Wednesday, December 30, 2009

John Piper at The Village Church

Pastor Matt Chandler is beginning treatment for a malignant brain tumor that he had removed early in December. His testimony to God's goodness and sovereignty is a great encouragement. Continue to pray for him, his family and his church. (For background, see Matt's video testimonies to his church: Video 1, before the surgery. Video 2, after the surgery).

This morning, I listened to Dr. John Piper's message from The Village Church this past Sunday (12/27/09). Juanita listened to it this morning and highly recommended it, so I took some time at the office and opened my Bible to Romans 8 and took some notes.

Let me say, if you have ever struggled with God's goodness and sovereignty in the face of suffering and evil (and who hasn't?), take the time to listen to this message. Give it your full attention.

Here is a little excerpt:

God judicially sentenced the world to what it is today. It was a judgment on the world in response to sin. And I admit that you have to have – and I’m calling you to this, it takes years sometimes to get people to this – you have to have a very high view of God’s holiness, and justice and glory and deservingness and worth and a very clear view of the outrage and the horror and of sin and rebellion against that in order to keep this world from looking like an overreaction to Adam and Eve.

... It doesn’t make any sense unless you know how great God is (See Isaiah 40).



I don't think I'm exaggerating to say that the most significant lessons that God has been teaching me since Emily’s murder have been boiled down, condensed and presented in a precious and heartrending exposition in this message. I can’t overstate how good this message is, and how important it is that you digest the truth of Romans 8:18-25 in its biblical context in, before, and after suffering in this sin-soaked world. God has not left us without answers. God has not left us without hope.

P.G. Wodehouse

Both Josh and I received Wodehouse books for Christmas this year, among other things. We were both pleased. Wodehouse is great holiday reading.

I'm well into Leave it to Psmith. Wodehouse stores are predictable - blatant foreshadowing, typical characters, cringe-worthy predicaments - but the writing is so good that you are always looking for the next zinger. The rest of the prose, between the zingers, is worth basking in because it is so well-crafted.

Here's the opening paragraph,

At the open window of the great library of Blandings Castle, drooping like a wet sock, as was his habit when he had nothing to prop his spine against, the Earl of Emsworth, that amiable and boneheaded peer, stood gazing out over his domain.

A bit later, when Psmith informs his friend about his desperate financial situation, he says,

That low moaning sound you hear is the wolf bivouacked outside my door.

Good fun, that writing. Wodehouse is not for everyone, but I prefer to use it like dark chocolate - it's best consumed slowly along with a strong cup of black coffee.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Dwell

Every year I wrack my brain trying to think of a new idea for a Christmas series. There's nothing wrong with the traditional passages, and I probably preach on those every other year. Last year, I did a more traditional "Witnesses of Christmas" series, so this year, I wanted to do something different.

Our family went to a Michael Card concert last fall and he said something about God wanting to dwell with us, about what a wonder and encouragement that is. On the way home, Juanita and I talked about how that would be a good Advent sermon series, so, I stole the name from a NYC conference on urban church planting and the "Dwell" series was born.


The Dwell series was a flying tour of Scripture in five messages:
  • Dwell 1: In the Beginning - Genesis 1-5

  • Dwell 2: Children of Abraham - Genesis 15

  • Dwell 3: The Promise of the Father - Luke 24:49

  • Dwell 4: God With Us - John 1:14-18

  • Dwell 5: Forever With the Lord - Revelation 21:1-5
For those without the time or inclination to listen to these messages (totally understandable), I'm going to do a brief synopsis of each message here in the next few days

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Defiance

It was -30 this morning, so I put on my Hawaiian shirt. It seemed like the thing to do. I told my daughter Petra that I put it on in defiance of the cold weather. She said, "I don't think it will make any difference." I said, "I know it won't, but it makes me feel better."

That little exchange got me thinking on a more serious line on the way over to the church. Isn't that like so many people that reject God's claim on their lives? They have to know that there is a God, and that He has the right to judge them, but they put on their brave faces and assert their right to live their lives as they see fit, in defiance of His right to set the rules.

This assertion of human rights over God's right won't make any difference on That Final Day. God will judge everyone according to His law - both the written code and the code that He's written on the conscience of everyone.

Who will stand on that day?

The answer to that question hinges on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and upon Him alone. It is because of our rebellion against God's right to rule that Christ came. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). In Jesus Christ, God became flesh to rescue defiant rebels from God's just judgment. He is our ransom, our deliverer, our Great High Priest and Final Sacrifice. He is risen from the dead and the Father has appointed Him as judge over all.

Now, what will you do with Jesus this Christmas season?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pray for the Chandlers

I have come to appreciate the ministry of Matt Chandler. I don't listen to all of his messages, but I have benefited from many of them. After brain surgery last week, Matt and his family just received the news that they did not want to hear. There will be more treatment ahead. You can read an update from his church if you would like more details.

We were moved by a video message by Matt recorded for his congregation just before his surgery. Juanita and I could identify with several things that he said. We, too, have been humbled by the outpouring of support from people in our trial. We have experienced that Christ provides strength when it is needed. We want to honour Him in everything.

Many bloggers are posting this news, but I particularly appreciated this post from Kevin DeYoung. It has a lot of content in a short post.

Please pray that Matt and his wife Lauren would grow deep and strong in God's grace and that God would restore Matt to many more years of preaching.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holding on in the Face of Loss

I was asked by a friend for some advice about holding on to God through the
loss of a friend. I've removed the personal indicators, but I thought the body
of the letter might be of some use to others:

It’s hard to give “one-size-fits-all” advice about keeping God’s character and purposes in perspective, but there are some basics that we must cultivate in the good times so that when tragedy strikes, we have a Rock to stand on. Tragedy and loss will hit every family if we live long enough. It is possible to grow a theology of suffering in the midst of suffering, but it is much harder. All things are possible with God, however.

I was asked to share at our Baptist association's regional convention in May. I took the opportunity to tell the pastors there to prepare their people to die well. That might sound morbid to some, but is there anything else more important that a pastor can do?

I don’t know you well enough to know what you’ve been doing to prepare your heart for the shocks of this fallen, broken world. The message in much of popular Christianity is “happy, happy, happy,” but that’s not realistic, or biblical. I know you know that much, but in the past couple of years – even before Emily’s death – Juanita and I have been growing in our awareness of our own sin and the brokenness of the world. Things are not the way they’re supposed to be. The Bible teaches on suffering so much.

My testimony regarding keeping – and growing – my faith in the midst of loss boils down to this: 1. God is much bigger than I thought He was, and, 2. My sin is much worse than I ever considered. God is good. Because He is good, my sinful soul and body deserve Hell. Anything less than that is mercy. I am a sinner. Sinners die. That’s justice. That I would be transformed and live with a resurrected, perfected body with Christ forever is a mystery and an unspeakable wonder! The suffering and death in this world is the result of man’s rebellion against God. That evil is the “normal” of a fallen world. The joy of salvation, comfort in suffering, and the hope of eternal life are all gracious gifts from our good and loving God. The cross proves the evil of my sin and the love of God simultaneously.

The early church was accused of preaching a message that “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). That’s not quite it. The enemies of the Christians got it wrong. The world is upside down. Christians preach right-side-up, and the world doesn’t like it. The key to getting this is the cross of Christ. This is where we find God’s love, life and assurance. Christ has risen, and so shall we rise.

When you’re overwhelmed and angry at God, turn to the Psalms. They give us permission to express a wide range of emotions to God. Start with Psalms 42, 46, 62 and 73. Then look again to the cross. See the end of the Gospels and also Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. Also check out Isaiah 59. You’ll get a better appreciation of the depths of human sin and the extreme lengths that was willing to go to God in order to bring us forgiveness and the gift of righteousness.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Fear the 13th man

We watched the Grey Cup game yesterday with some friends. This is my son's Facebook status that he posted when we got home:

"One of the Riders' fans was carrying a sign during the game which said "Fear the 13th Man". Oh, the irony."

Well played, Josh.

P.S. My apologies to my American readers. If you're curious, you can Google for the rest of the story.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bible Blitz


Crossway Books has made a package that includes an ESV New Testament available for a very low price. It comes with a door-hanger bag, so we went out this morning and hung a bunch of them around Edson. We, in this case, are volunteers from five churches in town. We had a good turn out and we distributed almost all of the 2500 kits that we ordered.

