Thursday, December 24, 2009

This is What Jesus Christ Upholds By the Power of His Word

I was blown away by this video in light of the fact that my God and Saviour, who became flesh and dwelled among us, upholds all of this by the word of his power. He has been doing it since creation, and will do it until his second coming, when he will make all things new! Watch and worship.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Multi-Site Mega Churches

I've just read an interesting article on multi-site churches in USA today. It's main feature is on Tim Keller, and it reports on the trend's strengths and weaknesses. Contrary to many of my friends, I'm actually in favour of this model if it is done right. As long as people are in intimate, accountable relationships within their church (e.g. small groups), and they are being overseen by pastors, this could be a great tool. I'd also add that 'video church' might be best done in local contexts, where pastors will be able to best engage with the culture of their local community. It's a huge discussion, and those are just some preliminary thoughts.

The following paragraphs stuck out to me:

(In contrast to the old small church model of having the same pastor preach, marry, bury, and visit you), Green recognizes, "We're just not looking for that kind of relationship with a pastor anymore. Today, it's all about a personal relationship with God, not the culture of a church. And a megachurch or a multisite church can still offer this. If you are there to hear a message and it's a powerful one, it shouldn't matter how it's delivered."

"Even if people are just watching the senior pastor on a screen, they are still gathering, as the Bible commands, they are still serving the poor, engaging in worship and study, and encouraging one another," says Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research in Nashville, which studies church trends.

You can read the whole thing here.

The Ultimate Bible?

My wife thinks I'm crazy. I'm on a lifetime hunt for the perfect edition of the Bible. Perfect translation, perfect binding, perfect font, and so on. In the Bible Design and Binding blog, I think I've met my match. I've found someone who is even more particular than I am. I may read blogs like this, but this guy created and writes articles for a blog devoted to this quest. I have to step aside and admit that I'm in another league.

I have to admit that his latest review has caught my eye. This Bible and matching journal combination look pretty amazing. Aside from the fact that I'd like an ESV with Hebrew/Greek on one page, and English on the other, this may just be the ultimate Bible to date, a prospect for lifetime companion to this pastor/preacher. Take a look at the link here.

I do need to reinforce the truth that the guy writing the review is in a league of his own. Take a look at the following quote:

"This edition's paper has been upgraded. Combined with the added margins, something magical happens, something that makes the same leather cover that's on the ESV1 seem not at all the same. The weight of the text block and its relative width and slimness create the "Long Primer effect," a melty, decadent slouch that delivers pure tactile bliss".

What was that? Since when can a Bible be described as 'decadent' (i.e. sinful)? But I get is point, and I may save my pennies!

This quote is exciting for me as a Canadian: "The text is Anglicized, which means words like color are spelled colour". Amen to that!

Help Catch this Killer!

On (American) Thanksgiving Day, a 35 year old man showed up at a relative's house and was invited for supper, even though they had been estranged for a long time. For four hours, he sat and visited with the family. Then, he pulled out a gun and started shooting people, killing four, including a six year old girl. That girl was the niece of missionary David Sitton, founder of To Every Tribe Ministries. Here is a link to a video press conference explaining more. Pray for the Sitton family, and pray that people would come to Christ through this tragedy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Red Apple Evangelism

This week I'm simultaneously putting the finishing touches on my Christmas Eve Sermon on John 1:14 and prepping a sermon on the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch for December 27. A bit different in 'feel', but what a privilege to be spending so much time in God's Word!

In my memory bank I remembered that James McDonald had a series of videos on what he calls 'Red Apple Evangelism' on his blog. As is usual with such things, I didn't watch when they came out, but I thought it might be helpful to take a look now. Boy, was I ever not disappointed. His evangelistic strategy was very thought provoking, and I commend all four videos to you (the grand total of time is under 10 mins). Take a look:

Top 100 Searches of 2009

This is a disturbing list put out by Norton. The fact that kids under 7 are searching words like 'sex' and 'porn' with frequency makes me weep. The whole list is worth reading.

Friday, December 18, 2009

12 Most Influential Books (on this Country Parson)

Tis the season to rate books. While many Christians are looking back on 2009 and offering their list of ‘the top 9 books of 2009’, I’ve decided to do something different. I guess you could call me a nonconformist! In no particular order, I’ve compiled a list of the 12 books (besides the Bible) that have most influenced my approach to the Christian life and Pastoral Ministry. As you read, keep in mind that this is not a list of the 12 best books ever, nor is it a list of the 12 books I wish shaped me most. This is an honest list as I assess the books I’ve read, and consider the passions God has given me. I’d welcome your feedback regarding which books I should be reading that will help balance me out better. I fully own the fact that many of these books have been written in the past 20 years. I consider this a weakness. But if I’m honest, although I loved ‘The Religious Affections’ and ‘Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World’ by Jonathan Edwards, and ‘The Mortification of Sin’ and ‘The Glory of Christ’ by John Owen, the books mentioned below have influenced me even more, even if many of the same themes are struck in them.

Desiring God - John Piper
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him”. This is John Piper’s anthem, and this book was his first to lay it out in detail. I first read it in the winter of 1999 and have never been the same since.

The Pleasures of God - John Piper
Not only are people called to be God-centered, but since God is the most glorious being in the cosmos, it is appropriate for him to delight in no one and nothing more than himself. As with all of his books, this one is full of Scripture that show this to be a Biblical idea.

Brothers, We are Not Professionals - John Piper
The business world is full of professionals, but the pastorate ought not to be. How can there be a professional cross-bearer? A professional fool (2 Cor 1)? How can one professionally die to one’s self or be a professional slave of Christ? This book of short reflections for pastors is really a series of Biblical exhortations to pastors.

The Supremacy of God in Preaching - John Piper
Simply put: the end goal of preaching is to create worshippers, and the act of preaching ought to be worship.

Preaching and Preachers - Martyn Lloyd-Jones
First a series of lectures at Westminter Seminary in the late 60’s, this book has shaped my view of preaching more than any other. Preaching is not a lecture. It is an event, empowered by the Holy Spirit!

Preaching Christ From the Old Testament - Sidney Greidanus
If the New Testament insists that Christ is the center of the Bible, how does a preacher connect these lines when preaching from the Old Testament? This book offers a theology of Christ-centered preaching, an overview of the various views of this throughout Church history, and then offers seven (or so) very helpful ways to move from Old Testament text to Christocentric application. Greidanus’ “Preaching Christ From Genesis” is a practical application of this methodology, walking through 26 or so key texts in Genesis.

Redeemer Church Planter Manual - Tim Keller
This unpublished spiral bound book can be ordered from Redeemer Presbyterian Church. I was glad to see that portions of it are due to be published in the fall of 2010. It offers a theology of church planting, and many, many practical helps. Along with John Piper, Tim Keller has shaped my approach to Church life more than any other author.

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism - Tim Keller
How does one live and witness and preach in such a way as to gain friction with postmodern people? This book looks at the seven most common objections to Christianity in our day and shows first, that it takes as much faith to believe those doubts, as it does to believe the claims of the Bible. In the second half of the book, Keller offers a positive apologetic for the gospel.

Humility: True Greatness - CJ Mahaney
What is it and how does one practically pursue it? This book is small, but it packs an awesome punch.

Why Small Groups? - edited by CJ Mahaney
This one outlines how the family of Churches CJ Mahaney oversees, shapes their small group ministry. Very practical and helpful, even if your church does not have a small group ministry.

The Pastor-Evangelist - edited by Roger Greenway
This series of essays by American Presbyterians offers a theology of, and practical advice on how to, have an evangelistic priority woven into every aspect of Church life. Essential stuff, in my view.

Good to Great - Jim Collins
A secular business book in a list like this? Yep. Like it or not, this one has really helped me think about church life. Two words: common grace. If you doubt, read the book and be blessed.

(Honourable Mention to make it a Baker’s Dozen) Systematic Theology - Wayne Grudem
It’s only an honourable mention because I am yet to read every chapter. But everything from the way Grudem organizes his material, to his very accessible writing style, to his extended quotations of Scripture so that the Bible’s voice is the main voice, to his conclusions, resonate with me more than any other theological overview. I’m thankful for this great book.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Being Criticized

Tim Keller writes this amazing article on how to take criticism of your views. It is practical for any Christian and not just pastors. It is pasted below:
Recently several people have asked me 'how do you deal with harsh criticism?' In each case, the inquirer had felt stung by what they felt were unfair attacks on him or her. In this internet age, anyone can have their views censured unfairly by people they don't know. So what do you do when that happens? Here's is the gist of the counsel I give people when they ask me about this. For years I've been guided by a letter by John Newton that is usually entitled "On Controversy."

