Thursday, October 22, 2015

When You Don't Delight in God

At Grace Fellowship Church we have one primary mission; to delight in God, to the glory of God, for the good of all people. We think this best summarizes the purpose of every Christian’s life.
But choosing to be happy in God is not easy. We contend with the world, the flesh and the devil, and at any given moment might be fighting against all three. At our prayer meeting last night we tried to come up with the most common ways we fail to delight in God. After that, we tried to answer each from the Word. This gave us a great framework from which to pray for our church family.
I was so blessed by this I thought I would share it with you.

Obstacle to Delight    
    --> Answer

Fear of man  
    --> Fear of God

    --> Self-forgetfulness

    --> Contentment

    --> Prayer

    --> Faith

    --> Worship of God

    --> Joy

    --> Humility

    --> Single-mindedness

    --> Deliberateness

This list helps in several ways.

  1. It helps identify what might be going on in our heart when we are not delighting in God.
  2. It provides a possible antidote for what ails us.
  3. It gives us a great list of things to pray for fellow church members any day of the week. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

About that Tim Challies Guy

I no longer have the first email I received from Tim Challies, but I remember the first time I saw him. Tim had found me from my “world famous blog” and had suggested we get together for lunch. I pulled up to a local restaurant and spotted a computer-programmer-looking guy standing sheepishly by the door. “That must be him,” I thought. And I was right.

Little did I know where that first meeting would take us. Soon after that lunch, the Challies family made Grace Fellowship Church their home. It was not the easiest transition, but it was certainly deliberate. Tim knew where he wanted his young family to worship.

After becoming members, Tim and Aileen began to serve in various parts of church life. And one of the first things Tim did was to sit down our elders and ask for spiritual oversight. Whatever this blog phenomenon was, Tim knew it could prove dangerous to his soul unless he was submitting to the elders of his local church. To be clear, this was never intended to be a kind of editorial oversight, but the kind of shepherding that every worker should seek. Tim wanted to be grounded, held to the Truth and have people in his life who really knew him and pursued his soul. 

Over the years, the church began to recognize a teaching gift in Tim. Soon, the elders saw gifts of leadership and the training of others. We spoke to Tim about the potential of becoming an elder in our church (a long and thorough process) and he was eager to pursue it. He was ordained to the office of elder on May 16, 2010.

Not long after this, our church began preparing to plant another. The elders thought it best to add to our pastoral staff in the process and Tim was asked to join the team. Tim jumped in with both feet and began full-time pastoral work all the while keeping this thing running. Every day. For, like, 9 million days in a row. 

When Tim came on staff, we knew about this website. And we agreed it was good for him to keep it going. The fact that he managed to do that for the next five years while never shirking his pastoral responsibilities had a few of us, well, I guess just me, wondering if he was actually a superhero. Alas, such was not the case.

About a year ago we began to recognize that Tim was going to have to turn away from one of his commitments. This was not an easy thing. For any of us! Grace Fellowship Church loves her pastor. And Pastor Tim loves his church. But both the website and blog had grown to the point where they needed more than Tim could give. We prayed, talked, and thought. 

As elders, we loved having Tim as one of our pastors. But we saw and believed in the value of what he was bringing “the outside world” via his website. We also thought that Tim had been uniquely gifted by God to do it. (Not many people have the consistency, integrity, theological chops and wisdom to do this.) 

So, we affirmed our love for Tim and our total approval of his stepping down from full-time pastoral work in order to focus on writing and the website. Tim remains an elder along with our other outside-employed elders, but resigned his duties as a paid staff member effective September 30.

A couple of notes.

1. At a later date, I hope to talk about my personal love for my brother. Working with Tim these last five years has been one the real joys of my twenty years of pastoring. I count it a big personal loss to not have my brother in the office anymore. 

2. God remarkably supplied a replacement for Tim in the span of about two weeks. One of our church plants sent her interns to our offices for a week this summer. One of those interns was a young man we had sent out with the original group to help plant Grace Fellowship Church, Don Mills. Steve Kim’s unique gifts, love of Christ, desire for ministry and providential availability made him an incredible fit to take Tim’s place. He is already on staff. 

(This picture was taken in June, 2006, as Tim and I made our way down to the very first Together for the Gospel. The very introverted blogger was not used to having his picture taken. Especially in public. On a moving walkway. Where other people might see! I have always loved this photo.)

The most touching moment in this process was when we announced this transition to our members on September 27. The very first question asked was, “You’re not leaving the church, right? You are staying here, right?” And that is everyone’s sentiment. We love our brother and thank God for how He has used Tim to extend the grace of His love to our little church. 