Being a cooperative project, we listed the names, service times and contact information for the churches that participated on the invitation sheet. I think that in itself says something to our community.

Thanks to Crossway for making this possible, Carol's Books in Edson for tipping us off to it and ordering the materials and to Pastor Steve and the Edson Alliance Church for leading and hosting the teams today.

If you're in another town, check out the possibility of distributing a bunch of Bibles before Christmas. Consider partnering with other churches to biltz your town or neighbourhood.

Now let's pray that people will read their new Bibles!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Paul's Passion for the Church

Last night we had a good Bible study on the book of Philemon. We finished a lengthy study of Philippians last week. Until Christmas we'll do some smaller books and thematic studies.

Philemon is a little jewel. One thing that struck me was Paul's between-the-lines betrayal of his ministry passion in verse 7:

For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.*

Paul is in prison as he writes this, but his source of joy and comfort is good news concerning people in one of the churches he planted. He isn't giving thanks for physical help or personal encouragement (though he does that elsewhere), but for the work of a brother who refreshed the saints.

I had to ask myself, "Is this what I live for? Is this encouragement and spiritual refreshment of the saints what gives me joy and comfort?"

As a cross-reference, we took a look at Paul's mission statement in Colossians 1:28-2:3:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.*


I can identify with Paul's passion to some degree, but it is so easy to be distracted with "ministry" things that do not serve this goal of seeing the saints (and pre-saints that we are evangelizing) not only brought to a greater knowledge of Christ, but brought to the point where they are delighted in Christ and refreshed by His truth and love.

*All Bible quotes are from the ESV

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rejoice

My favorite Christmas album is Savior by Sovereign Grace Ministries. We've had the album for three years now, but I just started listening to it for this season last week - Thursday morning, to be exact. I listened to some of the album at the gym and then plugged my iPod into my car stereo on the way home. Just before I got home, the song Rejoice really got me. Here's the last verse:

All the church rejoice
For your King returns
On a white horse wearing a crown
He will break the sky with the angel's shout
Descending from the clouds
The the dead will rise from the land and sea
All His people will ascend
We will reign with Him for eternity
Rejoice, all the church, rejoice*

I was overwhelmed by the bittersweet reality of that awesome truth. The tears came because our Emily is now one of those dead, but she will rise. So will I - by God's grace - with all God's people. I am thankful that Emily, my dad and other believing loved ones that have gone ahead of us are present and alive with Christ, but what a glorious day awaits us all at the Resurrection!

We sang Rejoice at church on Sunday for the first time and it was well received. This is the first time I've told my story from the trip back from the gym, however.

By the way, you can buy the album at the Sovereign Grace site for $8 plus shipping, or download it there for $6 or buy it on iTunes. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Don't Drift

I preached on Hebrews 2:1-4 on Sunday. The first few minutes of the sermon were not recorded. When I listened to the introduction as I was editing the file for upload, I thought the inadvertent edit improved the message. If you're interested, you can find it here.

Sax for Teeny

I saw the title of this post in the closed captioning in a hockey highlight package this morning at the gymn. The sound was down on that TV, but I knew what they were talking about as they were showing a fight from the Oilers game last night.

Only Oilers aware hockey fans will get this post, but I thought it was funny.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Catching Up

There's lots going on these days, but that has not been reflected here. Here are some highlights:
  • A trip with Josh to Ontario and New York. Our Fellowship Baptist National Convention was in Niagara Falls last week, so I took Josh along and we met some friends and checked out a possible school for Josh in Toronto.
  • Baptisms on Sunday. Excellent, God-honouring testimonies. We're thankful.
  • A new sermon series on the book of Hebrews. Messages are going up at www.edsonbaptist.com

Much more could be said, but for the sake of getting something up, I'm going to post this without further elaboration.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Give Thanks. Seriously.

Thanksgiving is not just a byproduct of good times; it is a crucial Christian discipline. I’ve been slowly learning this, particularly in the last year.

Over the past two weekends, formal thanksgiving has been front and centre here. We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving (October 11-12) and then the 50th anniversary of Edson Baptist Church last weekend.

These formal times of giving thanks to God are right and good. Celebrations are good for the soul, and they train us to be thankful people when we come to them in humility and in a conscious attitude of dependence upon God for His grace.

It would be easy to blow off such events and say, “These are just days on a calendar.” This kind of nonchalance could even wear a mask of spirituality. However, God’s Word sets a pattern of formal thanksgiving and remembrance.

Formal thanksgiving is good, but it must not displace continual, heartfelt thanksgiving to God in our daily lives. Giving thanks is commanded by God in many places. This is one of those, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” things. Thanksgiving is not a work by which we are saved. Quite the contrary, it is a recognition that all good things – and particularly our redemption – come from God as gifts.

To fail to give thanks is to rob God of His glory and deprive ourselves of joy. If you think I’m overstating this, do a word search in a concordance (or your computer Bible program) for “thanksgiving” and “give thanks” and tell me that I’m wrong. If you’re not convinced yet, then read Psalm 50 carefully and work out the logic. We read Psalm 50 in church on Thanksgiving Sunday this year and I was freshly convicted by it.

If you’re still not convinced that giving thanks is that important, I heartily recommend John Piper’s message from New Attitude 2007 on the kind of obedience that pleases God (free download).

If you don’t feel like being thankful, repent! And then dig into God’s Word and look for Jesus there. Contemplate who He is and what He has done for you. Think about what you would have if God had not given you something (hint: nothing). What do we have that we have not received?

Give thanks. Seriously.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Upcoming Events

I've been promoting a couple of upcoming conferences at our church, so I thought that I'd mention them here as well.

First, there is one that I won't be able to attend, but some me from our church may make the trip. It's a Sola Scriptura Conference at Cloverdale Baptist Church on October 22-24 featuring Jerry Bridges, Donald Whitney and John Crotts.

I won't be able to make it because I've been asked to speak at the first annual Mayor's Breakfast in Sylvan Lake, AB. on the 23rd.

However, I do hope to make it to the ReFocus Canada conference at Willingdon Church in Burnaby B.C. April 7-9. John Piper is coming back, as is Bruce Ware. Preston Manning is also a speaker this year - seeing that name in the lineup today was a surprise! It looks like registration is open already.

Friday, October 02, 2009

With One Foot Raised

I recommend all the messages at the recent Desiring God Conference (even though I haven't heard them all yet), but one that really left an impression was Sam Storms talk, The Final Act in Theater of God.

My blog title is from this Calvin quote, cited from a letter to a suffering friend:

"They [our physical afflictions] should serve us as medicine to purge us from worldly affections and remove what is superfluous in us. And since they are to us the messengers of death, we ought to learn to have one foot raised to take our departure when it shall please God."

This morning, I read a similar exhortation in Spurgeon's Morning and Evening:

"The hope which is laid up for you in heaven." - Colossians 1:5

Our hope in Christ for the future is the mainspring and the mainstay of our joy here. It will animate our hearts to think often of heaven, for all that we can desire is promised there. Here we are weary and toilworn, but yonder is the land of rest where the sweat of labour shall no more bedew the worker’s brow, and fatigue shall be for ever banished. To those who are weary and spent, the word "rest" is full of heaven. We are always in the field of battle; we are so tempted within, and so molested by foes without, that we have little or no peace; but in heaven we shall enjoy the victory, when the banner shall be waved aloft in triumph, and the sword shall be sheathed, and we shall hear our Captain say, "Well done, good and faithful servant." We have suffered bereavement after bereavement, but we are going to the land of the immortal where graves are unknown things. Here sin is a constant grief to us, but there we shall be perfectly holy, for there shall by no means enter into that kingdom anything which defileth. Hemlock springs not up in the furrows of celestial fields. Oh! is it not joy, that you are not to be in banishment for ever, that you are not to dwell eternally in this wilderness, but shall soon inherit Canaan? Nevertheless let it never be said of us, that we are dreaming about the future and forgetting the present, let the future sanctify the present to highest uses. Through the Spirit of God the hope of heaven is the most potent force for the product of virtue; it is a fountain of joyous effort, it is the corner stone of cheerful holiness. The man who has this hope in him goes about his work with vigour, for the joy of the Lord is his strength. He fights against temptation with ardour, for the hope of the next world repels the fiery darts of the adversary. He can labour without present reward, for he looks for a reward in the world to come.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Autumn

We've had a beautiful late summer and fall. In our country, the leaves are turning and falling even though we haven't had a real frost yet.



