Thursday, September 22, 2016

Intentional Spiritual Friendships

Something we are going to seek to work at in the coming year at Grace Fellowship Church is what I like to call intentional spiritual friendships. We tend to let fear or fancy dictate most of our relationships - we avoid people that intimidate us and strain to cozy up to folks we think will make us happy. Neither of these motives is Biblical love.
When you join our church you enter into a covenant with all the existing members “to seek to watch over your fellow members, in brotherly love” and “to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling.” In other words, you declare your intention to get to know the other members and to build a relationship with them around the Gospel, not fear or fancy. That takes work. At least, it takes initiative, risk and some death to self. And that is wonderful.
So, the goal for our members to is to seek to cultivate relationships with other members that are centred on God. Intentional spiritual friendships.
Sometimes the most difficult aspect of this is the intentionality component. How do I get started? At our Members’ Meeting last night I listed a bunch of potential ways to do this and promised one sister I would post the list on the blog so it could be reviewed and hopefully spark some ideas. So, here you go!

  • One woman gathers with others one morning per week to complete the new Missional Motherhood study by Gloria Furman.
  • A brother looks on our (soon to be released) “Where I Work Map” for a brother who works in same geographical vicinity. Even though he has never met this guy before, he shoots him an email and suggests that eat their lunch together once a week and read through the book of Acts one chapter at a time.
  • A couple asks another couple (or two!) to set aside one night a month to get together. Before each meeting they will all read one chapter of Tim Keller’s, The Meaning of Marriage, then spend time talking together about what they learned and how they intend to apply it in their own lives.
  • A group of friends pull together a Truth Application Group then meet at a home every Monday night to discuss the previous week’s sermon.
  • Five sisters decide to study True Womanhood 101 in our building on Wednesday nights while GraceYouth is going on.
  • An older dad grabs five single young adult men and has them come over to his home every Sunday night after church service to talk about life and how they are progressing in their own sanctification.
  • Man2Man /  Woman2Woman. You join a group or start a new one.
  • A couple with a young family decides that dad will meet with some brothers on the first and third week of every month and mom will meet with some sisters on the second and fourth. That way, one of them is out every week one night, but childcare is taken care of.

These are just a handful of ways to intentionally cultivate spiritual friendships. Can you think of some more?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: "Being There - How to Love Those Who Are Hurting" by Dave Furman

Dave Furman has written a helpful little book for the church. “Being There: How to Love Those Who Are Hurting” is just what it sounds like - a how-to manual to care for the hurting. It may seem like this is unnecessary for Christians, what with the Gospel and the indwelling Spirit and all that, but Dave has lived through suffering in the first person and he writes from the perspective of the sufferer and the one who has caused suffering in others.

There are two things about this book that are very unique. One is that the first chapter is addressed to the suffering that caregivers and those surrounding the sufferer experience. The first chapter, not the last. This is not what I expected when I picked up the book, but having lived through some of this stuff myself I am so glad to see this topic addressed. Too often the faithful spouses, family members and friends of the suffering never have their experiences addressed, but that is precisely where good Gospel balm can be applied:

“We must remember to love those who are hurting not because they’ve done anything for us, but because of what Jesus has already done for us. You will get the strength to help the hurting only when you understand what God has done for you in the gospel.”  (35) 
“Your strength to care for the hurting comes directly from Christ. You have no hope to truly help the hurting if you are disconnected from Christ, the vine.” (38) 
“You must be much with Christ before you are anything for anybody else.” (40)

The second big surprise in the book was that, in my opinion, the second to last chapter was the best. (Side note: It is a pet peeve of mine that most popular Christian books seem to have two to five chapters of good material followed by endless prattle to fill publishing pagination requirements. Give me blank pages rather than empty thoughts!) This chapter is entitled, “Whatever You Do, Don’t Do These Things” and it is brilliant. 

Dave gives a kind of Top Ten List of stupid things people do and say for the hurting. Most of these are not new, but it floors me how often these same old bad moves get played. I am thrilled to have a comprehensive list to hand out to the church, especially to new or aspiring elders, to say, “Don’t do these things and you are 80% of the way there to helping the suffering.”