The biggest danger of receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart. You feel the injustice of it and feel sorry for yourself, and it tempts you to despise not only the critic, but the entire group of people from which they come. "Those people..." you mutter under your breath. All this can make you prouder over time. Newton writes: "Whatever...makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit." He argues that whenever contempt and superiority accompany our thoughts, it is a sign that "the doctrines of grace" are operating in our life "as mere notions and speculations" with "no salutary influence upon [our] conduct."

So how can you avoid this temptation? First, you should look to see if there is a kernel of truth in even the most exaggerated and unfair broadsides. There is usually such a kernel when the criticism comes from friends, and there is often such truth when the disapproval comes from people who actually know you. So even if the censure is partly or even largely mistaken, look for what you may indeed have done wrong. Perhaps you simply acted or spoke in a way that was not circumspect. Maybe the critic is partly right for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, identify your own short-comings, repent in your own heart before the Lord for what you can, and let that humble you. It will then be possible to learn from the criticism and stay gracious to the critic even if you have to disagree with what he or she has said.

If the criticism comes from someone who doesn't know you at all (and often this is the case on the internet) it is possible that the criticism is completely unwarranted and profoundly mistaken. I am often pilloried not only for views I do have, but also even more often for views (and motives) that I do not hold at all. When that happens it is even easier to fall into a smugness and perhaps be tempted to laugh at how mistaken your critics are. "Pathetic..." you may be tempted to say. Don't do it. Even if there is not the slightest kernel of truth in what the critic says, you should not mock them in your thoughts. First, remind yourself of examples of your own mistakes, foolishness, and cluelessness in the past, times in which you really got something wrong. Second, pray for the critic, that he or she grows in grace. Newton talks about it like this:

"If you account [your opponent] a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom are very applicable: 'Deal gently with him for my sake.' The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever."

So whatever you do, do anything you can to avoid feeling smug and superior to the critic. Even if you say to yourself that you are just 'shrugging it off' and that you are not going to respond to the criticism, you can nonetheless conduct a full defense and refutation in the courtroom of your mind, in which you triumphantly prove how awful and despicable your opponents are. But that is a spiritual trap. Newton's remarks about this are very convicting:

"A man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature, and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others."

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Tipping Point

I first heard of Malcom Gladwell from Tim Challies on his 10 Million Words site. Challies' review caught my attention, so I bought the book he recommended - Gladwell's first of four bestsellers, The Tipping Point. Borrowing from the worlds of sociology, psychology, and epidemiology (the study of epidemics), Gladwell makes a convincing, 280 page case, for the fact that ideas, social behaviour, and products 'spread like viruses', and how they do so. I'd highly recommend the book. Below is a copy/paste of a Q & A with Gladwell about the book.

1. What is The Tipping Point about?

It's a book about change. In particular, it's a book that presents a new way of understanding why change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does. For example, why did crime drop so dramatically in New York City in the mid-1990's? How does a novel written by an unknown author end up as national bestseller? Why do teens smoke in greater and greater numbers, when every single person in the country knows that cigarettes kill? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? What makes TV shows like Sesame Street so good at teaching kids how to read? I think the answer to all those questions is the same. It's that ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics. The Tipping Point is an examination of the social epidemics that surround us.

2. What does it mean to think about life as an epidemic? Why does thinking in terms of epidemics change the way we view the world?

Because epidemics behave in a very unusual and counterintuitive way. Think, for a moment, about an epidemic of measles in a kindergarten class. One child brings in the virus. It spreads to every other child in the class in a matter of days. And then, within a week or so, it completely dies out and none of the children will ever get measles again. That's typical behavior for epidemics: they can blow up and then die out really quickly, and even the smallest change -- like one child with a virus -- can get them started. My argument is that it is also the way that change often happens in the rest of the world. Things can happen all at once, and little changes can make a huge difference. That's a little bit counterintuitive. As human beings, we always expect everyday change to happen slowly and steadily, and for there to be some relationship between cause and effect. And when there isn't -- when crime drops dramatically in New York for no apparent reason, or when a movie made on a shoestring budget ends up making hundreds of millions of dollars -- we're surprised. I'm saying, don't be surprised. This is the way social epidemics work.

3. Where did you get the idea for the book?

Before I went to work for The New Yorker, I was a reporter for the Washington Post and I covered the AIDS epidemic. And one of the things that struck me as I learned more and more about HIV was how strange epidemics were. If you talk to the people who study epidemics--epidemiologists--you realize that they have a strikingly different way of looking at the world. They don't share the assumptions the rest of us have about how and why change happens. The word "Tipping Point", for example, comes from the world of epidemiology. It's the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass. It's the boiling point. It's the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot straight upwards. AIDS tipped in 1982, when it went from a rare disease affecting a few gay men to a worldwide epidemic. Crime in New York City tipped in the mid 1990's, when the murder rate suddenly plummeted. When I heard that phrase for the first time I remember thinking--wow. What if everything has a Tipping Point? Wouldn't it be cool to try and look for Tipping Points in business, or in social policy, or in advertising or in any number of other nonmedical areas?

4. Why do you think the epidemic example is so relevant for other kinds of change? Is it just that it's an unusual and interesting way to think about the world?

No. I think it's much more than that, because once you start to understand this pattern you start to see it everywhere. I'm convinced that ideas and behaviors and new products move through a population very much like a disease does. This isn't just a metaphor, in other words. I'm talking about a very literal analogy. One of the things I explore in the book is that ideas can be contagious in exactly the same way that a virus is. One chapter, for example, deals with the very strange epidemic of teenage suicide in the South Pacific islands of Micronesia. In the 1970's and 1980's, Micronesia had teen suicide rates ten times higher than anywhere else in the world. Teenagers were literally being infected with the suicide bug, and one after another they were killing themselves in exactly the same way under exactly the same circumstances. We like to use words like contagiousness and infectiousness just to apply to the medical realm. But I assure you that after you read about what happened in Micronesia you'll be convinced that behavior can be transmitted from one person to another as easily as the flu or the measles can. In fact, I don't think you have to go to Micronesia to see this pattern in action. Isn't this the explanation for the current epidemic of teen smoking in this country? And what about the rash of mass shootings we're facing at the moment--from Columbine through the Atlanta stockbroker through the neo-Nazi in Los Angeles?

5. Are you talking about the idea of memes, that has become so popular in academic circles recently?

It's very similar. A meme is a idea that behaves like a virus--that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects. I must say, though, that I don't much like that term. The thing that bothers me about the discussion of memes is that no one ever tries to define exactly what they are, and what makes a meme so contagious. I mean, you can put a virus under a microscope and point to all the genes on its surface that are responsible for making it so dangerous. So what happens when you look at an infectious idea under a microscope? I have a chapter where I try to do that. I use the example of children's television shows like Sesame Street and the new Nickelodeon program called Blues Clues. Both those are examples of shows that started learning epidemics in preschoolers, that turned kids onto reading and "infected" them with literacy. We sometimes think of Sesame Street as purely the result of the creative genius of people like Jim Henson and Frank Oz. But the truth is that it is carefully and painstaking engineered, down to the smallest details. There's a wonderful story, in fact, about the particular scientific reason for the creation of Big Bird. It's very funny. But I won't spoil it for you.

6. How would you classify The Tipping Point? Is it a science book?

I like to think of it as an intellectual adventure story. It draws from psychology and sociology and epidemiology, and uses examples from the worlds of business and education and fashion and media. If I had to draw an analogy to another book, I'd say it was like Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence, in the sense that it takes theories and ideas from the social sciences and shows how they can have real relevance to our lives. There's a whole section of the book devoted to explaining the phenomenon of word of mouth, for example. I think that word of mouth is something created by three very rare and special psychological types, whom I call Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. I profile three people who I think embody those types, and then I use the example of Paul Revere and his midnight ride to point out the subtle characteristics of this kind of social epidemic. So just in that chapter there is a little bit of sociology, a little of psychology and a little bit of history, all in aid of explaining a very common but mysterious phenomenon that we deal with every day. I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not sure that this book fits into any one category. That's why I call it an adventure story. I think it will appeal to anyone who wants to understand the world around them in a different way. I think it can give the reader an advantage--a new set of tools. Of course, I also think they'll be in for a very fun ride.

7. What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

One of the things I'd like to do is to show people how to start "positive" epidemics of their own. The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly. That makes it something of obvious and enormous interest to everyone from educators trying to reach students, to businesses trying to spread the word about their product, or for that matter to anyone who's trying to create a change with limited resources. The book has a number of case studies of people who have successfully started epidemics--an advertising agency, for example, and a breast cancer activist. I think they are really fascinating. I also take a pressing social issue, teenage smoking, and break it down and analyze what an epidemic approach to solving that problem would look like. The point is that by the end of the book I think the reader will have a clear idea of what starting an epidemic actually takes. This is not an abstract, academic book. It's very practical. And it's very hopeful. It's brain software.

