Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sermon Preview: Gospel Freedom (Romans 14-15)

Long before the whole concept of preaching our "Gospel Revolution" series was birthed came the idea of preaching a sermon or two on the freedom we have in Christ. There were a bunch of reasons for this, not the least of which was the reality that true Gospel Freedom is under constant siege... even in our happy little church.

To whet your appetite for what is in store tomorrow I offer you this brief outline of what I hope to cover.


The Gospel Revolution
Romans 14:1-15:7

Gospel Freedom for True Unity

1.  The types of Christians who need to be unified

·      The weak in faith (2,5,6)

·      The strong in faith (2,4,5,6)

2.  The situation that threatens unity

3.   The temptations towards division

·      The weak are tempted to condemn the strong (3, 10-12)

·      The strong are tempted to treat the weak with condescension (3, 10-12)

4.  The burden on the shoulders of the strong to keep the church unified

·      Do not despise the weak (1)

·      Make sure you are holding personal convictions not just miming traditions (5,22-23)

·      Fully embrace the weak (1)

·      Use your Gospel-freedom to deny your freedoms in order to love the weak (14:13, 15-16, 19-21; 15:1-3)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Grace Connexion: Some Thoughts on Brokenness and Staying Gospel-centred

Our little group of churches met back in October to fellowship with each other and rejoice in the Lord's doings. I took a few minutes to address one concern I had in regards to keeping the concept of "Gospel-centred" from being just a pet phrase void of meaning. Several folks wrote and asked for a recording or notes from that night so I finally got to typing something out.
I preach from handwritten notes, so what I offer here is really just a sketch of what I said there. The main ideas are present and I hope they are helpful.


Galatians 1:6-9 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”

If you have ever piloted a boat you know how easy it is to drift off course. This shift can happen quite subtly and very quickly and if not corrected you will end up in the rocks, or worse. The church of Christ in every age is called to remain vigilant and stay in the channel of the true Gospel.

False Gospels are everywhere – messages of salvation that promote self-reliance through cleaning ourselves up, atoning for our sins by doing good, or in some way telling us we can make ourselves acceptable to God without going through Jesus Christ.

Elders bear a special responsibility to keep the authentic Gospel at the Mission Control Centre of every local church, but the job does not stop with them. It is the duty of the church as a whole to guard the good deposit entrusted to them.

We can often spot the big waves attacking our Gospel ship. Mormonism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Atheism – these black clouds stir up the storms and we all set to rowing or steering in order to handle them. In one sense, they are easy to spot and easy to resist, partly because the true Gospel is so clear in comparison.

But there are other –isms, little breezes and quiet currents that go easily unnoticed in the life of a Christian and a local church. These “other gospels” are particularly insidious and sneaky for the very reason that they masquerade quite effectively as the true Gospel. Formalism (outward acts of piety without the corresponding heart affections), legalism (trusting in what I do), mysticism (trusting in what I experience), activism (making sure I am involved in the vogue trends), Biblicism (a salvation by knowledge), therapy-ism (valuing need-fulfillment over moral failure) and socialism (making good friendships my true salvation) – all of these –isms can creep in.

They are all rooted in spiritual idolatry. We exchange the worship of God for the worship of something created, whether that is an animal or a concept like fame.  So, “another Gospel,” or a “Gospel substitute” is anything that squeezes our love for God to second place. Even good things can do this! When that idol becomes what we love most then we are actively opposing, repudiating and denying Jesus. We have fallen into an –ism and worst of all, we usually do this in His Name.  We get caught in one of these riptides where the Gospel is shoved to the periphery and then we dress up all our idolatries with Bible vocabulary and ideas. Over time, our pride increases and we steadily drift further and further away.

Recently I was meditating on the idea of “brokenness” and in particular why it was not more a part of my life. Why did I have to sin in order to feel broken and contrite? I took some comfort in that most of the Biblical occurrences of this concept were in the context of sins discovered and confessed.

Think of these Psalms of contrition:

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted / and saves the crushed in spirit.”

Psalm 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Then I read this promise from Isaiah 61, a promise that comes on the heels of chapter after chapter of sin-exposing confrontation.

Isaiah 61:1-2a “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn…”

It was this portion of Isaiah’s scroll that Jesus read and sat down saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled.” This means that Christ’s advent, incarnation, sinless life, death and resurrection brought about the fulfillment of the promise that the brokenhearted could be restored. In other words, the Gospel is the one thing that makes us and keeps us right with God.