One week from today will be the 1st anniversary of Emily's death. It will be a hard day, but we're getting out of town for the weekend to be together as a family.

We're doing pretty well. I'm thankful that God has helped our family and that we are carrying on. I don't know how next weekend will be, but if Emily's birthday and the first Christmas without her are any indication, I think we'll be okay.

I was reading C.S. Lewis' An Experiment in Criticism last week and I came across a quote that arrested me. He was talking about the difference between real grief and the kind that you meet in a literary tragedy. He wrote, "Sometimes it remains for life, a puddle in the mind which grows always wider, shallower, and more unwholesome" (p. 78 in the Cantos edition).

I don't want that to happen, I don't think it's happening, but the very fact that this sentence leapt off the page at me warns me that it could very easily happen. At the very least, isn't this a picturesque way of putting the lingering bitterness that can remain after a loss?

I don't want to wallow in it, but the grief is still very real. However, God's goodness and grace shines ever brighter and I am thankful for the sure hope we have in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Juanita found a poem about September that is, as she put it, bittersweet. We're enjoying a beautiful autumn, but there is a difficult anniversary to remember.





Friday, September 11, 2009

Sons & Daughters

I've been meaning to do a quick review of this new CD, but I'm going to be lazy and point you to C.J. Mahaney's review. Read the review and then go and buy it!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Church - Sermon Series

It is the 50th anniversary of Edson Baptist Church this year. We are having a celebration weekend on October 17-18, but I thought I would lead up to this event by doing a sermon series on the church. The first message, an introduction, was not recorded.

I have posted a sermon on the church from January 2008 over at the church website (www.edsonbaptist.com) as a substitute.

I've also been planning to make some comments on Psalm 46. Perhaps tomorrow....

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thinking About Churches V: Preaching

This is the last post in a mini-series on anecdotal observations of churches. I don’t get out much, I’m in Edson most Sundays, but over the years I’ve visited several different churches in Canada and the U.S. on holiday. I’ve also had conversations with friends and family about their church experiences. In the churches I’m familiar with, preaching still takes place. That alone should be encouraging, but what is that preaching like?

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I’m disappointed in the general attitude of the service and in the music, but what makes me really sad (and sometimes mad) is the preaching. In each post I’ve said that there are notable exceptions, and I’m thankful for churches that value biblical, expositional preaching, but there is indeed a famine for hearing the Word of the Lord in the land.
The central problem, I've decided, is a rush to application. We don't hear what God is saying, we hear some “relevant” application about how this passage is really about us. Even if Jesus is mentioned, the main point is how we need to clean up our act or try harder at being good Christians. Call it "Law Lite," if you will, but the gospel is missing regardless. Sometimes, there is not even a discernable passage, just a verse or two projected on the screen behind the speaker. The sermon is usually very short, but the personal illustrations are long (some call this authenticity).

Is any of this new? No, not at all. Most of this probably describes the churches I grew up in for the most part (minus the PowerPoint), though I didn't know any different then.

The reason that I'm sad about this is that God presents us a feast and we go out of our way to serve junk food. A lot of people think that the worship stops when the music stops, but can we blame them if the message has nothing of God’s voice to recommend it as worship? If people think that preaching is a bore, they probably think that the problem is with them. I wish I could communicate to them that the problem is with the lack of biblical, gospel content in their services. God is not boring. Our sin and God's solution is not boring.

I asked earlier if this problem was new. Consider this wisdom from 2600 years ago:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. -- Jeremiah 2:12-13

Again, let me stress that there are exceptions. Some churches really celebrate God and the Gospel in biblically faithful ways, but the longer I live, the more I realize how rare churches like this really are. If you attend one, be thankful. If you don't, then make some noise!

So what do I mean specifically about his poor preaching? Let me point you to another source. As I began this post, I thought about an article that I read in Modern Reformation magazine several years ago (I just checked the date – 13 years ago!) and it is still available online. It pinpoints some common preaching problems.

If you are in a church with weak preaching, work on some constructive ways to alert your pastor to the wealth of preaching resources and examples that are available.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Thinking About Churches IV: Music in the Church

In the spirit of rushing in where angels fear to tread, I’m going to present some reflections on music that I’ve witnessed in my “anecdotes from churches I’ve visited on vacation” series. I keep repeating the qualifiers that there are some positive exceptions and that this is unscientific reporting on the state of the church, but I think what I’ve seen is pretty typical.

I've noticed that people are often bored. God is not boring, and the music leaders seem to be really into their thing, so what's the problem? I think it's the shallow content of so many of the songs.

Yes, music is subjective. There are objective standards for weighing the quality of the music we sing in church, however, beginning with the theological depth and quality of the lyrics. If you are interested in growing in your understanding of music and the broader subject of worship, pick up a copy of Bob Kauflin’s book, Worship Matters. He has some other great resource recommendations at his blog and in his book if you want to go even deeper.

What I’ve seen in the songs we sing is way too much emphasis on what we do and not enough about God. Too often, you can go through a whole service with nothing but songs about me singing about how I'm praising God. In these songs, you hear a lot about what I'm doing (or supposed to be doing), but very little content about God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What are we learning as we sing, or what great truths are we celebrating?

This “me” focus is not a matter of new songs vs. old songs. The much-loved In the Garden is an easy example of an older song with this problem.

You can get away with a so-so song in a good mix and even a "me" song can be fine as a response in a bigger package. The trouble comes when most or all of the songs fit this pattern.

Another thing I’ve observed is the "token hymn syndrome." You know, throw in a hymn to keep the traditionalists happy. Unfortunately, there are a lot of flaky hymns to choose from over the last 100 years that won't upset the me/my/I weighting of the service. Sometimes the token hymn is a good song, and I should be thankful for that.

The music chosen for a worship service should be there to serve. It should serve the congregation by directing them to God, it should serve the rest of the service by being cohesive and thoughtfully ordered, and it should serve the sermon. Worship does not end when the preaching starts – preaching should be the main event of the worship service.

If you find a church where expositional, Christ-centered preaching is central, serious, joyful, transcendent music should follow. It usually does.

Are you interested in more significant worship music? Check out Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, Getty Music and Stuart Townend. There are several others that are doing good music these days. There is a bit of a reformation of worship music going on these days, thankfully.

So then, there is no excuse for doing the shallow, flaky stuff, right?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thinking About Churches III: The Lord's Table

In this mini-series, I'm writing about my observations of the church from simply observing churches that I've attended on holidays over the past several years. These observations are unscientific, but one reason that I'm writing about them is that I've found agreement with other believers regarding their church experiences. Today, I'm going to weigh in on the observance of Communion, or what we usually call The Lord's Table.
Bible-loving, gospel-preaching churches of different types have disagreements regarding the observance of Lord's Table. However, whether observed weekly or monthly, if it's called an ordinance or a sacrament, served with grape juice or wine, crackers or bread cubes, passed around or received at the front, Christians churches do practice this ordinance (I'll leave aside groups like the Salvation Army that do not observe for now). I'm not going to weigh in on any of these matters of practice but focus on worship and truth in the observance.

I've experienced the Lord's Table as a mere add-on to the end of the service. It comes across as, "Oh, it's the first Sunday. I guess we'd better do Communion." What is missing is any description of what we're doing, any warning that only Christians are to take part in this ordinance or time for silent prayer and reflection. This careless participation appears to be very common.

The average non-Christian probably thinks that he or she is a Christian, so it is important for the pastor to desribe what the elements of the Lord's Table represent and explain what they are for. This should happen every time we serve Communion. More than an explanation, a warning should be given. I usually read 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 and offer a brief emphasis on the warning given in this passage. If I don't read these verses, I offer a similar warning.

Participating in the Lord's Table is for Christians, but it provides a great evangelistic opportunity for visiting unbelievers. I had one woman tell me that before she came to Christ, she felt acutely that she was on the outside looking in during Communion. It was a key factor in her coming to Christ. If there are no lines drawn, no clear description of what Communion is and who it is for, will people feel their need to repent and believe?