Beyond that, I think that The Tipping Point is a way of making sense of the world, because I'm not sure that the world always makes as much sense to us as we would hope. I spent a great deal of time in the book talking about the way our minds work--and the peculiar and sometimes problematic ways in which our brains process information. Our intuitions, as humans, aren't always very good. Changes that happen really suddenly, on the strength of the most minor of input, can be deeply confusing. People who understand The Tipping Point, I think, have a way of decoding the world around them.

Pornography Pandemic

Justin Taylor noted a disturbing statistic about pornography, and then offered a very helpful roundup of resources to help Christians fight for purity. I've copied/pasted the entire thing below. It's worth reading!

A sobering stat from a university study:

Researchers were conducting a study comparing the views of men in their 20s who had never been exposed to pornography with regular users.

But their project stumbled at the first hurdle when they failed to find a single man who had not been seen it.

“We started our research seeking men in their 20s who had never consumed pornography,” said Professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse. “We couldn’t find any.”

HT: Mike Anderson

Here are some free resources to consider using as we battle together for purity:

And here are a couple of books to consider purchasing:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Created to Sing

Below I've copied/pasted a great Tim Keller quote, transcribed by Dan MacDonald. Dan pastors Grace Toronto Church and was trained by Keller in New York, if I understand correctly. The quote has to do with Christians and singing. Enjoy!
"You and I were created to sing. If secular people are right, then we are an accident, and love and hate and good and evil are how you are hard-wired, but they do not really exist. But if you were created by someone then you were created for someone. If by God, then created for God, if by the king, then for the king. We were created to make Him our king. Until you are, true to your original nature – you are like a fish on the ground; like a seed of a tree left on the windowsill. You need to plunge into the Lord Jesus Christ to become who you were meant to be. When the trees come into the full presence and lordship of God, they will be able to sing and dance – they are mere shadows now, they will be fully themselves then – and if that is true for them, then what about for us?"

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Pastor, the People, and the Pursuit of Joy

The trailer for this year's Desiring God conference for pastors has been put out and is embedded below. I'm posting this for two reasons: 1) to be a small part of telling people about this conference; 2) to note that this short video is a snapshot into my life, and the lives of most pastors; a life that most people in the church never see. The quiet behind the scenes study, prayer, counseling, visitation, shepherding of a family. . .all to wake up and do it all over again. Who would ever want to do this? Only a man called by God who works for his own joy and the joy of his people, both of which are ultimately found in the glory of God. Enjoy the short video!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A New (to me) Christmas CD

I'm always looking for new Christmas music. Every year Natalie and I tend to buy one or two new CD's and add them to our collection. One of our favourites is still the City on a Hill Christmas, probably because it was on repeat during much of her 24 hours of labour with our firstborn. How could we forget it? Anther favourite is the Sovereign Grace Music CD simply entitled, 'Savior'. Rich theology and beautiful music, especially the song, 'Rejoice'. Yesterday I saw a note on Justin Taylor's blog about another CD - Andrew Peterson's, 'Behold the Lamb of God'. This one is a re-release, 10th anniversary edition. The first disk is a remastered version of his original, and the second disk is a live version of the same CD with a few extras included. I was in the mood for new music, and liked the previews I heard, so I went for it, and I have not regretted this purchase. Marked by a 'folk' sound and beautiful melodies, and rich in Biblical Theology, this is a great album for Christians who want to prepare their hearts for Christmas, as well as help them fill out their whole-Bible understanding of the incarnation of Christ. Below I've posted a You Tube Video of one of the songs.
Canadians can preview and download the album here (you can also order the CD there).
Americans can go the cheaper Amazon download route, found here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Swedish Chef

I love this guy.

HT: Vitamin Z

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pray for David Sitton and His Family

David Sitton is a pioneer missionary among tribal people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. His life and ministry have been an awesome encouragement to me, to my church, and to many of my friends. If you have never heard his name, I'd encourage you to listen to his message from the Desiring God Conference for Pastors, here.

I just received an e-mail from David's co-worker, Rod Conner, which I've copied and pasted below:

Please pray for my dear friend and co-worker David Sitton and his family. His niece was shot and killed along with three others at a family Thanksgiving gathering in Florida. You can read more about it from David on the To Every Tribe facebook page.

Here is a link to a report from the local TV station and I would encourage you to hear David’s brother Jim’s testimony.

Linda and I have been praying that God will use David and his brother Jim as a real “voice” for Jesus Christ and the gospel.

For His Glory,


Who Can You Unite With, Christian?

These wise words by John Piper really resonated with me. I've pasted them below.

I have often said that I can go much farther down the road together with a serious, biblically oriented, articulate, firmly-believing Arminian than with a jesting, systems-oriented, unclear, wish-washy, Reformed philosopher.

G. K. Chesterton helps explain why.

It’s not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay a difference of creed unites men—so long as it is a clear difference . . . So a Tory can walk up to the very edge of Socialism if he knows what Socialism is. But if he is told that Socialism is a spirit, a sublime atmosphere, a noble indefinable tendency, why then he keeps out its way; and quite right too. One can meet an assertion with an argument; but a healthy bigotry is the only way in which one can meet a tendency. (What’s Wrong with the World 22-23)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book Review: The Pastor-Evangelist

There are two kinds of books that most of my pastor-friends read: new books that are ‘cutting edge’, and old books that have stood the test of time. The former are often reviewed by Tim Challies (at least in the circles I run in), and the latter are usually edited by Justin Taylor, or recommended by one of the super-pastors most of us little guys consider mentors from afar. The Pastor-Evangelist: Preacher, Model, and Mobilizer for Church Growth, fits into neither of these categories. Published in 1987, it’s too old to be ‘cutting edge’, and it’s too new to be a classic. It’s a book that has flown under the radar among most of my friends, but it is a book that deserves the attention of every pastor.

Edited by Roger S. Greenway, and contributed to by over a dozen American Presbyterian pastors, this book is rooted in Reformed Theology, and is a call for pastors and churches to have an evangelistic emphasis woven into the fabric of their existence. The book uniformly argues that to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ is a charge that applies to every pastor. To fulfill his charge, the pastor must preach evangelistically and with an aim to create a congregation of evangelists, he must model an evangelistic lifestyle to those under his charge, and he must strategically mobilize his congregation for effective evangelism.

The book begins with two chapters of theological underlay. Greenway writes on ‘Jesus, the Pastor-Evangelist’ and Edmund P. Clowney writes on ‘Kingdom Evangelism’. The ministry of Jesus, the paradigms in Acts, and the charges to Timothy, all combine to show that evangelism ought to be one of the central priorities of every local church pastor. Clowney reinforces this by reminding the reader that Jesus preached the gospel of the Kingdom that must be proclaimed to the world.

The ‘meat’ of the book is a series of practical chapters that fit under the categories ‘preacher’, ‘model’, and ‘mobilizer’. C. John Miller writes a chapter on ‘Prayer and Evangelism’ that had me on my knees in my study, even as I was preparing for an evangelistic outing with the church I serve as pastor. His stories of the coolness of his studied preaching, verses the blessing of God on his preaching when he began to prioritize both study and prayer, urged me to action! Some of the other ‘middle-chapters’ were: ‘Preaching and Evangelism’ (Dick J. Hart); ‘Evangelism Through Small Groups’ (Frank M. Barker, Jr); ‘A Full-Service Church’ (Bartlett L. Hess); ‘Learning How to Witness’ (D. James Kennedy); ‘Evangelism Through Sunday Schools’ (Kennedy Smartt); ‘Follow-up to Fellowship’ (James C. Bland III); ‘Equipping the Church for Lifestyle Evangelism’ (T.M. Moore); ‘Hospitality Evangelism’ (Richard P. Kaufmann); ‘An Integrated Plan for Evangelism and Church Growth’ (Terry L. Gyger); ‘Revitalizing a Dying Church’ (Harry L. Reeder III); ‘Pastor-Evangelists: Need of the Hour Everywhere’ (Roger S. Greenway).

The authors do not hide the fact that churches with Reformed convictions often fare poorly when it comes to evangelism. T.M. Moore notes that this is sometimes a conscious decision: John Owen believed that evangelism was primarily the job of the pastor, and was primarily to be done from the pulpit. The authors show that this is contrary to the teaching of Scripture’s didactic sections, along with the paradigms in Acts and the very creative methods for evangelism this inspired book describes.

