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Extra thoughts on current series and events.

Sloths in a Face-Paced World?

Administrator

Sloths are so slow they're almost cute. At least, in the YouTube videos they are. Are human sloths so cute? Maybe not. 

Have you felt the "hurry sickness" of frustration waiting behind someone in the check out line? Maybe it was the aisle at the grocery store or lawn and garden centre with their overloaded cart stuck in the middle blocking everything? 

We don't often use the adjective of sloth much anymore. We tend to think simply of laziness. As an "absence of interest" or "habitual disinclination to exertion" (1), slothfulness is more akin to apathy...that which underlies laziness. Whereas most other of the seven deadly sins are sins of commission - this we do, slothfulness is a sin of omission - not doing what we should. 

Dante, in his classic work Purgatorio, defines sloth as "The failure to love God with all one's heart...mind...soul." It is, he said, an "insufficiency of love." (1)

What does the Bible say about slothfulness, laziness and the like? 

In our Sunday series this week, we're looking at Sloth vs Diligence. And the Bible has tons to say about these. More than we can insert in a meaningful way into the sermon. That would be overload. So I've added this blog to detail some of the passages that are helpful to those looking to go a little deeper after this morning of sharing from the Word. I pray you are blessed as you delve deep in the Word. 

Here are a few zingers from Scripture:  Proverbs 10:4, 12:27, 15:19, Matthew 25:25-30

There are so many in the wisdom literature of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, especially, that it is more prudent for me to simply redirect you to THIS page to read them all! (That's not slothful, because if I were being slothful I wouldn't even have taken the extra time to create this blog posting resource for you!). Go about half way down the page to "Laziness in the Bible." Amazing. 

My wish, prayer and work for you is this: That you be virtuously diligent in all areas of your life - especially that of your spiritual walk, since that has greatest potential to empower your diligence in all other realms of life - and that you not be characterized by the vice of sloth in any way. 

What could be the "theme verse" for this? Well, there could be many, but a central one is this: 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance (diligence) the race marked out for us...
— Hebrews 12:1

 

(1) Wikipedia.org: Sloth (deadly sin) 

A Resource for Battling Porn

Administrator

This is growing to be one of the largest - and most damaging - problems in modern society, including inside the Church. Do you challenge that statement? Josh McDowell commissioned  research last year that revealed "Of young adults 18-24 years old, 76 percent actively - and these are Christians - actively seek out porn."  Barna, the great Christian research group, conducted the study and provides THIS executive summary of their findings. 

This Sunday in our series Seven Vices or Seven Virtues: Your Decisions Determine Your Destiny we're looking at a double-double: Lust & Gluttony vs Chastity & Temperance. This series is about the "seven deadly sins" and their polar opposites, the "seven cardinal virtues." Missed one in the series? You can listen to the podcasts on our media page

While researching and preparing, I came across this resource from the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. It's a 40-page booklet entitled Battling Pornography. We don't need as a church office to print these that are free online. Plus, many are understandably shy about picking one up or raising their hand saying in effect Yes, I want one of those.  So, I'm making this available to you via this blog, where you can come anonymously and download the resource.

Click HERE to download this guide, and be blessed in your battle. 

Here to strengthen, 

PC 

Sine Qua Non

Administrator

si·ne qua non (ˌsinā ˌkwä ˈnōn,ˌsinē ˌkwä ˈnän/), noun, meaning: 1. an essential condition; a thing that is absolutely necessary.

There are numerous sine qua nons to our faith, things which are essential conditions, without which we cannot really have true Christian faith. Two of them (one and the same, really) are: A. Love your neighbour as yourself, and B. Love your fellow brother or sister in Christ.

Why are they really "one and the same?"

While Jesus reduces the entirety of the Old Testament law down to two: 

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
— Matthew 22:36-40

Paul, by the direction of the Holy Spirit, resolves it down to a single one: 

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
— Galatians 5:14

Does this eliminate loving God first? No. Rather, as He says in 1 John 4:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
— 1 John 4:20-21

So we see that God Himself has tethered these two: We cannot claim to love Him if we don't also love our brother / sister / neighbour.  

And all this leads us to a question: How do we do this? And here He helps us by using a phrase 100 times in 94 verses of the New Testament, the "one another" statements. Another site conveniently summarized them this way: 

When you look at these verses, a few more common themes show up.

Unity. One-third of the one-another commands deal with the unity of the church.

  1. Be at peace with one another (Mk 9:50)
  2. Don’t grumble among one another (Jn 6:43)
  3. Be of the same mind with one another (Ro 12:1615:5)
  4. Accept one another (Ro 15:7)
  5. Wait for one another before beginning the Eucharist (1 Co 11:33)
  6. Don’t bite, devour, and consume one another—seriously, guys, don’t eat each other (Ga 5:15)
  7. Don’t boastfully challenge or envy one another (Ga 5:26).
  8. Gently, patiently tolerate one another (Ep 4:2)
  9. Be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving to one another (Ep 4:32)
  10. Bear with and forgive one another (Co 3:13)
  11. Seek good for one another, and don’t repay evil for evil (1 Th 5:15)
  12. Don’t complain against one another (Jas 4:115:9)
  13. Confess sins to one another (Jas 5:16)

Love. One-third of them instruct Christians to love one another.

