresent in His creation, but not bound up in it. He identifies with His creation, but is not identical to it. The Christian worships the creator, not created things.
· Antithesis (“two-ism” to use Peter Jones’ word): Not only is there a sharp distinction between Creator and creation, but there are sharp distinctions between truth and error, light and dark, good and evil, male and female, etc.
· Integrity: “God likes matter, He created it” (C.S. Lewis). When God created the universe, He pronounced it “good.” The corruption came at the fall, not because of any inherent design defect. The body and spirit are united, and what God has joined together, let not man separate. The created order, including our bodies, are included in redemption (Romans 8:18-25). Time in the created order is linear and has a beginning, middle and end.

As Christians, we particularly need to be aware of the central truth of paganism: Monism – everything is one, everything is ultimately the same. Monism says that what we see now as variety and individuality are just points of the circle, and these points are an illusion. This is why the goal of religions like Buddhism is the cessation of being – absorption into the divine force (Nirvana).

Paganism applies this monism in the sense that each person is a microcosm of this big circle, a little circle in the big circle with the divine spark within. If we want to get in touch with the unity of things, we have to get deeper into ourselves and discover who we really are – find ourselves.

Spiritual power is found in feelings in the mystical new spirituality. Paganism rejects the concepts of true and false or received faith. What counts is discovering the secret to unlock your hidden potential. Irrational experience of the divine force is what counts. You cannot be spiritual until you stop thinking. Impressions, images, sounds and smells are the path to spiritual power not cognitive thought. Reason, logic, truth, antithesis and certainty are out.

There are many places in the New Testament where paganism is refuted, even if the connection is subtle. Here are some beginning passages to review with your pagan radar turned on:
· Romans 1:18-25
· Colossians 2
· 1 John 2:20-29

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sunday Hymn: I Asked the Lord

I fell off the Sunday hymn post bandwagon so long ago that I forgot what it looks like. I won't make any promises that I'll be back next week. I heard this hymn on the Indelible Grace IV - Beams of Heaven CD. I keep thinking about it. It is very profound, and more than a little bit scary.

1. I asked the Lord that I might grow in faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know And seek more earnestly His face

2. Twas He who taught me thus to pray and He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way as almost drove me to despair

3. I hoped that in some favored hour at once He'd answer my request
And by His love's constraining power subdue my sins and give me rest

4. Instead of this He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell assault my soul in every part

5. Yea more with His own hand he seemed Intent to aggravate my woe Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, cast out my feelings, laid me low

6. Lord why is this, I trembling cried, “wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?” "Tis in this way" The Lord replied "I answer prayer for grace and faith"

7. “These inward trials I employ from self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy that thou mayest seek thy all in me, That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

John Newton, 1725-1807

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Learning from the Bad Guys

A week ago last night we began a historical series in our mens' Bible study on Wednesday night. I'm calling it "Our Debt to Heresy," a title I ripped off from a Modern Reformation issue (May/June, 2001).

I'm not going to post the whole text of each study here, but I will post excerpts. If you spot mistakes, let me know in the comments, and I will take that correction to our study.

Our Debt to Heresy – Week 1: Introduction

· Introduction
· Gnosticism – Can Christianity be reconciled with Paganism?
· Montanism – What is the Nature of Revelation?
· Arianism – Who is Jesus?
· Pelagianism – What is Man?
· The Roman Catholic Church – Who Holds the Keys?
· Manifest Destiny – A New World, New Heresies

Setting the stage:

The Apostolic Age:
- See Acts 17:6 and context - Turning the world upside down
- Read Acts 28:11-31 - Jesus and the Kingdom
- Read Hebrews 2:1-4 - The foundation of the Apostles

The Post-apostolic Period:
- The Christian Life defended: The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus
- Christians and the State: Pliny to Trajan
- General Christian teaching: Didache

Defining our terms:

- Heresy: from the Greek hairesis, meaning “to take or to choose.” In English, the word has come to mean a teaching or opinion that is opposed to orthodox doctrine.
- Orthodoxy: from the Greek ortho, meaning “right, true or straight” plus doxo, meaning thinking or opinion. It is literally “right thinking” (cf. orthopraxy, “right doing”). In English it has come to mean being in conformity to conventional standards. It the case of Christianity, it means holding to “the teaching,” i.e. sound doctrine.