Perhaps the most helpful chapter for me was Richard Kaufmann’s ‘Hospitality Evangelism’. He begins by quoting Peter Wagner: “The effectiveness of the Christian’s role as a witness for church growth decreases with that person’s maturity in Christ”. Kaufmann explains: “As a Christian matures in Christ he becomes more and more involved in the church. His free time is quickly filled with Christian activities such as worship services, prayer meetings, Bible studies, Sunday school, committee meetings, and church socials. Either his non-Christian friends are converted, or he gradually loses contact with them as their interests take them in different directions” (pg 140). In a ten page chapter, Kaufmann sets forth an intentional lifestyle of getting to know one’s neighbours, having them over for supper, and gaining trust with the goal of speaking the gospel into their lives, seeing them converted and integrated into a local church. This lifestyle of hospitality evangelism is in line with God’s work in salvation history: When the curtain of the Temple was torn in two the ultimate ‘open house’ began. Since God has been so welcoming with his people, every one of his people ought to be welcoming to the strangers around them.

In the last analysis, this is a book to buy and re-read. It may be a great book to read as an elder’s team. Select chapters, especially ‘Hospitality Evangelism’ would be great as photocopies for church members. This book will be life-changing, especially if the reader takes Edmund Clowney’s advice, and doesn’t avoid evangelism by escaping to the study to read about it! May the reading of this book serve to mobilize many pastor-evangelists who preach, model, and mobilize their churches for this all-important calling.

Canadians can buy it here.
Americans can find it here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Desiring God Conference for Pastors

The invitation for the Desiring God conference for pastors was just posted (today, I think). I tend to follow this every year via audio download. I was excited to see that this year's main speaker will be Sam Storms, and that John Piper plans to do a biographical talk on C.S. Lewis. Looks like a great conference line up, with a great topic: joy in pastoral ministry. You can read the invitation here.

Free Audio Book - Desiring God

In case you missed it, Christian Audio (an audio book web site) is offering John Piper's Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, for free download for the month of November. Since I first read it in the Winter of '99, this book has continued to be easily among the top five most influential on my life and ministry. This morning as I exercised, listening to the preface and introduction was a real blessing. I commend both the audio and the written book to you. You can download the audio for free here. (Also note: you can download a PDF version of the written book for free here, or you can buy your own copy here).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rick Mercer's Sleepover at 24 Sussex Dr.

I love Rick Mercer. His comedy brings tears to my eyes. In this video, he visits 24 Sussex Drive (where the Prime Minister lives), for a sleepover with Stephen Harper. He calls it, 'cracking open the 2-4'. It's worth the watch:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Our Church's Shiny New Web Site

It's still got a few bugs, and it still needs a bit more content, but the majority of work is finally done on our church's new web site. It's meant to be a helpful introduction to who we are (for those considering a visit), and a bit of a bulletin board for upcoming events and sermon audio (for attenders). The sermon audio is yet to be added, but take a look and read the various pages and let me know how we can improve it even more. Many thanks to Jim Stowe, who did all of this design work for free, and that with a newborn son at home. The site can be found here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Profiling the Average Binbrook Resident

Last night a few members of our church went door to door with surveys in our community. Our goal was not evangelistic. Our goal was to honestly get to know the people of the Binbrook community. We went out after suppers were over, but before kids were in bed. We were respectful and polite. We introduced ourselves, and told people the church we are from, and that we want to get to know our community better. Then we asked them if they'd be willing to complete a 60 second survey. At that moment 99% of the suspicious looks went away. Half of the people said no thanks and took our flyer. And about half of them gladly gave us sixty seconds of their night. We stuck to the 60 seconds, and learned a lot. Here are the questions we asked:

1. Do you have any interest in spiritual things?

2. Are you affiliated with any religion (if so which one)?

3. Do you attend a church at any time throughout the year (if so, which one)?

4. Do you have a Bible in your house (if not, can we give you this one for free)?

5. Can we pray for you for anything in particular?

6. After Christmas our church plans to begin discussion groups about who Jesus is and what Christianity is all about. When we do this would you be interested in a phone call?
(If yes to #6) What is your name, phone number?

(If yes to #6) Would you prefer a Wednesday morning, afternoon or evening?

At the end of our evening, here is a summary of the average answers. The average resident of our suburbia has:

- Low to no professed interest in spiritual things
- Has some ties to the Catholic church but is non-practicing
- May attend church once per year with a relative, or not at all
- Has a Bible in their home
- Is thankful that we have offered to pray for them, but doesn’t have anything that we can pray for (unless a recent family tragedy is at the front of their minds, in which case they share and are thankful for our prayers).
- Is interested in getting a phone call when our church begins discussion groups on who Jesus is and what it matters.

That last answer blew me away every time, especially in light of their professed lack of interest in all things spiritual. In an hour and a quarter 10 people (yep, 10!) told me they'd like a phone call when we start those discussion groups. (I worded it carefully - they want a phone call to hear more. . .they are not committing to anything right now. . .but who knows what God may do). Here are some more observations:

- Binbrook is primarily made up of young families (lots of little kids)
- There are more dogs than kids in Binbrook
- There are more big-screen t.v.’s than dogs in Binbrook, and they are all on all night
- People are initially suspicious when they see two people with a clip board, but are pleasantly surprised when they hear it is a 60 second survey and that we are there as learners

In the end, our first night of surveys was very worth while. I can't wait until our next scheduled time in two weeks! Will you pray with me that the Lord of the Harvest would:

- Send more labourers to help us
- Send fruit to those labourers who want to see people saved
- Gather many people from Binbrook into evangelistic discussion groups in the winter
- Gather many people from Binbrook into our Sunday Morning worship services immediately

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dead Orthodoxy

Yesterday I finished reading the 'Redeemer Church Planter Manual', by Tim Keller. In this previous post I shared that although I'm pastoring a 170 year old church, the community around us is rapidly changing (i.e. growth in population from 200 to 8000 in eight years). I thought reading a church planter manual would help me see any blind spots of my own, and give me lots of ideas as I seek to give leadership to our church in its evangelistic ministries. I was not disappointed. Keller strikes an amazing balance between the practicalities of ministry and the theology of church planting. I'd recommend this book to any/every pastor (and as a must read for church planters in particular).

One particular quote stuck out to me, not so much in regard to any particular church, but with the North American evangelical church culture in general. In a chapter on the dynamics of corporate renewal, Keller discusses what he calls dead (or drifting) orthodoxy. This happens when a church has all of its doctrinal ducks in a row, but still lacks vital spiritual life. He recognizes that this is a continuum -- and that most churches fall somewhere on it. But his penetrating insights help any believer to search his/her own heart and look for blind spots. Although there are many 'brands' of dead orthodoxy, Keller expands on what he calls the legalistic 'stream'. Its characteristics are noted blow.

Marks of Dead Orthodoxy:

1. Much more emphasis on defending the truth than propagating it. The emphasis is on attacking false views, not winning sinners to Christ. There is smugness toward those without the right views.

2. Strong, even fierce opposition to change programs and worship. What people call ‘closeness to God’ is often the security (sentimentality) that comes from familiar forms and procedures.

3. Often a desire for inspiring, general messages, but nothing disturbing. It is an unwritten law that the pastor must be ‘nice’ and must not offend anyone. On the other hand, in the power churches, the other extreme may happen. The pastor may become very authoritarian and controlling.

4. A tendency toward gossip and censoriousness. Differences cannot be discussed lovingly. Defensiveness creates bitter quarreling. The only way the church deals with this is to hide and suppress disagreements.

5. A dislike for the healthy disorder found in revival/renewals. Either the tradition or the pastor and/or key lay leader must stay in control. Sometimes there is an opposition to displays of emotion of any kind. During renewal people are so wiling to get involved in ministry and worship that there is a kind of ‘divine disorder’ that has to be addressed.

6. And unwillingness to believe in glorious possibilities. Unable to expect or believe that certain kinds of people can change, or no vision for community impact. Planning myopia that comes from a conviction that we can only do as much as we have visible human resources for.

7. Little discussion of one’s spiritual experience -- nearness to God, growth in love, temptations, and so on. There are objections to any self-examination or regular accountability for one’s growth in grace and walk with God.

8. Total focus on the needs and concerns of members and the survival of the institution (church). No desire or intention to reach the world.

9. A lack of lay involvement. A consensus and expectation that the pastor should do virtually all the ministry.

10. A strong clinging to cultural forms and customs -- types of music and styles of dress and speech and ‘unwritten’ rules of conduct -- which are semi-consciously considered part of what it means to be a ‘mature’ believer.