  1. Love one another (Jn 13:3415:1217Ro 13:81 Th 3:124:91 Pe 1:221 Jn 3:114:7112 Jn 5)
  2. Through love, serve one another (Ga 5:13)
  3. Tolerate one another in love (Ep 4:2)
  4. Greet one another with a kiss of love (1 Pe 5:14)
  5. Be devoted to one another in love (Ro 12:10)

Humility. About 15% stress an attitude of humility and deference among believers.

  1. Give preference to one another in honor (Ro 12:10)
  2. Regard one another as more important than yourselves (Php 2:3)
  3. Serve one another (Ga 5:13)
  4. Wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14)
  5. Don’t be haughty: be of the same mind (Ro 12:16)
  6. Be subject to one another (Ep 5:21)
  7. Clothe yourselves in humility toward one another (1 Pe 5:5)

Here’s the rest:

  1. Do not judge one another, and don’t put a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Ro 14:13)
  2. Greet one another with a kiss (Ro 16:161 Co 16:202 Co 13:12)
  3. Husbands and wives: don’t deprive one another of physical intimacy (1 Co 7:5)
  4. Bear one another’s burdens (Ga 6:2)
  5. Speak truth to one another (Ep 4:25)
  6. Don’t lie to one another (Co 3:9)
  7. Comfort one another concerning the resurrection (1 Th 4:18)
  8. Encourage and build up one another (1 Th 5:11)
  9. Stimulate one another to love and good deeds (He 10:24)
  10. Pray for one another (Jas 5:16)
  11. Be hospitable to one another (1 Pe 4:9)

Be sure to read them in context, and especially with regard to the cultural context...which will be especially important with 1 Peter 5:14! 

God bless you - and your brother/sister/neighbour - as you practice these! 

Sincerely, 

PC

The ONE Catalyst

Administrator

There is ONE catalyst you and I have available to us that, more than any other, will ignite a reaction in your spiritual life. That's a bold claim. What could possibly be the "one" thing that sets everything else in motion? And, can it really be that simple?

Yes. I believe it can, and is.

[Note: This post is available as an pamphlet to tuck into your Bible in the church foyer info rack! ]

We often think prayer is the answer. But prayer is found in all religions and even none, and it doesn’t result in universal transformation. Then we think worship. But worship is likewise expressed in all people’s lives, religion not required. While worship can be transformative, it isn’t the one thing in Christian faith that will encourage the kind of progress, change, transformation we’re seeking. What about learning, teaching, and/or reading? While each of these can be powerful, the catalyst isn’t the activity itself. We often read without any noticeable change.

The “catalytic substance” that increases the rate of our spiritual reactions—without being consumed in the process—is reading, meditating and applying the Word of God. Daily.

Evangelist D.L. Moody knew and expressed it this way:

I never saw a fruit-bearing Christian who was not a student of the Bible. If a man neglects his Bible, he may pray and ask God to use him in his work; but God cannot make use of him, for there is not much for the Holy Ghost to work upon.
— D. L. Moody

The written Word of God is used by the Spirit to inform, direct, shape and empower our prayer, worship and greater learning. As Moody said, the Holy Spirit works upon the Word within us.

Its for this reason that the Holy Spirit inspired the Psalmist to instruct that it should be our delight, so much so that we meditate upon it day and night (Psalm 1:1-3). In the New Testament Paul tells us and the Colossian believers to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” (Col. 3:16) and that it is useful for instructing and correcting our lives in a manner pleasing to the Lord (2 Tim. 3:14-16). Peter tells us that its source is the Father Himself, delivered to us by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).

And James tells us unequivocally “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says,” for when we do, then we are blessed, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it–not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it–they will be blessed in what they do” (James 1:21-25).

How do we delve this spiritual growth catalyst?

The Bible is a big book. Where do you start? How should you and I progress our way through it all of our lifetime?

Here’s a simple plan for how to pick up your Bible with purpose on any given day. It is a plan with several benefits built in, which we’ll discover as we walk through this.

5+1+1

This plan, the 5+1+1, works on the numeric day of the month. Let’s say today is the first day of the month, number 1. Now I’m not great at anything more than the simplest calculations in my head, but even I can do 5 and 10 times tables. So I know if I can do this, you can, too. Here’s how it works:

5 Psalms:

Read 5 Psalms each day. If today is the first day of the month, then 1 x 5 = 5, so I read chapters 1 through 5. If today were the 2nd day of the month, 2 x 5 = 10, so I’d read chapters 6 through 10. And so on.  

Here’s the amazing thing: You’ll read Psalms every month, because there are 150 chapters, 5 for every 30 days. And here’s the significant benefit: Psalms are prayers and praises to God.

The Word itself teaches us how to pray and praise! You’ll identify with the Psalms in their highs and lows, life’s joys and sorrows. You’ll learn how to pour out your heart and soul in song and prayer. You’ll experience intimacy with the Almighty like never before. Beautiful!

1 Proverbs:

Read 1 chapter of Proverbs every day. Again, follow the day of the month plan. For example, if today is the 17th day of the month, then read chapter 17.

Here’s the amazing thing: You’ll read Proverbs every month since there are 31 chapters, one for each day of any month. And here’s the significant benefit: We need God’s wisdom. For everything. That’s what Proverbs is in a concentrated format: God’s wisdom for daily life.

In it God addresses all our values, from money and family, work, to sex and relationships, politics, and more. Being in Proverbs daily will help you form biblical values, Godly wisdom for how to interpret each situation and conversation, and how to walk through all your life—and share that wisdom in love and grace with others, too. Beautiful!

