Book Reviews

Simple Church

Simple Church:  Returning To God’s Process For Making Disciples


Thom Rainer has devoted much of his life to consulting with churches to help them be all that they can be in God.  He collaborated with Eric Geiger, the executive pastor of a large Florida church, to write Simple Church:  Returning to God’s Process For Making Disciples (Broadman & Holman, 2006; ISBN 978-0-8054-4390-5).  Their study of a number of American churches has much to teach the rest of us about how “doing church” in a complicated fashion actually hinders our efforts at making disciples for Jesus.


It might seem axiomatic that the more programs a church offers, the more opportunities it has to disciple people.  But the reality is that churches that offer very few programs are more successful at making disciples.  Why?  Because their emphasis on fewer programs – on ‘doing church’ simply – allows them to concentrate their energies into reaching people in the ways that fit their vision.


We live in a busy society, so doing things simply is actually counter-cultural!  We hear of congregations that focus on few things in order to do them well, and we find that they are immensely successful at what they seek to do!  For instance, my friend Carey Nieuwhof, who has planted a church in the past year, has revolutionized the ministry’s efforts by concentrating on just two things:  Sunday morning services and weeknight community groups.  The result?  People are coming to faith in Christ, and the leadership gets to spend more time with family because they’re not programmed to death.  Margin is being built into leaders’ lives, while those participating in the congregation’s life are making decisions for Christ through their simple process.


“Process” is actually a big word for Rainer and Geiger.  They claim that if all ministries revolve around the simple process that is created for the church, and is defined with clarity and regularly communicated to the congregation, it is possible to grow the church around simplicity.


They define a simple church as “a congregation designed around a straight-forward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth” (p. 60).


Sounds simple, eh?  It is – especially for churches that are new start-ups.  The authors spend much of the book helping all the other leaders – most of them, really – who need help to transform an existing, complex church into a simple one.  And it isn’t easy.  It involves change, and plenty of it.  One of the longer chapters is devoted to “removing congestion”, and another to “saying No to almost everything” – challenging propositions to say the least.


The authors do a good job of helping the reader understand the main impetus, the principal reason for taking something that may be unbearably complex and making it simple:  people’s lives are on the line, for eternity.  And we want people’s hearts and lives to be changed, not only to get them into heaven, but to answer the petition of the Lord’s Prayer which asks that God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. 


We have a long way to go, but Simple Church is a valuable tool to help us get there.

Book Reviews


UnChristian:  What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…And Why It Matters


I remember listening to the Catalyst Podcast when it was announced that Gabe Lyons was leaving the Catalyst family to set off on his own.  And what he “set off” to do was create the Fermi Project, through which Lyons engaged the Barna Group to survey a new generation of Americans about their views of the church.  The results of this survey are shared anecdotally and expanded upon in UnChristian (Baker, 2007; ISBN 0-8010-1300-3) with David Kinnaman, the President of the Barna Group.


Set your fears aside, though:  this is not another book of statistics.  Yes, there are numbers in this book, and if you like to read appendices, you’ll even find some paragraphs that would make a statistician’s heart go all aflutter.  But the book itself spends most of its effort on helping the reader understand why the statistics are so ominous for the church if it chooses to maintain the status quo.  (A somewhat parallel volume for Canadians, in my opinion, is The Boomer Factor by Reginald Bibby, which I am still reading.)


Kinnaman and Lyons seek to help the reader understand why it is important for the church of Jesus Christ to reach young people.  For example, did you know that research bears out the idea that most of us have a better chance of becoming Christ-followers before we become adults than after?  “In fact, for every one hundred people who are not born again by the time they reach the age of eighteen, only six of those individuals will commit their lives to Christ for the first time as an adult” (pp. 72-73).  Does that alone not give us reason to emphasize the spiritual foundations we give to children and youth?


God invites the church to be full of grace and truth, even as Jesus himself was full of grace and truth (John 1.14).


The sad thing is that, according to this research, the young generation of today sees the American church as hypocritical, ‘salvation-only’ focused, anti-homosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental.   While there would have to be some adjustments made, many of these same accusations could be levelled against the Canadian church as well.


Reading this book will help you appreciate the changes that the church needs to make in order to be able to reach a new generation of people for the Lord.


Neglecting the Hungry

Every once in a while, I get a Sunday off.  (This is by choice, of course.  I could take off far more Sundays than I do in my work with the Canadian Bible Society, but I choose to preach, somewhere, most Sundays of the year.)  And when you visit a church whose preacher and worship leader(s) you don’t remotely know, even by reputation, you’re taking a chance on what you’re going to get in terms of a Sunday morning experience.


