Pastors Newsletter – June 2009

Greetings to everyone in the Hope Church family. It is hard to believe that the summer is here and that we are already into the month of June. I must admit that I am very excited about the summer and all that it holds. As I reflect back on the first few months of 2009, it is so clear that God is powerfully at work in our church. I sense a growing hunger among the people of Hope Church to know and understand the Word of God. I see a desire to live more and more like Jesus every day. And I am witnessing a growing love for the people around us and a desire to serve others and spread the love of Jesus Christ to a hurting world. It is this reality that excites me and gives me great hope for this summer and beyond.

As we survey the world around us, it would be easy to get discouraged. The current administration continues to disappoint us and some are probably wondering if the recession will ever end. We recently learned that the GM plant in Mansfield will be closing in June 2010 which will no doubt deal a blow to the local economy. I want to encourage you to seek the Lord and trust him with your life. Yes, we do not know what the future holds, but if you are walking with Jesus day by day, you have nothing to worry about because He will take care of you. Did you know that in the Bible, we read the words, “fear not” 365 times? I think God knew we would need that assurance every day of the year. I also want to remind you of the incredible opportunity we have as a church. In these difficult times, people are searching for hope. We need to take advantage of these opportunities and show them the love of Jesus Christ. And in their search for hope, we need to pray that many would find the doors to Hope Church. We know what the hope of the world is and what a great privilege it would be to help rescue those who are perishing. Do you love you friends enough to tell them about Jesus Christ? I want to finish by reminding you of our mission as a church.

“Hope Church exists to glorify God by learning, following, and sharing the Word of God and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, both locally and globally, through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.”

What is a Healthy Church Member?

1. A Healthy Church Member is an Expositional Listener

Expositional listening is listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate lives as Christians.

2. A Healthy Church Member is a Biblical Theologian

The Bible is God’s self-revelation. So to practice biblical theology is to know God himself and to be committed to understanding the grand themes and doctrines of the Bible.

3. A Healthy Church Member is Gospel Saturated

We not only understand the gospel (the good news of Jesus Christ) but we memorize the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel, review how the gospel has changed us, and study the gospel.

4. A Healthy Church Member is Genuinely Converted

In conversion the Spirit grants the twin graces of repentance and faith to sinners who turn from their sin and turn to God through faith in Jesus Christ.

5. A Healthy Church Member is a Biblical Evangelist

Every true Christian will have a desire to share with others the gospel message which includes: 1. The Holiness of the sovereign God, 2. The sinfulness of man and the judgment due him, 3. The need of man for a new heart and perfect righteousness, 4. The fact the only Jesus Christ has provided the righteousness we need, 5. The need to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.

6. A Healthy Church Member is a Committed Member

A healthy church member understands the value of being committed to a local church and the importance of using their gifts and abilities for the glory of God.

7. A Healthy Church Member Seeks Discipline

Discipline is about education and learning, order and growth. It is discipline in the life of the congregation and the healthy church member that provides the atmosphere for growth and development that leads to the rare polished jewel of Christlikeness.

8. A Healthy Church Member is a Growing Disciple

Hebrews 6:1 exhorts us to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.” God never intends for us to stay the same and never grow. Rather, He intends that we pursue holiness and righteousness and to be Spirit-filled.

9. A Healthy Church Member is a Humble Follower

A healthy church member honors the elders, shows open-hearted love to their leaders, is teachable, obeys and submits to leaders, follows the leaders’ example, and prays for their leaders.

10. A Healthy Church Member is a Prayer Warrior

Pray constantly, pray in the Spirit, pray for laborers and shepherds, pray for all the saints, pray for those in authority, and pray for those who abuse and persecute you.

Taken from Thabiti Anyabwile’s book, What is a Healthy Church Member?

A tribute to the Bible

My Father-in-law has this giant bible (Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible) that has all kinds of study notes and other helpful material. A few days ago, he read to me a portion found in the study notes of 2 Timothy 4. It is a tribute to the Bible. I decided to put it in my blog because I believe we Christian’s often forget the power of the Book. The authority of Scripture is coming under attack from every conceivable direction and we must not forget that the Bible is GOD’S WORD to us. It is our source for all truth and the moment we abandon the Book in favor of worldly wisdom or anything else, we are headed down a deadly path. Anyway, here is the tribute.

The Bible is not an amulet, a charm, a fetish, or a book that will work wonders by its very presence.

It is a book that will work wonders in every life, here and hereafter, if acted upon and obeyed in faith and sincerety. It is God’s inspired revelation of the origin and destiny of all things, written in the most simple human language possible so that the most unlearned can understand and obey its teachings. It is self-interpreting and covers every subject of human knowledge and need now and forever.

