My Visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame

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Back in March of 2015, I travelled up to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (near Boston) to complete my thesis defense for my doctoral program. After 3 years of work, I now had to stand before my professors and defend my thesis. That sounds scary, but my professors were really great and it was a fun experience (and I did actually pass). On my drive up to Gordon Conwell, I remembered from earlier trips that the road I was travelling on (I-88) was pretty close to Cooperstown, NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I debated in my head whether or not to stop, but in the end, I opted to go and visit the famous town and its museum.

 

Growing up I was a huge fan of baseball. I watched game after game of my beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Over the years I also become familiar with the history of the game. This all combined to make my experience at the Baseball Hall of Fame a memorial one for sure. I will never forget visiting the Babe Ruth exhibit. The amount of newspaper clippings and relics and memorabilia to do with “the Babe” was staggering.

 

But as I think back on my experience of visiting the Hall of Fame, I was struck by just how quiet and low key it was. Cooperstown is a sleepy little town and the day I visited, there weren’t many people there. Things no doubt pick up in the summer, but it was kind of dead that day with barely any visitors. The other thing was, I didn’t actually meet any Hall of Famers. Of course, many of them (like Babe Ruth) are dead and gone, but many are still alive and they don’t visit too often. They have lives of their own and probably only come back on special occasions. I enjoyed myself and I am glad I went, but frankly, the place was kind of dead and lifeless. It is really just a hall filled with memorabilia and plaques and things of that sort.

 

For the past several weeks, I’ve had the great privilege of taking our church through Hebrews 11. This Faith Hall of Fame is in fact much different than any earthly Hall of Fame. The very first person mentioned in Hebrews 11 is a man by the name of Abel. I won’t go into the full story of Cain and Abel, but it does say in Hebrews 11:4, “And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.” So even though his brother brutally murdered him and his life ended prematurely, he left a powerful legacy….a legacy of faith. This is a legacy that even murder could not stamp out.

 

As a pastor, people often ask me what heaven will be like. And while Scripture does tell us much, there are a lot of unknown details when it comes to heaven. However, I will say this. Heaven is a world of love and a world of life. It is just the opposite of hell. Hell is a dead and dreary and lifeless place whereas heaven is a world of love and happiness and life. This is exactly what we would expect from our Creator God. The very first verse in the bible tells us, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Over the course of 6 days, God created everything in the universe, including Adam and Eve. In the time since then, God has never stopped creating and forming and as Romans 4:17 puts it, He “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” In fact, God’s greatest work of creating is regeneration. Regeneration is God’s work of salvation through faith whereby He brings life to dead sinners. Peter puts it this way: “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3)

 

All that to say that when the redeemed of the Lord get to heaven, they will find it to be a place filled with life. Unlike the Hall of Fame, they will meet person after person who is alive like never before. Paul writes, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2). The lesson being, don’t get too fixated upon this earthly life. Rather, we should long for our heavenly dwelling. We should fix our eyes upon Jesus and seek the things that are above. Jesus puts it best in Matthew 6:20: “lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven.”

 

 

Of Passports and Faith

Last summer, we made a last minute decision to visit my family in Saskatchewan. For most people, taking a summer trip (even if it involves crossing international borders) is not that big of a deal, but for us it was. Our twin daughters were almost 4 at the time and our son John was almost 2, not to mention that Steph was at the midpoint of her pregnancy with Jeremiah. Needless to say, we felt strongly that God was leading us to make the 2000-mile trip to visit my family.

 

Forgive me for going into so many details, but you need to have this background in order for this post to make sense. For the better part of a year, Steph and I had wanted to get John a passport but for several reasons, it had been put off. Finally, at the end of May 2014, we sent away for John’s passport and were told it would arrive in 4-6 weeks. Not long after that (around mid-June), we made our decision and booked our flights.