1 more chapter:

If you’re not already in a reading plan or book, start with Matthew and the New Testament. After a while, alternate them—chapter by chapter or even by whole books—with those from the Old Testament. In fact, depending on your day, schedule and time available for you, you certainly don’t have to limit your daily time elsewhere in the Word to a single chapter.

And here’s an extra helpful hint: If you read three chapters each day—aside from Psalms and Proverbs—you’ll read the entire Bible each year. Beautiful!

Two Explosive Additives: Journaling + Accountability

If you add journaling—keeping your own daily record of your Bible reading (just the references of what you read) plus those verses that “spoke” to you the most, your prayer requests, answers to prayer, and your own thoughts—and asking a close friend to be your Bible reading accountability partner, these are like casting explosive additives onto the fire of your daily time in the Word. Your spiritual life—and all other areas—will truly be not just informed, but transformed, which is the goal: A life transformed into the image of Jesus Christ.

God bless you as you delve 5+1+1 into the Word starting today!

PC

Meat and Potatoes

Administrator

I know it's not just guys, because my wife also often enjoys the simple pleasure of a hamburger and fries. It's perhaps today our most common and ready expression of meat and potatoes for dinner. Or lunch. Or a hearty snack. Or just because you're out with friends. Or just whenever you're hungry and especially when you just don't want to cook for yourself.

Hm. Can you taste it now?! It's okay. I'll still be here. Run get one and come back.

The expression meat and potatoes is also metaphorical for basics. Yes, fine dining is occasionally nice, but if we have it every day we eventually come back to just wanting the basics. Something quick and satisfying. Easy. Not complicated. Thoroughly enjoyable. Forget the fancy dining creations labeled pomme frites and something unintelligible drizzled with something I'm not sure is either edible or might poison me. Burger and fries. Please.

What is your daily spiritual meat and potatoes? What kind of cereal or breakfast protein bar do you down in your spirit to get your day started off right?  What's your sacred bacon and eggs to get you going and carry you almost half way into the day? We've all heard it: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I think so. I run out of steam pretty quick and the rest of the morning and day is off kilter if I don't get a proper breakfast. How about you?

My wife and I started something from the first days of our marriage: Breakfast together. Yep, actual sitting down at the table together to eat. We worked at the same not-for-profit, drove together in our only car, took lunch together as often as we could, and drove home together, too. Despite all that togetherness all day long, we started the day together, too. Over breakfast. Meat and potatoes. Nothing fancy. Just the regular stuff of daily routine.

It's pretty humourous in my my mind's eye: Two young adults blearily staring at our corn flakes and drinking our coffee. Neither of us are morning people, thank the Lord. (Surely having one morning person married to a non-morning person is something like being "unequally yoked?" I'm sure of it. But, I digress....) Despite the utter lack of conversation most days, it started the day off right for us. Without it we were disjointed. And even after 27+ years, we're still at it.

There is something we do even before that often non-verbal face to face stuffing of the face: Coffee and the Word. I get up, go to the bathroom (yes, my older friends, this is "reality writing" here, start my coffee to brewing, let the dog out and - while he's having his morning lav in the back yard, put out his breakfast. Then I go back and retrieve my precious black brew and sit down with it and open my bible app on my phone. I've been following for over a year a "read through the bible in a year" plan. Obviously some days I miss it, and when I do, I really miss it. Some days I read two sets of readings to try and catch up. But I neither browbeat myself over it nor succumb to any well intentioned or malicious condemnation. Dogged persistence is a better description for me.

I read on my phone because I like poking and reading the Hebrew and Greek (etc.) original languages for deeper understanding of what it's saying. The meat and potatoes there are rich. Delicious. Enticing. Satisfying.

Sometimes sermons come out of them, though often not. It's simply my self-feeding dietary practice in the supernal realm of spirit, mind, Word and Spirit.

What's your daily meat and potatoes? How do you ingest the Word daily? And why is this important enough to blog about it?

You won't survive long without learning to feed yourself. It's instinctual, too. And I believe that instinct is in our spiritual DNA as well. Are you feeding yourself? Is it rich meat and potatoes, or only pablum? Prepackaged express breakfast bars of Our Daily Bread or something else? No disrespect to them. They're good. There are some similar I consult from time to time. But they're not the best. Nothing like carving your own steak or sinking your teeth into a juicy burger.

You eat every day, yes? More than once a day, too, I'll bet. Do you spiritually dine daily, too?

If not, start today addressing your spiritual malnourishment. Download a Bible app and load one of the many free daily reading plans. If you're not so digitally inclined (despite reading this) for your Bible reading, try one of these print-it-yourself plans. Pick up a printed one in our foyer or off the info rack in your local church. Or get one emailed to you daily.

You will go away full so you won't be among those the writer of Hebrews 5:12 chastises for their self-malnourishment. Rather, grow and honour the Lord! You will be blessed as you do so. Happy spiritual dining!

7 Results of True Worship

Pastor Charles

Let me be candid right up front: I did not author these seven results nor compile the list of references. I found the list in Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology some months ago while doing sermon prep. I didn't include them in the sermon at that time (too much content), and rather thought I should save it and share it here on the blog sometime. As a result, I have this now-crinkled sheet of lined paper that I've been dragging about for months.

Today, I resolved to sit down, write and share it. I trust you are blessed as I was reading it. It is my hope that you will use this in your devotions after coming across this posting. Look up the passages. Meditate on them. Marinate. Worship. Revel in His presence.