I don’t want to make it sound like the book is a big gripe session. Dave writes in a winsome style mostly because he is a winsome guy. I feel like I am pretty attune to suffering and disability, but even after the third time I forgot Dave can’t shake hands when we greet each other, he still reminded me with a big grin and an invitation for a hug. That may not sound like much to you, but if you read the book you will see how the Lord has applied the Gospel to Dave’s life to move him from depression to love, and this in the context of authentic Christian friendships. 

“People suffering with pain, depression, or loss will be pressed in ways they’ve never been pressed before. Naturally, their sin will show itself. It’s not an excuse, but they will need faithful friends who will be committed to the well-being of their souls by rebuking them in love. Help your friends know that they need to stay in community and that the cross has already criticized them more than anyone else can.” (109)

The fact is, the local church ought to be the one place where the suffering are loved. If we really grasp what Jesus endured for us, we will have an increasing capacity to love the troubled. Not that this is an easy thing. No one said anything about easy, but Jesus did talk a lot about death to self.

“When we serve those who are depressed, disabled, handicapped, and hurting, we’re going to have to serve without need for recognition or thanksgiving. Our giving of service cannot be dependent on the response we get. Distinctly Christian service must be humble and lowly, and we must aim to honor the Lord if we want to look like Jesus.” (74)

To sum it up, we need to learn to simply be there for our suffering friends.  Essentially, we need to be Job’s three counsellors before they opened their mouths.

”…ask more questions and grow in your understanding of another’s pain rather than offering solutions for something you know very little about. Sometimes the best thing you can do is say, ‘I’m sorry, can you help me better understand what you are going through?’ And then listen.” (113)

Oh, for more loving and careful listeners.

If you are suffering or know a sufferer, buy the book. It will help you and remind you of what is most important.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Why Did the People of Lystra Think Paul and Barnabas Were Greek Gods? (Acts 14)

About 50 years before Paul and Barnabas entered the small town of Lystra, the Latin poet Ovid wrote his epic Metamorphoses. In it, he described a fictitious scene in which Zeus and Hermes took on human appearance and asked a thousand homes in Phrygia for lodging. They were rebuffed again and again until they came to the unassuming cottage of Baucis and Philemon.

Ovid is putting into poetic form what was a widely-known myth. This helps to explain why the citizens of Lystra were so quick to identify Paul as Hermes and Barnabas as Zeus after the miraculous raising of the paraplegic. Nobody wanted to miss extending hospitality to those two Greek gods again since, in the myth, they wiped out the entire area with a flood for their failure! 

You can read it here if you like this kind of thing.

The Story of Baucis and Philemon 

Thus Achelous ends: his audience hear 
With admiration, and admiring, fear 
The Pow'rs of Heav'n; except Ixion's Son, 
Who laugh'd at all the Gods, believ'd in none: 
He shook his impious head, and thus replies. 
These legends are no more than pious lies: 
You attribute too much to heav'nly sway, 
To think they give us forms, and take away. 

By Jacob van Oost (I) - Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Public Domain,

The rest of better minds, their sense declar'd 
Against this doctrine, and with horror heard. 
Then Lelex rose, an old experienc'd man, 
And thus with sober gravity began; 
Heav'n's pow'r is infinite: Earth, Air, and Sea, 
The manufacture mass, the making Pow'r obey: 
By proof to clear your doubt; in Phrygian ground 
Two neighb'ring trees, with walls encompass'd round, 
Stand on a mod'rate rise, with wonder shown, 
One a hard oak, a softer linden one: 
I saw the place, and them, by Pittheus sent 
To Phrygian realms, my grandsire's government. 
Not far from thence is seen a lake, the haunt 
Of coots, and of the fishing cormorant: 
Here Jove with Hermes came; but in disguise 
Of mortal men conceal'd their deities; 
One laid aside his thunder, one his rod; 
And many toilsome steps together trod: 
For harbour at a thousand doors they knock'd, 
Not one of all the thousand but was lock'd. 
At last an hospitable house they found, 
A homely shed; the roof, not far from ground, 
Was thatch'd with reeds, and straw, together bound. 
There Baucis and Philemon liv'd, and there 
Had liv'd long marry'd, and a happy pair: 
Now old in love, though little was their store, 
Inur'd to want, their poverty they bore, 
Nor aim'd at wealth, professing to be poor. 
For master, or for servant here to call, 
Was all alike, where only two were all. 
Command was none, where equal love was paid, 
Or rather both commanded, both obey'd. 