 

Having booked flights to Saskatchewan without yet having John’s passport, we knew we were taking a bit of a risk. We knew that our mid-July trip was beyond the 4-6 week range that it takes for them to process passports, but there was no guarantee. For 2-3 weeks as we waited for the passport, Steph and I fretted over the situation. We asked ourselves, what do we do if the passport doesn’t come in time? Do we cancel our trip? That didn’t seem right because God had impressed it upon our hearts that we needed to make this trip. Finally, after praying about it and asking God to come through for about the millionth time, it hit me that my faith was lacking. Did I think that if I just prayed enough times, that finally when I got to the magic number of ???, that would be enough and God would come through? I don’t know, but it kind of seemed that way.

 

Like most everything, the Bible has something to say about this. In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and the one who knocks it will be opened.” Or consider James 1:6: “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.”

 

As a pastor, I often encourage our people to pray and to make prayer a way of life. The true Christian is someone who communes frequently with God and has hunger to increasingly know the Savior. But is it possible to be good “prayers” and have our approach all wrong? You bet it is! Like my illustration above, we can find ourselves going frequently to God in prayer, but not praying “the prayer of faith” (James 5:15). Sometimes as Christians, we tend to hope God comes through instead of truly believing and trusting that we have what we have asked for. Let me give you one more passage of Scripture: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him (Christ), that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15).

 

When we ask anything according to God’s will, the Apostle John tells us we already have it. It’s as good as done. This is not “name it and claim it” prosperity theology. It is simply what the Bible teaches us. Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). I fear that far too much of our praying is not done in faith and this needs to change.

 

So what about the rest of the story? The passport arrived about 5 weeks after we had sent it off to be processed, and well over a week before our trip. By that time God had already convicted me and the lesson had been learned. But as write this, almost a year later, the faith lessons continue. I praise God that Steph and I have grown so much in the area of faith and trust in Christ, but we still have a long ways to go. Lord increase our faith!

He Knows Before We Ask

A couple weeks ago we were playing in our back yard when I noticed our son John headed towards the red wagon. We store our little red wagon underneath the deck and I watched John grab ahold of the wagon and try to pull it out from under the deck. John is not quite two years old so I knew he was going to have a hard time moving the wagon and it did not take me long to figure out what would happen next. Past experiences told me that John likes to be pulled around in the wagon and so I said to myself, it is only a matter of time before he would soon be trotting over, asking me to pull the wagon out, put him in, and start dragging him all over the place. Sure enough, that’s exactly what transpired. It was fascinating for this happy parent to witness these events and I enjoyed every minute of my time with my son.

This experience made me think of the words of Jesus. “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:7-8). What follows is the passage on the Lord’s prayer. But isn’t it amazing that God knows what we need before we ask Him? Isn’t it remarkable that when we pray, we are not bringing new information to God? Of course, we all know that God is omniscient – He’s all knowing – and He knows us better than we know ourselves, but how much does that knowledge affect our prayer? If God already knows our needs before we ask them, then it follows that prayer is more about admitting our need and then going to the One who is all-sufficent to meet that need. You see, one of God’s great purposes in prayer is to build our faith and trust in Him. As we go to God again and again in prayer and see how He answers our prayers in the most amazing ways, our faith grows. Like a son that is inclined to go to his father when he has a need, we too as followers of Jesus begin to naturally look to him for our needs. My hope for you and me is that this humble, child-like dependance upon our Heavenly Father would only grow and multiply in the coming weeks and months.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Telling Our Faith Stories

One thing we don’t do enough of as Christians is to tell our faith stories to one another. What I mean by “faith stories” is quite simple – stories that communicate God’s faithfulness and sufficiency to meet our every need. I think there are at least two reasons for this. First, we aren’t stepping out in faith and trusting God so we simply don’t have any. And second, we are fearful that if we tell them, it will sound prideful on our part. We fear that if we tell the story, it will come across as if we are trying to gain glory from it. Let me affirm that our testimony as Christians should be centered upon the message of the gospel (1 John 1:1-4), but at the same time our testimony should be backed up by evidences of God’s faithfulness in the here and now (Acts 12:17). A couple weeks ago, I decided to tell one of these faith stories to our church. What follows is an account.  