Genuine worship results in:

  1. We delight in God: Psalm 84:102, 4, 10; Acts 2:46; Luke 24:52-53
  2. God delights in us: Isaiah 62:3-5; Zephaniah 3:17
  3. We draw near to God: Hebrews 10:19, 22; 12:28-29
  4. God draws near to us: James 4:8; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; Psalm 22:3
  5. God ministers to us: 1 Peter 2:5, Hebrews 4:16
  6. The Lord's enemies flee: 2 Chronicles 20:21-22
  7. Unbelievers know they're in God's presence: 1 Corinthians 14:25; Acts 2:11

I love the reciprocal beauty of the first four: We do something, and God does something. We're reacting positively to each other. God is relational, responsive.

What does this mean for you and me? If we're feeling dry, disconnected, distant, alone (insert your feeling here), it's a symptom: We need to worship. But here's the catch: We must choose to do this action in order to feel the result, rather than doing the action only when driven by the feeling. It's okay to worship when you feel like it; what I'm pointing to is our need to decide and do even when - or perhaps especially when - we don't feel like it.

Worship is a decision that usually then evokes an emotional response. It draws forth our emotions as we press through the dry, the dirt, the crustiness we often feel in this life. It also draws forth God's presence (or, perhaps more accurately, draws forth our awareness of His presence, since He's actually always there). And God's presence in our worship affects other believers, too. What an amazing blessing.

Then notice that it affects not just other believers, but also those currently outside the Body of Christ: It affects the spirit world and the world of those outside the Body. Again, beautiful.

How's your worship today? How does your spirit feel? Need a good boost that caffeine can't touch? He is waiting for you. 

Now where did I leave my headphones...

;)

Spiritual Anorexia Amidst Social Lunacy?

Administrator

If I told you there is just ONE thing you can do to positively affect ALL other areas of your physical fitness, are you interested? If I told you there's just ONE thing you can do that will advance ALL areas of your social standing, do I have your attention? If I told you there's ONE simple thing you can do daily that will increase your financial bottom line, are you salivating yet?

What do you call it, then, when you know this ONE thing and neglect it? In the physical realm, we call that a wasting disease, such as anorexia. Regarding our reputation, we'd call such neglect social suicide. In finances we'd say you're just plain financially incompetent and shouldn't be trusted with a credit card.

Yet the majority of us in the Church neglect the ONE thing we know WILL positively affect ALL other areas of our lives. Like good nutrition to the body, like marketing for socialites, and wise investments in our bottom line, daily reading your Bible is the ONE thing that will positively affect all other areas of your spiritual life.

Despite this, only 11% of Canadian and 14% of American CHURCH GOERS read the Bible daily. 

And this stands in direct contrast to the majority's time investments elsewhere: According to Shea Bennett on Social Times, in 2015 we spent 28% of all our online time surfing social media sites. When you combine that with an additional 13% on micro-blogging sites such as Twitter, our time on trolling what all other people think about situations is 41% of our online consumption.  Now 41% of 1 minute isn't much, but we're spending lots more time than that. Our social media surfing averages to 1.72 hours daily, and .81 hours daily on micro-blogging. That's over 2.5 hours daily in 2015. Amazing. And these numbers have been growing annually, so today it's even more.

What more astounding is the common assertion from Christians to the question, Why don't you read what God is saying to you daily? "I don't have time." Really?!

If we answer thus, we've got spiritual anorexia. Think about this: Anorexia is defined as "an emotional disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat."

Refusing to dine daily on God's word is a spiritual and emotional disorder. Our lunacy is an obsessive desire is for social media consumption, all the while starving our spirit and mind of good, life building nutrition.

We respond to those diagnosed with conditions like anorexia and bulimia with great social and emotional concern. A few years ago a friend's daughter was diagnosed with such. They rallied all necessary resources - counseling, prayer chains, and much more - because these disorders are life altering, depleting and ultimately fatal.

We should respond to our spiritual anorexia in the same way.

If this catches your attention and you "self-diagnose" (actually a work of the Holy Spirit because He loves us, so we're not really doing it by our own "selves") with such a deficit of spiritual nutrition, where do you start? Genesis? Maybe. But maybe not.

If you use a smart phone (otherwise used for your social media consumption and games) and a Bible reading app, following a reading plan is easy because they come built in or easily accessible. But what if you use a good ol' "dumb" phone the just calls people? What if you lost the one year Bible reading handout you got at church or in the mail? Now what?

Let me share a simple Bible reading plan you can keep in your head and follow any day:

I learned this when a teenager, and have followed it on and off through the years. I've taught it to dozens and dozens of new believers when giving them a Bible, and hundreds of believers in general. I don't know where I first heard it, so I can't give credit to that person. But that's not always the most important thing, which rather is this: The Holy Spirit is always working to make sure you and I hear and know what we need. Yes, we often frustrate that process, but we can be built up knowing He's constantly working for our good!

So how does it work?

Rather than beat ourselves up over missing a day here or there in our reading - especially thinking in some way that God is standing over us, disappointed and ready to whack us ... which is a totally non-Biblical thought - be free from such and walk in grace. Accept the call to hear His voice for today, and seize this day. Actually, seize this date specifically. Today as I write this it happens to be August 19th. 19. Note that.