Here is the link. If we are going to become more of and stay a Gospel-immersed movement, then we must stay low before our God.

Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’”

It is brokenness and contrition that will keep us running to the Good News that Christ died for our sins and was raised.  Which means we have to maintain in our own lives a persistent asking: “What difference does the death and resurrection of Jesus make to this moment/event/joy/temptation?”

Here is one faithful anchor to fend off Gospel-drift and eventual Gospel-substitution.  We need to go low, seek contrition and aim for a brokenness that leads to the cross.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Romans 12 - Get Your World Turned Upside Down!

I have been refreshed this week studying Romans 12. In this passage the Apostle launches into a robust description of what every Christian life should look like. The root of this awesome change is a full grasp of the Gospel.

Sacrifice. Humility. Service. Love. That about sums it up!  Below is an extended outline I hope to preach from on Sunday (i.e. not the one found in your weekly handout). I would encourage you to read through Romans 12 with this in hand and ask of God what area of your life needs the most revolutionizing now.

The Gospel Revolution: The Call to a Revolutionized Life
Romans 12

1.            Sacrifice yourself (1-2)

2.             Prioritize humility (3)

3.            Serve appropriately (4-8)

4.            Act in love like Jesus did to friends in the church
A.            Chase after your own sanctification (9)
B.             Commit yourself to God’s people
            i.            Immerse yourself relationally in your church family (10a)
            ii.            Scavenge for grace in every church member (10b)
C.            Be intensely God-focused
            i.            Stay tirelessly diligent in spiritual matters (11a)
            ii.            Stay on fire in the Holy Spirit (11b)
            iii.            Stay committed to doing whatever God says (11c)
D.            Cling to God through your troubles
            i.            Boast in your sure future (12a)
            ii.            Remain true under pressure (12b)
            iii.            Stick to your prayers (12c)

5.            Respond in love like Jesus would to friends in the church
            A.            Give to alleviate your brothers’ needs
                        i.            Immerse yourself in the needs of your brother (13a)
                        ii.            Hunt for Christian strangers to house (13b)
            B.            Feel what your brother feels
                        i.            Delight in his successes (15a)
                        ii.            Empathize with his sorrows (15b)
            C.            Hang out with the forgotten brothers (16)

6.            Respond in love like Jesus did to sinful people that hate you
            A.            Stop denouncing and start praying for your persecutors (14)
            B.            Retaliate against your enemies with good (17)
            C.            Conspire for peace (18)
            D.            Conquer evil (19-21)

Friday, December 02, 2011

A Gospel Living FAQ - notes to prepare for this week's sermon

We are continuing our series on The Gospel Revolution this Sunday (God-willing) and I plan to tackle the bulk of Romans 8-11 in one swipe. That is a hefty goal, but this passage sure sings when you look at it all at once like this. Sometimes it is hard to wait until Sunday to preach.

Below is the outline to the sermon I plan to preach. It is a little different in that I am structuring the passage around the questions that are behind the answers given in the text. In the tradition of those helpful catechisms from the past I have tried to summarize each.

If you get the chance to read the passage prior to the weekend I am confident God will bless your work. Try reading with this questions and answers in mind and see if the preacher got it right!

The Gospel Revolution
Part 5: A Gospel-living FAQ
Romans 8-11

Q1. If I still sin, am I actually blameless in the eyes of God? (8:1-4)
A. Yes, even when I sin, I am still blameless in the eyes of God since I am no longer condemned.

Q2. Did anything really change in me when I became a Christian? (8:5-11)
A. Yes, when I became a Christian I was indwelled by God’s Holy Spirit.

Q3. What does being indwelled by God’s Holy Spirit provide? (8:12-27)
A. God’s Spirit in me provides: the power to kill sin; the ability to know God’s will; the assurance I really am a Christian; and the strength to endure.

Q4. How can I be confident all this work of God’s Spirit applies to me? (8:28-30)
A. The Holy Spirit’s work applies to me because I was foreknown, predestined, called, justified and will be glorified.

Q5. How can I be sure I won’t ultimately lose my salvation? (8:31-39)
A. I will not lose my salvation because no one can oppose, accuse, condemn or separate me from God.

Q6. How can I be confident that nothing can separate me from God? (9:6-20) (11:29)
A. I am confident that nothing will ever separate me from God because He chose me to be saved before the creation of the world.