I had one of those recently, at a church where the preacher is different every week all summer.


On this particular Sunday, a relatively large throng (perhaps 50 to 75 people by my guesstimate) had gathered to worship God.  The preacher was introduced – a ‘mature’ theological student, perhaps aged 50.  (She might have been younger.)  Her opening prayer – indeed, all of her prayers, save two – were prayers from spiritual traditions of the First Nations.


Her children’s story was a First Nations’ legend.  No Bible application, no prayer.  Just a First Nations’ legend.  In a secular context, this would have been an interesting story.  In a Christian context, without any biblical application, it was inexcusable.  It left the listener (child and adult alike) assuming that the islands in Georgian Bay, Ontario, had been created by an angry Huron deity whose desires for another legendary character had been spurned.


There were two excellent Bible readings in the service, read by a person from the congregation.  They were read well and left me waiting expectantly for their exposition and application by the preacher.


Oops.  Silly me.


The “sermon”, as it was called, seemed to me to be an unengagingly-read academic paper once submitted to a university professor.  At its heart, it was actually an interesting piece of writing.  I would have enjoyed reading it somewhere, and learned a few things from it.


But it wasn’t a sermon.  Not even close.


How can I judge it so?


Well, for one thing, it never once mentioned God.  There were fifty places, if five, where God could have been brought into the message.  But it never happened once.


Second, those two great Bible passages that were read before the message were not engaged at all.  Now, I have enough faith in the power of God to believe that God can speak through the unadorned Scripture without any difficulty.  However, it is common, in a Christian worship gathering, to engage at least one read portion of Scripture.  But it didn’t happen here.


The sad thing, as I said earlier, is that what she had to say was actually quite interesting and even perhaps of some importance.  But this gathering of people who came to hear a word from God ended up being subjected to an academic paper.  I would have had my socks blessed off (had I been wearing any…) had this theologue even attempted to apply the Scripture to the experience she shared in her paper.  Others would have, too.  But it didn’t happen.


Like most church visitors, I can freely admit that a bad sermon can sometimes be redeemed with good music.  Well, not this time, unfortunately.


There were three hymns sung during the service.  One of the three had a relatively singable tune.  That same song had a worshipful text.  Another was a Psalm paraphrase, though not as easily sung by a congregation.  The other hymn had both eminently unsingable and used a text that may have described love in some way, but not in a biblical way.  The congregation spent most of the time it was on its collective feet also collectively lost.


I can live with a dud Sunday once in a while.  I don’t seek them out or anything, but I can survive for another week if I find myself in a place where Jesus seems to have taken the day off.  But I found myself thinking, What if someone truly seeking the Lord for the first time had shown up there on Sunday?


There was a whack of people who were gathered expecting something they could apply to their walk with God that day, and there might have been someone there for whom a walk with God was a brand-new, even non-existent, thing.  What was the lunch-time chatter like for those folks?


My prayer is that the Lord spoke to them anyway.  He can do that.  If there was not sufficient special revelation present for them, there was plenty of general revelation.  People just had to look at the resplendent beauty of creation to see the hand of God at work.  It just would have been nice if that had been backed up by a little Scripture and application.


Oh well.  The welcome from fellow congregants was pretty warm, and the lemonade after the service was first-rate (something a lot of churches seem to neglect, unfortunately).  And the friends with whom we shared the experience, who likewise shared our concern, were (and are) wonderful.


God can make a silk purse out of a theological sow’s ear.


But what about all those spiritually hungry people?

Encouragement From The Word

Keep Watch!

            I’ve got good news and bad news.  First, the bad news:  my wife had her purse stolen on Thursday.


            Now, the good news:  it was found and returned to her, with (strangely) only a six-dollar, unsigned cheque missing.  I’m not sure either of us was ever so relieved to have $6 taken away from us.


            There are many, many people in this world who believe in and abide by the rule of law.  There are others – and these are the folks who make the news – who believe that laws do not apply to them, as long as those laws prevent them from accomplishing their ends.  Laws are put in place by the government, which (according to Romans 13) is put in place for our good.  While there are people who would rather not acknowledge this, the laws forbidding theft in Canada exist because of the commandment which says, “You must not steal” (Exodus 20.15; Deuteronomy 5.19, NLT).