- Taken from ‘Redeemer Church Planter Manual’, pp 203-204.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

10 Million Words

When Tim Challies spoke at our church a few weeks ago, he told me about the next project he's planning. It's one that really excites me as a Christian who wants to be conversant with his culture: Tim plans to read all of America's most popular non-fiction books in the year 2010, and provide book reviews for each one. If you are Tim Challies you can plan this '10 Million Word' reading assignment for 2010. If you are Ian Vaillancourt, you can plan to read the 150 or so 'one page book reviews' that Tim plans to write and begin to be more conversant with the dominant views of the world you live in, even with the small investment of 15 minutes of reading (or so) per week. Thanks, Tim, for using your lightning quick mind to serve Christ and his church in this way. Below I've copied and pasted his first post. The blog, hosted by Don Carson and Tim Keller at the Gospel Coalition web site, can be assessed here. Again, give Tim's post a read and be wooed to following along on his project! (Note, leading up to 2010 Tim is 'in training' and will be posting reviews for most of the books on the bestseller list. So start following now!)

My wife thinks I’m a little bit crazy, I’m sure of it. During eleven years of marriage I’ve done a lot of things that have led her to roll her eyes and sigh. I guess she is getting used to it, though, because even she is interested in what I am planning to do in 2010. I plan to read all of the New York Times bestselling books over the course of the whole year. Do the math and you’ll see that this will come in at somewhere around 10 million words.

While the project proper begins on January 1, 2010, in the months leading up to it, I will be attempting to read all of the current bestsellers to reassure myself that I can actually do this without losing my sanity. In so doing, I will be trying to “find my voice,” so to speak–finding the best way to deal with as imposing a project as this one, and looking for the cultural and worldview themes that I think will be so interesting.

I am hoping that you’ll join in as I do all of this–following along, perhaps reading a few of the books to share your reflections on them, and maybe leaving the occasional comment.

Why Are You Doing This?
Just ten years in, the twenty-first century has already been fascinating and complex. The potential for a Y2K disaster was averted but within two years America saw a completely unforeseen disaster that showed just how small the world has become and proved that America was no longer safe within her own borders. Since then we have seen protracted wars, the deaths of iconic celebrities, a massive economic downturn that brought the world to the brink of depression, and the election of the nation’s first black President. All this and the century has only just begun.

America’s bestselling books tell us, I’m sure, who America is, who her people are, at this time and place. Surely they will give me a glimpse into the world’s most powerful, the world’s most fascinating nation.

So why am I doing it? That is a fair question and one that does not offend me in the least. There are a few answers. First, I love to read and this project gives me an opportunity to read a lot. That, as I see it, is a good thing. Second, it is a challenge and I like to face a good challenge. I expect this project to involve at least ten million words of reading–break that down and you’ll see that it comes to at least three books per week over the course of an entire year. Third, I am interested in the cultural and worldview implications of all of these books. They will provide, I’m sure, a snapshot of where America is at as she enters a new decade. And for me, as a Canadian who spends a fair amount of time wandering the United States and who has family living in the United States, this stands to be particularly interesting.

When I say that I will be reading all of the New York Times Bestselling books, I refer to non-fiction only. Yes, novels can also provide great cultural insight, but only in a less-pointed way. Plus, I hate novels. So non-fiction it is. I will largely ignore the non-fiction paperback list as well simply because most of the paperbacks have been previously published in hardcover. The plan is to track the Times list on a weekly basis (the new list is available on Friday of each week) and to update my reading list accordingly. I will post a review (of sorts) of each of the books, hopefully within a few days of it showing up on the list.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Lord, Renew Our Hearts!

The Church I'm privileged to pastor is in a unique community. Eight years ago the village of Binbrook had 200 people. Today, we are sitting at about 8,000, with another two thousand projected newcomers in the next two years or so. We are now a part of the city of Hamilton. What was once a little country town, an intersection, really, is now White/Light Blue Collar suburbia. It's exciting that our church really wants to be on a mission to the growing community around us. We know that we need to grow and change, and we are actively praying/thinking/talking to see just how to do so, to better reach the unreached who are literally moving to our doorstep. As I've been thinking through these issues in my own studies (so I can give leadership in these things), one resource I've been devouring is the Redeemer Church Planter Manual. Granted, pastoring a 170 year old church is the farthest thing from church planting. But the insights that Tim Keller piles on continue to be a blessing to me in my own 'established church in suburbia' context.

Here's one example. In a chapter on corporate renewal/revival, Keller begins by saying that right doctrine is the first essential to any authentic revival. His second point is equally true, but from my perspective, much more pervasive. He writes:

"The second condition for renewal is to be deeply aware that doctrine is not enough. Smugness in doctrinal accuracy leads to dead orthodoxy. Ironicaly, the doctrinal accuracy becomes a 'work' which replaces Jesus as Saviour. The result is spiritual pride. Instead, what makes us Christians is doctrinal truth spiritually applied to a spiritually illumined heart (1 Thess 1:3-5)" (pg 200-201).

Keller then speaks of the Christian's need to anticipate the presence of God 'coming down' during corporate worship. He offers quotes from the Welsh revivals to show just how experiential truth was to these blessed men.

Lord, do this in Binbrook - at our church and all the others around us!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Keller - The Story Behind Counterfeit Gods

Tim Keller tells the story behind his new book Counterfiet Gods: the Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power at his blog. I found most helpful his personal sharing of workaholism and its underlying heart motives. Pastors and any other Christian who works hard, will benefit from this short article.

Note: I've corrected the article's link, I think!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to Read a Book

After continually hearing (and reading) references to it by John Piper and Tim Challies, I finally began reading Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading yesterday. Already, only 60 pages in, I've benefited greatly and am thankful for this book on how to learn best from the books one reads. I only wish I read this one sooner! Here's a teaser quote from it (the most famous one, I think):

There are two ways in which one can own a book. The first is the property right you establish by paying for it, just as you pay for clothes and furniture. But this act of purchase is only the prelude to possession. Full ownership comes only when you have made it a part of yourself, and the best way to make yourself a part of it is by writing in it. An illustration may make the point clear. You buy a beefsteak and transfer it from the butcher’s icebox to your own. But you do not own the beefsteak in the most important sense until you consume it and get it into your bloodstream. I am arguing that books, too, must be absorbed in your blood stream to do you any good.

Confusion about what it means to “own” a book leads people to a false reverence for paper, binding, and type — a respect for the physical thing — the craft of the printer rather than the genius of the author. They forget that it is possible for a man to acquire the idea, to possess the beauty, which a great book contains, without staking his claim by pasting his bookplate inside the cover. Having a fine library doesn’t prove that its owner has a mind enriched by books; it proves nothing more than that he, his father, or his wife, was rich enough to buy them.

There are three kinds of book owners. The first has all the standard sets and best sellers — unread, untouched. (This deluded individual owns woodpulp and ink, not books.) The second has a great many books — a few of them read through, most of them dipped into, but all of them as clean and shiny as the day they were bought. (This person would probably like to make books his own, but is restrained by a false respect for their physical appearance.) The third has a few books or many — every one of them dog-eared and dilapidated, shaken and loosened by continual use, marked and scribbled in from front to back. (This man owns books.) …

But the soul of a book “can” be separate from its body. A book is more like the score of a piece of music than it is like a painting. No great musician confuses a symphony with the printed sheets of music. Arturo Toscanini reveres Brahms, but Toscanini’s score of the G minor Symphony is so thoroughly marked up that no one but the maestro himself can read it. The reason why a great conductor makes notations on his musical scores — marks them up again and again each time he returns to study them—is the reason why you should mark your books. If your respect for magnificent binding or typography gets in the way, buy yourself a cheap edition and pay your respects to the author.

Wise Words on Sex by Tim Challies

This week Tim Challies is planning to write five articles on sex. His first article, Pornifying the Marriage Bed can be found here. I've read it and it is excellent advice for any man: young, old, married, single.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

150 free Keller sermons

Here is a link to the Remeemer church page with a new expanded free section - 150 free sermons, to be exact.

Their own explanation is copied/pasted below:

Redeemer’s Sermon Ministry has been faithfully recording, cataloging and reproducing all of our sermons for the past 20 years. To celebrate all 20 years of our history, and to meet the growing demand for our church’s teaching in New York City and around the world, we have created this resource of 150 sermons and lectures covering a broad array of topics, completely free to download and share.

The recordings chosen for the Free Sermon Resource were culled from classic sermon series as well as lectures and seminar addresses delivered to various Redeemer ministry gatherings, and are intended to present to the listener the full scope of teachings they would receive over several years of active involvement at Redeemer.

Navigation of the resource was prepared in such a way as to provide depth and facility to listeners at any stage of their experience with Christianity. All sermons and lectures were classified into three broad categories: Discovery, Growth and Mission. Each of these has more specific sub-categories for further browsing. In addition, summaries and tags for keyword searches have been applied to each of the sermons.