Q7. If God has chosen who will be saved, why should I share the Gospel? (10:9-17)
A. I need to share the Gospel because it is only through the Gospel that God calls the elect to Himself.

Monday, October 03, 2011

A little reminder from Piper on the place of words in seeking doctrinal clarity

Have you been following the recent storm surrounding James MacDonald's decision to invite TD Jakes to the Elephant Room (a symposium for Christian leaders to candidly discuss their differences)? I was reminded today of something John Piper preached in a biographical peice on Athanasius. I think it provides an excellent reminder.
The truth of biblical language must be vigorously protected with non-biblical language. Athanasius’ experience was critically illuminating to something I have come to see over the years, especially in liberally minded baptistic and pietistic traditions, namely, that the slogan, “the Bible is our only creed” is often used as a cloak to conceal the fact that Bible language is used to affirm falsehood. This is what Athanasius encountered so insidiously at the Council of Nicaea. The Arians affirmed biblical sentences. Listen to this description of the proceedings:

The Alexandrians . . . confronted the Arians with the traditional Scriptural phrases which appeared to leave no doubt as to the eternal Godhead of the Son. But to their surprise they were met with perfect acquiescence. Only as each test was propounded, it was observed that the suspected party whispered and gesticulated to one another, evidently hinting that each could be safely accepted, since it admitted of evasion. If their assent was asked to the formula “like to the Father in all things,” it was given with the reservation that man as such is “the image and glory of God.” The “power of God” elicited the whispered explanation that the host of Israel was spoken of as dunamis kuriou, and that even the locust and caterpillar are called the “power of God.” The “eternity” of the Son was countered by the text, “We that live are alway (2 Corinthians 4:11)!” The fathers were baffled, and the test of homoosion, with which the minority had been ready from the first, was being forced (p. 172) upon the majority by the evasions of the Arians.

R. P. C. Hanson explained the process like this: “Theologians of the Christian Church were slowly driven to a realization that the deepest questions which face Christianity cannot be answered in purely biblical language, because the questions are about the meaning of biblical language itself.”39 The Arians railed against the unbiblical language being forced on them. They tried to seize the biblical high ground and claim to be the truly biblical people—the pietists, the simple Bible-believers—because they wanted to stay with biblical language only—and by it smuggle in their non-biblical meanings. But Athanasius saw through this “post-modern,”post-conservative,” “post-propositional” strategy and saved for us not just Bible words, but Bible truth. May God grant us the discernment of Athanasius for our day. Very precious things are at stake.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sunday Preview - Leaders, followers and love

We are getting close to the end of our study of Hebrews and now finish off some of the ethical commands at the end of the letter. It should be no surprise that our author ends where he started - pointing us to Jesus.

Below is the outline of the passage as I propose to preach it Sunday morning.

Did you know we are now hosting the audio of our sermons on our new church website? You can download or stream some excellent audio quality for free, if that kind of thing is helpful to you.  For the sermons on Hebrews go here.

When it comes to these outlines, my suggestion is to read through the passage on Saturday some time with this outline in front of you to get a sense of what it says. The verse references are in brackets beside the points.

So, Follow Jesus!

Hebrews 13:7-19

1.            Follow what you saw of Jesus in your former leaders

A.             Mimic their persevering faith in Jesus (7)

B.            Remember their unchangeable Model (8)

2.             Follow the Gospel of Jesus

A.            Take seriously the warning to not marginalize the Gospel (9)

B.            Work continually to centralize the Gospel in your life (10-12)

3.            Follow the ways of Jesus

A.            Lead a life of not belonging and anticipation (13-14)

B.            Lead a life of public worship and active love (15-16)

4.            Follow the present leaders Jesus has given you

A.            Trust them (17)

B.             Pray for them (18-19)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Keller Touches on Toronto as he considers the splits that can occur between Christians

Blog - Redeemer City to City: "I fear that we are in a period in which many in the Christian church are dividing into extreme positions over the very conduct of polemics. On the one side there are seemingly more people than ever, especially through the Internet, engaging in polemics, and yet it looks to me like there is a large number of younger Christians leaders who are reacting to this as if polemics is a pure evil. We want “conversation”, never argument or apologetics."

'via Blog this'

Monday, August 15, 2011

Do you really want to be beautiful, sister?

I got to wondering the other day about all the women in the Bible who are noted for their beauty. (This thought was triggered by a statement Tim made while preaching about Ruth, that the text never tells us anything about her looks and that she might have been quite frumpy.)