Time should be given for people to reflect upon Christ and His suffering for us during the Communion service. I often don't leave enough time (I feel rushed by the clock, foolishly), but many churches give no time of silent reflection at all.

In one church I attended several years ago, the closest thing to a warning given was the pastor saying, "If you don't feel comfortable taking part, you don't have to." Non-believers should feel uncomfortable during communion, and they should not participate, no matter how they feel.

As a pastor, I take my role as leader of the Communion service seriously. Sometimes I have rushed things or have not been as clear as I should have been with a warning, but when I see how things work in some other churches, I have to ask, "Where is the fear of the Lord?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Catching Up

I've been thinking of a few different things that I wanted to post here, but I don't think a full post on each one will be necessary. Besides, I want to get back to a mini-series on my church observations soon. I'll do a post on my anecdotal reflections on the Lord's Table later today.



For today, here are some point-form mini-posts:



  • My Uncle Bob died on the 9th of August and his funeral was in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan on the 14th. I took my mom to Edmonton and then we went with my brother to the funeral. My mom is #7 of 8 children and Uncle Bob was her younger brother. Now there are two siblings left. It's not easy getting older.

  • A young woman in our church invited me to come over and meet with some LDS missionaries yesterday. It never ceases to amaze me how much vocabulary we share with the Mormons, but I pressed them on the nature of God. We can agree on a thousand things, but if we have a fundamental disagreement about who God is, there is no agreement at all. It's monotheist vs. polytheist. If true religion is about what we do, then we have a lot in common. If true religion is about who we worship, then we couldn't be farther apart. Confusing the Creator with the creation is not a small matter (Romans 1:18-21) and that's what the doctrine of the exaltation of man does.

  • A couple of phrases in Jeremiah 48 jumped out at me today: You will be like a juniper in the desert! For, because you trusted in your works and your treasures, you also shall be taken.... This is in a prophecy against Moab, but it reminded me of some of the stories I'm hearing of people that are suffering in this current economic slowdown (crisis, I believe, is too strong a word for our local situation. I don't know any hungry people that are bound in chains because of their debt).

    When we were on the coast recently, I was admiring a friend's cedar trees. He said that he had to water them like crazy to get them to look like that. The Lord's pronouncement to Moab was that they were going to be like a fruitless bush in the desert. In other words, the Lord had been watering them. He sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous, but because they trusted in their works and treasures and not the Lord, they were going out on their own (with some help from the Babylonians) and would suffer deserved drought.

    When times were good, I had some concerns about people that I know. They were buying all kinds of things on time and living beyond their means. I think they are feeling rather like a bush in the desert now. I hope they learn who the Gardener really is and begin to rely on Him.



Juanita just reminded me of Spurgeon's Morning and Evening for August 13 (she said it was probably in the back of my mind as I was reading about the tree in Jeremiah, and I think she's right. I did read that entry last week). Here's an exerpt:



"The cedars of Lebanon which He hath planted" - Psalm 104:16



Lebanon's cedars are emblematic of the Christian, in that they owe their planting entirely to the Lord. This is quite true of every child of God. He is not man-planted, nor self-planted, but God-planted. // Moreover, the cedars of Lebanon are not dependent upon man for their watering; they stand on the lofty rock, unmoistened by human irrigation; and yet our heavenly Father supplieth them.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Reliability of the New Testament

Justin Taylor linked to an excellent paper on the Bible today (you'll need a up-to-date copy of the free Adobe Reader or similar .pdf reader).

Our confidence in Scripture should be strong if we simply read the Bible regularly, but there are many people who buy into myths regarding God's Word, so a paper like this can be very useful.

Thanks, Dr. Harmon, for making this available.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wretched Radio Interview

This morning I had the privilege of recording a radio interview with Todd Friel of Wretched Radio. The interview will be aired either today or tomorrow. The programs are two hours long, but I'll try to find out where the interview is after it airs. But go ahead and listen to the programs!

If you came here because you heard the interview, welcome!

If you would like to read the posts that record our journey, the first post after Emily's death can be found at September 28, 2008 - follow this link and scroll down to the third entry and then follow October 2008 link at the bottom of the page to get to the October posts. The oldest entries are at the bottom, so read from the bottom up.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Thinking About Churches II - Where is God?

I’m no expert on the Evangelical scene, but from my anecdotal experience and from conversations I’ve had with family members and friends, I’m going to offer some observations on typical evangelical church services.

In this post, I’m going to focus on what happens in general, or, more specifically, what’s missing.

First, if you took notes of the elements of the kind of service I'm thinking about, you'd find very little in terms of historic Christian content. Call to worship, Scripture reading, pastoral prayer, a benediction (let alone a time for confession or silent prayer) are scarce if not missing entirely.

What goes out the window with this pared-down order is any sense that God has anything to say to the congregation. Even in good churches (if I am honest, sometimes even our church), a real sense of transcendence is sorely lacking. Do people leave with a sense that they have met with the One True Holy God?

I did not grow up in a liturgical tradition, but every church has an order of service – a liturgy, if you will. We continue to call the Sunday morning service a worship service, but if you ask the typical worshipper about their experience, he or she would identify the singing time as worship. I don’ t blame them. If there are not significant prayers, Scripture passages read or Christ-centered biblical preaching, then why would the people think that worship is what the whole service is designed for? More than that, why would people think that all of life is to be worship if they are not even taught how to worship at church?

Worship is a response to the worth and work of God. If the revelation of God is not the priority of the service, then real worship will not take place. Worship begins with what God does, and it continues in the truth, grace and power that God provides in the gospel.

In one church service that I attended with my family, there was an earnest attempt at cheerleading from the music leader and the pastor, but the people seemed bored and disengaged. God was not on display. His Word was treated lightly (at least there was some Scripture in this service), the songs were man-centered and the prayers were sparse. Why the boredom? There is only so much enthusiasm people can work up for hearing about, singing about and thinking about themselves.

The philosophy of many of these churches is driven by a seeker-sensitive mandate: don’t make the visitor uncomfortable. Several years ago, I read an article by Dr. Michael Horton in Modern Reformation magazine entitled, Seekers or Tourists?: Or the Difference Between Pilgrimage and Vacation. The church growth gurus don’t have a category for tourists, but they should. Christian worship services should be designed for the pilgrims and the true seekers – the ones that are being convicted and called by God in and through the gospel. It is as the cross of Christ and the glory of our Redeemer is lifted up that God will draw people to Himself.

What is lacking so often in our services is a sense of weight, gravity, seriousness – in short, a consciousness of and exaltation in the glory of God. We must get back to the basics, but first, we have to repent of our shallow individualism and rediscover what God values in Christian worship services.

What are these elements? I’ve mentioned some of them in this post, but I’ll fill in some more details in the next posts in this series.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Thinking About Churches

I just got back from a great holiday on Thursday evening (see previous post). I was back in our church yesterday. I sure am thankful for our church.

Visiting other churches, talking to friends and family about churches and then coming home to our church has me thinking.

When I graduated from seminary a dozen years ago, I was quite discouraged - cynical, even? - about the state of the evangelical church. I've mellowed out some. After some conversations and thinking about what I've seen in the churches we've visited, I'm feeling discouraged again.

Let me slip in some exceptions to the discouraging picture here, lest I slip back into cynicism.

First, we have visited some excellent churches. We have been more careful before we go on holidays. Juanita does her homework so we don't have to get all worked up by the type of service we're likely to find by just dropping into a random evangelical church.

I've also been very encouraged with some of the movements that are building strength on the conservative side of the Evanglical world - Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, Nine Marks and some excellent, influential books and blogs. If these movements were strictly parachurch, they'd be no big deal but they are making a significant difference in local congregations.

However, it seems that most professing evangelical churches require radical reformation. What am I talking about? I'm just going to mention them now, but I'll do a post on each of the four issues that really stand out in the next few days:
  • The general order of service / attitude of the usual worship service: Where is God?
  • The way the Lord's Table is observed: Where is the fear of God?
  • Music - the "me" songs, the ones that talk about me worshipping rather than about God and the gospel: Where is the worship of God?
  • Preaching, or what passes for preaching: Where is the Word of God?