David Calhoun on the Rise of Heresy:

The question is often asked, which came first? Did orthodoxy come first, followed by the heresies? Or did the heresies arise first and then the church in response to the heresies moved to create what we call orthodoxy? One modern scholar has put it this way, “In early Christianity there was no such thing as orthodoxy but only different forms of Christianity competing for the loyalties of believers.” This scholar believed that there were many ideas out there and finally some of those ideas won. Either the ideas of the Roman church, which became the strongest, were imposed on the entire church or, in some way certain ideas won. So in his point of view the heresies come first. There were many ideas and then gradually one idea became called orthodoxy. In that particular way of reading history the orthodox are simply the winners and the heretics are the losers. I describe that not because that is my view but because I want you to see that this question is one that people have given much thought to. The early church fathers did not view it that way. The early church fathers said that orthodoxy came first and then the heresies. The heresies were the innovations, the new things. Orthodoxy was not. Eusebius of Caesarea put it this way, “Orthodoxy does not have a history. It is true eternally. Heresy has a history, having arisen at particular times through particular teachers.” You can date the beginning of Montanism and Marcionism and these other heresies that we will talk about. But orthodoxy does not have a beginning. You cannot date it. Orthodoxy is eternally true and heresies come later, according to Eusebius. © Summer 2006, Dr. David Calhoun & Covenant Theological Seminary

How would we, as 21st Century Evangelicals, answer the question, “What came first, Heresy or orthodoxy?

Why does God allow heresy to flourish even to the point of almost overwhelming the church?

- Gnosticism – almost overwhelmed the church in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries
- Arianism – Was probably the majority report in the church by the beginning of the 4th Century
- The “Golden Age” of the Roman Catholic Church took over Europe almost entirely
- The popularity of Mormonism, the JWs and many other cults today.

Note the warnings of Scripture:
· Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc. – beware of false prophets and abusive shepherds!
· Matthew 7:15-23 – bad fruit, wolves, false professions
· Acts 20:25-32 – wolves from without, false teachers from within
· 2 Thessalonians 2 – beware of great deception and the blindness that results
· Jude – earnestly content, for there are enemies of the truth
· Revelation – deceptions, the counterfeit trinity, etc.

We should not be surprised that the truth faces opposition in this world. Perhaps we should be concerned if what we believe and teach does not raise any controversy!

Resources for further study:
· – includes links to articles on major events and people
· – oodles of articles on a variety of historical and theological issues from a trustworthy perspective
· – Home of The Bible Answer Man, articles on cults and aberrant theology

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Loaded Links

I've updated my links on the right side of the page - nothing major, just one addition and a few tweaks to keep things current.

Church Matters blog featured Dr. David Wells today, so I had to hurry up and add that relatively new blog to my roll. Don't miss it, there have been some excellent (and provocative) posts lately.

Just one more little plug: I never cease to be amazed at the ministry of If you want a one stop shop for what's of value on line, this is your site. is fantastic, too. We order stuff from there all the time. I'm excited about the books that are available to the church these days. Just click on "What's New" and "Coming Soon" list of books to see what I mean.

Friday, February 01, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

I've been sick this week with a nasty cold. Maybe my resistance to humour is low, but I thought this was quite funny.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Right Angles

A while back, I was talking to someone in a church membership class about our church’s traditional position on women in ministry (complementarian, for those who are into the lingo). When I was challenged on this, I pointed out that the church always has a responsibility to be clear on biblical issues, but particularly when the surrounding culture has abandoned those ideas or is confused about them. I asked, “Can you think of another issue in our culture that is more muddled and unbiblical than gender?” I urged that we need to be at right-angles to the culture when the culture is clearly at odds with biblical teaching. When the would flounders, the church must speak with an authoritative voice.

This isn’t a post on gender issues, it’s a post on Christianity and culture issues. How should we speak to and about a watching world in order to be most honouring to God and most useful in our generation regarding Gospel proclamation?

The contemporary evangelical church is full of “we’ll come along-side, we’re not much different than you” voices. What we need desperately are some prophets; prophets who are willing to stand at right angles to culture – including the contemporary evangelical culture – and say hard things.

I'm thankful that the church has some of those prophetic voices; John Piper, Albert Mohler and Ravi Zacharias spring to mind, as do Mark Driscoll and Doug Wilson. These men are not afraid to stand at right angles to the prevailing winds of mainstream doctrine and thought.