My wondering was along the lines of this: is it really a good thing to be a “looker?”  A quick think through my Bible revealed that other than the daughters of Job, and the bride of Song of Solomon, good looks can get you into more trouble than triumph.

Consider these beautiful women. In each case, their beauty is in some way linked to the unfortunate things that happened to them.

Sarah – sent off by her husband to a foreigner’s harem (twice!)
Rebekah – sent off to another harem then lived in a dysfunctional family
Rachel – spent many years barren
Philisitine woman of Timnah married to Samson – 30 men were killed in her town and fields burned outside of it and then she was murdered by her own people
Abigail – her husband dropped dead
Bathsheba – she was lured into adultery, became pregnant, got her husband murdered and lost her illegitmate child
Tamar the daughter of David – raped by her half-brother
Abishag the Shunamite – was chosen to lie in bed with an old and dying King David to keep him warm
Esther – trotted off to a harem and then made queen to something of a crazed despot

All that to say, the Bible does not suggest that beautiful women get an easier life. If being esteemed as gorgeous or desirable or pretty is what you are seeking, you may want to give that goal a second look!

1. Obviously, being ugly or unkempt is not a virtue.
2. Including Abigail in my list is likely the most tenuous.
3. I am not trying to say that being pretty is a sin. I just found it interesting to think through that list of names and see that being attractive in the eyes of the world may lead to more problems than it solves.
4. None of us are truly beautiful when it comes right down to it. Sin is ugly and before the only eyes that matter we are dead and lost. Jesus died for sinners though, and that makes all of us who have repented and believed on Him attractive (male and female) to the Lord. And that is what really matters.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Some ideas on how to prepare to listen to a sermon

Joshua preached last night on Pursuing God through Listening to His Word Preached. I thought his list of ways to prepare for listening was worth repeating here:
·      Read the text that will be preached prior to Sunday.
·      Pray through the text and pray for the preacher of the text.
·      Be inquisitive. Ask questions of the text that you hope will get answered in the preaching.
·      Read all of your Bible as much as you can. Good preaching will almost always be full of Biblical allusions that only get caught and understood as our understanding of the sweep of Scripture continues to grow.
·      Come ready to listen in a way that will enable you to talk about what you heard; then start talking to others afterwards about what encouraged you, etc. Or, learn to explain some part of the sermon to your kids, or somebody else’s kids.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Where have you been Blogger-boy?

Every once in a while I remember I have a blog, then consider burying it in its blog-grave, then think of one more thing I would like “say” before I do!

We had our annual business meeting at Grace Fellowship Church last night and that gave cause to reflect on the last year of our church’s life.

One year ago, I read our folks John 12:24 and suggested this would be the basis to the next year or so as we planned to send off a part of us to plant another church.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

I asked our folks to ponder, “How does it feel to die?”  That was a real question, since we sent out 26 members (plus their kids and some “attenders”) over the last 12 months.  For a church of our size that is a pretty huge hit – basically one third of our membership.  We also went through some other pruning and trials that made this past year one of the most difficult we have yet to experience.

But then I looked through that list of 26 names again and do you know what I saw? Sent out from our little church in one year were 3 pastors, 2 deacons, 2 lead worshipers, 2 missionaries, 1 pastoral assistant and 16 solid members spread out to churches like Grace Fellowship Church East, New City Baptist, Harvest Durham, and a couple of others. What a blessing!

On top of this was the added surprise that the Lord added to our membership 24 new people – just two shy of the number who were sent out. We had hoped to grow again, but did not expect it to come so soon.

So now Grace Fellowship Church is a new church. There is a new core, a new vibe and the same old Gospel.  Toronto continues to grow with people from all over the world and a bunch of our church were here on Saturday to take that glorious Gospel to whomever happened to be waiting at a nearby bus stop.

I love His church.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Some other great words on Father's Day from another friend, Greg Lucas.

I often find myself thinking about what a truly exceptional Christian life looks like and then trying my futile best to match up to it. Is it reaching hundreds or thousands with the gospel? Is it pastoring a mega church? Is it compiling a library of solid theology or writing volumes of books? Perhaps it has something to do with how many followers you have on your blog or Twitter account?
Then I look at the life of my grandfather. He had an 8th grade education, owned two books, drove a truck for 30 years, was married to the same woman for 56 years, raised three children and then three grandchildren, and pastored a church of less than 70 people. He lived humbly, loved hard, laughed often, cared deeply and died well.