 

Several years ago, I believed that God was calling me to attend a conference. At the time, I was in seminary in Vancouver and the conference was in Atlanta. If you know your geography, you will know that that’s a long trip and it would have to be by airplane – so I booked a flight. I also booked a hotel that was pretty close to where the conference would be. Now, given my flight times, I would have to stay three nights, but I only booked a hotel for the middle night. It sounds foolish but that is just how I felt God was leading me. I would have to trust God to provide accommodations for the other nights. There was also another thing that would have to be of faith. At the time, I wasn’t yet 25 and if you want to rent a car, you need to be 25 or older (maybe this has changed by now). And I didn’t have the money to hire a taxi take me all over the place so both transportation and my accommodations for two nights would have to be “by faith.”

 

As this trip approached I was starting to get concerned about how everything would come together. But the week before I left, as I was telling one of my friends about the trip and some of the details, he said that his wife’s brother was in university in Atlanta. I can’t remember how it all came together, I just remember this guy agreed to pick me up at the airport and then take me to the conference the next day. Coupled with that, another one of my seminary friends said he had a pastor friend in Atlanta who was attending the same conference I was attending. He gave me his cell number and once again, this connection would prove to be vital.

 

So off I went to attend this conference. My flight arrived at midnight the night before the conference started and just as planned my friend’s wife’s brother (sounds funny doesn’t it?) picked me up, and I stayed overnight with him and his little family. Early the next morning, he drove me to the conference about a half hour away. It’s amazing to me, but that’s the only contact I have ever had with him. God placed him in my life for that very short time and I have never talked to him again.

 

I attended the first day of the conference, and quite frankly, the conference was a disappointment. I could tell you more about it but I think the Lord had me there for other reasons. The theme of this trip was – faith.

 

After the first day ended, somehow, I was able to find transportation to the hotel I had booked. I had a good nights sleep but there was no “resting easy” in the sense that I knew the next morning I would have to find someone to drive me to the conference center. I could only rest in the knowledge that God would care of everything. The next morning, yet again, the Lord provided free transportation to the conference. A coincidence? I think not.

 

During the second day of the conference I was able to connect with my other friend’s friend who was a pastor. I didn’t have a cell phone so I think I was just borrowing other people’s cell phones but eventually I got a hold of him and we found each other and really hit it off. After the conferenced was over I was privileged to spend some time with the staff of his church and they took me out for a fancy meal and then ice cream afterward. By now, you won’t be surprise, but my new friend asked if I would like to stay overnight at his place. Of course I agreed, and after a short sleep he took me to the airport first thing in the morning (like 4am) for me to catch my flight home.

 

There is more that I could tell you about that trip but I think you get the picture. Just like the Christian life, this trip was all about faith. I remember when I first told that story to my wife (we were dating at the time) – she thought I was crazy! After six years of marriage, she now knows that without a doubt, but as I look back on that whole experience, I see God’s hand. Simply put – He took care of me. Not having transportation and accommodations was no barrier too difficult for God (Job 42:2).

 

My wife and I could tell many more stories of God’s faithfulness in our lives (you may have already heard some of them). But as the apostle Paul reminds us, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17). Paul also tells us, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). God must get all the glory! Let me encourage you to tell your faith stories, and to tell them often, but do so in a way that honors God. The orientation of faith is always off of self and onto God. Telling these stories will remind others that God is faithful and trustworthy. So go ahead – tell your story!      

Understanding the Origins of the Universe

How can we understand the origins of the universe? This is an important question that great minds have probed into for centuries. The problem is, of course, no one was there to witness it all….except for God. “In the beginning, God….” We are not left with the impression that anyone else was there. Later on in the chapter this is confirmed with the creation of man. By the time Adam and Eve come on the scene, the created order was all in place. What that tells us is that God was the only person who witnessed the creation of the universe. Therefore, if we are going to understand the origins of the universe, we must trust God’s self-revelation.