From lofty roofs the Gods repuls'd before, 
Now stooping, enter'd through the little door: 
The man (their hearty welcome first express'd) 
A common settle drew for either guest, 
Inviting each his weary limbs to rest. 
But ere they sate, officious Baucis lays 
Two cushions stuff'd with straw, the seat to raise; 
Coarse, but the best she had; then rakes the load 
Of ashes from the hearth, and spreads abroad 
The living coals; and, lest they should expire, 
With leaves, and bark she feeds her infant fire: 
It smoaks; and then with trembling breath she blows, 
'Till in a chearful blaze the flames arose. 
With brush-wood, and with chips she strengthens these, 
And adds at last the boughs of rotten trees. 
The fire thus form'd, she sets the kettle on 
(Like burnish'd gold the little seether shone), 
Next took the coleworts which her husband got 
From his own ground (a small well-water'd spot); 
She stripp'd the stalks of all their leaves; the best 
She cull'd, and them with handy care she drest. 
High o'er the hearth a chine of bacon hung; 
Good old Philemon seiz'd it with a prong, 
And from the sooty rafter drew it down, 
Then cut a slice, but scarce enough for one; 
Yet a large portion of a little store, 
Which for their sakes alone he wish'd were more. 
This in the pot he plung'd without delay, 
To tame the flesh, and drain the salt away. 
The time beween, before the fire they sat, 
And shorten'd the delay by pleasing chat. 

A beam there was, on which a beechen pail 
Hung by the handle, on a driven nail: 
This fill'd with water, gently warm'd, they set 
Before their guests; in this they bath'd their feet, 
And after with clean towels dry'd their sweat. 
This done, the host produc'd the genial bed, 
Sallow the feet, the borders, and the sted, 
Which with no costly coverlet they spread, 
But coarse old garments; yet such robes as these 
They laid alone, at feasts, on holidays. 
The good old housewife, tucking up her gown, 
The table sets; th' invited Gods lie down. 
The trivet-table of a foot was lame, 
A blot which prudent Baucis overcame, 
Who thrusts beneath the limping leg a sherd, 
So was the mended board exactly rear'd: 
Then rubb'd it o'er with newly gather'd mint, 
A wholsom herb, that breath'd a grateful scent. 
Pallas began the feast, where first was seen 
The party-colour'd olive, black, and green: 
Autumnal cornels next in order serv'd, 
In lees of wine well pickled, and preserv'd. 
A garden-sallad was the third supply, 
Of endive, radishes, and succory: 
Then curds, and cream, the flow'r of country fare, 
And new-laid eggs, which Baucis' busie care 
Turn'd by a gentle fire, and roasted rare. 
All these in earthen ware were serv'd to board; 
And next in place, an earthen pitcher stor'd, 
With liquor of the best the cottage could afford. 
This was the table's ornament and pride, 
With figures wrought: like pages at his side 
Stood beechen bowls; and these were shining clean, 
Varnish'd with wax without, and lin'd within. 
By this the boiling kettle had prepar'd, 
And to the table sent the smoaking lard; 
On which with eager appetite they dine, 
A sav'ry bit, that serv'd to relish wine: 
The wine itself was suiting to the rest, 
Still working in the must, and lately press'd. 
The second course succeeds like that before, 
Plums, apples, nuts, and of their wintry store 
Dry figs, and grapes, and wrinkled dates were set 
In canisters, t' enlarge the little treat: 
All these a milk-white honey-comb surround, 
Which in the midst the country-banquet crown'd: 
But the kind hosts their entertainment grace 
With hearty welcome, and an open face: 
In all they did, you might discern with ease, 
A willing mind, and a desire to please. 