He also owned a watch with an 18 wheeler on it and a safety certificate for never having an accident on the road. Pretty good accomplishments for an exceptional life if you ask me.

Great words on Father's Day from my friend John Knight

"I’ve always respected my father – it is hard not to, especially when everyone in our little town seemed to know him, like him and respect him.
But the arrival of my Paul put everything into a different kind of clarity for me on who this man is.
Only days after Paul was born, while he was still hooked up to machines, dad held him and simply said to him, “if the only reason I was put on this earth was to be your grandpa, that’s good enough for me.”
Tears still come to my eyes, nearly 16 years later, at the memory. My father was for me. My father was for my boy. Nothing could change that. Nothing could stop that. He didn’t require Paul to love him back. He has NEVER required Paul to love him back. He didn’t require me to do anything for him. Paul simply was his own, and that’s all dad needed to know.
This is love. This is God’s gift in fulfilling the commandment: By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers (1 John 3:16)."

Read the whole post here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Greg Lucas talks about the love of God in trials

One of the joys in working with The Elisha Foundation is getting to make some remarkable friends. Last year we had the joy of meeting Greg and Kim Lucas and hearing their story of God's grace first hand.  You can catch a part of it here:

Wrestling With An Angel from Brian Patton on Vimeo.

You can buy Greg's remarkable book here. I keep giving copies away!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Faith of a Parent Goes a Long Way

Moses learned a lot about faith from his mom and dad.

This is how we pass on the faith to our children: by our words, but more pointedly by our actions. Children are either hardened by the hypocrisy of their parents, or like Moses they are inspired by the consistency between word and deed. If we are unforgiving with our children and show an unwillingness to admit our sins, then we communicate a lack of grace to them. If we spend all our money on ourselves, begrudging the church or those in need, or if we speak harshly of people, seeming to rejoice in their failures and follies, then we communicate a religion other than that of Christianity.  But when we are quick to repent and ready to forgive, when we trust the Lord for our own provision and give freely to others, and when we speak graciously of other sinners… we show our children our belief in a God who is merciful and kind and mighty to save.
- Rick Phillips, Hebrews (498).

Monday, May 09, 2011

God is More Interesting than Stealth Helicopters

I often find myself eager to log in to Google News or some other source to see what is going on. I installed Leechblock on my work computer some time ago and was surprised to see just how much I like to “check on things.”

While this fairly constant urge may be the sign of some pretty significant heart idolatries, I think part of what generates this action is the urge to find something interesting to think about. When you think about it, most of us lead pretty boring lives. We sleep, we wake, we work, we do stuff around the house, we sleep. “News” holds out the promise of something, well… new! And new means interesting.

To look for something interesting in this life can be good at one level – we were made to subdue and enjoy the creation. Yet, something is wrong when my hunt for the  “interesting” curbs my pursuit of God. God is the most interesting subject in the Universe! If I am more excited to log on to an internet news source than I am to read my Bible and pray, this is evidence I have gotten things backward.

It is true that God is unchanging. But He is unchanging in unsearchable wisdom and unfathomable depths of love. Who God is remains the immeasurable mystery that will take up an endless eternity. Our love and enjoyment of Him will increase daily in the new heavens and the new earth. Why then do I allow myself to be sidetracked and distracted by what kind of helicopter Navy SEALS used to crash land in Osama bin Laden’s compound?

God is the most interesting subject in the Universe.

That thought has helped clarify to me what I should be thinking about and chasing after.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Telling a Teller About Jesus

I had the joy of talking to my bank teller about Jesus yesterday. She is from India, a very pleasant and kind woman, and we got to chatting about Easter. I told her that Good Friday commemorates the death of Jesus for sinners and that Easter commemorates the third day after his death when God raised Him from the dead. She looked shocked. Having lived in Canada for over twenty years she had no idea that was what Easter was all about.
I was shocked, too. It is so easy for me to forget how little people know of the Gospel. And how distorted the world’s perception of true Christianity can be (she later innocently assumed that “Canadian” equaled “Christian”).
I say all of this just to remind you, if you are a Christian, to be careful to not assume too much when talking to others about Jesus. It is a post-Christian world we live in and the most basic tenets of Christianity that my generation grew up understanding (even if rejecting) are unknown by most today.