As a literary composition, the Bible is the most remarkable book ever made. It is divine library of 66 books, some of considerable size, and others no larger than a tract. These book include various forms of literature – history, biography, poetry, proverbial sayings, hymns, letters, directions for elaborate ritualistic worship, laws, parables, riddles, allegories, prophecy, drama, and others. They embrace all manner of literary styles in human expression.

It is the book that reveals the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts binding, its histories true, and its decisions immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. The Bible contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveller’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here heaven is opened, and the gates of hell disclosed. Christ is its grand subject, our good is its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill your memory, rule your heart, and guide your feet in righteousness and true holiness. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully, meditatively, searchingly, devotionally, and study it constantly, perseveringly, and industriously. Read it through and through until it becomes part of your being and generates faith that will move mountains. The Bible is a mine of wealth, the source of health, and a world of pleasure. It is given to you in this life, will be opened at the judgment, and will stand forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the least to the greatest of labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.

Nuff said

Christian Hedonism

6 years ago I read a book that rocked my world. I was studying at Briercrest Bible College and one of my course readings was John Piper’s book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Recently, I purchased a copy of the book (I had taken it out of the library originally) off amazon.com for 86 cents and this morning I sat down and read the first chapter. Let me just quote for you the first couple lines of the book. “The ultimate ground of Christian hedonism is the fact that God is uppermost in his own affections: The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever.” The last part of the quote is a take-off on the first question of the Westminster shorter catechism which asks: “What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” As I started to read this book for the second time, it brought me back to my first encounter with this book and how my theology was transformed. I grew in a Christian home where we regularly attended church, but somehow, in my narrow understanding of Christianity, I had missed this critical aspect of theology that the gospel is not just about “me.” I believed that Jesus Christ died to forgive me of my sins so that I could go to heaven and avoid hell. While this is not untrue, it fails to grasp the big picture of the nature of God and what He is doing in redemption history. Unknowingly, I had made the gospel more about me than about the glory of God. It was about me getting something (salvation), inheriting something (eternity in heaven), and avoiding something (eternity in hell). What reading Piper’s book did for me was that it started me on a journey towards understanding that the gospel is all about God and is much bigger than just “me.” To quote further from chapter 1, Piper explains that, “God’s saving designs are penultimate, not ultimate. Redemption, salvation, and restoration are not God’s ultimate goal. These He performs for the sake of something greater: namely, the enjoyment he has in glorifying himself. The bedrock foundation of Christian hedonism is not God’s allegiance to us, but to himself.”

Perhaps this is nothing new to you, but I am concerned that some of our churches have contributed to this misrepresentation of the gospel. In our desire to grow our churches, we have resorted to the consumer approach that is characteristic of western society. Whatever the consumer wants, the consumer will get. So for years church leaders have done surveys in their areas to see what people are most interested in having when it comes to a church? They knew that in order to attract new people, we have to have what they want. It should not be surprising to us that church-goers have developed the mind-set where if one church does not have what they want, they simply go down the road to the next church where they can find it. Little thought is given to whether or not God is glorified or whether the Word of God is proclaimed. It has become more a matter of meeting the needs and preferences of the individual consumer. This method has been successful in so far as attendance and numbers are concerned, but when it comes to the matter of making disciples of Jesus Christ, it has been a disaster. This is just one example of many how the church has become like the world and how our theology has become much more man-centered than God-centered.

When I first read Desiring God, the God that Piper was describing (and backing up with loads of Scriptures) seemed so selfish to me. To think that God was concerned with his own glory went against so much of what I was taught concerning pride and humility. At the time, I had not thought through one of the primary reasons we go to church in the first place – to worship God and praise his Holy name. The genius of Piper is that he brought together for me the glory of God (and God’s complete satisfaction in himself) and my personal happiness. The two are not at all incompatible. It is human nature for us to seek happiness and pleasure and enjoyment. Sometimes we think this is bad, but it is only bad when we seek that happiness and enjoyment in the wrong things – namely, the world. When our greatest joy and pleasure is found in God, God is glorified. That is what He desires for us. Here is another quote from the end of chapter 1. “All the works of God culminate in the praises of his redeemed people. The climax of his happiness is the delight he takes in the echoes of his excellence in the praises of the saints. The praise is the consummation of our own joy in God. Therefore God’s pursuit of praise from us and our pursuit of pleasure in him are the same pursuit. This is the great gospel! This is the foundation of Christian hedonism.”

