Encouragement From The Word

At Fault

            “Fault” – it’s one of the nastiest words in the English language, no matter the context.  Geologically, it’s that place where earthquakes can be common.  Psychologically, it’s that whole concept of blame and shame.  Electronically, it’s what happened to me six times on Thursday!  I was removing a CD-R from the drive on my laptop, and Shazam! the computer screen turned a lovely shade of blue with white writing – definitely not very much like Windows – announcing to me that there was a ‘fault’ and that the computer had shut down to protect itself. 


            Thankfully, it manages to recover from what Windows calls a “serious error” every time – and I am writing this email on the same computer – but it leaves me wondering whether it’s time to send the drive to Silicon Hades (Silicon Valley isn’t deep enough!).  In fact, I suggested to the CBS tech support guys that such should be its fate.


            When it comes to technology, we’re often not very grace-filled, are we?  If a component fails on us enough times, we immediately seek replacement.  (The main IT guy just emailed me to ask for the service tag number – that’s a good sign!)


            But how about when it comes to other, more personal, “faults”?  I grew up a perfectionist, and I’m slowly learning to step away from that model of living.  It’s just too stressful!  As human beings, it’s natural for us to want to excel (whether for the right or wrong reasons), and to want others to excel, too – but when a ‘fault’ happens, it happens.  When a working colleague, or a family member, or a friend, or even the person driving in front of us, commits an error of some sort, are we willing to be gracious, and not dispense with them as we would an errant CD drive?


            Someone insightful once said that we should thank God that we don’t get what we deserve.  A holy, perfect God deserves perfection from his creatures made just a little lower than him (Psalm 8), but that’s far from what he gets from me – probably from you, too.  Thankfully, we serve a gracious God.  The Scripture – most notably the Old Testament – refers to the Lord several times as “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34.6, NIV – in this example).


            Isn’t that wonderful?  God is more compassionate, more gracious, slower to anger, more abounding in love and faithfulness than any one of us.  It’s such a good thing that God doesn’t treat us like faulty computer components!  He could – but he chooses not to, because we are his people, made in his image, designed to love and serve him.  He is ever willing to forgive our faults, when we come to him in faith through Jesus Christ our Lord, who was the only faultless One.

Encouragement From The Word

Redeeming the Time

I’ve been spending a fair bit of time fighting traffic.  It’s about the only thing that causes me serious stress in my work.  Most days aren’t too bad, and most Fridays tend to be pretty good – but this Friday was awful.  No special reasons, I don’t think – just volume and fender-benders, as usual.


            Naturally, it got me thinking.  How can I redeem this time?  It’s pretty much inevitable that delays will occur.  My normal reaction to delays is not good, because I’m the sort of person who would rather be a half-hour early than 5 minutes late for anything.    Remembering that Jesus said, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Luke 12.25, NIV), I figure there’s got to be a way to deal with traffic delays.  What could I do?  What can you do?


            Of course, if we own a cell phone, the responsible thing to do is to call the person who will be delayed by our delay to let him or her know that we’ll be late.  But once that’s done, how can the time be redeemed – used for some constructive, helpful purpose?


            Pray.  Talk to God about everything – not just your desire for the traffic to move more quickly.   God yearns for fellowship with us, and a time when we’re sitting, waiting for cars to move, can be a useful time to build our relationship with God.  I recommend praying with your eyes open for safety’s sake.


            Read Scripture.  Carrying on in the vein of “safety”, I recommend not pulling your pocket Bible out of the glove compartment and reading the Bible while sitting in traffic.  I do, however, recommend getting the Bible on CD or some other format and listening through your car stereo or one ear bud from your MP3 player or iPod.  In the coming months, watch for a program to come from the Canadian Bible Society reminding you that “You’ve Got The Time” – the time to listen to the entire New Testament in just 40 days, by listening to the CD for 28 minutes each day (the length of a typical commute on days other than today!).


            Meditate.  Today’s society tends to think of ‘meditation’ as an Eastern practice, where you have to sit cross-legged with your arms outstretched and your finger and thumb touching.  Not so!  To meditate means to contemplate; I think it’s fair to say that we don’t take much time to contemplate what God is doing in our lives.  As you listen to the Scripture and pray, ask yourself (and God!) how you could be growing as a disciple.  Every day, I need to ask myself, How can I go deeper with the Lord?  It’s a question worth asking.