            Because there are people who see the law as irrelevant to them, it is important that we be watchful at all times.  My wife only took her eye off her purse for a second; it didn’t seem as though there would be any danger.  She was loading groceries into her car.  But someone was just quick enough to take it, in the blink of an eye.


            Jesus told us that he would return about as quickly:  no one knows the day or hour when these things [the coming of the Son of Man, etc.] will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself.  Only the Father knows.  And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard!  Stay alert!” (Mark 13.32-33, NLT). 


            The Scouting movement got it right when it created its motto:  “Be Prepared.”  We need to be prepared for the return of our Lord, because we don’t know when it will happen.  It could be anytime!  We’re just called to be ready.


            Do you think my wife will be more “prepared” next time she’s carrying her purse in a shopping cart through a grocery store parking lot?  Believe it.  Nothing prepares us like such a violation.  We are grateful that nothing more than six bucks was compromised.  It could have been much worse.  If we are prepared for the return of Jesus by trusting in him by faith, we will likewise have nothing to fear.  Thanks be to God!

Book Reviews

Who Stole My Church?

Picture this:  you have been a faithful participant in your local church for most of your life.  As you grow older, a new generation of leaders takes the helm and leads the congregation in a direction that departs from what you remember as normative.  You grow increasingly uncomfortable with how things are being done – especially in worship – and you begin to wonder, “Who stole my church?”


Gordon MacDonald, a prolific Christian author, columnist, and pastor from the United States, has written a book that tells the (fictitious) story of one such congregation in Who Stole My Church?  What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century (Thomas Nelson, 2007).  As a pastor and conference speaker, he has faced that very question sufficiently often that he decided to write a book that would tell the story of a congregation going through such a crisis, of which he was the pastor.  The tale is entirely fictional, but based on events that happen in real churches across the western world. 


The book reads relatively quickly because of its narrative style, but the principles he draws from the story are incredibly helpful.  I bought and read the book because a good friend and mentor told me “Every Presbyterian in Canada should read this book.”  As one of those, I took his advice, and am glad I did.


For pastors, it helps us see what goes through members of the congregation who are beginning to feel alienated by the process of change and change itself.  For laypeople, the book expresses what many feel, while also enabling ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’ to understand the thoughts and feelings of the  ‘early majority’, the ‘late majority’ and the ‘laggards’ in the congregation.  Those who adapt to change easily can be just as easily frustrated by those who do not – and vice-versa.


One of the life lessons in this book has to do with the value of listening to each other.  Another has to do with the importance of intergenerational dialogue.  When the young and the old start to understand and appreciate each other, the process of change can become more tolerable.


If the church is to thrive, change is inevitable.  But it is never easy.  However, MacDonald’s book helps the reader understand how and why change must happen in the church from biblical, historical and sociological perspectives.  I found it a really helpful book.


Buy it, and share it with key leaders in your church, as well with as those who resist change.  It can only help the cause of Christ.

Biblical Messages, Bike for Bibles

Bike for Bibles Ontario Ride, Part 8 (Day 7) – the final installment

Today was the shortest day of the ride – the last day.  We were fed a hearty breakfast at Knox Presbyterian Church, Bobcaygeon, where we had spent a pleasant evening.  It was raining lightly when we got up, and heavier at breakfast – but we pulled out of the church lot only ten minutes after we had planned to, and it was dry for nearly the whole trip.  What little rain we did get was inconsequential to the riders.  Once we got to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Lindsay, it was raining quite hard.  God has served both us and the farmers well:  the needed rain came, but not when it would affect our ride!

Our trip to Lindsay mostly replicated our trip from Millbrook via Peterborough yesterday.  We gathered quickly at Weldon Secondary School in the east end of Lindsay, and received a police escort most of the way to the church.  A large crowd had gathered to cheer us on as we arrived.  The riders and roadies sang during the worship gathering, including Getty and Townend’s “In Christ Alone”, as well as a song written by our two lead roadies that told the story of the ride from the roadies’ perspective.  The service was led by The Rev. Linda Park, Pastor of St. Andrew’s, and I gave the message, which you can listen to here.  It’s based on Philippians 3 and is entitled “Spinning Your Wheels”.

After worship and a hearty lunch, where everyone was recognized for his and her participation, the leaders of the ride were also recognized – Ton van Nieuwkerk, John Snider, Steve Elliott and George Skerratt.  Without these four guys, the ride could never have happened.  Then, folks departed for home.