In this plan, we're reading 5 Psalms a day, 1 Proverbs, 1 of the New Testament and 2 of the Old. This gives us a broad perspective that's healthy, like a well rounded meal on your plate. Which Psalms to read today? Multiply 19 by 5. Now I'm definitely not great at doing math in my head, but the ones, twos, fives and ten times tables are simple enough for me to handle. Thus, I know you will excel past me in this regard. 19 x 5 = 95. Read chapters 91-95 on the 19th. Thus the date daily tells us which chapters to read. Now here's God's great thing about this: If we read 5 Psalms a day daily, we'll read the book of Psalms each month, as there are 150 chapters, 5 for every 30 days! Next...

Read one chapter of Proverbs. Yep. You guessed it already. Read chapter 19 on the 19th, etc. Now why read Psalms and Proverbs daily? Because Psalms is prayers and praises to God. We need this, and the Word actually teaches us how to do it. And we need God's wisdom, which Proverbs is in compacted format. In fact, there's so much in each chapter there's more than we can remember for an entire day. Don't sweat it. Just focus on the one or two verses the Holy Spirit draws your attention to. Sometimes you realize instantly what it's for; other times it hits you later in the day when the need arises. And here's another of God's great things: If you read 1 chapter of Proverbs daily, you'll read it monthly, because there are 31 chapters!

Start your New Testament reading in Matthew, and - yes - start your Old Testament reading in Genesis. Nothing like starting from the beginning.

Now here's the last amazing thing of God's word: If you read 3 chapters (those NT and OT portions) daily, you'll read the entire Bible in 365 days.

This is like Bible reading by the numbers. And when you do, you won't have spiritual anorexia nor social lunacy at all. Try it and let me know how you're blessed.

Old World, New World, or Other World ... What Kind of Slave Are You?

Administrator

Yesterday I enjoyed sharing responses to questions relating to slavery. Why did Abraham have slaves? Why didn't God forbid slavery? Does God (or the Bible) condone slavery? And, was slavery in the Bible different than slavery as practiced in the British Empire? 

Yes, I changed the original question from "America" to "the British Empire," because what started in what became the United States was started and practiced under British law, politics and economics.

While most universal statements are not universally true, this one certainly approaches universal truth: The slavery practiced under the British Empire in Britain, Africa, and the American colonies, Canada included, was in direct violation of the word of God. How so? Easy: "All" of this period of slavery in world history was by kidnapping. And kidnapping for slavery was not only morally and legally prohibited in the Mosaic Law, but it also carried the death penalty for both the kidnapper and those buying those kidnapped and sold as slaves. (See Leviticus 21:16).

Not only that, the New Covenant through faith in Jesus Christ continues that same prohibition in 1 Timothy 1:8-10. Kidnapping slavers will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

As such, yes - slavery in the Old and New Testament was quite different from that practiced in the British Empire on that basis alone. Of course, in yesterday's sermon we covered lots of other reasons, too.

I also said I'd post a couple links to articles from Cold Case Christianity on this topic, which you can find HERE and HERE.

NOW BACK TO THE TITLE QUESTION OF THIS BLOG...

Above summarizes a basic difference between "old world" (i.e. in the Old and New Testaments) with "new world" (i.e. in the British Empire) slavery.

But slavery still hasn't ended in the world today: It's estimated that somewhere between 21 and 29 million people in slavery today, with some counting as high as 46 million! Wow. Plus radical Islamic groups are reviving slavery - both force labour and sex slavery - in the areas and amidst the peoples under their control. Orthodox or historic Islam does not provide any end to slavery at all; rather, it promotes it.

You and I don't live in the Old world nor the New world of 200 years ago. Here in Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain, slavery is illegal and - while it probably does continue in our countries - can only be conducted under great cover.

Yet millions are still enslaved in Canada, the U.S. and Great Britain right now. And I'm not talking about those who are secretly coerced into it. Rather, most are entering into it willingly...though probably without knowledge that we're doing so.

How so?

Debt. Addictions. Each and every thing "I can't do without!"  Every one of these things, from our cell phones and ubiquitous internet access, to chocolate, wine, beer and chips to the evening news, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, you name it. Each thing that has a hold over you is actually the thing in power over you.

Paul said to the church in Galatia,

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
— Galatians 5:1 ESV

Steps to Freedom from Contemporary Slavery

  1. What has Christ set you free from? Walk in the freedom he provides not only from those things, but all others, too.
  2. Examine yourself: 2 Corinthians 13:5. Yes, the philosophers were right, the "unexaminded life is not worth living." Let the Holy Spirit illumine your mind and heart right now, showing you what you're enslaved to at this moment.
  3. Let the truth set you free: John 8:31-32. PLEASE don't gloss over this one. Read it carefully. This is one of the most abused passages. Here...I'll help you. "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Notice that this is conditional upon two things: First, believing faith in Jesus; and second, abiding in his word - in other words, obedience. We must do these two things in order to be set free.

And this is His desire for you and me: Let's walk in other-worldly freedom today!

 

Troglydites Repeating History

Administrator

We live in a day of unprecedented human freedoms in the West. Oh, it’s not perfect by any means. Yet at no other time in human history have people been politically, socially and economically freed from binding shackles of oppressive government, social conventions and financial bondage.

If you, like me, were raised in the midst of this liberated environment, it’s hard to imagine what life was like without such freedoms. We cannot imagine not having the freedom to vote, and vote as we want. We cannot imagine not having the freedom to act socially in whatever way we want, too. Rainbow coloured hair? No problem. Quirky niche subcultural clothing and make-up styles? Go for it. Alternative self-expression in all areas of life while castigating anyone who looks at you askance? Yep. You can do that, too, all the while publicly shaming objectors as cultural troglodytes.