The Scriptures have much to say on this, but perhaps a good place to start is Hebrews 11:3. “By faith, we understand that the universe was created by the word of God.” The world was literally created by the word of God. In Genesis 1 we see how God spoke, and everything came into being. God said, “let there be light, and there was light.” This same pattern is followed throughout the rest of Genesis 1. The Psalmist picks up on this in Psalm 33:6 and writes, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breathe of his mouth all their host.”

So how did God created the universe? BY HIS WORD! By the breathe of His mouth. All He had to do was speak and the created world came into being. But it gets even more amazing – God didn’t have any pre-existing materials to create with. If you were to tell your neighbor that you could make something out of nothing, they would think you were nuts, and, they’d be right.  If you want to make a chair, you don’t go “abra cadabra” and poof – there it is. No, you need certain materials, certain tools, and then you have to form and fashion them in a particular way. You can’t make that chair out of nothing.  There’s only one person who has ever performed such a work and that’s the Creator God and person of Jesus Christ.  The bible says that it is God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Romans 4:17) And Psalm 90:2 tells us, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”  So before the creation of the heavens and the earth, God existed. And then at a particular point in time, God made something out of nothing. This is sometimes referred to as “Creation Ex-Nihilo.”

Going back to Hebrews 11:3, the only way we can understand creation is “by faith.” I know that answer does not satisfy everyone out there, but it is biblical truth. There is a sense of mystery in terms of how God “spoke” (Genesis 1) the cosmos into existence. But we must believe that God created all things, and now sustains all things. Like we read in Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

If we go back to the beginning of Hebrews 11 and verse 1, we see that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Now compare that with 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.”  You can’t miss the parallel here, or should we say the contrast? Verse 1 – the conviction of things not seen. Verse 3 – so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. So we have…. seen and not seen – visible and invisible. If you are a doubting Thomas type of person, then ask yourself this very simple question. Where did that material world come from? How did it originate? A typical modern answer is – the big bang theory or evolution, which I’m sure you are familiar with. But that theory still doesn’t answer a very basic, fundamental question – where did all that star-stuff (in the words of Carl Sagan) come from that was involved in the big bang? How was it created? How did it come into being? Going back to Hebrews 11, if you want to understand the origins of the cosmos, then it starts with faith. There is no other way to explain the created world. There is no other way to explain the seen, but by the unseen. There has to be a first cause to everything, and the Bible tells us that first cause was God.

At the beginning of time God set the world in motion. He spoke the universe into existence. And the way He did it is totally unique. What is seen (that being everything around us) was not made out of things that are visible. God didn’t create from pre-existing materials. No, He created everything, out of nothing. And as Christians, we understand this by faith.

Many have said this before, but I will just echo their thoughts. It takes a lot more faith to be an atheist (someone who doesn’t believe in God) than it does to be a theist (someone who believes in God). And while we must believe, by faith, in the Triune God and in His Word, there is evidence all around us. The apostle Paul writes, “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)

What about you, friend? Have you accepted God’s self-revelation? Let me encourage you to start with what the Bible tells us about the origins of the universe (or any subject for that matter) and then allow God to confirm His testimony through the created world and “the things that have been made.”

Not Ashamed

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

There is a gospel that is being preached today, but it is not the true gospel. It’s not that everything about this gospel is inaccurate, but it’s just not the “whole” gospel. And when you preach a half gospel, you are not really preaching the gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-7). This gospel offers a God who is loving, but not demanding; a God who gives “Your best life now,” a God who is simple, light, fun, engaging, and uplifting, but not the Lord of the universe; a God who can give a band-aid to any problem; but not the One who can truly transform your life. So the question that begs an answer is why has the Gospel been adjusted? The reason is that many churches and Christian leaders today are “ashamed of the gospel.”

We are very aware that the world finds the gospel offensive. Christianity makes exclusive claims even though we live in a very inclusive world. To claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved from your sins is not a very attractive message in our post-modern world, but that’s what the Bible teaches. We are also aware that generally speaking, our churches are declining and do not hold the same influence they once held. So with an unpopular message and sagging attendance figures, church leaders have felt the pressure to adjust the message and adapt it to our changing world. Many churches reasoned that they had no other option – either we change or face extinction.