We rode to provide funds for the partnership that the Canadian Bible Society is creating with church-based English as a second language ministries, to reach people new to Canada with the Word of God.  If you would like to contribute, please visit and donate to the Ontario Ride.  If we reach $17,500 by the end of August, I will cut the curls off my moustache.  If we reach $19,000, I have assurances that George and John will shave off their moustaches!  Now you have double the incentive to give!

Thanks to all who prayed for the riders and roadies.  It was a safe ride, and free from dangerous weather.  We received warm hospitality and created some very strong bonds in Christ.  God is so good!

Bike for Bibles

Bike for Bibles Ontario Ride, Part 7 (Day 6)

After “hilly” day 5, today seemed like a cakewalk for most of our riders.  Much of the terrain was relatively flat, or at least not dreadfully hilly.  We began after everyone had had a great sleep and breakfast at billets’ homes in Millbrook, and headed northeast toward Peterborough.  It was very hot and humid, but the weather co-operated with us once again.


At Peterborough, we took our morning break at the Lift Lock – the largest hydraulic lock in the world – where we timed our arrival perfectly to see the lock in action.  From there, we followed the Ottonabee River north past Trent University to Lakefield, where the Baptist Church hosted us, fed us, and prayed for us.  From Lakefield, we took very much the “scenic route” to Bobcaygeon via Emily Provincial Park, where the Reaboro-Omemee Baptist Church surprised us with an afternoon snack of ice cream and home baking.


We arrived in Bobcaygeon, albeit late, to a warm welcome.  Showers were taken, supper was shared, and the pastors of Knox Presbyterian Church, Paul and Carey Jo Johnston, along with one of their musical groups, led us in praise.  This capped off a long day with much joy.


Tomorrow morning, we will travel a slightly more direct route to Lindsay, where we’ll worship with the congregation of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church there (at 11:00), and conclude with a celebratory barbecue before heading home.


I can’t beat around the bush:  this has been a draining week.  But the cause for which we have been drained has been worth it.  God has blessed us with the opportunity to see so much beauty in creation, and to see it at a pace that might not normally happen during a typical trip.


I will post more tomorrow after all is said and done.  Thank you once again for your prayers and support for this project (

Bike for Bibles

Bike for Bibles Ontario Ride, Part 6 (Day 5)

Today was the most arduous day of the ride.  We knew this coming in:  the organizers I worked with probably wrestled over the route for today more than any other on the whole journey.  From Stirling to Millbrook, we had to traverse the Oak Ridges Moraine, among other topographical phenomena, and the hills were steep and numerous – really numerous.  Our riders were ready, however, and they met the task well.  I had more company in the “sag wagon” (the vehicle with the bike trailer at the back of the pack) than usual, but with the heat, humidity, and hills, some riders just needed a break.  (One of our young riders managed to sleep at some length on the floor of my van, which is testimony to how tired he really was!)

A Roman Catholic youth group hosted us in the canal-side park in Campbellford.  This was a helpful break for the riders, and a chance to learn that the design of the original Toonie (Canada’s two-dollar coin) was created by someone from Campbellford.

We visited Roseneath United Church for lunch, and were blessed with their hospitality – they even had balloons out for us!  Shortly after lunch, we took some colourable Scripture selections and stories to the Child Care Centre at the Alderville First Nation.  The children sang a song with us, and we had a good laugh together.  These two stops were a welcome break from the hills!

Other than the loss of a cell phone at the Bewdley waterfront (on the west shore of Rice Lake) on our afternoon break, the day was uneventful.  I was struck, however, at the use of the spiritual gift of encouragement among our riders.  From the back of the pack, I saw stronger riders come back to help the slower ones by riding alongside them, pushing their backs so that they can get that extra little burst of energy.  It was truly moving.  (See the fuzzy cell phone photo above.)

We are being billeted tonight; several families from the churches of the town of Millbrook are hosting us.  It began with a pot luck supper at Millbrook Christian Assembly, the local Pentecostal Church.  (As a Calvinist, the only kind of ‘luck’ in which I believe is ‘pot luck’, and these folks made sure I remain a believer!)  One particularly hospitable family opened up part of their fence so that our motor home could be parked on the back lawn!  And thanks to another neighbour who chooses not to secure his or her router, I am able to blog tonight before bedding down.

The gifts of encouragement and hospitality have been evident in huge ways this week.  God has been, and is, so good.

Tomorrow, we head for Bobcaygeon, via the Peterborough Lift Lock and Lakefield.  We look forward to a somewhat ‘flatter’ day!