Mean-time the beechen bowls went round, and still, 
Though often empty'd, were observ'd to fill; 
Fill'd without hands, and of their own accord 
Ran without feet, and danc'd about the board. 
Devotion seiz'd the pair, to see the feast 
With wine, and of no common grape, increas'd; 
And up they held their hands, and fell to pray'r, 
Excusing, as they could, their country fare. 

One goose they had ('twas all they could allow), 
A wakeful sentry, and on duty now, 
Whom to the Gods for sacrifice they vow: 
Her with malicious zeal the couple view'd; 
She ran for life, and limping they pursu'd: 
Full well the fowl perceiv'd their bad intent, 
And would not make her master's compliment; 
But persecuted, to the Pow'rs she flies, 
And close between the legs of Jove she lies: 
He with a gracious ear the suppliant heard, 
And sav'd her life; then what he has declar'd, 
And own'd the God. The neighbourhood, said he, 
Shall justly perish for impiety: 
You stand alone exempted; but obey 
With speed, and follow where we lead the way: 
Leave these accurs'd; and to the mountain's height 
Ascend; nor once look backward in your flight. 

They haste, and what their tardy feet deny'd, 
The trusty staff (their better leg) supply'd. 
An arrow's flight they wanted to the top, 
And there secure, but spent with travel, stop; 
Then turn their now no more forbidden eyes; 
Lost in a lake the floated level lies: 
A watry desert covers all the plains, 
Their cot alone, as in an isle, remains. 
Wondring, with weeping eyes, while they deplore 
Their neighbours' fate, and country now no more, 
Their little shed, scarce large enough for two, 
Seems, from the ground increas'd, in height and bulk to grow. 
A stately temple shoots within the skies, 
The crotches of their cot in columns rise: 
The pavement polish'd marble they behold, 
The gates with sculpture grac'd, the spires and tiles of gold. 

Then thus the sire of Gods, with looks serene, 
Speak thy desire, thou only just of men; 
And thou, o woman, only worthy found 
To be with such a man in marriage bound. 

A-while they whisper; then, to Jove address'd, 
Philemon thus prefers their joint request: 
We crave to serve before your sacred shrine, 
And offer at your altars rites divine: 
And since not any action of our life 
Has been polluted with domestick strife; 
We beg one hour of death, that neither she 
With widow's tears may live to bury me, 
Nor weeping I, with wither'd arms may bear 
My breathless Baucis to the sepulcher. 

The Godheads sign their suit. They run their race 
In the same tenour all th' appointed space: 
Then, when their hour was come, while they relate 
These past adventures at the temple gate, 
Old Baucis is by old Philemon seen 
Sprouting with sudden leaves of spritely green: 
Old Baucis look'd where old Philemon stood, 
And saw his lengthen'd arms a sprouting wood: 
New roots their fasten'd feet begin to bind, 
Their bodies stiffen in a rising rind: 
Then, ere the bark above their shoulders grew, 
They give, and take at once their last adieu. 
At once, Farewell, o faithful spouse, they said; 
At once th' incroaching rinds their closing lips invade. 
Ev'n yet, an ancient Tyanaean shows 
A spreading oak, that near a linden grows; 
The neighbourhood confirm the prodigy, 
Grave men, not vain of tongue, or like to lie. 
I saw my self the garlands on their boughs, 
And tablets hung for gifts of granted vows; 
And off'ring fresher up, with pious pray'r, 
The good, said I, are God's peculiar care, 

And such as honour Heav'n, shall heav'nly honour share. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Make Me a Barnabas

Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. (Acts 4:36-37)

And when [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. (Acts 9:26-28)

The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:22-26)

I have spent a fair bit of time over the last years working to build coalitions and Gospel-centred cooperative movements. I have noticed that the best builders of these kind of groups are pastors who are generous of time and money, quick to build relationships between others and godly. They are not petty, suspicious, or worldly.