In our cultural environment today, many have great trouble with objective viewpoints on all things past. We look down on all our ancestors as poor, wretched Neanderthals of socially backward antiquity.

It is from this growing narrow mindset that objections to the Bible, to God’s actions in the world through the Patriarchs, prophets and Israel, as well as the Apostles and New Testament Church are hurled with glee and abandon. Yet in the halls of this environment, if we listen carefully, we can hear this axiom echo: If you don’t know your history, you’ll be forced to repeat it.

Thus we must appreciate the historical setting of Abraham owning slaves. Of the owning, buying, selling and even gifting of people as property. We need to appreciate the socio-historical setting – as well as religious – for why God mandated in limited times and places what seems today to be excessive violence. And we need to understand both the socio-political setting of the New Testament believers and their responses to injustices of government.

Why do we need to understand these things? Because they are our history, shaping who we are and they can still shape who we will be, as well. Even more, because Jesus’ redemptive work in you and me by the power of His Spirit, God uses us to reshape our world as salt and light. Understanding these are context for applying God’s Word.

God’s plan isn’t to reform all the world, but rather to save us and reform us into His image!

A Foreshadowing Sacrifice

Administrator

In our series DAD Almighty I shared in quick succession this past Sunday 15 ways Abraham and Isaac's journey to Mt. Moriah foreshadow the Father God and Jesus' journey in the Passion. For those who aren't speed-writers, I'm sharing here the ways each echoes the other. These are quite commonly referred to and recognized widely, but for many, these foreshadowings may be new:

15 WAYS ABRAHAM'S TEST WITH ISAAC FORESHADOWED JESUS' ULTIMATE SACRIFICE

  1. The miraculous birth: Isaac to a 90 year old woman & Jesus to a Virgin
  2. A three day journey of agony: Abraham and Isaac's 3 day journey to Mt. Moriah, and Jesus' 3 nights in the grave.
  3. Faith in the resurrection: It is apparent that Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill His other promises to be fulfilled through Isaac's offspring (Genesis 22:5), and Jesus' resurrection as both foretold and fulfilled.
  4. The Father leads the Son up the mount to the altar
  5. The wood for the sacrifice is laid upon the son: Genesis 22:6; John 19:17
  6. The Father and the Son going to sacrifice together: John 10:18
  7. The Son told he is the sacrifice: Luke 2:49
  8. The same geographic location - Mount Moriah: 2 Chronicles3:1
  9. The Son willing to be sacrificed: John 10:18
  10. Both Isaac and Jesus bound: Genesis 22:9; Matthew 27:2
  11. The Father raises the blade to the Son: Genesis 22:10; Zechariah 13:7
  12. The Father offering their only Son: Genesis 22:2, 12; Romans 8:32
  13. The Son trusts the Father: Genesis 7-9; Luke 23:46
  14. Both Sons delivered on the third day: Genesis 22:4; Acts 10:40
  15. The Father rejoices in the Triumph: Genesis 22:14; Isaiah 53:10 & John 8:56

Once we really do the work of comparing these, the coincidences are extraordinary. So much so, in fact, that the similarities cannot be just coincidence, but are in fact by design. "God chose a man of extraordinary character to demonstrate His own extraordinary character."  (click to Tweet!)

No other man (or woman) is asked to personally sacrifice their child as a burnt offering by the God of the Bible in all of history. This was a "one off," a single event. And it was instigated by God, not by Abraham. God did it for a reason...and that reason was for you and me: To show us through all the rest of human history and the Biblical record what lengths to which He alone will go to redeem us from our self induced state of spiritual death.

DAD Almighty is a redeeming God. Loving. Patient. Kind. Self-sacrificing.

My prayer for you is that you will (re-)discover Him as He is anew and afresh!

PC

ASK: Because YOUR Questions Matter

Pastor Charles

In our summer Sunday series @DCC... YOU will set the topics!

What questions about the Bible, theology, God, morality, life, the after-life, heaven, hell, angels & demons or whatever have you been sitting on? What questions have you not found satisfactory answers to yet? Now is your chance to ask.

Submit your question quick…the Sundays will fill up fast!

Use the comment form here, or - to submit your question anonymously - feel free to call it in on the church line or drop us a good ol' fashioned handwritten note.

I can't wait to see - and reply to - your questions!

March Fast!

Pastor Charles

“In like a lion, out like a lamb,” so they say about this month. Yet when I title this “March Fast,” I’m not talking about a command to move forward at an increased speed, nor am I talking about this month in which we see the change of seasons. I’m calling for a corporate season of prayer and fasting in the month of March. Interestingly, though, I do believe it will result in moving forward faster and harken a change of seasons within our body and individual lives.

Why call this fast?