Encouragement From The Word

Pedalling For a Purpose

We started out early last Monday morning from Lindsay, spending nights in Cobourg, Picton, Kingston, and tonight, Stirling.  Tomorrow, we head for Millbrook, then Bobcaygeon, and finally, back to Lindsay.  In total, our riders will have ridden their bicycles over 700 km, through some very beautiful terrain, and through all kinds of summer weather – though mostly hot, sunny weather.


            These riders – more than twenty of them, ranging in age from 12 to 78 – have pedalled hard uphill and coasted downhill, sweating and squinting and getting grease “tattoos” on their calves from their bicycle chains.  Why?


            Because they believe in the Bible cause.  Specifically, they believe in the value of the work of the Canadian Bible Society as it seeks to translate, publish, distribute, and encourage the use of Scripture throughout Canada, Bermuda, and around the world.


            This year, our riders have raised money to provide a Bible partnership with church ministries that offer English as a second language classes across the country.  I’ve been working with the Southern Ontario Cooperative of ESL Ministries ( to craft the most appropriate Bible format and choice of translation for use with those who are new to Canada.  It’s an exciting venture.


            It used to be the ministry of the Canadian Bible Society to provide a Bible to every person who became a Canadian citizen at citizenship court.  Some years ago, we were denied that privilege by the government, and since then, we’ve been trying to figure out how to reach out to new Canadians with the Word of God by some other means.  The ESL partnership seemed the perfect opportunity, especially since it often reaches people in the first few months they are in the country – perhaps the time they are most open to receiving the gospel.


            Our riders recite every day – more than once, usually – the motto that spurs them on:  THROUGH OUR SPOKES, GOD SPEAKS.  Because of the work these cyclists are doing, and the help they are receiving from our roadies, the Word of the Lord is going to reach more and more hearts.  And with some 400,000 people emigrating to Canada last year, and the number expected to increase in future years, the need will be great.


            [T]hose who trust in the Lord will find new strength.  They will soar high on wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40.31, NLT).  They also will ride their bicycles for the glory of God, and achieve their goal.


            If you would like to give toward the Bike for Bibles Ontario Ride cause, please click here.  You can follow my daily journal entries about Bike for Bibles on my blog.


            Our riders love support.  If you would like to come to Millbrook on Friday, Bobcaygeon on Saturday, or Lindsay on Sunday to cheer them on, please join us.  Email me if you need details on the route.  I’ll be happy to point it out to you. 


            God’s best!  I trust that through whatever you do – riding, walking, driving, breathing – God will speak through it to you and to others.

Bike for Bibles

Bike for Bibles Ontario Ride, Part 5 (Day 4)

Today, our riders and roadies left Kingston for the town of Stirling, north of Belleville, via such places as Napanee, Deseronto, and Foxboro.  Once again, we saw some great scenery, part of God’s magnificent creation.  As has happened on many days before, in every town we pass through, people would stop and smile and wave as the “parade” passed by.  It’s been a real blessing to watch folks as we go along the route.


The highlight of our day was our lunch break at Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal of the Mohawks on the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, outside Deseronto.  This Anglican parish is one of the oldest in Canada, dating back to the time just after the American Revolution, when Mohawk people, who were loyalists, came across Lake Ontario and settled in Upper Canada.  Historically, Mohawks have been particularly loyal to the Crown, and so churches such as this one and the one at the Six Nations in Brantford have been named Chapels Royal.


The hospitality we received from the Priest and people of the congregation was top-notch.  We got several good history lessons in the process, learning about gifts given by British royalty – such as communion ware still used today! – and how Christian liturgy and some traditional Native worship practices converge.


At the end of the presentation, I asked the Rector, The Rev. Brad Smith, whether there was a particular Christian song often associated with the Anglican worship of the Mohawks.  He said that there were no peculiar hymns, but that each year, when they give thanks in commemoration of the landing of the Mohawks in Upper Canada, they annually sing The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  I offered to play it for those who wished to sing along, in solidarity with the Mohawk people.  We raised the roof off the more than century-old church building as we celebrated the glory of God and the reconciliation of God with us, and of white Canadians with First Nations.


The day was a very hot one, and sticky.  We arrived in Stirling very grateful for the gift of a shower!  Each rider and roadie was taken to the home of a member of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, who offered us this gift with kindness and humility – along with a great supper!


Once again, the Lord has blessed us mightily.  Thank you for your prayers.