My life was deeply impacted by reading Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield. To me, Whitefield was a master at bringing men together by emphasizing what they had in common instead of where they differed. Later in life, John Newton became a second mentor to me in this regard. Both men, in my mind, were Barnabas’s in their day. I hope that when I die I might be remembered in the same way. I want to give my life to helping Christians move closer together rather than further apart. 

Lord, make me a Barnabas.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Announcement: Here We Grow!

You may not have heard our big news. Grace Fellowship Church has two encouraging announcements to make.

A New Auditorium
First off, we have prayed for many years that the Lord would provide us a physical meeting place of our own. He has faithfully done that through our long-term partnership with Timothy Christian School. TCS has been a great landlord and I hope we have been a decent enough tenant. Even though we have desired our “own” place, we have developed a very workable relationship with the school that enables us to do almost everything we want to do as we work around their schedule. 
Last summer we started talks with the school concerning a building project. It has been their desire to increase the gym size which would be of immediate benefit to us. Grace Fellowship Church currently pushes some 50 folks into a video feed overflow room so getting a new auditorium that seats 400 instead of 200 is a big help to us.
The project also includes an addition along the front of the building with a new lobby area and new office space. As we got to talking, the school offered to include us in the project. So, for a donation of $150,000, we help finish the new auditorium, gain all new (real), permanent office space, and guarantee our rental for the next ten years. This seemed like a great move to our members, so we jumped in with both feet. 
We intend to help with the purchase of seating and a sound system on top of this $150,000 donation. We are excited to work with the school on this and even more excited to get renovated bathrooms! :-)

A New Summer Meeting Location
The construction is scheduled to begin July 1. That leads to our second announcement. Since the bathrooms are being gutted and most of the parking lot will be fenced off over the summer, we have decided to move our summer services to a nearby school. For every Sunday in July and August we will be meeting at St. Basil the Great College School (20 Starview Lane, North York, ON, M9M 3B2 - just 3km from our current meeting location). Due to the increased rental cost and the unavailability of TCS, we are only able to offer one service during the summer at our normal time of 10AM. The nice things about being at St. Basil are that we will all be in one room, there should be some air conditioning for the hot months of the year and there is still plenty of free parking.

We are super grateful to TCS for inviting us in to their building project. Although we do not end up increasing our capitol (our donation does not buy ownership), we are pleased to help another Christian group and thrilled to have a facility for our unhindered use during our rental times. Plus, TCS is a great group of people to work with. We are thankful for the Lord’s provision.

Want to Help?
A number of pastors and other folks have asked me if they can help us in any way. That is part of the reason for this post. We have about $92,000 pledged toward our $150,000 goal. I am thankful that a church of our size, economic standing and age (we are very young) has been able to come up with these funds, but it leaves us a little shy of what we need. So, if you would like to help us in this project you are welcome to make a donation. You can do that online at It would be pretty cool to see the Lord provide that needed $58,000 by September 1 when we intend to make our donation to the school. 

We are so very grateful to our wise God for all the ways He answers our prayers and supplies our every need. If you have a second, please thank Him with us for all He has done!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ministering to the Sick - Some Practical Considerations

I came across this little list the other day and thought it might prove helpful for young pastors in particular. Much of this I learned from tagging along with my father-in-law to hospital visits during our summer vacations. But this is the kind of stuff every Christian can do. 