I don't doubt the sincerity of the church leadership in some of the services I've cringed through, but that's not the point. Do these pastors understand what it is to feed the sheep in their care?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Summer Holidays

We finished a week of R&R at Sunnybrae Bible Camp on Saturday. That, for our family, is the best holiday. We're thankful for friends - old and new - beautiful weather (mid 30's or low 90's, depending on your scale), solid chapel messages, an excellent beach, great food, helpful staff, a trip to the falls on Wednesday, Tappan Co-op ice cream, safe travels, etc. etc.

This weekend, we've had a mini-reunion with Juanita's family in Kelowna. Now we're off to Revelstoke for some camping. I'll be home soon, but Juanita will be staying in B.C. for a bit with the girls a little longer. Petra is going to camp on Sunday for a week, Anne will be staying with Nana and Poppa in Kamloops, and Juanita will be helping in the kitchen at Sunnybrae. Josh is at camp for the summer (for the third year).

We've missed Emily this holiday. There were more "firsts," but we're thankful for God's goodness and grace.

I asked for a few minutes to talk at the beginning of camp. Everyone knows our story, and I knew that some people would feel awkward talking to us. I thought if I gave a little update, it would make for an easier week of family camp for everyone.

Thanks, once again, my readers, for your prayers and kindness to our family.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Visit to Rome

Last week, I was a part of the best Vacation Bible School ever. Every two years, we do a big production for our VBS - in 2005 it was Jerusalem Marketplace, in 2007 it was Galilee by the Sea, and this year it was Rome: Paul and the Underground Church. Each of these is a Group kit. I don't know about the rest of their curriculum, but they do VBS well, particularly this Rome one. My only complaint would be their Bible translation, but that's another story.

We had fantastic participation from our church family and good response from the community. In fact, our local weekly newspaper had a front page feature picture of "Paul" and his house-arrest guard "Brutus" (way to go Brian and Dylan - have fun with that at work!).

There was one particular highlight this week. One dramatic sketch (they interrupt the marketplace time with on-theme dramas) took an unexpected turn. The story was that the food booth merchant was offering free samples of "sweet bread." While she wasn't looking, a young woman carrying a baby stole a basket of bread. A soldier - a tough guy we had prowling around all week - caught her and was preparing to take her to prison for a flogging and incarceration.

What was in the script was that the merchant - a Christ-follower - was to hurry back to her stall to get money to give to the mother to pay for the bread, a great illustration of ill-deserving favour, i.e. God's grace to us sinners.

What wasn't in the script was several kids offering their money to the poor criminal. The kids recieved a pouch each day with 3 Roman Denarii. They used this money to do marketplace things - including buying food for their snack. They needed that money. I don't know who made the first move, but lots of kids rushed up with a coin held high to "save" this poor thief.

That was cool. I think the kid - and adults - will remember the big idea of that evening, which was, "God's love saves us."

Anyway, I'm proud of my church for the great job they did in teaching and serving a bunch of kids last week. I think they had fun, too!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Interview @ Challies.com

Tim Challies over at Challies.com sent me some questions regarding our loss of Emily. I've enjoyed Tim's blog for years, it's one of my every day must-reads. I hope if you read the interview, you'll check his blog regularly.

I found these questions tough yet sensitive. I'm really glad I had a couple days to think about them and get Juanita's help. They would have been hard to answer on the spot.

This was a hard exercise. I went back and read my blog posts from last fall. The comments were what really got me. It was such a difficult time, but we so appreciated the encouragement and help from so many people.

This morning I preached on 2 Samuel chapter 12 on repentance and forgiveness. Parts of that were hard, too, but God's Word is such a great anchor.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Church Website

I am very happy to announce that our new website is up and running. We had it professionally done, and we're glad we did. It's still a little rough around the edges, but that is no fault of the developer (we don't have a logo and the copy on some of the pages needs some fine-tuning).

My sermons will be hosted at the new site, so I've added a link to the site on my link box at the top of this page.

Check it out at www.edsonbaptist.com. I'd welcome any feedback on how we might improve things over there (or here, for that matter).

Friday, July 03, 2009

Playground Dedication: Sunnybrae Bible Camp

Our family has been in Edson for almost twelve years and we are thankful to be here. However, we left part of our hearts at Sunnybrae Bible Camp near Salmon Arm, B.C.

To launch the camp year, the Interior Association of churches that supports the camp holds a Sunnybrae Celebration to launch the new season. This year - June 21st - was a special Sunnybrae Celebration for our family, even though we were not able to make it. Juanita's Mom and Dad were able to be there - more on that in a bit.

When Emily was killed, we asked that donations be made to the camp, as it was a very special place for her. She was planning to follow her brother as a counselor in training this summer.

We were amazed at the response of people. More money than we could have imagined came into the camp as people were affected by Emily's death and gave generously. We are very thankful.

Talking to the director, we agreed that the money would well spent building a new playground. Below are some pictures of that new playground - ready for the summer season.








Several years ago, a pastoral family in the area lost their young son. They established a memorial fund. They agreed to put the money from that fund into this playground project as well.

My father-in-law prayed a prayer of dedication for this new playground. He gave me permission to post it here.

We're very thankful for such a godly heritage - a living legacy - for us and our children in our parents.

Heavenly Father,
As we gather together today, we thank you for [the boy] and Emily Stauffer in whose memory this playground has been provided. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for drawing both [boy] and Emily into vibrant faith and love to Yourself. We thank You that because Your Son Jesus covered their sins with His own blood and Your Spirit drew them to faith, we have the assurance that they are with You in glory, rejoicing in Your presence.

We thank you for their parents, for [the boy's family] and Terry & Juanita Stauffer, who raised their children to know You and love You and serve You. We thank you for using [them] and Terry & Juanita to touch lives for You, and we pray that many more will be drawn to faith in Christ through their lives and ministry in coming days.

We thank You for this playground to which so many have contributed in memory of [him] and Emily. We pray that many children will enjoy this playground and be drawn to Christ through this camp. We ask You to bless every contributor for their generosity.

We thank You for Sunnybrae Bible Camp and for Jim and Wendy Neustaeter, our Camp Director. We thank You for the lives which have been touched here at Sunnybrae and ask You to draw many more to Yourself this summer.

And now, Lord, we dedicate this playground to You to be used for Your honour and glory.

In the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Forever

I haven't been paying too much attention to all the media coverage of Michael Jackson's death, but I can't avoid it entirely. What a worldwide spectacle. We have some friends who are missionaries in Pakistan who were over for a visit a couple of weeks ago. We were talking about perceptions of American culture over there. They said that most people in their area wouldn't know who Oprah is, but they know about Michael Jackson.

I looked at a tribute gallery via Tim Challies blog a few minutes ago and I noticed that in the worldwide tributes, the word "forever" featured prominently (in English, all over the world).

I preached a message yesterday on 2 Samuel 7 - a key covenant passage in the Old Testament. The world forever features prominently in that passage, too. God promised David an everlasting kingdom. The heart of this promise is picked up in many places in the rest of the Bible - this was a very significant promise.

One connection that I saw (thanks to the index in Carson and Beale's most useful Commentary on The New Testament Use of the Old Testament) was in John 12:32-34. The people were puzzled by Jesus' statement that he would be "lifted up." They knew that meant death, but Messiah was to "remain forever." How could these facts be reconciled?

Fast forward to Apostolic preaching: The resurrection explains everything! Without Christ's bodily resurrection on the third day, not only the Apostles' witness and the faith of all Christians disintegrates (1 Corinthians 15), the Old Testament expectations and promises evaporate as well.

It is sad to see people put their hopes in flawed heroes and their fleeting fame. The gospel is the sure hope of God's people in the solid rock of Jesus Christ - His eternal nature as God the Son, His sinless life as the Ultimate Promise Keeper, His death for sinners on the cross and His glorious, life-giving resurrection - the promise of a future resurrection and a forever body for all who believe.

P.S. Due to a technical problem, the message from yesterday was not recorded. I uploaded another message from last Fall - it was November 16th, I believe. It on Philippians 3 and it may be found under General Messages through the link at the top of this blog, or find it here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

New Sermons Posted

I've posted two sermons since my last post, they're available through the box on the top-right of this blog under 1&2 Samuel. They don't show up in chronological order, but I have started leading the title of the message with the date.