Bike for Bibles

Bike for Bibles Ontario Ride, Part 4 (Day 3)

Today – Wednesday – was another great day for B4B.  We were set to leave the Free Methodist Church in Picton at 0800, when a thunderstorm rolled in.  We checked the Environment Canada Website, and our expert leader believed that the storm would pass quickly.  So, we waited for about an hour, and departed Picton on wet roads but with no precipitation.

We toured Prince Edward County’s east side, seeing many vineyards, farms, orchards, and historic church buildings as we travelled.  Our morning break was at the Black River Cheese Company, a neat little place that sold great cheese and great ice cream (though I was good and indulged in neither – too early in the day!).  From there we toured the County until we stopped for lunch at Lake on the Mountain Park.  This is a phenomenon not to be missed; a lake, seemingly without anything feeding it, sits on a hill quite a distance above Lake Ontario.  Here, we had an impromptu visit from a reporter from the local newspaper.

After lunch, we descended the hill to the Glenora Ferry, operated by the Ministry of Transportation as part of Highway 33, the Loyalist Parkway.  From the Ferry, we stopped at the historic Hay Bay Church, which was settled in 1792 as a Methodist mission for the United Empire Loyalists, who had moved to Canada in sympathy with the British after the American Revolution.  A member of the overseeing Board, now run by the Bay of Quinte Conference of the United Church of Canada, gave us a fine and interesting lecture on the history of the church.  It was an especially enjoyable stop for one of our riders, whose great uncle had been a student minister in that congregation many years ago.  Now, it is used as an historic site, and one service is held each year.

From Hay Bay, we came to Edith Rankin United Church in Collins Bay, on the west side of Kingston.  The church is situated on the shore of Lake Ontario.  We enjoyed our supper, and our evening worship gathering, overlooking the lake.  The Associate Minister of the congregation treated us to a communion service, which was a real blessing for us all.

Tomorrow, we will head back west, stopping at the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, whose Anglican parish has proven to be a great friend of the Canadian Bible Society.

Thank you for your prayers.  Our riders and roadies continue to be strong and healthy and passionate about their ride and our cause.

Bike for Bibles

Bike for Bibles Ontario Ride, Part 3

Day two of Bike for Bibles Ontario has gone great.  We rode from Cobourg to Picton, taking as many lightly travelled routes as possible – though they are hard to find at this time of year!  A few times, we had to travel along Highway 2 or along Highway 33 (the Loyalist Highway), but more often we travelled along county roads that were quieter.

As the group shared during worship tonight, everyone was marvelling at the gift of human senses.  We all remarked on the beauty we saw, of course – quite a lot of the day was spent along Lake Ontario – but many also remarked on what they could smell!  At one point, we were overwhelmed with the smell of strawberries!  As people who lead harried lives, we are blessed this week to be able to go slowly – cycling does have its limits – and enjoy creation, enjoy relationships, enjoy life.

We have some riders who are experiencing some physical struggles, but almost all are continuing to ride anyway.  Please pray for all, that they may experience physical strength and joy in their riding.

We continue to ask for prayers for safety and good weather.  Feel free to respond to the blog with your comments and your prayers, which I can share with our riders and roadies!

Bike for Bibles

Bike for Bibles Ontario Ride, Part 2

We have, uneventfully once again, arrived in Cobourg and been fed both physically and spiritually.  The Lord has been with us mightily.  The folks at the Church on the Hill have treated us royally, and we are grateful – and now, for a good night’s rest!  We get to sleep in:  the riders were so efficient today, we arrived at every stop about an hour ahead of schedule.  So we get to “sleep in” with breakfast at 8.  After tonight’s supper, I don’t think anyone will want to miss breakfast!

Thanks for your prayers!  I hope to post some photos as time allows.  We have a really excellent young photographer as one of our roadies.

Bike for Bibles

Bike for Bibles Ontario Ride, Part 1

Today, the Canadian Bible Society’s Bike for Bibles Ontario ride began.  As time permits, and as wireless networks are available, I will be posting updates on what is happening.

Last night, we gathered in the Salvation Army Citadel in Lindsay, Ontario, to begin our ride.  Riders and roadies from as far away as Windsor and Bracebridge are joining us to raise funds for CBS to provide Scriptures for new Canadians studying English as a Second Language through church ministries across Canada.  We heard a testimony from Klaas Slagter, one of our riders, who is going strong near the front of the pack despite having been diagnosed last fall with prostate cancer.  He was treated very early and rejoices in the Lord at being cancer-free – and riding his bike!

Today, we have (so far) pedalled from Lindsay to Millbrook, without incident.  After lunch, we will climb the Oak Ridges Moraine and begin a slow descent toward Lake Ontario and the town of Cobourg.