Your Demeanour - - You should be humbly confident.
  • the sick are already struggling to not be anxious, they don’t need you to add to their anxiety
  • “pray yourself up” before meeting with them; yours is a spiritual work
  • enter the room slowly, but with a smile that is full of love 
  • don’t let your eyes rivet on tubes and monitors... look into the eyes of the sick or the family that attends them
  • hospitals are not modest or clean - just deal with it
  • have some idea of what you are going to say before getting there --> a plan breeds confidence (I like to have a Psalm in mind that I have read over in advance)

Your Speech - - You should get to Christ and the Gospel.
  • there is lots of time to talk about physical conditions, but not everyone has someone in their lives to remind them of Christ
  • remember to speak in a calm, conversational, not-too-loud voice (this is where nervousness can kill you - getting too loud or stuttering, etc)
  • have a specific passage of Scripture to read and comment on
  • I like to use whatever the Lord has blessed me with recently in my own devotional time
  • you do not need to read all of a passage
  • admonish through the Word (e.g. “Here the Psalmist says that God’s voice can still a war or move a city... how glad I am that our Saviour is that strong.  He is still that strong and will be for you.”)
  • keep your admonishment simple, and clear... no need to “preach the whole counsel” today; avoid obscure thoughts or things that do not relate to suffering
  • don’t shy from asking simple questions that remind them of Jesus
  • don't shy away from asking difficult questions. The very ill often want to speak of death, their salvation, heaven, their assurance, etc. Often some of the sweetest fellowship happens when you ask a saint if they are prepared to die.

Your Timing - - You should serve the sick, not your schedule (whenever possible).
  • ask family and/or medical staff when the sick one is at their best
  • if you visit in hospital, avoid shift changes (frustrates nurses) and mornings (when much lab work, etc completed)
  • if visiting in hospital, it is great to tell duty nurse who you are (“I am an elder/deacon from Grace Fellowship Church, their home church”) and who you plan to visit
  • usually 5-10 minutes per visit is good for those recovering from surgery or suffering from serious ailments (you have to be careful here to not appear rushed like you have other things you would rather be doing, and not to overstay a welcome.  People are usually quite tired when very sick and long visits only wear them out -  you become counter-productive)
  • you may stay longer for new births, etc... again, offer to leave within 10 minutes and stay if they beg you to do so
  • the dying: you will get to know when things are drawing near to the end; I always pray that I might be there as they pass, if not, be ready to stay for long seasons to minister to the family and to be with them afterwards
  • prior to surgery is a great time to pray with someone
  • day of surgery, give plenty of recovery time

Your Prayer - - To the point, to the cross and for their good.
  • keep it simple
  • keep it short; don’t be offended if a person duped up on morphine falls asleep!
  • pray the Gospel
  • pray the Truth you have taught/admonished with
  • intercede for what they need most: Christ
  • pray believingly 

Your Person - - A live body visiting is better.
  • emails are okay
  • a card is better
  • a live visit is best
  • being there communicates love: you have taken time out of  your busy life to come and see them
  • it will cost you gas, time, parking, etc. (If you do a lot of hospital visits, we will gladly reimburse your parking!)
  • make sure you don’t stink (body, breath, etc)- odours take on a new life to many sick folks
  • take a Bible with you
  • usually holding a hand is a nice gesture; some kind of human touch tells the sick they are not disgusting
  • do not sit on bed of sick unless invited
  • try to stand still, not wiggle around or move quickly (just think how you feel when you have a flu)
  • dress appropriately (I have a theory that if you are dressed “better” you will get more help from hospital staff and also subtly communicate more confidence to the sick)

Your Optimism - - The Lord can do things
  • the Lord can use you in the lives of staff, family members, other patients
  • the Lord may use you to greatly encourage a fellow saint
  • the Lord may answer your prayer and heal someone.  Why not risk praying.

A Few Other Things

  • read up on their medical condition
  • be careful of what you ask female patients
  • a little gift of flowers is always nice

Friday, March 04, 2016

Friday Fun: A Little Hip Hop From My Boy

A few months ago the boy's dreams came true and he got some studio time with a couple of musicians in our church.

What you are about to hear is a one-take wonder. Remus had a basic track laid down and the boy just went to town. One take. Over. See ya.

It pops up on my iTunes feed every couple of weeks and every time it makes me smile. Everything is perfect about this. :-)

You can listen here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Canadian Winter of the Soul

The Canadian winter can wreak havoc on the Christian soul. I see it every year. Good people just wear down under the cold and grey and shortened sunlight hours. This winter has been the mildest I can remember, but that doesn't solve everything. In fact, not even July solves everything.