Good Friday Service Tonight! (7PM - Winter Garden Theatre)

This is going to be a beautiful, amazing time of worshiping together and remembering the dying love of Jesus on our behalf. A couple of helpful hints for the night:

  1. Arrive early – around 6:30 – if you can. The doors open at 6:30, and by all indications from the other participating churches, we could have a pretty full house. The intriguing thing is that we are going to need tickets to get into the event. They are free, and can be picked up at the box office – but to get in, get your tickets and then take the escalator or elevators up to the theatre could easily eat up 15 minutes. 
  2. Only take as many tickets as you need. If you are meeting people, let them get their own; the area around the ticket box office is too small and easily will get congested, from what we can tell. Take your tickets and then head up to the theatre up the escalators, and grab some seats for your friends.
  3. The service begins with a theatrical meditation on the Cross by a professional actor, Ins Choi. It begins the service – you do not want to miss it! So don’t straggle or you will regret it!!
  4. There is a suggested donation of $20 per person to defray the costs of hosting this event. Please come with checks made out to Grace Toronto Church, or if you have cash, please grab an envelope from an usher as you enter the theatre. The envelopes have room to put your info on them for tax receipt purposes.
  5. There will be refreshments, for sale, after the service. The theatre is manning these concessions for us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Good Friday Service - Some Important Updates

The Good Friday service will be framed around the Seven Sayings of Jesus from the cross. AW Pink wrote a great little book on these statements that would be wonderful reading in preparation for Friday. You can find those sayings in these passages:
  • The First Word – Luke 23: 32-38
  • The Second Word – Luke 23: 39-43
  • The Third Word – John 19: 25-27
  • The Fourth Word – Mark 15: 33-34
  • The Fifth Word - John 19: 28
  • The Sixth Word – John 19: 29-30
  • The Seventh Word – Luke 23: 44-46
You will need to get a ticket to get in to the Winter Garden Theatre. This is one of the few “double-decker” theatres left in the world and the Winter Garden sits atop the Elgin. As there will be an event going on in the Elgin at the same time, you will need to pick up a free ticket for our service in order to get in the building. Those tickets will be available at the ticket counter at the front of the theatre.

Again, the easiest parking looks to be at The Eaton Centre. Park there and walk across Yonge Street and you will be at the Elgin/Winter Garden.

More important than all of this, however, is what you do today. It is the week we remember the single most important event in human history.
  • Have you been reading the Gospels?
  • Praying?
  • Thinking about Jesus?
  • Talking about His death around your family table?
  • Confessing sin?
  • Remembering that Christ died for your sins and was raised?
Redeem these precious days.

Anticipating great things with you!

Perspective: Your trial is smaller than you think

Have you ever gone back to an old school or the house in which you grew up? Did the place seem a lot bigger in your memories of it?
I popped into my grade school a while ago and was flooded with recollections of seven of the most formative years of my life. But the most shocking realization was how small the building was. In my memories, those halls were hundreds of meters longer.
Today my office is located in a Christian school and just a few minutes ago the First Grade class ran by my window three times. There was a sweet little something trailing pretty far behind by lap three with a look on her face that said, “This is impossible!” I am sure that once around this little school building seems like quite a haul when you are less than three feet tall.
Some day, though, she may come back and chuckle to herself as she sees how short the distance really is.
What will it be for us, Christian, as we look back on this life? The trials that seemed so long and up hill and endless will be puny and insignificant. That can be hard to remember in the middle of your run unless your eyes are set on the finish line.
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Greg Lucas Reflecting on 18 Years of Providence

Standing in that courtroom 18 years ago I would have been absolutely overwhelmed seeing my life as it is today. The failures would be too devastating; the burdens would be too great. But when I stand there tomorrow, looking back over the past 18 years of triumph and tears, I will see God’s hand of providence in my life. I will recognize His perfect plan of love, grace, adoption, rescue and redemption--both mine and my son’s.
If I had a hundred lives to live, I would live every one of them as Jake’s dad, and I would choose to stand in no other place...rather, I would choose to run in no other race, than the perfect providence of God’s great grace.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good Friday Service Details - Downtown Toronto

My pal Darryl has posted the details to the Good Friday service our church and four other congregations are sponsoring downtown this year. We will be meeting at the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre at Yonge and Queen at 7PM.

Click here to see the details since Darryl knows how to post these things and I don't!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

John Knight on one of those quiet sorrows of raising a child with disabilities

Read the whole thing here.