In my estimation church leaders have over-estimated the importance of the methods and means of communicating the gospel and underestimated the importance of the message itself. I am not suggesting methods and means are not important, but they are secondary to the message of the gospel. We have to remember that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes in Jesus. If Jesus Christ is Lord of the world then that means He is also Lord of the Christian Church and we need to let Him do the work that only God can do. Our responsibility remains what it has always been – to preach the Word – to faithfully proclaim the gospel message, no matter how unpopular that message might be, and let God take care of the results.

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believed.” (1 Corinthians 1:21)

The Shame of the Gospel

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16

Let’s make an assumption here. The apostle Paul would not have said these words if he didn’t feel there was reason to be ashamed. If there were nothing shameful about the gospel, then it would be pointless to make such a statement. In all reality, the gospel will always be considered “shameful” by the world. Why do I say that?

1. The Gospel tells me I am a sinner.

No one wants to be told they are a sinner, but that’s what the Bible tells us (Romans 3). If we don’t understand that we are sinners who have broken God’s law, we will never come to see our need for Christ.

2. The Gospel tells us there is only one way to heaven.

Postmodernism has taught us quite the opposite – that there are many ways to heaven and many ways to God – you just have to pick your vehicle to heaven.

It’s tough to respond to that, isn’t it? I can remember sharing the gospel with a friend of mine several years ago. After I was done, he told me – “that’s great Dan that Christianity works for you, but it doesn’t work for me.” That kind of response is quite common today. To affirm the exclusivity of Christ does not sit well with most people.

3. The Gospel tells us that a man was and is God.

For 2000 years, scores of people have found it shameful to say that Jesus was God incarnate – God in the flesh.  But that’s what the Bible tells us – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As Christians, we affirm that Jesus was fully God and fully man. It is precisely because of that that Jesus could be Redeemer.

4. The Gospel tells us that one day we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

This is another tough one for modern man to accept. We have come to believe that we are not accountable to anyone and no one has a right to judge us – even God. But the bible teaches that everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ where we will give an account for everything we have ever done. Our only hope will be the mediating work of Jesus Christ. If you can’t say the blood of Jesus has covered your sin, God will hold you to account.

5. The Gospel tells us that we can’t work our way to heaven.

It is only natural to think that we should be rewarded for our efforts. For example, if we have worked for many years at our job, we expect that eventually we should be rewarded with an adequate pension or retirement plan. We have paid our dues and now it’s only fair that we are rewarded accordingly. Once again, however, the Gospel message is opposed to such thinking.  No matter how hard we work and how much good we think we’ve done, it’s never enough (Isaiah 64:6). The only way we can be saved is by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and by trusting in the finished work of Christ. We must accept that the infinite merit of Christ is enough to satisfy the demands of God’s justice. And we must realize that our own performance could never be enough before that same just and holy God.

6. The Gospel teaches us that the wisdom of man is foolishness to God and that the strength of man is weakness to God.

We want to be seen as wise. We want to put our knowledge and learning on display. We want to be strong. We want to be successful. And on and on it goes. But the Bible teaches that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor. 1:25) Sinful man does not want to admit that all his wisdom and understanding is foolishness to God. In our prideful hearts, we find that shameful.

7. The Gospel tells us that we need to repent of our sins and believe in Christ for our salvation.

Modern man would like to think he is autonomous – that we don’t need anyone, much less God. We’d like to sing along with Simon and Garfunkel, “I am a rock; I am an island.” So when we hear a message that demands humility and surrender, you can bet that that message will viewed as shameful and foolish and ultimately rejected. But the Gospel tells us that we need Jesus Christ. There is no other way to be saved from our sin. God made provision for our need through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So….. “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  (1 Cor. 1:18) We might as well accept that the world views the Gospel message as sheer foolish. However, if you are a true believer, you will glory in the message of the cross. You will glory and rejoice in the gift of God, which is eternal life (Romans 6:23). The solution is not to downplay the shame of the gospel, but to preach it faithfully and pray that God would own the eyes of the blind and rescue the souls of those who are perishing.