John Newton made this observation in this wonderful hymn. He compares his soul to the winter ground pining for spring. I have always enjoyed that imagery and found this hymn in particular a tonic to the soul. Lewis's famous, "always winter, never Christmas" line captures what many of us feel by the end of February. If that is you, use Newton's words to direct your heart back to Jesus.

See how rude winter's icy hand
Has stripped the trees, and sealed the ground;
But spring shall soon his rage withstand,
And spread new beauties all around.

My soul a sharper winter mourns,
Barren and lifeless I remain,
When will the gentle spring return,
And bid my graces grow again?

Jesus, my glorious sun, arise,
'Tis thine the frozen heart to move;
Oh! hush these storms, and clear my skies,
And let me feel thy vital love.

Dear Lord, regard my feeble cry,
I faint and droop 'till thou appear;
Wilt thou permit thy plant to die?
Must it be winter all the year?

Be still, my soul, and wait his hour,
With humble prayer, and patient faith,
'Till he reveals his gracious power,
Repose on what his promise saith.

He, by whose all commanding words,
Seasons their changing course maintain;
In every change a pledge affords,
That none shall seek his face in vain.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

An Open Letter to Jemima Kirke (Star of Girls)

An Open Letter to Jemima Kirke
(Star of Girls)

Dear Jemima,

Besides sharing the lovely name of my grandmother you also have this in common: Your life has had its share of difficulties. I thought of her in some of her trials as I watched you share the story of your abortion.

I assume the intention of a video like this is to make me think. It worked and how I wish we could sit down over a dinner at my house and talk in person. In lieu of that, may I interact with some of your ideas here? Your words are in italics. Mine follow.

In 2007 I became pregnant with my boyfriend at the time

I know you know this, but you did not have to get pregnant. You and your boyfriend could have had a very meaningful, enjoyable and sexless relationship. I simply want to point out that although your pregnancy might have surprised you, it was not by accident nor was it spontaneous. You became pregnant because you had sex with your boyfriend. That was a choice you made. 

I think that is important because all of our decisions have consequences. How we respond to them is so crucial to who we become as a person.

I wasn't sure I wanted to be attached to this person (your boyfriend) for the rest of my life - my life was just not conducive to raising a healthy happy child - I just didn't feel it was fair, so I decided to get an abortion and I went to Planned Parenthood

I can understand your concern about marrying the right person. I stressed over that decision, too. But there is a jump in your logic. You go from concluding the relationship was not conducive to raising a child, directly to aborting that child. Did you notice that you called your child a “child?” I did. 

But if your concern was really for that child in your womb, you would have never killed it. Lots of wonderful people I know adopt children. Sometimes family members who understand the predicament you are in offer to take the child. There are hundreds of options for that child. You say you did not feel it was “fair” to your child to bring it into the complex world in which you then lived, but was it fair to her to end her life?

Because I couldn't tell my mother that I was pregnant I had to pay for it out of pocket

I understand this, too. There is a stigma attached to unwed pregnancies. I don’t know enough about your relationship with your mom to comment much more than that, but I do know that every major city in North America has a Pregnancy Care Centre where very kind and loving women will help you navigate those waters. 

We are terrible predictors of the future. I have watched many delicate situations between mothers and daughters end up wonderfully. Not every time. But often. Especially when they realize that regardless of the circumstances of the pregnancy, new life is here. 

reproductive issues are something women especially should be able to talk through together

Again, I agree with you. In fact, that is what I am trying to do, even though I am a man. But I have noticed that you need a man to get into this situation. Oh, for more men to step up and exercise their responsibilities. I honour the man who has the courage to tell the women he got pregnant that he will take care of everything. Whether that is financially supporting the new mom  and child or helping arrange an adoption.  Men are more of the problem here than we often admit.

(I’m) a mother of two… I have two daughters and I would love it if when they're older… that the political issues surrounding their bodies were not there anymore

I respectfully disagree with you here on two fronts. 