I think it was Chesterton who said that any old dead thing can float downstream, and so much of what is popular today is caught up in the flotsam and jetsam of trendy Western culture (this brings up another value of the prophet: Their messages don't go out of style).

The quote in the post below by David Wells (an excellent prophet for the church, by the way), is a great example of speaking at right angles to the latest trends in the evangelical world. The Kingdom of God is God's! We who love the truth of God's Word ought to be alarmed by those who are teaching the latest brand of "kingdom now" doctrine that is coming largely from the Emergent circles. Brian McLaren's, The Secret Message of Jesus is a good example of this "radical new understanding" (read the first appendix for a defense of this "new" teaching). His essential message is that the church must downplay its emphasis on individual salvation and its focus on Heaven and work to realize the kingdom here and now through social action. In truth, this is a recycled version of the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th Century.

So then, they're saying, "We're going to focus on peace and love and making the world a better place without judging anyone for their religious beliefs." Find the right-angled, prophetic word in that statement. Radical, eh?

If we love truth, we must speak and live at right angles to conventional thinking. Likewise, if we love people, we must tell them the truth about our Holy God, sin, Heaven and Hell. If people are going to hear us, we're going to have to speak up and speak clearly - particularly on the many areas that are fuzzy and confused in popular thinking.

What got me thinking along these lines this morning was a quote that I came across as I was reading my blogs:

"To the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures."-- Flannery O’Connor

That's exactly what I'm talking about (and doesn't that remind you of the Old Testament prophets). We must make truth-connections with people - even people in our pews. Before our world goes totally deaf and blind, right-angles must be primary mode of operation for the church in the 21st Century.

May God raise up many more prophetic voices.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

David Wells on the Kingdom of God

I was reminded of this quote by a comment from Ken Davis on the post right below this one - "Why - we might even stop believing that the future of church is up to us!" Right on, Ken (by the way, I wish I could be with you folks this weekend at the conference).

This is a repost of a quote from Dr. Well's book, Above All Earthly Pow'rs that I did a while ago on this blog. When I went looking for this post, I expected that I would find it just a few months ago. It turns out it was way back in March of 2007. Time flies when I'm not blogging.

The arrival of this reign of God was not nationalistically but spiritually focused, which was what caused the consternation among many of Jesus' hearers. Nevertheless, the prophetic vision began to be realized, albeit in an entirely unexpected way, that God would scatter his enemies (Mic. 4:11-13; Is. 13:19; cf. Joel 3:1-17; Zech. 12:1-9), for Satan's forces were being thrown into disarray (Matt. 12:28-29) and they recognized with fear who Jesus was (Mk. 1:24; 5:7-8). The note of judgment which fell on the cities (Lk. 21:20-24; 23:27-31; Matt. 11:20-24) fell decisively on the powers of darkness and Satan's household was plundered (Mk. 3:27).

All of this happened under God's sovereign hand. We can search for the Kingdom of God, pray for it, and look for it, but only God can bring it about (Lk. 23:51; Matt. 6:10, 33; Lk. 12:31). The Kingdom is God's to give and to take away; it is only ours to enter and accept (Matt. 21:43; Lk. 12:32). We can inherit it, possess it, or refuse to enter it, but it is not ours to build and we can never destroy it (Matt. 25:34; Lk. 10:11). We can work for the Kingdom, but we can never act upon it; we can preach it, but it is God's to establish (Matt. 10:7; Lk. 10:9, 12:32). All of this is an expression of the eschatological framework present throughout the New Testament. It has profound ramifications for its doctrines of salvation and the way in which it speaks of hope. God's inbreaking, saving, vanquishing Rule is his from first to last. It has no human analogs, not duplicates, no surrogates, allows of no human synergism. The inbreaking of the "age to come" into the present is accomplished by God alone.

– David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005, p. 214.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Great Divorce

In the spirit of, "The more things change the more they stay the same," consider the following quote from C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce (1946). I particularly thought of the postmodern focus on the Kingdom of God being about what we do and their preference of questions to answers.

“Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?”

“Well, that is a plan. I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances … I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness – and scope for the talent that God has given me – and an atmosphere of free inquiry – in short, all that one means by civilisation and – er – the spiritual life.”

“No,” said the other. “I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.”

“Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? ‘Prove all things’ … to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.”

- C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, p. 40