In the pile of papers I referenced yesterday were some old test scores. Since Paul attends public schools, they assess his educational progress as mandated by various federal and state bodies.

The things they want to measure, he can’t do. His scores on reading, reading comprehension, math, math concepts and the like were as low as you can score and still be breathing.

The things they can’t measure – like his inherent, God-created dignity as a human being – he excels at.

I used to cry when those came in the mail every year. They still make me sad, not because of how severely disabled they ‘objectively’ show him to be, but because this is the cultural measure of his worth.

And therein lies a danger to children with disabilities not yet born. These are the objective measures of ‘reality’ that doctors and social workers and university professors understand – and which are communicated to parents who live in and breathe the air of this culture. The decision to do away with such seemingly worthless human beings then appears to be obvious.

No, let us talk about what is truly real. God creates some to live with disabilities (Exodus 4:11), he knows all their days (Psalm 139:13-16), he will supply every need (Philippians 4:19), and he knows the end from the beginning (Revelation 21:5-7).

Friday, March 25, 2011

Reflecting the Generosity of God Likely Means Giving Up on the Old "Tithe"

I have really been enjoying Kelly Kapic's book, "God So Loved, He Gave: Entering the Movement of Divine Generosity" (on sale now at Westminster).  Kapic has a great turn of phrase, but far more than this, he has packed this book with fresh and winsome observations on the free giving of God centered in the Gospel.  There have been nuggets all along that have profoundly challenged me and caused me to go back and re-read.

Thinking through Abel's model of giving away his best stuff to God as an expression of his love to God reminded me of this quote from Kapic:
Overemphasizing the tithe above everything else the Bible says about generosity can lead wealthy Christians (including most Americans) into a false sense of self-righteousness; it can also burden those who are truly poor with inappropriate feelings of guilt. By way of contrast, the New Testament praises people who cheerfully and voluntarily express love for God and neighbor by giving at great cost to themselves (Mark 12:33-44; 2 Cor. 8:1-7). In this way they pattern themselves after Christ: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Thus, emphasizing a 10 percent tithe as the basic gauge for giving can prove problematic as it can ironically end up distracting from God’s purpose in making us more like him.

(from page 152)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Will Rejecting that God Made the World in 6 Days Make Me Lose My Faith?

I suggested to my flock on Sunday that a person’s view of the origin of life would have a direct effect on now well their faith perseveres through opposition. This concept seems to be taught in Hebrews 11:3 where the author describes persevering faith in this way:

“By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”

Here are some important observations on this verse.

1. Understanding comes after faith. Did you notice that? Believing that God created the universe is something that can only be fully understood post-faith. People who are not Christians yet may believe God made the world, but that understanding is not complete until God has saved them.

2. That which exists (all seen and yet-undiscovered matter) was made ex nihilo, that is, not out of things that are visible. When I create anything, all I can do is manipulate matter into something else. God is the author of all matter.

3. The word used for “created” is perhaps translated a little more accurately by the phrase “put into order.” God made all matter out of nothing (Genesis 1:1) and over the next six days He “put it into order.” What Hebrews is suggesting is that “understanding” this, coming to a mental agreement with these facts as presented in Genesis 1, is a result of faith.

4. The efficient cause (to steal a phrase from John Owen) of this creative act was the word of God. Reading the Genesis account makes clear that all God did to make light, when light had never before existed, was say, ‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.”

5. This all relates to having a faith that perseveres through opposition. If you take God at His Word, and come to understand that in six literal days He put in order all creation, then you will be sure of these things when opposition comes:
  • God is powerful.
  • God’s Word is powerful.
  • God is faithful to His creation.
If you believe that matter just happened, or that God used a process of natural selection to make all things, then you have already had your confidence in God’s Word shaken. You do not take the words of the Genesis account as accurate or true. That means you are probably much less likely to turn to that Word in trials and persecutions and this in turn leads to faith that does not persevere well.

Someone will likely ask, “Are you saying that people who do not believe in a literal six day creation are not Christians or that they will apostasize?” No. But I am saying that there is a reason the world so often works harder at disproving a six day creation than at insisting on another origin theory. Disproving God’s revealed Truth about how He made everything (an event to which there were no human witnesses), will work against our confidence in the all the hard truths God tells us in the Bible.