Fasting is one of the most powerful of all Christian spiritual disciplines. Through the Spirit-led and Spirit-focused renunciation or suppression of our carnal appetites, using those times we’d normally apply to the pleasures of food and drink, entertainments and distractions, God and His Word become our increased focus. At such times the Holy Spirit can transform our lives individually and our life corporately in dramatic ways. He unearths hidden things needing to be dealt with, and breaks bondages - some we may not have even realized are there - to set us on a path of greater freedom and fruitfulness in His Kingdom.
The Spirit of God, through the prophet Isaiah, says it thus:
      Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
     To loose the bonds of wickedness,
     To undo the heavy burdens,
     To let the oppressed go free,
     And that you break every yoke?  (58:6, NKJV)

God planted Danforth Community Church almost 94 years ago. And He’s not done with His church yet! Our future is greater than all past years behind us…if we dedicate ourselves to Him afresh, laying aside “every weight and sin which clings so closely.” Why will we do this? So we may fulfill His will and words, running “with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” 

You will probably recognize these words from Hebrews 12:1. The verse actually starts with “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” The witnesses the writer speaks of from chapter 11 are many of the “greats” of biblical faith: Abel, Abraham, Moses, and even the former Canaanite prostitute Rahab. Why mention her? Because our backgrounds, no matter of what sin or ethnicity, are no hinderance to those who choose to follow God! This is a great encouragement to each of us.

Have you never fasted before? No worries. Now, in the company of your brothers and sisters in Christ, is the best time to start. Together, we will overcome and see God’s move.

What does fasting do? Why should we fast?

What Isaiah says is some heavy stuff, certainly more than we can accomplish in our own power. We need God’s power to fulfill God’s will. So what does it accomplish and why did our Biblical forebears fast? Here are some examples:

  • JESUS EXPECTS US TO FAST: Matthew 6:16-18
  • For God’s intervention: 2 Samuel 12:16
  • Repentance: 1 Sam. 7:7, Dan. 9:3-5, Joel 2:12-13, Jonah 3:5-9
  • Guidance: Acts 13: 2-4; 14:23
  • Worship: Luke 2:37
  • Strength: Matthew 17:20-21; Ezra 8:23
  • Humility: Psalm 35:13-14, 1 Kings 21:25-27, James 4:10
  • How to fast: Matthew 6:17-18; Luke 18:9-12

About Fasting

There are two basic Biblical types, the complete water-only fast and the “Daniel” fast that is typically vegetarian. Indications in both Scripture and church history demonstrate that there are many variations, too. There are many aspects of fasting that are not just about food, but about other habitual behaviours, too. Here are some ideas for you to consider:

  • Juice fast: No solid foods - liquids only
  • Desserts, candies, alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks
  • Entertainments: TV, movies, “screens” - electronic games, social media, news and general surfing the web
  • Romantic and intimate relationships; excess socialization
  • Various hours of the day and days of the week

Any and all of these can be part of your fast.

How do you know which and what to do?

  1. Consult your physician before complete and partial food fasts, especially if you are on medications and/or have existing/chronic health challenges.
  2. Pray: This is a spiritual exercise that involves the physical. Ask the Holy Spirit to prompt you in what to fast, listen and heed His instructions…especially if your “flesh” cries out in protest. That’s a sure sign of our carnal natures’ having too much indulgence.

What Do We and Don’t We Do While Fasting?

The purpose of fasting is to set aside extra time and focus on our relationship with God in prayer, worship and the Word. The denial and suppression of our physical and social beings is for the purpose of elevating our spiritual being, of honing our spiritual ears to hearing and heeding the voice of God’s Spirit.

It is so that we grow closer, more grounded in and flow in greater measure in the Spirit of God. Why? It is about His power in us for His purpose. What is that purpose? To shine, reflecting Him to the world around us.

Thus we disconnect for a time from food, excess socialization and other entertainments, dedicating the time to seeking Him. It allows us to rest and be rejuvenated, breaks addictions and sets us free. We continue washing our faces (not appearing distressed or acting out our fasting for other people to see us), continuing exercise and gentle physical fitness.

What will happen?

If you’re like me, my times of fasting are typically “flat.” In other words, they’re not so-called spiritual “highs.” Rather, it is after the fast that I notice the difference. Others do experience times of deep spiritual significance while fasting. Each of us is unique and will experience our time uniquely. The result we will all see, however, is a greater intimacy with God, a greater anointing and move of His Spirit in our gatherings and evidenced in His moves in response to our prayers. And all of these result in us reflecting him better to the world around us. And the Danforth, E. Toronto and larger are need more reflection of Jesus!

May the Lord bless each of us as we undertake this 21-day fast together!

Pastor Charles

P.S. If you're looking for a good Bible study to focus on during your fast, here's one on fasting itself. As you study fasting during your fast, may you discover all God's power as you do!

No, You Didn't Miss It...Not Completely!

Pastor Charles

Are you like me and you just hate to miss the opening minutes of a movie or show? There's that feeling of stepping into the middle of something and not quite knowing what's going on, your brain scrambling to figure out what you missed, and perhaps the social pressure of DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS during the movie?! Would you rather opt out of the whole thing because you missed those first few minutes?

Wednesday evening, March 2, we started the new video & small group Bible study with David Platt called FOLLOW ME.  Oops? Did you mean to catch the beginning, but "life" interrupted and you missed it? Rejoice! You can watch the first episode online here to catch up.

Then join us this Wednesday PM, March 9 @ 7 pm for the second installment!

PARTICIPANT COMMENT:

"That video yesterday was very powerful. I feel this is something that you might consider showing on a Sunday morning." ~ J.M.

Yes, it really is that good. So go, run, click and watch episode one, and join us for episode 2 on March 9. See you there!

Why Its Profitable For You To Encourage Your Pastor

Administrator

I love being a pastor.