So in summary, I thank God for how he uses different things in our lives to draw us to himself and allow us to come to a fuller understanding of himself. As Christians, one of the most important aspects of our walk with the Lord is understanding that it’s not all about me – its about God and his glory. But that does not mean that we can’t find enjoyment and God and delight in serving him. Quite the opposite. As we read in Galatians 5, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Wow! Who wouldn’t want that!

Without faith it is impossible to please God

This past week, I had the privilege of spending some time with my mentor/ordination supervisor, Bill Strader.  Bill is the pastor of Bucyrus Alliance Church and has about 25 years of ministry experience.  God has really blessed me with some outstanding mentors and Bill is one of those men.  As we were talking, the subject of “faith” came up.  This probably does not come as a shock to you – two pastors talking about faith.  Bill was sharing about some of the incredible things that God is doing at his church.  The church is growing like crazy and people are coming to Christ – very exciting times!  What does Bill primarily attribute this sudden growth to?  Faith.  Yes, it almost seems almost too simple, doesn’t it?

We hear the word “faith” used all the time in Christian circles.  We say, “he made a faith commitment”, or “my faith is really growing”, or “she is a person of faith”, etc. etc.  It has become such a generic term that I think we have lost some of the power that is conveyed in that word.  There are so many ways we can use the word that it is easy to forget the core meaning of it.  In Hebrews 11:1, we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  and then verse 3 “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.”  So the author of Hebrews seems to be saying that faith involves trusting in something unseen.  Of course, this goes against human nature.  We tend to trust in the things that are most obvious and evident to us.  This is what makes faith in God such a jump for so many people.  But yet, in spite of this difficulty, millions of people have made “professions of faith.”  They have prayed to God (believing that He is real) and asked him to forgive them of their sins and asked Jesus to come into their lives.  Sadly, for many, this is the extent of their “faith”.  They trusted Jesus for that one day with the expectation that when they die, they will go to heaven and God will not send them to hell.

The missing ingredient in the far too common experience that I just described is that when you make a profession of faith, it is an everyday faith.  We are trusting Jesus with our lives every single day for the rest of our lives – not just some day in the future when we die and eternity awaits.  When you start to follow Jesus, you will be required (yes, its not optional) to step out in faith on a daily basis.  He is going to ask things of you that you could never possibly do in your own strength.  But remember what the Bible says – My strength is made perfect in your weakness.  God wants to be glorified through your life.  As you step out in faith and believe in his sufficiency, he will come through and show his power.  Let me encourage you with a verse that has encouraged me.  “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  Friends, I think our vision of God is often far too small.  We don’t readily believe that God is capable of doing great things through us.  When we believe this, He won’t.  Until we are willing to take that step of faith, God will not show his power in us.  But, little by little, as we step out in faith, and experience his power working through us, you will be amazed at what God does in and through your life.  Are you willing to take that step?  Are you willing to believe God for the seemingly impossible?

Is the truth really plain to see?

Last Friday night, Stephane and I had a night at the movies where we watch the new Disneynature film “Earth”.  We loved it!  Over the course of a calendar year, Earth takes the viewer on a journey from the North Pole to the South Pole, revealing how plants and animals respond to the power of the sun and the changing seasons. The film focuses on three particular species, the polar bear, African elephant and humpback whale.  We were left in awe by the beauty of God’s creation and the wonder of life.  The only problem with the movie was that there was absolutely no mention of God!  Not that I am surprised, but what a shame that the very One who spoke the world into existence and created everything that we were watching was not even mentioned. 

During the movie, Steph asked me the classic question: – how could people think that all this just happened?  It seems as though the more I learn and discover about the world and the wonders of God’s creation, it becomes ever more inconceivable that something as complex and intricately designed as our planet could simply have happened by chance and evolved into what we see today.  But yet just because we, as Christians, think that it is plain to see that there had to be intelligent design, does not mean that most people will agree with our position.  In fact, most don’t.  Listen to what it says in 2 Corinthians 4:4.  “In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”   Let me just do a short exposition on this passage (would you expect anything else from a pastor?).  For all those who don’t believe in Jesus Christ (who is the fullness of God in human form), the god of this world, aka Satan, has blinded them from seeing the light of the gospel.  In other words, Satan has blinded the world from seeing the truth.  So no matter how much evidence you throw in the direction of an unbeliever, they can’t see it – they are blind.  I got a kick out of the title of Ray Comfort’s new book – “You can lead an atheist to evidence but you can’t make him think.”  Funny, and true, but it’s also sad that so many people just don’t get it.  So it should not come as a surprise that when a person does not believe in Jesus Christ, they also miss the obvious – namely, the necessity of a Creator God. 

