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.