            Understand the culture.  If Christ-followers are going to have an effect on the world, we need to understand the culture in which we’ve been placed.  One way we can do that while sitting in traffic is listening to the radio.  It won’t give us a perfectly clear picture of the culture, but if we know what our neighbours are listening to, it helps us understand how they’re thinking.


            All of this beats worrying, which will add neither a single hour to your life (nor a single cubit to your height, as some New Testament manuscripts put it).  So, don’t worry when you’re in traffic – it’s not under your control!  Use the time to grow in your relationship with God, which is.


500 Million Kids so far…

One of our partners at the Canadian Bible Society is an organization called Book of Hope.  It prepares magazine-format versions of the life of Jesus in Scripture, and publishes them in context-appropriate ways for children and young people to be reached with the Word of God.

Their website shows how the organization has now reached 500 million children with the Word of God.  Click here to read the story.  It’s stories like this that make us proud to be partners.

Encouragement From The Word

Bike For Bibles

            Anyone who knows me (hey, you don’t even need to know me – you just need to have seen me!) knows that I’m not a terribly athletic person.  While I love to walk and curl and golf a little, I freely admit I took my last gym class in Grade VII.  But I’ve got to tell you – I’m thrilled about a bike ride that’s coming up this summer!


            Don’t fear for my heart; I won’t be doing the riding.  My job for this bike ride is to stand on corners and point riders in the direction they’re to turn.  It may sound boring, but it’s an exciting role for me.


            Central Ontario District is hosting the 2008 all-Ontario Bike For Bibles ride, from July 13 to 20.  We’ll begin with registration, worship and fellowship on the evening of the 13th in Lindsay, then begin our 7-day trek across central and eastern Ontario, staying in Cobourg, Picton, Kingston, Stirling, Millbrook and Bobcaygeon, before returning to Lindsay again for worship and celebration on the morning of the 20th.  It will be an exhilarating trip for riders and roadies alike!


            Our cause this year is to raise funds for Scriptures to be provided to new Canadians learning English as a second language through church-based ESL ministries.  Friends of the Canadian Bible Society may remember that it used to be customary for CBS to provide a Bible to every new Canadian citizen at citizenship court.  We were exiled from citizenship court several years ago, and have not had any success in our attempts to regain the privilege of offering Bibles in that context.  So we had to find new ways to reach new Canadians.  Beginning in Calgary, then in Toronto, and now nationally, we will be able to offer Bibles to people even earlier than when they arrive at citizenship court.  Their time in ESL is often an excellent time to reach newcomers with the gospel.  And we are grateful for the opportunity to partner with those who provide these programs.


            Helping a new Canadian learn English through the power of God’s Word is an amazing opportunity, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.


            If you like to ride your bike, we’d be glad to have you join us.  In fact, you can register online (click “Ontario” at the left, after you’ve read about Bike For Bibles).  Not a 100 km-per-day cyclist?  You can sponsor a rider by clicking here, too, following the links.  If you have any questions about the ride or what’s involved, please email me.


            Your participation and your gifts mean much.  Your prayers mean much to us as well.  Please join us in praying for safety for all riders and roadies, as well as good riding weather for the whole week.  And pray that those of us who participate will be united in strong Christian fellowship and will serve as powerful witnesses for the gospel as we travel through communities large and small.


            The Apostle Paul wrote, “All athletes are disciplined in their training.  They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.  So I run with purpose in every step.  I am not just shadowboxing” (1 Corinthians 9.25-26, NLT).  Paul wasn’t riding a bicycle, but the principles still apply.  Not only does God invite us to be disciplined physically; he invites us to be disciplined spiritually as well.  I may not be much of a cyclist, but I train every day so that my soul may be in top condition as I share my faith and await the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.  May that be true of you as well!

Biblical Messages

Stewardship Is Lordship

This morning, I preached a message on stewardship.  It’s a subject I don’t take lightly, especially as a servant in the parachurch, where we rely on funds from people whose firstfruits are due to the local church!  I looked at it from three perspectives.  Based on Luke 12.22-34, give a listen to “Stewardship Is Lordship” and let me know what you think.

Encouragement From The Word

Good Luck?