Let me quote one more passage.  “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.”  (Romans 1:19-20)  Scripture is clear – men are without excuse because God’s general revelation plainly speaks of Him.  So for the person who doesn’t have a Bible, and has never heard the name of Jesus, they are still held accountable.  My advice to you is don’t waste your time trying to argue someone into the Kingdom.  Yes, show them as much evidence as you can, but be persistent in prayer for them and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.     

 

Reflections on 9 months of marriage

My wife and I were married almost 9 months ago – July 26th, 2008.  Its hard to believe how fast time flies but over our 3 quarters of a year marriage, I have learned a lot.  Let me just say upfront that our marriage has been the happiest time of my life  – we have a great marriage and have already grown so much together. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar withour story, let me just briefly share how we met and eventually started a relationship.  In the fall of 2004, I came to to Ohio to intern with my uncle Walt at Hope church, which is the church I am now pastoring.  We hit it off from the beginning and developed a strong friendship.  After I left Ohio and returned to Saskatchewan, right before Christmas that year, we stayed in touch through email- thank goodness for technology.  Over a two year period, there were times where I wanted to ask Stephane if she was interested in starting a dating relationship, but everytime that I would pray about it, the Lord said no.  In March of 2007, this happened again and I prayed about it for a full month.  This time the Lord was very clear with me and gave me the green light to ask Stephane out.  I didn’t phone her, but just sent her another one of those emails.  She agreed, but the first question she asked was – how is this going to work?  You live in Vancouver (I was in Seminary) and I live in Ohio.  I responded that I did not know, but lets just start talking on the phone.  So we did, and the rest is history.  After 8 trips back and forth, I eventually moved to Ohio and we got married last summer.  When we first started dating, we could never have imagined how it would all work out, but the Lord took care of everything.

 Now, let me just share some of the lessons I have learned from our short marriage. 

1. The importance of family devotions.  Steph and I read the Bible and pray together every morning before work.  This has been a wonderful time of learning and growing for us and it reminds us that Christ must always be at the center of our marriage.  As a couple, we are now a unit -we are one.  And not only that, but we are one in Christ.  Our theme verse for our wedding was, “a triple- braided cord is not quickly broken.”  (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

2. How much God loves me.  One time I was thinking about how hard I pursued Stephane during out dating relationship and the Lord said to me – that’s how hard I pursued you and am still pursuing you- and even more so!  And now in our marriage when I think about how much I love Stephane, God reminds me, that’s how much I love you – and so much more!  And when I think about the wonderful intimacy that Stephane and I share together, the Lord reminds me – that’s the kind of intimacy I want to have with you – and even more!  It is amazing to me how instructive marriage can be when it comes to our relationship with the Lord.

3.  That I am a sinner.  Ok, ok, I guess I knew that before.  But marriage has a way of exposing all those warts and not so pretty aspects of our character that we used to like to hide and pretend they did not exist.  Now, I am more aware of my own selfishness and pride than before we got married.

4.  That as the head of our home, I have a lot more responsibilities.  It used to be that I only had to look out for myself and my own interests.  Now I have my wife and eventually, some children as well.  Obviously, this is a big change – but at the same time, its a good change.  I have been blessed with a wonderful wife, and it is my great joy to provide for and protect her and lead her.  At the same time, to listen to and submit to her.  Even though I am the head of the home, there have been so many times were I have felt the Lord saying to me – LISTEN TO HER – SHE IS MY GOOD GIFT TO YOU!  It is at those moments where I have to let go of my pride and submit to Stephane – which is a good thing

5.  Marriage is a lot of fun.  Yes, I did anticipate this but it has been far beyond my expectations.  We do everything together and it is so great to have a companion on this journey we call life.

6.  If you commit your way to the Lord, He will take care of you.  There has been so many things that we have dealt with over the life of our relationship – immigration, moving to a new town, new jobs for both of us, lots of travel, etc.  But the Lord has taken care of us every step of the way.   

7.  That our love for one another just keeps growing and growing.  Before we got married, I had heard other couples talk about how they keep growing and growing in love for one another through the years.  But for me, it was hard to imagine loving Stephane any more that I did at that moment in time.  Now, after several months of marriage, I better understand what they meant as we have grown so much in our love for one another. 

In summary, our 9 months of marriage have been wonderful, but they have also taught me (and us) so much.  I so look forward to spending the rest of my life with Stephane and learning all the things that the Lord wants to teach us.