In less than ten years, Tim went from being a guy behind a keyboard to a well-loved, well-known, relationally-invested, Shepherd of God’s sheep. Let the example of his faithfulness and zeal spur you on to more love and good works. I know it has done that for me.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Gospel Coalition - Ontario: Another Radio Interview with Neil Boron and Robbie Symons

It was a delight to spend time with my friend Robbie Symons yesterday talking about The Gospel Coalition Ontario Conference. We were hosted by Neil Boron of WDCX fame. Neil is a good egg. 
I was able to spend some of the morning working talking around the them of my workshop. I plan to show how prayer, the preaching of the Word and a spirit of gospel-centred cooperation between churches are signs of potential revival to come. It led to some discussion about what marks a true reviving work of the Sprit as opposed to some manufactured, synthetic and man-centred work. I noted these three foundations, but Robbie added a fourth being an overall sense of brokenness and humility in God’s people. I think he was right. 
Already we are seeing some glimmers of what might be the Lord’s work. I know of pastors forging prayerful partnerships with men outside of their “tribe” and churches that are financially supporting new works in which they have no vested interest. Besides this are the little meetings to pray that are popping up on the radar. None of these things are being advertised or promoted. Just God’s people doing His work in the world.
I remain very hopeful that the conference will be a catalyst to even more of this. When Neil asked me yesterday why people should come, part of the answer I gave him was so they could be at the start of something great. At least, if the Lord is going to do something, how good to be in on the ground floor and be a part of a movement toward all the things Jesus prayed for in John 17, not the least of which is the truth-fuelled unity of all of God’s people. 
The reach of radio is quite remarkable. Anyone that thinks that medium is finished because of the interwebs had better think again. I continue to have people visit our church or call or introduce themselves to me at events from that one interview we did earlier this year. I am praying that the Lord uses yesterday to draw out a few more of His own who perhaps have not heard of us yet. 

Pray then, that God will use all of these things to make His Name greater in Ontario.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Ethics of Undercover Operations, Secret Videotapes and Stings

A recently released video exposes Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood, discussing over lunch the “intentional harvesting of organs and other tissues from babies aborted in Planned Parenthood clinics.” It is a very difficult video to watch for several reasons, including wondering what it was like for Dr. Nucatola to wake up with an assumed private conversation plastered all over the world-wide web.

I was targeted once by a Jehovah’s Witness in an undercover operation. Initially, he portrayed himself to be an earnest spiritual seeker, but as the conversation progressed it became obvious he was a pro and I was the subject of a rather elaborate sting. It was a very unpleasant feeling to realize I had been “had” and even more unpleasant to speculate that I had been recorded in the process. I felt violated and exposed.

This was primarily due to one statement I made. Feeling angry that this guy was wasting my time, I said something like, “Look, I’ve been a student of Greek for 7 years and you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Unfortunately for me, he did know his Greek, or at least the bad Greek he had imbibed from that cult and he started to run circles around me. It was a rookie mistake. But a rookie mistake on a private phone call is one thing. What if it was being played back to a Jehovah’s Witness National Convention? 

So, I squirmed watching the Nucatola video. First, I squirmed from the sheer horror of her casual description of tearing apart babies to harvest their organs for money. But I also squirmed over the ethics of the sting. Was it really fair to set her up with questions and edit that material together?

Of this, I am not so sure.

First off, I am not naïve. I realize there is no way any high-ranking official of Planned Parenthood would openly admit this “procedure” was being practised with the cameras rolling in their face. Not without gallons of nuance, distraction and spin. In all likelihood, it would be flatly denied. This is why police departments use under-cover officers. The bad guys generally don’t admit their wrong-doing when a uniformed officer walks up and asks them, “Did you rob the bank?” Just watch one episode of Cops if you don’t believe me. The undercover operative is a con man, gaining the confidence of the criminal so that he will admit his crimes.

The actors in the video did just that. They gained Nucatola’s confidence and led her to admit without prejudice a potential felony. (There is some debate about the criminality of her admission.) So, they exposed a potential crime through deception. But keep in mind, they were actors, not agents of the state.

The Bible is clear that no Christian is to lie. Ever. 

That said, there are three cases of deception that deserve careful attention. John Murray unpacks them very helpfully in his book, Principles of Conduct.

The first is called concealment or evasion. An example from the Bible would be Samuel going to Bethlehem to anoint David as Israel’s new king. God instructed him to say only that he was going there to sacrifice. That’s all. And that was true, but it was not the whole truth. Saul was an agent of evil in the land. He was intent on holding on to his rule at any cost including killing any threat to his throne. On this sinful trajectory, Saul did not deserve to know the whole truth. However, no untruth on Samuel’s part was involved. Samuel never lied about what he was going to do in Bethlehem and he, in fact, did it. He made the sacrifice… and secretly anointed David.