Please pray for our riders and roadies, for safety and for good weather.  We are grateful to God to be able to engage in this ministry!

Biblical Messages

Christian Environmentalism

I’m not sure I’ve ever preached a message that received such extremes of reaction – visible (and audible) discomfort and noticeable and immediate action.  It’s a message on the stewardship of creation from Psalm 8 in which I suggest, among other things, that recycling and conservation give glory to God.  It’s probably not the first application most of us would think of when reading that Psalm, but give this message a listen and let me know what you think!


Encouragement From The Word, Uncategorized

Those Three Little Words

As someone with a licence to marry within the Province of Ontario, you might imagine that I have been to a few weddings in my day – and that would be true.  Comparatively rare, however, is the treat my wife and I receive when we get to attend a wedding simply as guests.  We had that pleasure back in June when we attended a wedding for the firstborn daughter of some cherished friends.

While no two weddings or wedding receptions are alike, it’s not hard to admit that some are better than others.  The one we attended in June was among the best we’ve ever been to.  The excellent company aside, what set this one apart was principally the quality of the speeches.

Now, I never met a microphone I didn’t like, so I tend to be pretty critical of anybody who engages in public address.  Often, speeches at weddings are almost interminable, sometimes sappy, and periodically offered under the influence of a controlled substance.  So I tend to get excited about speeches that do not touch on these characteristics.

At the wedding reception of which I spoke earlier, my friend, the father of the bride, gave a speech which was among the most moving I have ever heard from a Daddy to his Girl.  It was emotional, without succumbing to the “Butterfly Kisses” garden-variety of father-daughter discourse.  It was heartfelt, meaningful, and significant.

What struck me about it – and while I know my friend was speaking for both he and his wife, he used the first person singular – was his use of those three little words:  I love you.

Those three little words, from the mouth and heart of a parent to a child, hold more meaning than words can describe.  And in today’s society, those three little words, from the mouth and heart of a father to a child, are pure gold.  Those three little words, in the right context, can change a life.

So when I heard my friend say to his daughter, “I love you”, without qualifier, seriously, and in a stand-alone sentence, I was deeply moved.  Would to God that more fathers would say that to their children!

It should come as no surprise that my friend is a follower of Jesus.  He is able to tell his daughters that he loves them so freely because he has experienced the love of God, made known in Jesus.  Because he is loved – because he knows he is loved – he can love.

This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.  Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.  No one has ever seen God.  But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4.10-12, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word


            I’ve had my share of struggles with the authority that oversees billing for Highway 407.  (The 407 is a toll highway that serves somewhat as a bypass north of Toronto.)  A few years ago, their bill collectors harassed me, thinking I had not paid my bill (when the balance they kept sending me by mail was “$0.00”).  As it turns out, they were after a distant cousin of mine, whose name happened to be right below mine in the telephone book.  Last year, they charged CBS for the van, and me for the trailer I was pulling.  (That one never did get resolved to our satisfaction.)  Now, the folks at the 407 think that, for some reason, my personal vehicle is attached to the account for the transponder that sits in the Bible Society van.  We’ve tried and tried and tried, and we just can’t get these folks to understand the circumstances.  We want to pay our bills; we just don’t want to pay anyone else’s!


            Mindful that the fruit of the Spirit is patience (Galatians 5.22), the folks in Accounting and I have tried to make the best of this situation, but in the end, it’s left me wanting to avoid the use of the 407, even under the most dire circumstances.


            There are several lessons to be had from such experiences, I suppose – you know, don’t try to sneak into heaven on someone else’s coat-tails, don’t make assumptions about one person based on another, etc., etc.  But then I got thinking from a ‘marketing’ perspective.  One of the things that the 407 authority does poorly (in my experience, and some others’) is customer service.  They keep their highway in good shape, they send you your bills promptly, and they make it easy for you to pay – but when they make a mistake in their favour, they’re not so quick to help.  Any marketer will tell you that customer service is crucial to increasing business.


            This is true for the church, and for individual Christ-followers.  One of my favourite Bible passages is Acts 2.42-47.  It gives the perfect snapshot of what life in the early church was really like.  And one of the things that strikes me every time I read it is this simple phrase that Luke uses to describe the church:  “…enjoying the goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2.47a).