First, these are not political issues, but issues of right and wrong. I realize that sounds pre-historic to a culture that has abandoned itself to moral relativity, but we still think things like theft and murder are wrong and there is a reason for that. Just as we know, intuitively, that the fetus in a woman is a living person. We can deny these things and spin our words, but our consciences tell us differently. So, this is not politics in the way that budgets and highway planning are. This is right and wrong. And abortion is wrong. 

Second, I think you are counting incorrectly. Like you said at the start, you chose to abort a person. And that means you are a mother to three, not two.

I could be wrong, but I think your talking about your abortion has more to do with assuaging your conscience than it does about reproductive rights. I think you know what you did was wrong in the eyes of your Creator. 

Did you know the most surprising pregnancy of all happened 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem? Mary was young, poor, single, about to endure social scorn and (miraculously) pregnant with Jesus. He was born into the world to live the perfect, sinless life we never could and to be our substitute when it came to the punishment for all our sins. 

I needed a Saviour. So do you. Your abortion was wrong and sinful, but God sent Jesus into the world to die in the place of wrong and sinful people like you and me. If you admit that guilt, rather than bury it and justify it, you can be sure God will forgive you. He forgave me and I am sure I have done far worse than you. And with that salvation He will give us that peace and wholeness for which our hearts crave.


Paul Martin

Monday, December 28, 2015

Pastoring a Culturally-diverse Church

I have been thinking a lot lately about cultural diversity in the church. Toronto is still widely regarded as one of, if not the single most ethnically diverse city in the world. And thankfully that is reflected in many of our churches.

But guys like me did not grow up with this kind of diversity. There were two visible minorities in my public school. Yet that demographic has completely flipped in my lifetime. I love it! Standing with my daughter at a college expo a few months ago I looked around the massive room and saw one other white person. One! That was amazing for a guy who grew up here.

And I am not lying about loving it. I find the process of learning another culture totally fascinating and at times, dumbfounding. As a pastor, I am constantly asked to step into people’s lives and ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” which is an entirely different question than, “What do I think they should do?” I think (or hope, at least) that our situation has made me a better reader of the Word.

Cultural Idolatry
Our church really does enjoy cultures. There is, in my opinion, a very healthy mix of culture-respect, culture-denial and culture-enjoyment and so much of this is fuelled by a kind of self-deprecating humour toward one’s own culture. I think that is one of the ways the Gospel changes people. We stop idolizing culture, learn to enjoy parts of it for what they are worth, and even laugh at some of our weird eccentricities. All because we worship a Saviour who rescues souls out of “every tongue and tribe and nation.” The Gospel is of far greater importance to us than our culture.

Cultural Dominance
Still, I worry sometimes about how to keep things good. I recognize that my culture is the dominant culture of my church, if for no other reason than I planted this church. I watch with real interest certain countries struggle to understand the needs and pains of their non-dominant cultures. It is almost like one of those conversations where two people are yelling at each other in two entirely different languages. They just cannot comprehend what the other is saying. So, I worry that the same thing might creep into our church. But the Gospel answers this. If Christ left the glory of heaven to die in my place, it ought be my joy to leave the comfort of my culture and actually give preference to the culture of another. Isn’t this what Paul was doing when he became “all things to all people?”

Fake Oneness
I also worry that we will feign oneness in the church, without risking cultural offense. This might seem the opposite of what I was saying before, but I think part of learning to really love folks of wildly different cultures from your own is learning to ask questions that might get you in a lot of trouble. If we let fear control our church relationships, we will never come out and ask the things that would really help us understand each other. But this too, is exactly where the Gospel is needed. If you and I are both saved by the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, even if my question is dumb and offensive, you have to confront me, I have to repent and you have to forgive me. Done deal. 

That is why I think Christians are the ones leading the way when it comes to crossing ethnic barriers. I recognize that place and history have put me in a very unique and advantageous situation to live an ethnically-diverse church life. But it will take more than immigration and social policy to make it work. Praise God for His one Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Saviour of the world.