Second, there are cases of deliberate or strategic deception. When Joshua was instructed by God to retreat from Ai, it was understood that the army of Ai would interpret that retreat as defeat. Of course, the plan all along was that a second division of Joshua’s army would then attack the defenceless city and the “retreating” division would turn back and fight for real. And it worked. And Ai was defeated.

The question arises whether this action was a lie? The first thing to observe is that the terms of the relationship were not such that mutual understanding was a foundational prerequisite. These nations were at war. So, Israel was not under obligation to ensure Ai understood all of her actions. Secondly, there is no indication that Israel did anything other than turn and run. What I mean is that they did not send a messenger to Ai telling them they were in retreat. Obviously, they counted on Ai misunderstanding their actions, but they did not speak untruth in order to accomplish it. 

Finally, there are certainly cases of people outright lying and still being used of God. Rahab lied about the spies and that enabled Israel to prepare to sack Jericho. Most understand, however that God was faithful to Rahab in spite of her lie. In other words, there was some other way for her to navigate that situation that did not involve speaking an untruth. She just didn’t see it or use it. But God, who is able to work all things “together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” redeemed the situation, without approving of the lie. He neither instructed her to lie nor approved of the lie, but he used the lie to accomplish good.

That leads to an evaluation of the Nucatola tape. It appears that the actors playing the part of organ-purchasers were deliberately telling an untruth. I think that for this they are not to be commended. 

Secondly, consider Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” I know some folks in the US who estimate their crisis pregnancy centre is visited by hostile undercover reporters at least once a month. I would not appreciate that. I do not believe any one of us would like it. This is not living out the Golden Rule. I am not suggesting that those on the other side of this issue play fair. I am suggesting that Christians ought to lead the way in doing so and not adopt the world’s methodology.

I judge this situation similar to the Rahab case. This ought not to have been done this way, but now it has been. And in the providence of God, the exposé on Nucatola is being used for good. What Planned Parenthood and every other abortion-on-demand provider is doing has been wrong for decades. In one sense, is the selling of infant organs any different than tossing them in a dumpster? But for some reason, it seems this generation has been grabbed by this story and if that is what God has to use in order to bring us to our senses, then to Him be all the glory. And may we Christians use much more truthful methods in the future. 

If you would like to comment on the Christian ethics of undercover operations, please do so below.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Gospel Coalition - Ontario Chapter (Update)

It has been a real joy for me to lead the Ontario Chapter of The Gospel Coalition over the last year. In a meeting with a large group of interested pastors yesterday, I detailed what the Lord has done so far.

On April 25, 2014, John Mahaffey (West Highland Baptist Church), Dwayne Cline (Hughson St, Baptist Church)  and Tim Kerr (Sovereign Grace Toronto) invited a small group of us to meet together in order to talk about the history of TGC-ON and what purpose moving forward might serve. The best part of this meeting was getting to know some men I had only heard of before and sitting in a room with a bunch of brothers who all understood the significance of striving for Gospel-cooperation. From this meeting, we determined to call an even broader group together to continue the conversation.

On May 21 we met in Mississauga with 40 pastors and church leaders. Introductions were made and a lively discussion followed concerning the place of TGC and in particular, how it might fit into our Canadian context. All agreed that something was needed and from the 40 attendees an executive team was chosen.

That executive met on June 25th and decided, among other things, to maintain the name (TGC-ON) and to start the re-birth of this movement with a conference. We determined this conference ought to have a predominantly Canadian voice and the search for speakers and workshop leaders started.

By December 10 we had enough in place to call “the 40” together again to Young Nak Presbyterian Church since this would be our conference home. After announcing a speaker lineup that included Don Carson, John Neufeld, Robbie Symons and Mark Clark, we asked the representatives to consider underwriting the expense of the conference with financial gifts. The executive alone pledged to give over $20,000. We also announced our desire to start talking to other Canadian TGC chapters and Gospel-movements to discuss forming a TGC Canada.

Yesterday, we updated our group again with these tidbits:

Paul Carter (First Baptist, Orillia) announced more details of this conference for young church leaders being held at Muskoka Bible Conference May 14-15 with Dr. Andreas Kostenberger. There are only 20 spots left so if you are thinking about it, think no more. Register! Dan MacDonald and Paul have done a fantastic job getting this event together.