Redeemer’s primary method of evangelism has always been through the planting of gospel-centered churches. The Free Sermon Resource is not intended as a “broadcast ministry” which would create “virtual” members listening from home, rather than getting involved in their local congregations. Instead, we hope that this will serve as a “resource” for the broader movement of the gospel in the world: both as an evangelistic tool to share with our inquiring friends, neighbors and co-workers, and as a way of sharing our core principles, or “DNA,” to assist in the planting and nurturing of gospel-centered churches around the world - many of them in places difficult to reach via traditional means.
Please enjoy listening and sharing the good news!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I'm really looking forward to reading Tim Keller's new book: Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters I've heard Keller speak on this topic lots and always have my heart sins exposed, and pointed to Christ. Here is a short video of Keller explaining his book:

Tim Challies reviews the book here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

David Letterman and the Gospel

In my sermon this past Sunday I told the story of David Letterman's blackmailer and what it teaches us about the gospel. While Letterman found it chilling that, a) someone knew many of the horrible things he's done, and, b) he held in his hands a catalog of many bad things he's really done, I said that on the day of judgment, our deeds will be made public before a holy God and a watching world, and we will be judged for them. It was a powerful time of reflecting on the severity of sin before a holy God. I thought I'd link to the article by Russell Moore that first showed me this connection with Letterman. I also thought I'd post the 10 minute clip of Letterman outlining the details of the extortion attempt. Notice the way he makes jokes, even when he's feeling very heavy!
Note: I don't think the video was embedded properly. If you don't see it, follow this link.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tim Keller on Learing From Willow Creek

Among the 'most influential' men on my view of the Christian life and Church life is undoubtedly Tim Keller. During the amazing years I spent at Grace Toronto Church, I was immersed in a church atmosphere shaped by Keller's ministry model - our pastor, Stephen Beck was mentored by Keller. In the two years as a member and then additional two as an intern pastor (and still a member), my views of life and ministry were forever shaped, even though I'd never read a word of Keller's or heard any of his 'tapes' (it was the late 90's). Since becoming a pastor I've benefitted from Keller's recent publications (The Reason for God is my favourite), and his audio ministry (I especially love his free class on preaching Christ in a postmodern world, found on iTunes). Not surprisingly, then, this post of his, from his new blog, completely resonated with me. Lately I've been repenting of a lack of intentionality in my ministry and Keller expresses what is going on in my heart. Read his short post and be blessed!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Conference Audio - With Calvin in the Theatre of God

I'm glad to see that Desiring God ministries has posted all of the audio and video from their conference on Calvin, held this past weekend. Most know that this year was Calvin's 500th birthday, so this is a great 'excuse' to have a bit of a Calvin focus within the evangelical world. You can listen, watch, or download the talks here. I've been really appreciating reading Calvin's Institutes this year and look forward to insights from these speakers. Usually at these types of conferences I'm introduced to a speaker I've never heard of and really blessed. That happened when I listened to Piper's conference on Jonathan Edwards in 2003 - Sam Storms' talk on heaven in the thinking of Edwards blew me away. So I'm really anticipating Storms' teaching of Calvin's theology of heaven, even as I look forward to learning from the others.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Worth Watching - How the World is Changing

This video is worth 4 mins and 46 seconds of your time. Some of these stats absolutely shocked me! HT: JT

Friday, September 18, 2009

A 10 Minute Introduction to John Owen

One of my favourite contemporary authors is Carl Trueman. One of my favourite historical theologians is John Owen. Here is a short video introduction about Owen by Trueman. Why is Owen significant? Trueman explains. . .


Saturday, September 12, 2009

My Initial Exegesis of Matthew 28:16-20

One of the many privileges I cherish as a pastor is the sheer amount of time I get to spend in God's Word. And as I study I'm constantly thinking and praying about real people and how this particular Word from God should be brought to bear on them (including myself!!). As I preach through books of the Bible, or do single sermons on a selected passage, I tend to begin by doing a very rough translation of my own. I write it out so I notice all the words of the text. Then I simply write out as many observations as I can think of - most of them very basic and simple. (If I'm working through narrative sections of the Bible, I tend to translate about 5-10 verses before writing out observations.) This process really helps me 'let the word of God dwell in me richly' as I then move on to read commentaries, books, and written sermons, and even listen to an audio sermon, on the same text I plan to preach on. Having done this initial process makes all the difference in this second step, because it means I'm interacting and disagreeing with the author I'm reading, even as I'm also gleaning insights from him.

Although I usually do all of these things with pen and paper (I make up little binders full of my own 'commentaries'), this week I did it on my computer (for some reason). I thought I'd copy/paste it below for fun. In the comments I welcome you to share how you do your exegesis. I'd love to learn from others. You'll notice that I missed some key things in this initial process (e.g. I missed the fact that 'make disciples' is the main command in the paragraph. . .ouch!!). But that's where the commentaries helped. I also began to think through some applications of the text. In the end, as usual, I was surprised by the way I shaped my sermon. My initial thoughts on the text were really altered by my process of study, and especially by this discipline of written comments. (Note: if you are not familiar with Greek or Hebrew, doing the same thing using a few good English translations bears the same fruit!!)

Here are my notes:
16. And the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus told them to go,
There were only 11 disciples left by this time. Judas had hanged himself. But there were still 11 - Peter had been forgiven and restored. What grace on the part of Jesus, and what humility on the part of Peter to come to Jesus as a sinner!
To Galilee = where much of Jesus’ ministry had taken place. But it is significant that the great commission does not take place in Jerusalem/Judea, but Galilee in the North. Not from the Temple. Jesus is the new Temple. And we are about to find out that followers of Jesus are the new Temple because they are in Christ.
Q - in Acts is the great commission made from Jerusalem? Does that mean that there were two commissions?
Mountain = common place of theophany in the OT; cf Jesus’ sermon on the mount and olivet discourse - he teaches with the authority of God. What is implied in the location will be explicitly stated in what follows.
Where Jesus told them to go - he wanted to meet them, away from Jerusalem, to speak this specific word to them
17. And when they saw him they worshipped, but some doubted.
They = the disciples = the eleven remaining ones.
Their response to coming to the risen Jesus on the Mountain in Galillee was spontaneous worship. They fell down before him and lifted him up as high and holy. . .as God!
Some doubted - even among the eleven disciples there were some who doubted that: 1) this was really Jesus risen from the dead; 2) that this man before them was worthy of worship. This should comfort those who doubt today, because Jesus did not cast these men off and scoff at them. Rather, these doubters were also recipients of the great commission, and were treated with patience. We know from the gospel of John that doubting Thomas came to a place where he did believe! We know from the wording in this verse that more than one of the eleven disciples doubted. . .because the word is plural!
When they saw him - it was the sight of Jesus that provoked this spontaneous worship.
18. And when Jesus came he spoke to them, saying, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’
We can picture the scene. The eleven disciples had received instructions from Jesus, so they came and bowed before him in reverence. As soon as they saw him they worshipped. But Jesus saw them on their faces in reverence, and then he moved toward them. He would speak to them, and he would not do it at a distance, but in their presence!
Jesus spoke to them - these words were addressed specifically by Jesus to these specific disciples. Any application to people other than the disciples must run through a grid, asking if it is in fact applicable to those other than these eleven.
Jesus first word to the disciples is about his authority. He has all authority in heaven and on earth. It was given to him by the Father. Before the world existed the Son was in perfect communion with the father, and in authority aside the father but volunarily subordinate to the Father. After the resurrection, still under the authority of the Father, Jesus was given all authority. In other words, 1) he has the power to command. 2) It is appropriate to worship him.
We need to listen to Jesus. We have no choice. He is the ultimate authority in heaven and on earth!
19. Therefore, go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
Therefore = in light of the fact that Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth, do this!
*There is one imperative in this verse, and a number of participles. The imperative is the central command, and the participles are also imperatival, but subordinate commands to the main one. So the main command is ‘make disciples’. The imperatival participles are: 1) go; 2) baptize; 3) teach
The first word of command is ‘go’. The disciples are not to live comfortable little middle class lives in Israel, working the family business, paying off their mortgage by their late fourties, with 2.5 kids and a dog. These specific men are specifically called to live a lifestyle of ‘going’.
Where are they to go? To ‘all nations’. Live a lifestyle that puts you in contact with all nations. Not just Israel anymore. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. This is a call for global evangelism.
As they live a lifestyle of ‘going’ to all nations, they are supposed to do something as they go. That something can be summarized in one phrase: make disciples. They are to make disciples of all nations, the nations whom they go to. Their life ought to be marked by not just travel, like a tourist who can’t stay in one place for very long. Their life is to be marked by going and making.
To make a disciple is a ‘start to finish’ project. The fact that these men were called to go to all nations shows that making disciples of necessity includes (and begins with) evangelism. Go out to peoples who would not fall on their faces in worship when King Jesus entered the room, and tell them about King Jesus. Tell them about his grace, his sacrifice for their sins, of his holiness, of the fact that all people will one day bow before him and give an account of their lives to him. Tell them that as sinners, if they come to Jesus needy and desperate they honour the sacrifice he made for them, and they will be forgiven of all their sins and freely become a child of God.
What follows shows that these eleven were not in the business of evangelism alone, though. Jesus wants a world full of fully devoted followers. There is no in-between in the desires of Jesus. He is either Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.
So what does the ‘beyond conversion’ part of making disciples look like? Jesus tells us. It involves: 1) baptism - in the name of each member of the Trinity. Baptism is an initiatory rite. It is a public sign of an inward reality. You have become a Christian. The very first display of your full commitment to Jesus and your bowing to his authority is your obedience in baptism. Your baptism may offend some people. My family was very offended when I was baptized as a believer. ‘Wasn’t our baptism of you good enough, when you were a baby?’ But baby baptism is not in the Bible, and I was commanded to obey Jesus, even when it offended and hurt my family. (by the way, some of my family members still bring up how offensive my baptism was to them, and it happened over a decade ago!!)
What else the ‘beyond basics’ of making disciples involves will be further outlined in the next verse. . .
20. Teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you all the days until the end of the age’.
A second ‘beyond basics’ involves ‘teaching with a goal in mind’. That goal is obedience in all areas. An apostle was sent out to teach the commands of Jesus in such a way as to bring them all to bear upon all believers. A Christian is a fully devoted follower of Christ. That means that they follow his words. They obey them. There isn’t a word of Jesus that does not matter to them.
John Piper wrote a book, ‘what Jesus demands from the world’. It is a walk through the 500 commands of Jesus in the NT, grouped together and boiled down to a number of verses. This is what Jesus demands of all people. And a ‘sent one’ has the job of bringing people to conversion, then informing them of the demands of Jesus through teaching (beginning with the command to be baptized), and bringing those commands to bear on their lives.
All - nothing is to be omitted. ‘Teach/preach’ the whole counsel of God.
Behold = pay attention. I am with you always, until the end of the age. In other words, this commission ends with an incredible promise. King Jesus will never leave his people. He will be with them. He will go with them, as the presence of God with/in them as they go and make disciples. As these eleven obey Jesus’ command to make disciples, they will live under his blessing. They will be in communion with God through his Son!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pastor Paul Martin on the Prayer Habits of Grace Fellowship Church