I'm doing a flying survey through these books, which means lots of reading for me and lots of material left on the cutting room floor every week. There are so many unanswered questions in this series, but that's okay. I'm not a great big picture guy, so this is a good discipline. One day, when I learn more about this book and biblical theology, I'd like to go back and preach these books again.

Preaching on 1&2 Samuel is good for me. It is humbling to see my own heart in these sin-sick characters. I hope the people of our church are benefitting from this series - I know I am.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A Worthy Celebration of Mom

It was my Mom's 85th birthday on Thursday. We celebrated today with a family gathering and a meal at the church. Mom's two surviving siblings (out of 8) made the trip as well. They came quite a distance, which wasn't easy for them, but Mom was very happy to see them.

I am thankful for my Mom. It is not easy to grow older. We can see that with her loneliness and limitations in mobility. I am most thankful that she is continuing to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Please Pray for the Barnes Family

Elizabeth Barnes, 18 year-old daughter of Pastor Ron and Susan Barnes, died on May 17th while she was on a trip to France. The funeral will be on Sunday.

Although I don't know this family, I think I can safely say that our family can identify with what they are going through right now. Their church, Grand River Community Church, is a Fellowship Baptist Church in Elora, Ontario. I hope and trust that their church is taking care of them as well as our church took care of us. I do know that our Saviour is able to sustain them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Feeding Sheep

I've been constantly amazed by the depth of God's Word. I'm preaching a series on 1 & 2 Samuel on Sunday mornings and our Wednesday Bible study is working through Philippians. I am so blessed that I get to study, teach and preach God's Word as a significant part of my vocation. The best part is that if I keep to the text, my appreciation of this Word will continue to grow as long as God gives me strength.

I try not to focus on the negatives "out there" in the Evangelical world, but I am very aware of many starving sheep in other churches. Why can't pastors see that they need to simply preach the Word and - as Christians - preach Christ from all of Scripture?

As I was feasting on Philippians yesterday, I thought of reports from a few people I know about the lack of food at their churches. An illustration came to mind:

Preachers that are doing everything but preaching Christ from the Bible are like shepherds who lead their flock out to the middle of the desert to show them pretty rocks. "OOOH! Look at those pink crystals!" Meanwhile, the sheep are starving and dying of thirst.

Pastors, get down into the valley. Lead those poor sheep to the still waters and green pastures of the Good Shepherd. Proclaim Him, exalt Him, reveal Him from the pages of His Word.

In the eight months since Emily's death, the urgency of knowing and proclaiming Christ has grown in my life. To be honest, I'm sometimes disgusted with myself that this urgency hasn't grown more, but it is growing.

I don't know how people - professing Christians or not - can survive regular life, let alone trials, without seeing and savoring Jesus Christ (to steal a line from John Piper).

If you're reading this and you're a hungry sheep - or if you're not sure you're a sheep at all - a good place to go to test your appetite is a conference that has just wrapped up. The audio is now up. I haven't listened to the messages yet, but I know the speakers by reputation. I know you'll be encouraged and fed by these men. So, go check out the NEXT 2009 messages.

However, internet audio is no substitute for a local church, so make sure that you're in a church this coming Sunday (if at all possible) that preaches Christ faithfully from His Word. If you don't know where to find a church like this, then pray about it and do some serious digging until you find one! So sheep, or sheep to be (by God's grace), go find some food!

If you are a pastor reading this, remember that you're #1 responsibility is to feed the sheep under your care. Don't neglect this - it is truly a life and death priority.

Monday, May 18, 2009

May Long Weekend Snow


Unfortunately, this isn't too rare where we live.


From Last night, courtesy of Josh:



And one from this morning in front of our house:






Sunday, May 17, 2009

Failure

Failure is our friend.

That's how I concluded the message on 1 Samuel 2-7 yesterday.

Sure, failure is awful - particularly in these chapters - but look at how Israel responded under Samuel's leadership in chapter 7. There are a lot of lessons there.

The sermon is up. The audio seems rather faint, so I hope it works for you.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Uniqueness of Christianity

I was asked to speak to the high school class at our local Christian school. The topic was the uniqueness of Christianity in a relativistic age. I only had 40 minutes, but here's what we covered. I know this paper (which I wrote after the class for the students) is woefully inadequate, but I only had about 40 minutes. I purposely limited myself to two pages, but I hope it gives an outline of worthwhile lines of defense for the Gospel.

Is Christianity the Only True Religion? YKCS Sr. Bible Class

What is the right response to the charge that Christianity is arrogant because it claims to be the only way and truth? I am going to present three lines of argumentation – each of them builds on the prior point:

A. Scripture

The Bible claims to be the only true revelation of God – particularly the only true revelation of the only Saviour, Jesus Christ. Critics respond to this by charging Christians with a circular argument: “You claim authority from a book, but then only turn to that book to substantiate your authority! That’s not fair!”

I would put the question back to the skeptic: “Upon what authority do you claim that all religions are the same or that Christianity is false for making absolute truth claims?” The skeptic has no authority but his own reason. Reason is his book, and it is circular argumentation for him to appeal to that book for a foundation for reason, truth or morality.

The Bible does not leave us without evidences, however:
- The Bible has stood the test of time and influence – not only in the West, but around the world.
- It was written by 40 authors over about 1500 years by a wide cross-section of people. It was not created by an individual or a small group in a short period of time as something new, but was built upon what was revealed beforehand (unlike Islam or Mormonism, for example).
- No book has been more examined, more researched and more trusted in human history. The manuscript evidence for the reliability of the New Testament alone is overwhelming.
- The internal coherence of the Bible is astonishing. The message of human sin and inability and divine intervention, the promise of God’s Deliverer, and the New Testament dependence upon the Old Testament are just a few examples.
- The history of the apostles and the early church underline the authenticity of their message: Who would die as a martyr for a man-made religion? Jesus’ resurrection – which validated his teaching and crucifixion – is the only reasonable explanation for the tremendous explosion of Christianity in the early days of the New Testament church.

What is the track record of purely relativistic humanism? What can it present as an alternative authority?

So, what does the Bible say about itself? Here are a couple of examples:
- But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14 -17 (ESV)

- And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:19-21 (ESV)

There are many other passages that talk about the nature and power of God’s Word (Psalm 19 and Isaiah 55:10-11, for example), but the two examples above teach us some fundamental truths:
- The Bible is God’s Word – not man’s word. This is very significant. Because God, the Creator, has spoken, we can trust His Word. Who could know more than Him?
- The Bible is not just for information, it is for transformation – it is able to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

That leads us to the most important part of the Christian truth claim: Jesus Christ Himself.

B. Jesus Christ

The Bible is full of testimony to man’s need of a Saviour and God’s promise of a deliverer. The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus Christ is the one who has come to reconcile man to God. Here are a couple examples of passages that point to Jesus as the Only Saviour for all people:

- Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him." Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…. John 14:5-9 (ESV)

- This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. – Acts 4:11-12 (ESV)

There is logic to the claim that salvation is through Jesus Christ alone:
- How many gods are there? There is only one God – this is the basic confession of not only Christianity, but Judaism and Islam as well.
- God is one in essence, but three in persons. This is an exclusively Christian claim, but it is consistent with the Old Testament (Jewish) Scriptures.
- If God is one, and if Jesus Christ is the revelation of God in flesh (as He claimed), then how many Saviours can there be? There can only be one.

Jesus, then, is the only Saviour. That raises the question: Why do we need saving, and how does this salvation work?

C. The Gospel

The fundamental confusion that many Christians experience when challenged with the narrowness of the Christian truth claims boils down to a misreading of the Gospel. This is due to a loss of the truth of God’s holiness (which is abundantly clear in the Bible) and the doctrine of mans’ sinfulness and utter spiritual separation from God. It is beyond the scope of this brief paper to address these issues, but I challenge you to read through the first three chapters of the book of Romans if these are foreign concepts to you.

Essential to biblical Christianity is a right understanding of the Gospel. If Christianity is about what we do through our good works, the pursuit of morality and sincere worship (or religious rituals), then the charge that all religions are the same will stand against us. Christianity is just another human religion.