For me, this was never much of a debate. Likely because I am not very smart nor do I have a particularly scientific mind. But I have friends who have agonized over it. So I offer these observations to encourage you to wrestle with this text. Your decisions about the origin of life have a lot more effect on you than just your own mental consolation.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Regret - Some Thoughts from Tozer

The subject of regret in the Christian life came up in a few contexts lately that made me want to go back and read this article by A.W. Tozer. I would not say everything exactly the way Tozer does here, maybe making a clearer connection to the cross, but so much of what he writes is dead on in my book.  Don't be shackled by what Christ has freed you from if you are His!

The human heart is heretical by nature. Popular religious beliefs should be checked carefully against the word of God, for they are almost certain to be wrong.

Legalism, for instance, is natural to the human heart. Grace in its true New Testament meaning is foreign to human reason, not because it is contrary to reason but because it lies beyond it. The doctrine of grace had to be revealed; it could not have been discovered.

The essence of legalism is self-atonement. The seeker tries to make himself acceptable to God by some act of restitution, or by self-punishment or the feeling of regret. The desire to be pleasing to God by self-effort is not, for it assumes that sin once done may be undone, an assumption wholly false.

Long after we have learned from the scriptures that we cannot by fasting, or the wearing of hair shirt or the making of many prayers, atone for the sins of the soul, we still tend by a kind of pernicious natural heresy to feel that we can please God and purify our souls by the penance of perpetual regret.

This latter is the Protestant's unacknowledged penance. Though he claims to believe in the doctrine of justification by faith he still secretly feels that what he calls "godly sorrow" will make him dear to God. Though he may know better he is caught in the web of a wrong religious feeling and betrayed.

There is indeed a godly sorrow that worketh repentance and it must be acknowledged that among us Christians this feeling is often not present in sufficient strength to work real repentance; but the persistence of this sorrow till it becomes chronic regret is neither right nor good. Regret is a kind of frustrated repentance that has not been quite comsummated. Once the soul has turned from all sin and committed itself wholly to God there is no longer any legitimate place for regret. When moral innocence has been restored by the forgiving love of God the guilt may be remembered, but the sting is gone from the memory. The forgiven man knows that he has sinned, but he no longer feels it.

The effort to be forgiven by works is one that can never be completed because no one knows or can know how much is enough to cancel out the offence; so the seeker must go on year after year paying on his moral debt, here a little, there a little, knowing that he sometimes adds to his bill much more than he pays. The task of keeping books on such transactions can never end, and the seeker can only hope that when the last entry is made he may be ahead and the account fully paid. This is quite the popular belief, this forgiveness by self-effort but it is natural heresy and can at last only betray those who depend upon it.

It may be argued that the absence of regret indicates a low and inadequate view of sin, but the exact opposite is true. Sin is frightful, so destructive to the soul that no human thought or act can in any degree diminish its lethal effects. Only God can deal with it successfully; only the blood of Christ can cleanse it from the pores or the spirit. The heart that has been delivered from this dread enemy feels not regret but wondrous relief and unceasing gratitude.

The returned prodigal honours his father more by rejoicing than by repining. Had the young man in the story had less faith in his father he might have mourned in a corner instead of joining in the festivities. His confidence in the loving-kindness of his father gave him the courage to forget his chequered past.

Regret frets the soul as tension frets the nerves and anxiety the mind. I believe that the chronic unhappiness of most Christians may be attributed to a gnawing uneasiness lest God had not fully forgiven them, or the fear that He expects as the price of His forgiveness some sort of emotional penance which they have not furnishes. As our confidence in the goodness of God mounts our anxieties will diminish and our moral happiness rise in inverse proportion.

Regret may be more than a form of self-love. A man may have such a high regard for himself that any failure to live up to his own image of himself disappoints him deeply. He feels that he has betrayed his better self by his act of wrongdoing, and even if God is willing to forgive him he will not forgive himself. Sin brings to such a man a painful loss of face that is not soon forgotten. He becomes permanently angry with himself by going to God frequently with petulant self-accusations. This state of mind crystallizes finally into a feeling of chronic regret which appears to be proof of deep penitence but is actually proof of deep self-love.

Regret for a sinful past will remain until we truly believe that for us in Christ that sinful past no longer exists. The man in Christ has only Christ's past and that is perfect and acceptable to God. In Christ He died, in Christ he rose, and in Christ he is seated within the circe of God's favoured ones. He is no longer angry with himself because he is no longer self-regarding, but Christ-regarding; hence there is no place for regret.

The human heart is a funny and deceitful thing. Who would have thought that our regret for our pride might be the surest sign we are still walking in that arrogance?