My friend, Pastor Paul Martin wrote such a moving and convicting post on the place of corporate prayer in his church, I thought I'd copy and paste the whole thing below.
What makes a church like ours set aside a beautiful Saturday morning to seek God in five hours of prayer?

When Grace Fellowship Church began we were one dependent lot. We had no money, no building, no people, and no guarantee of success. Yet, reading of two personalities from the past had recently impacted me.

First, I read a description of the Week of Prayer held every year at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London under Spurgeon’s ministry. The author held up that week as one of the sweetest, most spiritually refreshing seasons of the calendar year. The week would begin with the elders leading in prayers of repentance “often in tears” and culminate in aspirations of great hope in the progress of the Gospel.

I also read how George Mueller started an orphanage, yes, to help the orphans, but more importantly, to launch an impossible ministry that would prove the sovereign God hears and answers prayer. If you read his autobiography you will laugh with joy at all the ways God did exactly that.

So, at GFC we started with a mid-week meeting to pray before we ever met for worship on Sundays. And after Sunday meetings began we kept it. Within a year or two we added a week of prayer in the New Year. Several years after that we started holding a second week or a day of prayer in September (the second new year!).

And all we do at these meetings is pray. Oh, we have little booklets to direct us and remind us of what we should be praying about, but there is no teaching, nor is there that bane of all lively prayer meetings – the 40 minutes of “prayer requests.” (It has always floored me that we can be so easily duped into talking about what we are going to pray rather than just praying!)

So, this Saturday will come, our fall day of prayer, and I will have feelings in the morning like, “Yawn, here we go again.” And, “Five hours on a Saturday sure is long!” Then I will put on my pastor game-face, show up at 7AM and by noon be thinking, “Does it have to end?”

You pray for us, won’t you? That the Lord will “come down” this Saturday and meet with His people. He has never missed an opportunity so far.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Toronto Pastor's Fellowship - 2009/10 Meeting Schedule

I just saw that the schedule for the pastor's fellowship I attend is finally up. After a great year in 08/09 and a great conference in June with Mark Dever and Matt Schmucker, I really look forward to getting back into this refreshing time of fellowship, thinking, praying, and discussing. For more information, visit the Toronto Pastor's Fellowshp web site!

Also - I forgot to mention that you can register for the coming year's sessions here (it's free. . .it just helps with the amount of Starbuck's coffee to brew, and snacks to make and name tags to print, etc, etc).