            We’re having some national meetings for the Bible Society this week, and on Wednesday, we broke into two groups for some strategizing.  Several of my colleagues are engaged in French Bible work in various parts of Canada.  As he was leaving the room, I said to one of them, “Bonne chance!” (which means, in English, “Good luck!”).


            My colleague replied, “As (theologian John) Calvin would say!”, and we both had a good laugh, after which I said, “Je vous souhaite de bon succès!” (which is translated, “I wish you good success”).


            There’s a good point to be had in that little conversation, and it has nothing to do with learning French.  Like the rest of the world, God’s people tend to toss around phrases like “Good luck”, often without thinking about what they mean.  Let’s face it:  there are plenty of people who are content to put their trust in “fate”, or “chance”, or “luck”, as the closest thing they wish to acknowledge as a Higher Power.  Christ-followers don’t need to lower themselves to that level.


            If we believe in God, and trust the Lord, then neither fate nor chance nor luck have any bearing in our life’s journey.  Besides, how can we possibly trust – place our faith, even our future – in an indescribable non-entity?  Some folks resign themselves to see their lives in the hands of some thing over which they have no control.


            To tell the truth, Christians give their lives over to One over which they have no control.  Who of us, after all, can pretend to control the God who made the universe? 


            What’s the difference?  Relationship.


            Followers of Jesus place their trust in the God who made the world and everything in it.  That sounds ominous enough, except that we who trust the Lord also have the promise of a relationship with him.  This was the plan of God:  that Jesus would live our life, and die our death on the cross to pave the way for us to renew the relationship with God that was broken through human sin.  And he was raised from the dead to bring us the promise of eternal life.  As the little framed print posted inside our front door reminds me each morning as I leave, “When he was on the cross, you were on his mind.”  That’s the miracle of relationship.


            When we read the Scripture, God speaks to us.  And when we pray, we talk to God.  That’s communication, dialogue – the basic formula for a relationship.  I know that when I entrust my life to the care of God, I am placing it in the care of One who has demonstrated his care for me in the most profound and powerful way.  Nobody can say that about fate, or chance, or luck.


            One time, in the story of God’s people, the Ark of the Covenant – the symbol of God’s presence at that time – was stolen by enemies, the Philistines.  All manner of calamity befell the Philistines whenever the Ark was in their presence, so they decided to send it back to the Israelites.  They didn’t want to believe that the Lord had the kind of power that would cause the trouble caused by the ark, so they tried to reason that it was some sort of fluke.


            Now build a new cart, and find two cows that have just given birth to calves. Make sure the cows have never been yoked to a cart. Hitch the cows to the cart, but shut their calves away from them in a pen.  Put the Ark of the Lord on the cart, and beside it place a chest containing the gold rats and gold tumors you are sending as a guilt offering. Then let the cows go wherever they want.  If they cross the border of our land and go to Beth-shemesh, we will know it was the Lord who brought this great disaster upon us. If they don’t, we will know it was not his hand that caused the plague. It came simply by chance” (1 Samuel 6.7-9, NLT).


            We know that the power of God was in the Ark.  We know that those cows – who should have turned back to their young – were being used by God.  And we know that none of it happened by chance.  When it comes to luck, there’s no such thing.  That’s why we trust God!

Defending the faith

An Evangelical Manifesto

There’s a document that’s been produced by a steering committee of committed evangelicals in the United States entitled, An Evangelical Manifesto:  A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment.  You can read the document, and see the list of the steering committee members and the signatories, here.

I read it, and in agreement with my friend John G. Stackhouse, Jr., that it is an eminently moderate manifesto.

The dictionary tells us that a manifesto is a public declaration of policy and aims (Oxford Pocket).  Often, manifestos have tended to be more radical documents. This does not measure up to the adjective ‘radical’, except in its original meaning:  to get at the root of something.  And I think An Evangelical Manifesto does seek to get at the root of what it means to be an evangelical in contemporary society.  Too often, evangelicals have been known for what they are against than what they are for.  Too often, evangelicals have been known for persecuting rather than being persecuted.  This document seeks to set the record straight, at least for those who drafted and have signed it.

If you consider yourself evangelical, have heard of evangelicals, love evangelicals, hate evangelicals, etc., etc. – I commend An Evangelical Manifesto to your careful reading.  What you read may surprise you.