If, however, if Christianity makes a radically different claim, a unique claim, then the “all religions are the same” objection vanishes. What is it about Christianity that makes it unique, different than all other religions?

The truth of Christianity is summed up in the declaration of the Gospel – which simply means good news. “Be nice to one another, take care of the poor and the weak, don’t hurt each other,” etc. etc. is not news, it is advice. All major religions share this kind of message.

The Gospel declares, “Christ died for our sins … Christ rose from the dead on the third day … there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus … behold, I make all things new” (1 Corinthians 15:1-3; Romans 8:1; Revelation 21:5). This all centers upon the person and work of Jesus Christ – God the Son, the Son of God. In fact, it is God that enables us to repent, believe and receive this news. We are transformed by the Gospel by the supernatural work of God the Holy Spirit (see John 16:8 and context).

In short, Christianity is unique because it majors on what God has done, not upon what we must do to achieve God’s favour, personal enlightenment or “global harmony” or whatever. This is true for new Christians and it is true for those who have been Christians for decades. We are saved through faith in this good news of what God has done. The Gospel declares that to find peace with God and see the future transformation of this broken world, we must be passive recipients – we must receive God’s salvation as a gift.

This unique message is the foundation of Christianity, and it is the centre of God’s revealed truth. If we try to blend it with other religions, or bend it to the will of modern skeptics, it will be lost. The consequence of losing the Gospel is not merely the loss of a religion, but the loss of the voice and the salvation of God. This catastrophe of unbelief is nothing short of the road to Hell.

May God give us grace to “…contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3b).

Friday, May 08, 2009

Emily's Birthday

Emily Joy was born on May 8, 1994. Today was another milestone for our family since her death in September, but it was a good day nonetheless.

We took off for Jasper to get away from the routine (particularly the phone) and spend some time as a family. It was rainy, but we went for a hike anyway. We poked around some shops, had supper at Earls, and then had ice cream at the Marble Slab in Hinton on the way home.

We're doing well, by God's grace. We think of Emily all the time, but we are so thankful for God's promises and His presence with us.

I was going to post a picture from Emily's birthday last year with this post, but it just didn't seem right, somehow. I was glad to review the pictures, but I think I'll hold on to them.

We still have people encouraging us by letting us know that they're praying for us, occasional cards and even little gifts. A few people from the church have checked in on us this week to make sure that we were okay leading up to Emily's birthday. This is all very humbling, and we are grateful for God's people.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Toronto Envy?

There's not much that this Alberta boy would envy about Toronto, of all places, but here is an exception: The Toronto Pastor's Conference.

Here's the scoop:

Speakers: Mark Dever and Matt Schmucker of 9Marks Ministries
Date: June 1,2,3 2009
Cost: $115 -- Includes conference registration, books, several meals, and more.

Register online at torontopastors.org if you live a little closer to TO than I do!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Busy, busy, busy

It's a disease of modern times, but it is also evidence of life - of God's continuing mercy and grace. When I visit the nursing home at our local hospital, I don't complain to the people there that I'm too busy!

Some of the family has been busy with music. Juanita accompanied several singers and the girls sang and played piano last week at our regional music festival. The girls have been invited back to sing at the Grand Concert in Hinton on Wednesday evening. That's cool, but it means another trip down the highway.

Josh and Juanita were at the last Bible quizz meet of the year over the weekend. The last one is held at a camp that's about two hours away. Josh's team did well again, and he had a great time.

On Sunday afternoon, right after Juanita and Josh arrived back from quizzing, we went to visit some family that was up from the States. My mom met a couple of here great-grandchildren for the first time. That alone was worth the trip (about 900 km total), but we had a good visit with everyone.

Between the two vehicles, I think we're on pace for over 2000 km in two weeks.

It seems that everyone is busy, and we are not unique in this regard, but it is hard to balance family, church and community activities and obligations in a way that is responsible and God-honouring.

I've been thinking a lot about what to post here - particularly as it relates to what God is teaching us in our loss of Emily. It's hard to sort out what's too personal, what's irrelevant, and what may be helpful as posts on this blog.

I think things may be slowing down around here for our family in a little while, so I hope to get back to more thoughtful posts soon.

Thank you to my few faithful readers who have been putting up with pretty slim pickin's here lately!

P.S. I started a new sermon series on 1&2 Samuel on Sunday. The link is on the top right corner of the blog.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Secret to Soul Satisfaction

One way to fulfilment ...

Joy is not a luxury ...

Is that from a John Piper sermon?

Nope. It is from a brief BMW ad that I saw on TV at the gym today. Between the two statements, they flashed a picture of a 3-series cabriolet.

That's just sad.

It did make me glad that God is working on my heart so that I saw the foolishness of that commercial. The one way to fulfilment and joy is not stuff.

This is a work in progress --my heart is drawn in all sorts of sinful directions -- but thanks be to God that this work is at least in progress!

Monday, April 27, 2009

News

Great messages have been made available online this week. I already linked to the SGM Pastors Conference, but the Gospel Coalition Conference took place in Chicago last week. I watched live streams of a couple of the messages, but plan to listen to them all soon.

Due to a gracious offer this weekend, our church is on the verge of getting a website up and running. We've had a host and a domain for a while, but now it looks like we have the budget for professional developing.

Last, and least, my latest message (Hebrews 1:1-4 part 2) is up as well.

** Update - Links for my message, both in this post and in the widget, have been fixed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sovereign Grace Conference Trip

On April 6-8, Juanita and I had the opportunity to attend the SGM Pastors and Wives conference at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland (near Washington, D.C.). We decided to take a family vacation at the same time - as a homeschool family we couldn't miss the educational opportunities in the area and, besides, we like being with our kids.

We left for D.C. on March 31 and arrived home in the wee hours of Good Friday. The trip overall was great, but the conference was the highlight. It was refreshing to hear the preaching, participate in the worship and meet several people who were very encouraging.
There is much more that could be said about the conference, but I'll just encourage you to get the MP3s when they are available (soon, I hope). I'll link to them when they show up.

We're thankful that we had this opportunity and for the new friends that we made along the way.

We took lots of pictures, but here's a brief representation of where we went before the conference:

Williamsburg, VA. Highly recommended!



Jamestown, VA - We only took a quick tour here, but this community was established in 1607. The recreations were neat, but the ships were the best!




The National Gallery, Washington, D.C. I took lots of pictures here, but I'll just post two.


There were a couple of copyists working at the gallery. We talked with this fellow for a while.


A view of the main gallery from the modern art gallery. Notice the cherry blossoms - we hit D.C. for the Cherry Blossom Festival.


There is so much to see in D.C. and area. I don't know if or when we'll make it that way again, but we made some good memories this trip.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Psalm 62

I've been negligent with posting my messages. Truth be told, my last two messages didn't get recorded. We were away on April 5th and Resurrection Sunday was a baptism - the recording got lost in the shuffle.

I have posted a message on Psalm 62 from November 9, 2008, my first Sunday back in the pulpit after Emily's death. I didn't have the heart to jump back in to Ephesians, so I did some other stuff for a few weeks.

I understand that a couple of reporters were present for that service. I didn't meet them. In terms of news, I'm sure they were disappointed, but I hope the seeds of the Gospel bear fruit.

I will be posting some reflections on our 9 days back East very soon. We hit the ground running when we got home!

Friday, March 27, 2009

C.J. Mahaney

A post by C.J. Mahaney on his blog reminded me of the first time I ever heard him. It was a Nine Marks interview by Mark Dever from February 2003. Three things stood out from that interview: First, the subject of his blog post -- the great stress relief and humility builder that only God always gets His to-do list done. Secondly, his comments on recognizing evidences of grace in the local church, using the example of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:4-9. And last, but not least, the emotion and gratitude that C.J. displayed in giving his incredible testimony.



I'll let you read what he says about to-do lists, but I will give a few words on the second subject, which is one that I happen to be preaching on this coming Sunday (and I decided that before I saw the blog post). On Sunday, I'm preaching my last message on Ephesians from 6:21-24 and the title is "The Art of Benediction." That discussion in the interview about celebrating God's work in His people convicted me and continues to do so. I tend to be weak on recognizing evidences of grace and showing appreciation. There is a message by C.J. on 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 here. I encourage you to download it and give it a listen.