            If the people of God, collectively as the church and individually as believers, are going to have an impact on society, it is crucial that we enjoy the goodwill of all the people (or at least a goodly number of them!).  Good “church marketing” involves having a good reputation in the community that you serve.   A congregation can have the best programs and the best preaching and the best overall ministry, but if its reputation in the community is that it doesn’t care passionately about people – especially people who aren’t yet part of the church, or it doesn’t want to serve the neighbourhood, then its cause is lost.


            Scripture gives us all kinds of ways to solicit the community’s goodwill, and ultimately, it’s about reaching out beyond ourselves, living out the Word.  As Irish evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, “There are five gospels:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian:  and many people will not read the first four.”  My prayer is that you, and the church you call family, will experience the goodwill of the community around you as you live out the Word.

Book Reviews

The Shack

The ShackFirst, a confession:  I don’t read much fiction.  That’s not to say I don’t read for pleasure, but what I read for pleasure, generally, is not fiction (unless you count the unmistakable “April Fool!” article that appears in the fourth-month edition of Model Railroader each year).  No, except for the occasional indulgence I afford myself through the creative work of the late Robertson Davies, I mostly read stuff that’s going to help me in my work or help me in my hobby.


My wife read The Shack on the recommendation of one of our bookstore staff at the Canadian Bible Society; both are voracious readers and stellar bibliophiles in their own right.  When these two women tell me to read something, I usually give it serious consideration.  Then, one night while watching the ‘desk bit’ on The Tonight Show, Jay Leno made mention of The Shack.  He wasn’t reviewing it or promoting it, he was merely using it as a jumping-off point for his shtick.  But in a strange way, that simple, backhanded compliment to a piece of Christian fiction was enough to strengthen my resolve to put it nearer the top of the reading pile.


I had the luxury of spending some concentrated reading time in the past few days, and, through my residual tears, feel compelled to write my review of The Shack herewith.  The reader’s comments are solicited, and the reader is hereby implored – nay, begged – to get a copy and read it.  Today.


Is that enough of an endorsement for you?


The Shack chronicles the story of Mack, a husband and father whose life experiences leave him somewhat cynical and fairly confident in his functional atheism that masks as ritualistic religiosity.  However, through a note left in his mailbox one icy Oregon spring day, Mack is led on a journey that takes him not only deep into the forest, but even deeper into his scarred soul.


The Shack will have its share of critics, not all of whom will remember that this is, first of all, a work of fiction.  Some will bristle at the introduction of an image of God as a large, African-American woman.  But it is a work of fiction.  Some will react to the idea of the Holy Spirit as a wispy Asian woman.  But it is a work of fiction.  Jesus, on the other hand, shows up largely as one would expect:  a Jewish male carpenter.


This is logical, of course, and even the fictitious work gets a thoroughly non-fiction explanation of this imagery.


Where the fiction ends and the non-fiction begins, of course, comes in the fact that this volume, at fewer than 250 pages, engages the reader theologically, not least in a systematic theology that would make John Calvin or Charles Hodge proud, and a treatise of the Trinity that would impress Miroslav Volf or Jurgen Moltmann.  What’s more, with great respect to these excellent writers, William P. Young, the previously unknown (to me) author of The Shack, has made systematic theology and the Trinity entirely accessible to all people.


Rather than give away the plot of the book, permit me to cite two quotations that struck me especially (though there are many more quotable quotes within this book).  The first touches on theodicy:  “…just because I work incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies doesn’t mean I orchestrate the tragedies” (God speaking, page 185).  Many people wonder where God is in the midst of unspeakable difficulty; this defence clarifies it, in my opinion, exceptionally well.


The second quotation touches at the heart of God’s desire to see us move from being religious people to being people in deep relationships with each other and with God.  The Holy Spirit says, “…I don’t want to be first among a list of values; I want to be at the center of everything.  When I live in you, then together we can live through everything that happens to you” (page 207).


Ultimately, the goal of this book is to draw the reader into an ever-deepening relationship with God – a relationship modelled on the inter-relationship of the Trinity itself.


True, as my friend John G. Stackhouse, Jr. points out in his review of The Shack, the book paints an unfortunately grim picture of both the institutional church and of theological education – and these are not the only areas touched on in the book that deserve, at least, proper qualification.  But there is much in this book (as John also points out) that is truly awe-inspiring in its ability to point the reader in the right direction when it comes to understanding God.


In short, you should read this book, whoever you are.  And if you have a friend or loved one who struggles with the prickly issue of forgiveness, buy a copy and give it to that person.  Bathe it in prayer, and you may find that he or she comes out, 248 pages later, a different person.


I know I did.