TGC Ontario Conference Update
John Mahaffey updated the group on the 12 workshop leaders and their topics. He also informed us that registration for the conference will go live on April 30. This is important as there are only 800 spots available. The conference will run over two days on October 16-17, 2015. Personally, I expect the event to sell out. At 

TGC Orlando Update 
Dwayne Cline explained to the men how an email had been sent to all the Canadian registrants at TGC Orlando inviting them to a brief meeting at the end of the conference. A very large contingent showed up between two meetings furthering our contacts and giving men like Yanick Ethier (Quebec) and Steve Bray (Newfoundland) an opportunity to connect with everyone as well. 

On the whole, it is exciting to see how much the Lord has done - especially when you consider this whole thing is run by a bunch of busy pastors who have many other things they could be doing. But men are investing in this movement because they know its great value in the work of God in our day.

The day ended for me with a live radio interview courtesy of Neil Boron on WDCX. We set up shop in the lobby of Harvest Bible Chapel, Oakville and Robbie Symons (HBC) and I did our best to describe something of what the Lord was doing. 

There are about 400 other things that fill in the blanks of this post, but I want you to be encouraged with what God is doing. Probably the best thing of all are all the new friendships springing up between pastors of at least a dozen different denominations. Men who love the supremacy of Christ and His glorious Gospel. May the Lord raise up a thousand more in this land!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Conflicting Feelings (John Newton)

I doubt a church could sing this poem very well, but like so many of Newton's works in the Olney Hymnal, this one stands as a brilliant little piece of easy poetry. Why is it we Christians can be so annoyingly inconsistent at times? Why is it I fail even after following Jesus for 32 years? 
Ah, it is a fallen and broken world in which we live. And we are broken, albeit "being fixed" kind of people. The battle with sin will end in the Great Day, not Tuesday. And that means there will be failures along the way.
On the one side, we feel like great victors over all. The next moment we lie to the little girl who opens the door for us. We are conflicted. One day we will be complete. Grace shall overcome at last...

Conflicting Feelings
Strange and mysterious is my life.
What opposites I feel within!
A stable peace, a constant strife;
The rule of grace, the power of sin:
Too often I am captive led,
Yet daily triumph in my Head.

I prize the privilege of prayer,
But oh! what backwardness to pray!
Though on the Lord I cast my care,
I feel its burden every day;
I seek His will in all I do,
Yet find my own is working too.

I call the promises my own,
And prize them more than mines of gold;
Yet though their sweetness I have known,
They leave me unimpressed and cold
One hour upon the truth I feed,
The next I know not what I read.

I love the holy day of rest,
When Jesus meets His gathered saints;
Sweet day, of all the week the best!
For its return my spirit pants:
Yet often, through my unbelief,
It proves a day of guilt and grief.

While on my Savior I rely,
I know my foes shall lose their aim,
And therefore dare their power defy,
Assured of conquest through His name,
But soon my confidence is slain,
And all my fears return again.

Thus different powers within me strive,
And grace and sin by turns prevail;
I grieve, rejoice, decline, revive,
And victory hangs in doubtful scale:
But Jesus has His promise passed,
That grace shall overcome at last.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Look Unto Jesus (Charles Spurgeon)

It is ever the Holy Spirit's work to turn our eyes away from self to Jesus; but Satan's work is just the opposite of this, for he is constantly trying to make us regard ourselves instead of Christ. 
He insinuates, "Your sins are too great for pardon; you have no faith; you do not repent enough; you will never be able to continue to the end; you have not the joy of his children; you have such a wavering hold of Jesus." All these are thoughts about self, and we shall never find comfort or assurance by looking within. But the Holy Spirit turns our eyes entirely away from self: he tells us that we are nothing, but that "Christ is all in all." 
Remember, therefore, 
  • it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee--it is Christ; 
  • it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee--it is Christ; 
  • it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument--it is Christ's blood and merits; 

  • look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; 
  • look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; 
  • look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. 

We shall never find happiness by looking at 
  • our prayers, 
  • our doings, 
  • or our feelings; 

it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. 

If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by "looking unto Jesus." 
Keep thine eye simply on him; 
  • let his death, his sufferings, his merits, his glories, his intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; 
  • when thou wakest in the morning look to him; 
  • when thou liest down at night look to him. 

Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after him, and he will never fail thee.
"My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness:
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name."

(Adapted from Morning and Evening, June 28, Morning Reading)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Singing Heresy (Proving Once Again That, 'It's All in the Lyrics, Baby')

It happens with greater frequency than I care to admit. I will be singing some great song and let the mind drift a little, only to hear myself spouting off rank heresy. Usually, it is a rhyming miss.