After that Nine Marks interview, I did some more research on this joyful basketball fan and found a real treasure-trove of material. Juanita and I and our church family have benefited greatly from Sovereign Grace Ministries. We are very thankful for the sermons, the conference messages, music, and even the Sunday School Curriculum that our church uses from this group of churches.



We've seen many people read and benefit from C.J.'s book Living the Cross-Centered Life. We have a book table in our church and I don't know how many copies of that book have gone out. A few others have read Humility by C.J. as well. I read it on the way back from Together for the Gospel in 2006.



I'm aware that showing appreciation and telling others about people can devolve into hero worship, but it's hard to worship a man who so faithfully points to his sin, the cross and the need for humility in the face of God's astonishing grace.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Just Keep Reading, Preacher

Last week I shared my concern that I was missing something in my preaching. In my mini-series on spiritual warfare from Ephesians 6:10-20, I felt that I was being too "safe" and that I needed to inject a more topical message before I wrapped things up.

Well, as I prepared a message on prayer last week, I was blown away but what the Apostle Paul really says about prayer in three short verses (just note the cross-references at the Bible Gateway link). From these verses, I found seven points:

1. Pray in the Spirit
2. Pray at All Times
3. Pray About Everything
4. Pray With Your Eyes Open
5. Pray for All the Saints
6. Pray for Gospel Preachers
7. Pray for Gospel Opportunities

The message is up on box.net (just click the link at the top right corner of this blog), but if you don't want to listen, let me explain a couple of the more obscure points above (my obscurity, not the text's).

4. Pray With Your Eyes Open might seem odd, but what I'm getting at here is spiritual alertness and perseverence in the face of temptation and opposition to prayer that will come. I was picking up on Paul's "eyes of the heart" allusion from Ephesians 1.

7. Pray for Gospel Opportunities is an admittedly loose interpretation of Paul's description of himself as an "ambassador in chains." Paul's confidence in God's sovereign providence made him conscious of the fact that the Gospel was not hindered by his chains. See Philippians 1:12-14 for more proof of this assertion. The application of this is that we can't blame God for our lack of Gospel witness. None of our "chains" can keep God from working in us.

I was really convicted by this message. When you carefully consider what Paul says in context, serious prayer is an urgent component of spiritual warfare. It expresses our dependence upon God. That is a very practical application of the metaphor of the full armour of God in the previous verses.

So, all this to say that I was particularly schooled by the text last week.

Preacher, when you think something's missing, just keep reading.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Practical Spiritual Warfare

I've been preaching through Ephesians and I am almost at the end. Being an impatient sort of fellow, I've been itching to get on with a new series and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel on this one. What a strange thing it is for me to want to be done with Ephesians!

This coming Sunday (the 22nd), I was going to preach on Prayer and Perseverence as a wrap-up to 6:10-20, but after Sunday's message, I had a nagging thought that I really haven't done this passage justice. It is safe to generalize, and that is just what I've done. Maybe I should do one more week and get more pointed in the application of these crucial concepts of spiritual warfare.

During my first message, I made the point that spiritual warfare is a topic as big as the Bible. I can't get to everything, so I might as well move on.

On Monday morning, I listened to a podcast from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation by Dr. Ed Welch on Shame. This message tweaked my conscience. Talk about a practical aspect of spiritual warfare! Since then, I've been thinking about extending my Ephesians series by one week and revisiting the key issues of guilt, shame, forgiveness and justification. There is both illegitimate and legitimate shame in Scripture, and it is a key battlefront where we need to apply the Gospel.

I like to outline my sermons ahead of time, but I do need to be flexible from time-to-time.

So, what's the purpose of this post? Call it confession. I have been more conscious lately about my "safe" preaching - at least it's pretty safe within the walls of my own church. I need to think and pray and visit with people and find out where the battle is really raging in my own congregation and in my own life. I must listen to where God's Word - even in passages that I've "handled" - speaks to these issues and be brave enough to preach boldly.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Plans

I've been thinking a lot lately about a conference that we're planning to attend in early April. For several years, we've appreciated the ministry of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and now, Lord willing, we will be at their Pastors and Wives Conference. If you're not familiar with Sovereign Grace, they have a ton of resources on their website, including downloadable music (for a fee) and free MP3 messages (sermons, conferences, seminars etc.). Take some time to look around - your efforts will be richly rewarded!

We have tickets booked and we've notified some family that live out that way. We're looking forward to seeing them, too. Being a homeschool family, we're also hoping to have some enjoyable educational experiences in D.C. and places like Jamestown, VA.

As is to be expected, I've had a few invitations to speak at various places. I've said no to a couple of them due to scheduling issues, but I've also said I'd speak at two of them so far, both of them in Alberta. In some ways, it is hard to accept these invitations because I know why I'm being asked. I do want to be available to point people to Christ through the Gospel, however, so I'll consider these opportunities as they come up.

I think that part of the reason that I'm looking forward to the SGM Pastors and Wives is that Juanita and I can just sit and soak - recharge our batteries with great teaching and worship.

We continue to hear from people that are still praying for us. We appreciate that very much and are humbled by the kindness of God's people - family, friends and even people we don't know.

Our plans and our lives are in God's hands, and He is good.

P.S. Yesterday's message is up - just click on the sermons box on the top-right side of the blog, if you're interested.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Cold Day in March

It was -38 in Edson this morning. Edmonton International Airport recorded -42. That's a new record low. Since they've been recording, -29.4 was the lowest temperature on this date.

If your a Fahrenheit person, remember that -40 C and -40 F are the same.

That's cold no matter how you slice it.

Things are looking up, though. Tomorrow morning is only supposed to be -27 C.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Ephesians 6:10-20: Spiritual Warfare I

Last week I said I wouldn't do any more posts about my messages. I changed my mind. I guess I should do a post to let people know that a new one is up.

Yesterday's message was on spiritual warfare. As I was preparing, I realized that this is a theme from Genesis 3 all the way to Revelation 21. That's a big subject.

Next week, Lord willing, I'll tackle the armour and the following week will be prayer and perseverance.

If you're new here, the sermons can be found by clicking a link in a box on the top right-hand side of this page.

Friday, March 06, 2009

You Must Be Born Again

My copy of John Piper's new book, Finally Alive arrived in the mail yesterday. I don't always get the latest Piper book, but the concept of this one gripped me. Do I really emphasize the necessity of the new birth enough in my teaching and preaching? There is nothing more important, nothing more central to Christianity.

Then, today, I read today's Morning and Evening morning reading. Here it is:

“Ye must be born again.”

- John 3:7

Regeneration is a subject which lies at the very basis of salvation, and we should be very diligent to take heed that we really are “born again,” for there are many who fancy they are, who are not. Be assured that the name of a Christian is not the nature of a Christian; and that being born in a Christian land, and being recognized as professing the Christian religion is of no avail whatever, unless there be something more added to it-the being “born again,” is a matter so mysterious, that human words cannot describe it. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” Nevertheless, it is a change which is known and felt: known by works of holiness, and felt by a gracious experience. This great work is supernatural. It is not an operation which a man performs for himself: a new principle is infused, which works in the heart, renews the soul, and affects the entire man. It is not a change of my name, but a renewal of my nature, so that I am not the man I used to be, but a new man in Christ Jesus. To wash and dress a corpse is a far different thing from making it alive: man can do the one, God alone can do the other. If you have then, been “born again,” your acknowledgment will be, “O Lord Jesus, the everlasting Father, thou art my spiritual Parent; unless thy Spirit had breathed into me the breath of a new, holy, and spiritual life, I had been to this day ‘dead in trespasses and sins.’ My heavenly life is wholly derived from thee, to thee I ascribe it. ‘My life is hid with Christ in God.’ It is no longer I who live, but Christ who liveth in me.” May the Lord enable us to be well assured on this vital point, for to be unregenerate is to be unsaved, unpardoned, without God, and without hope.
- C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, March 6th

This Sunday is communion Sunday at our church. I'm also preaching on Ephesians 6:10-20, the first of three "Spiritual Warfare" sermons on this text.

Perhaps God is trying to tell me something? It's time to emphasize the need to be born again very strongly and clearly this Sunday at Edson Baptist Church.