Book Reviews, Defending the faith

An Emergent Conversation

In this first decade of the new millennium, there has arisen within western Christianity a discussion that has become “the emergent conversation”.  I am reluctant to call it a ‘movement’, because its (non-) spokespeople refuse to see it as a movement, or a new denomination, or anything more than a conversation in the literal sense of the term. 

The emergent conversation’s de facto (non-) spokesman has become Brian McLaren.  You can google his name and find out lots about him, including the several books he has written to generate discussion in the church.  Granted, much of what he and others have written is mostly germane to those based in evangelicalism, but it also speaks to those in other expressions of Christianity.

I have read some of McLaren – not as much as I would like to – and some of Dan Kimball, perhaps one of the more conservative of those who affiliate themselves with the emergent conversation.  My first introduction to sincere critique of the discussion came through reading Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church by D.A. Carson.  I picked it up because I have immense respect for the work of Carson, a Canadian New Testament theologian who teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago.

Carson’s book is an expanded version of several lectures he gave on the subject of the emergent conversation (the terms emerging and emergent are often used interchangeably, not always with the approval of all concerned).  It is full of footnotes and is, in my opinion, an excellent but laborious read.

More recently, I have read Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) [Moody, 2008], written by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck.  I saw their promotional website and read the first chapter online – which compelled me to find and purchase the book as quickly as I could.  DeYoung is a Christian Reformed Church pastor in Lansing, Michigan, and Kluck (a member of DeYoung’s congregation) is a staff writer for the American sports network ESPN.  These two guys are in their early thirties, and involved in an evangelical Protestant American church – thus the sub-heading, “(By Two Guys Who Should Be)”.  DeYoung is, predictably, more theological in his writing style, and Kluck is more experiential in his.  But each is an excellent writer in his own right and both complement each other (by writing alternate chapters).

These men have done their homework.  They have read the source material on which they base their book with a thoroughness that would make their university professors proud.  And while I don’t see relying on someone else’s reading of source material as a long-term substitute for reading it oneself, it gives the reader of their book some useful knowledge when conversing – ahem – with the conversation.

Their goal was to have written in such a way that if either of them met an emergent conversation (non-) spokesperson at a conference, they’d be able to have a friendly conversation.  I admire this, since there is much too much polemic among writers in the church today who critique (or criticize) other writers and thinkers with whom they disagree.

At 256 pages, it’s not the quickest read in the world, but it is a very worthwhile read.  It’s not often that one picks up a theological volume and finds it hard to put down, but that’s how Why We’re Not Emergent was for me.  Kluck’s chapters read faster than DeYoung’s, predictably, but both were well worth the read.

It would take more bandwith than is fair to offer all the highlights of the book I found salient, but suffice it to say I believe this book needs to be read by anybody who has read or heard of people like Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell, Spencer Burke, Donald Miller, Erwin McManus, Tony Jones, and others affiliated with the emergent conversation.  Here’s one reason why, in the words of DeYoung:  “Being a Christian – for Burke, for McLaren, for Bell, for Jones, and for many others in the emerging conversation – is less about faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ as the only access to God the Father and the only atonement for sins before a wrathful God, and more about living the life that Jesus lived and walking in His way” (page 120).

To be sure, it is crucial (and I choose that word carefully) to live the life that Jesus lived and walk in his way.  Not to do so is to miss a significant part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.  But to boil down the Christian faith to an ethic based on carefully selected passages from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is to miss an equally significant part of what it means to be a follower of Christ!  While pointing out some of the perceived weaknesses of the emergent conversation, this book is more about a call to theological clarity – to knowing what and why we believe what we do – as a basis for living and walking the Jesus way.

Like every other movement (or non-movement, or conversation) that has emerged (!) in the history of Christianity, the emergent conversation will leave a legacy to the church.  The desire of the authors of this book is that its legacy be positive and biblical, that it build up the church rather than water it down.  The great fear of many is that ’emergent’ could, if left uncritiqued, leave the church merely with a new-old liberalism which will not build the kingdom of God.

Ultimately, the desire of all involved – emergents and critics alike – is, I trust, to give glory to God and to make him known to all and loved in the hearts of all people, and to make God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, through our living out of that glory we give to God.

I’d love to hear from others – personal experience of the emergent conversation, reading of emergent writers, and both laud for what they do and criqitue of their shortcomings.  What are you thinking?