‘And my (not, “Thy”) grace my need is meeting, 
As I trust in me (not, “Thee”), my Lord.’

Or, just a thoughtless gloss, like:

You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son 
And (should be, “Who”) drank the bitter cup reserved for me

In the first example, I am singing praises to myself. In the second, I am telling God the Father that He died on the cross. They may be mistakes, but in end I'm an idolator with Trinitarian confusion.

This would be funny if it were not for Jesus’ words in Matthew 12 where he warns, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak… (Matthew 12:36 ESV) primarily because all of these “careless” words flow right out of their heart (see verses 33-35). We must be thoughtful of what we sing.

This was all bought to mind this week because of my sister’s car. She is out of town and graciously loaned me her vehicle which comes well-equipped with satellite radio. As a kind of weird social experiment, I determined to listen to popular Christian music for the entire time I have her car. I am not sure I can do it anymore.

The amount of obscene, bad-pop-psychologized, man-centred, Christianeze sung to over-treated vocals is nothing short of stunning. Do people actually listen to this stuff?  What on earth does it mean?  I could not help but think of the thousands (millions) who will have to give an account for every song like this they have sung.  Perhaps mindlessly on the way to work trying to pump themselves up for another day at the office. Maybe waiting to pick up the kids from school. Every word, even the ones we borrow from others, we will be called to explain.

I want to repent of every heretical thing I have sung by gloss, distraction and laziness. But even more than that, I want to avoid like the plague any additional offences by singing the stuff of most modern “praise” music. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

GFC Speaks: How To Make Your TAG Great!

Last Sunday night I invited members to help me create a Top 10 list answering the question of how to make a Truth Application Group (TAG) great. We start TAG's this coming Sunday night, so I am publishing their list here for our mutual encouragement. I thought every one of these points was great! (Rotten members though, they wouldn't stop at 10...)

The Top 10 13 Ways to Make Your TAG GREAT!

1.              Arrive early.

2.              Decide right now to attend every single meeting.

3.              Participate in discussions.

4.              Sign up to bring refreshments and actually bring them.

5.              Be a proactive listener – don’t drift!

6.              Become genuinely interested in other people.

7.              Jot down prayer requests and actually pray.

8.              Be transparent and willing to share.

9.              Be specific when you answer questions, identify personal sins or give glory to God.

10.           Be in the Word during the week and stay engaged with the preached Word on Sunday morning.

11.           Think through your week and the discussion questions prior to arriving to your TAG.

12.           Consider how to make your Mini-TAG great.

13.           Don’t be afraid of the silence and be willing to embrace awkward moments for the Gospel’s sake.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Lean In

Much of this Christian life is made up of our responses to the obstacles God wisely puts in our path. Every athlete knows the value of resistance training. God graciously coaches spiritual endurance out of us by placing obstacles, weights, burdens, and difficulties in our path.

It seems with each obstacle there also appears a wide path of escape, at least what looks like escape. So, rather than lead an angry wife, a husband may swerve to the left down the path of silence, brooding and TV. Rather than submit to a floundering husband, a wife may swerve to the right and take charge of the chaos.

But each of these paths is either a dead end or a kind of service road running alongside the freeway. Either it ends in the crash and burn, or (even worse) it parallels the direction of the freeway of obedience, but with all the stops, turns, detours, and gaps or a frontage road. I say this is worse, as a man can look like he is walking with God on this road, but he is not.

Rather, he is playing a part. He is living “in his own strength” and doing all he can to keep up appearances. But his life lacks life and the happy gravitas of one who leans in to the endless grace of God. Like a city boy dressed up in farm clothes, he looks the part, but doesn’t smell like it.

I am that man far too often. The choice to remain on the narrow path and face the obstacle can seem like death. As you get older, it can seem like despair. “Really? We are back here again?” But I am sure many coaches have had to convince their athletes to fight through the benefits of repetition. “Really? Dead lifts again? Haven’t we been here before?” But the coach knows. Those muscles are not strong enough yet.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.(James 1:2-4 ESV)

I sometimes wonder if every person is always at a decision point in this regard? There is always some obstacle before them and they are always facing a choice - lean in or divert. I have known so very few who have lived long and stayed dependent. I have known many more who have gone a fair distance, but given in before the finish line.

I want to be a man who keeps looking every trial in the face, while taking every trial to the Face of the One who loves me and will give me grace to endure. 

If anyone is to be taken captive,to captivity he goes;if anyone is to be slain with the sword,with the sword must he be slain.Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.(Revelation 13:10 ESV)