You can also access audio and text for previous sessions, as well as audio, video, photos, etc of the Conference with Dever on the site!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I Thank God For You - A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this past Sunday I preached at Bethesda Baptist Church in Delhi (Ontario, not India!!). I've already posted the manuscript for my AM sermon. Here are my PM notes. I got the key insight for the sermon from C.J. Mahaney's message at Together for the Gospel 2008 (his was on Philippians). When I began to think through what to preach to the church I pastor on the first Sunday of the New Year, God put 1 Corinthians on my heart, with Mahaney's insight as my thesis. A few months ago I preached this same sermon at a men's breakfast for Trinity Baptist Church in Burlington. This past Sunday, the folks at Bethesda Baptist seemed to appreciate it as well. In fact, I convicted and encouraged myself as I preached it. Here it is (at least, the notes I used while I preached).
Brian Regan is a G-rated stand up comedian who I find really funny. In one skit he tells the story of going golfing with a friend whose wife had left him a year earlier. He hadn’t seen this friend since it happened, so when he got back from golf Regan’s wife asked him, ‘how is he doing’? Regan admitted, ‘I don’t know’. His wife probed, ‘is he dating anyone’? He sheepishly admitted, ‘I didn’t ask’. Then he volunteered, ‘I know he has a new driver’.
In our culture men are taught to avoid conversation about personal things. And they often glory in it.
But within the Church of Jesus Christ this should not be.
We could talk about many ways that we could counter this in the church, but this evening we are going to simply talk about one way: cultivating a habit of Biblical encouragement.
I found 27 places in the NT where the word ‘encouragement’ comes up. Some of these are commands - like 1 Thess 5:11 “encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing”.
Acts 2:42 tells us that fellowship was one of the four priorities of the earliest Christians, along with the apostle’s teaching, prayer, and the breaking of bread. Four marks of a healthy church includes Biblical fellowship.
This morning I want to talk about one kind of Biblical encouragement, one aspect of Biblical fellowship.
I’m thankful to be speaking to a mature Church, and I hope the things we see Paul modeling here will spur on even deeper fellowship among the people of Bethesda Baptist Church.
In 1 Cor 1:1-9 the Apostle Paul models ‘identifying evidences of God’s grace in the lives of other Christians’. This is a display of Biblical fellowship. This is a means of Biblical encouragement.
We know that God’s grace transforms a person. Pointing that out is encouraging. This morning I want to talk about how that is the case.
We are going to look at three points together from these 9 vv.:
1. The People 2. The Praise 3. The Practical Lessons
Our first point is going to help us get the context, and make Paul’s words in 1 Cor 1 all the more powerful. Our second point will overview this passage. And in our third point we will draw out five lessons from what we’ve seen in this passage.
In my effort to not be a typical North American man, but a Biblical Christian, this passage has been an enormous help to me, and I pray it is to you as well.
1. The People
- If I were to mention Las Vegas, what would you think of first? Probably some sins associated with that city. What about New York? More sins. What about San Francisco? More sins. Those three cities are notorious for specific, gross sins.
- If we want to understand the city of Corinth as Paul wrote to it, we could say that it combined all the worst of Las Vegas, New York and San Francisco. When people in the first century heard mention of ‘Corinth’, they immediately thought of a giant heap of gross sins.
- Corinth was such a morally corrupt place, that the ancients invented a word to describe a very sinful, debauched person: a Corinthian! If you lived in Rome and had a morally loose neighbour, you might complain that he’s a real Corinthian, no matter where he was from!
- Ancient Corinth was a thriving city, financially speaking.
- It was built on a skinny piece of land on a major trade route. That meant that tons of trade traffic was funneled into Corinth! Many people with lots of money were constantly coming & going.
- Corinth was also a thriving port city. Cargo ships could save a lot of time and money by docking at Corinth and portaging a few kilometers over land instead of sailing the long way around.
*Corinth attracted people who moved away from home and never returned. It attracted money. It was a thriving big city.
When I was a kid we used to say the Lord’s prayer in school. In Corinth, business men and school kids would be required to offer prayers and sacrifices to other gods.
- Sexual misconduct and idolatry and other gross sins were simply a way of life in this wealthy, debauched city. Married men visited cult prostitutes as an accepted practice. It was Las Vegas and New York and San Francisco all in one.
- Into this horrible context, the Apostle Paul and others brought the gospel of Jesus Christ. What a testimony to the power of the gospel that people from these walks of life were saved! Cult prostitutes and their former customers now began to worship side by side in house churches in Corinth. Idolaters and adulterers and thieves and drug addicts and alcoholics and con-men and liars were all saved by God’s free grace. All these kinds of people heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
- They heard of a God who created them and would judge them in the final day. They heard of the Son of God coming down in humility, living the perfect life that we all failed to live, dying the death that we deserved to die. They learned to turn from their life of sin and trust in the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God for them. They received free forgiveness of sins and knew adoption as children of God! These people gathered and worshipped King Jesus together. They met regularly for corporate worship. They were bonded together in Christ and became a family. They were an authentic Christian Church.
- There is a powerful lesson here: the gospel is real and powerful to save the worst of sinners. The most sinful people of Jesus’ day were attracted to him. Paul boldly brought the gospel into sinful Corinth, and the city was never the same! You are not too sinful to be saved! Neither is your loved one or neighbour.
- But then it gets sloppy in the Corinthian church. If you know anything about the way of sanctification, of the way God makes his people actually holy, you know that it happens progressively, over time.
These people were saved out of a brutal life, and they were being radically transformed, but this church was messy, because of the brutal sin that kept popping up in it.
This was a nightmare church in many ways. We could almost say that 1 Corinthians is a 16 chapter letter of rebuke by Paul, where he makes their sin clear to them and calls them out of it!
- Over and over again in this letter, we see moral problems in the church, and at the end, one theological problem.
- These were saved sinners and they struggled deeply. Listen to just some of the things Paul says throughout this letter:
- In 1:10 we see that there are divisions in the church.
- In 1:11 we see that the people are fighting with each other.
- In 1:12 we see that people love certain leaders more than their identity in Christ.
- In 3:1 Paul tells them that they are not spiritual, but of the flesh.
- In 4:7 he identifies spiritual pride as a huge problem.
- In chapter 5 we see that there is sexual immorality in the church that even pagans don’t stoop to.
- In chapters 6:1-11 we see Christians suing each other in secular courts.
- In 6:12-ff we see that church members are visiting prostitutes!
- In chapter 7 we see that the church is encouraging singleness to people who desire to marry.
- In 8:9 we see stronger Christians putting stumbling blocks before weak Christians.
- In 10:14 we see that some church members struggle with worshipping idols.
- In 11:1-ff we see that women participate in the worship service, but refuse to wear cultural signs of submission to the male church leaders.
- In 11:16 these Christians are inclined to be contentious.
- In 11:17-ff we see that people come to the Lord’s supper and they are divided among themselves and they get drunk of the wine that symbolized Christ’s blood shed for their sins.
- In chapters 12-14 we see that they use the spiritual gifts for elitism, not for the common good, not for the building up of the body.
- In 14:26 their worship services are chaotic and disorderly.
- In chapter 15 there is a theological problem: they deny the future resurrection of the body and imply that Christ wasn’t even raised from the dead physically.
- In short, this is a messy church. From the outside looking in, we might be tempted to ask the very simple question: is this even an authentic church? We know that Paul is not afraid to tell a church that they have strayed from Christ. Read Galatians. The tone of that rebuking letter is simply: you have abandoned Christ, come back! I have nothing good to say to you. You have denied the simple gospel. If you continue on as you are, you will not be saved.
- And yet, in this letter, Paul begins differently.
2. The Praise
- To this church, full of sin, that Paul will strongly correct for so many chapters, Paul begins his address this way:
1 Corinthians 1:1-9 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes, 2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-- their Lord and ours: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way-- in all your speaking and in all your knowledge-- 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
- Very simply, he begins by encouraging them. He tells them the things about them that he thanks God for. Look with me:
- These sinners are in v. 2 the church of God in Corinth. They are God’s church. They are really a church, and not fakes!
- In v. 2 they are sanctified, made holy in Christ Jesus. Jesus’ blood has been shed for them and they are clean!
- In v. 2 they are called to be holy – which means that they are called to be separate from the sinful world.
- In v. 2 they are a part of the universal church – all Christians of all time. ‘together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-- their Lord and ours:’
- They are a part of something bigger than themselves.
- In v. 3 they are objects of God’s grace, his undeserved favour.
- In v. 3 they are recipients of God’s peace, his wholeness and abundant life.
- Then in v. 4 Paul begins the body of his letter this way: I always thank God for you. This means that whenever Paul prays, he oozes with thanks for this church family. Why?
- In vv. 4-5, Paul says this is because God’s grace was given them in Christ Jesus. They’ve been enriched in every way. Their words and knowledge are all given them by Christ. They are gifted in these ways by God’s Holy Spirit.
- In v. 6 the gospel was confirmed in these Christians, because they responded to it. They themselves show the power of the gospel.
- In v. 7, they don’t lack any spiritual gift – they are a complete church.
- In v. 7, they eagerly await for the return of Christ.
- In vv. 8-9, God has called them and God will keep them to the day of Christ!
- In light of how sinful this church is, what an amazing way to begin his letter. What an amazing model of Christian encouragement.
- Throughout the letter Paul will model the need to call sinning Christians out of sin and point them to the Saviour, Jesus Christ.
- But as he begins this letter, Paul models the need to identify ways God is working in a people and tell them!
- As we think about the fellowship of a church family, we can learn something powerful from Paul at this point: it is important for us to tell people when we see God at work in them.
Through the New Testament we see a strong call to be continually devoted to fellowship. We see strong commands to encourage each other as Christians as an aspect of fellowship. In 1 Corinthans 1:1-9 we see a model of how to do it. We are called by God to point people to the gospel and to identify things in their lives that are rich testimony to the work of God alone.
3. The Practical Lessons
- Five lessons about Christian encouragement as we close:
a. Encouragement: God is at work. This is praise of God, not people. Notice that Paul never says: you’ve done such a good job. He says ‘God has done it all’. This is like taking a giant highlighter and telling these people what God is doing. It is encouraging because it is all of God. It shows me that I’m God’s! He basically says: “I’m so thankful that I see these things, because they are evidence that God is working in your lives”.
b. Encouragement: of Sinful Christians. This encouragement is done to prideful people! The Corinthians were about to be rebuked for spiritual elitism and pride and selfish use of spiritual gifts. They are chaotic and disorderly in their use of radical spiritual gifts but Paul begins by saying: I’m so thankful that you don’t lack any spiritual gift! We learn here that this kind of encouragement is appropriate even when a Christian has sin in their hearts. If there is a glimmer of grace, it is appropriate to highlight that for other people!
- This is especially helpful when Paul turns to rebuke these Christians. The correction will be done in the context of knowing that they are the Lord’s and that their actions are not 100% bad!
c. Encouragement: of Authentic Christians. This encouragement ought to well up in us for all authentic Christians. This is especially evident in 1 Corinthians 1. What a brutal church. How easy would it have been to concentrate on all the sin in the church and forget the fact that Christ purchased them with his own blood. These Christians confess the gospel and preach the gospel and cherish the gospel. These Christians are brutally sinful, but their lives were in the process of being transformed by Christ. And later, we will see that they respond to rebuke by repenting of their sins.
- Do you find yourself only discouraged about a particular brother or sister in Christ? When you think of them you can only think about their sin that discourages you? What about an entire church? What about this church? This might just reveal pride in your own heart. Do you know yourself as an undeserving sinner?
- If this is a struggle for you, I’d suggest that you begin a journal, in which you list ways you see God at work in the individuals in your life.
d. Encouragement: Only for Authentic Christians. This encouragement ought to well up in us for only authentic Christians. Contrast the way 1 Corinthians opens with the way Galatians opens. Very different letters. In Galatians the people have abandoned the gospel and Paul has nothing good to say to them. What Paul is doing here is not flattery and it is not careless and loose. It is authentic encouragement of authentic Christians. When someone does not give evidence of being in God’s grace, we ought not encourage them in this way!
e. Encouragement: For Specifics. This is specific encouragement. It identifies particular areas of the life of an entire church that is healthy and draws a line from that aspect of church life, to the kind working of God. These are specific things that people can be encouraged by. We don’t simply need to hear that we are appreciated generally. We need to hear of specific evidences in our lives that God is working!
- Will you seek to grow in being able to say to this church family as a whole, and to each other: “I thank God for you”, and learn to highlight specific ways God is working, in our own reflections, and in our words to our brothers and sisters in Christ.