You need to hear that up front. I love being a pastor. Not because I chose it, but because God chose me. I'll have to share that story with you sometime, starting while I was in grade 9. Rather than walk through the past right now I'd rather walk together today and into the future with you.

So, here's the first truth again: I love being a pastor.

And here's the other truth: Being a pastor is often hard. That's the other side of the coin, the 'dark side' which most people don't see. Many sitting in church have glamourous, starry-eyed, super-spiritualized views of what it's like to 'be in ministry.' Sometimes those things are true. But not most of the time. Those are just icing on the cake. But we don't live on icing. Or cake. We live with the meat and veggies of daily like just like the rest of humanity.

I was thinking about this verse the other day:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
— Hebrews 13:17 ESV

Look at it again. It's in your best interest to encourage your pastor, to walk in cooperative relationship with them. The KJV actually ends the verse "for that is unprofitable for you."

Then I tripped across a link to this blog by Philip Wagner called The Secret Life of a Pastor. Click that title to read his blog. It's good, providing a realistic insight into a pastor's life.

Even when a pastor's life is good (like mine right now), its still full of challenges. So, even while our consumerist society presses us into its mold to consider our experience in the Church from a "what do I get out of this" mentality, realize this spiritual truth: Its to your advantage to encourage, cooperate with, submit to and obey those who "are keeping watch over your souls." You will profit, benefit, and have advantage as you do.

And that is my goal: To see you profit, benefit and be advantaged in your growth in Christ!

How do you apply this today?

1. Reflect: How am I being a blessing or a burden to my pastor(s)? Do I need to change something the Holy Spirit puts his finger on in my life?

2. Faith: Act (yes, 'faith' is a combination of belief and action; it's not faith without both; see James 2).  Wagner's blog has three great ways you can act in faith on this passage and prompting.

3. Share: Encourage others to encourage their pastors today, too. Share this blog with others, or on your social media accounts, too. The statistics on pastoral burn out, depression and departure from the ministry are staggering. And they aren't getting any better either. Encourage your friends to encourage their pastors today, too.

What do you think? I invite your comments below.

 

Is God the Source of our Suffering?

Pastor Charles

Why?

This must be the most vexing question we ask. Why?

Why is this happening to me? Why, God, did you allow this to happen? Why didn't you stop this from happening? You can personalize the details, yet we've all started out with the same word: Why.

In 1947 Glenn Chambers was excitedly rushing toward his desired future. For years he'd dreamed of working with "Voice of the Andes" program on HCJB Radio in Quito, Equador. For years he'd worked toward this day, his day of departure for the 'mission field.'

Perhaps in his rush he kept thinking "I need to send a note to Mom..." but didn't get around to it in the mad dash of packing and preparation for departing one country for life in another. When he was at the airport, he was looking frantically for a piece of paper to write his mom a note. This was, of course, back before airports were like the shopping malls they are today. Glenn found a page ripped out of a magazine and jotted off his note to his Mom, hurriedly posting it before boarding his plane. It didn't matter to him that the magazine ad prominently featured one word: Why?

Did he sit down on the plane and enjoy lift off like I have so many times, all the rush of preparation finally behind him? Did he relax feeling emotionally fulfilled at having sent a note to his Mom while having a heart bursting with expectation of the good life ahead of him? We don't know. Nor did his Mom.

Glenn never made it there. For reasons unknown, this plane crashed into a mountain at 14,000 feet near Bogota, Columbia, killing all on board with the remains of all falling into the ravine hundreds of feet below.

Glenn didn't make it to Equador. But his note made it home. What was Mrs. Chamber's response at seeing the magazine ad, echoing the question she must have had in her heart: Why?

Why would God allow such a tragedy? 

We touched on this in the related topic last week, "Is God the Source of Both Good and Evil?"

What tragedy have you experienced that causes you to ask this question? We have several in our recent past. And even current events cause me to still ask God this question. Why, God?

In all of this, is God the source of the suffering we experience?

A Christian Problem

Nicky Gumble, pastor in London, England, and pioneer of The Alpha Course, wrote this:

The issue of suffering is the most frequently raised objection to the Christian faith. We are constantly confronted by suffering.
— Nicky Gumble

He is not the only one to ask this, of course. Here's another giant of our faith asking it in his own words:

The fact of suffering undoubtedly constitutes the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith, and has been in every generation. It’s distribution and degree appear to be entirely random and therefore unfair.
— John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 311

Just as we know suffering on a personal, individual level, we also see it on a global scale such as with the Syrian war, of the so-called 'war on terror' engaging ISIS, al Queda, Boko Haram and a host of other radicalized groups. We see it in our nation and on our city streets.

Other Religions and The Problem of Suffering

It's worth noting that the problem of suffering isn't exclusive to Christian faith. Here are three for our comparison:

In Taoism, with it’s concept of Yin and Yang, light and dark, good and evil, push and pull being the two sides of everything, suffering and pleasure are merely two sides of reality. Yet Taoism’s approach is simply to stop pushing for both pleasure and those aspects of life that are correspondingly uncomfortable so to achieve balance, like letting water flow around you. There isn’t any so-called “god” to rail against.

I don't know about you, but trying to achieve and maintain such a philosophical neutrality in the face of personal tragedy isn't very appealing. So, we continue looking at other worldviews...

At the heart of Buddhism is this statement, the first of the Four Noble Truths: There is suffering. Indeed it seems that the entire philosophy of Siddhartha Gautama was aimed at answering this question, Why is there suffering in the world? We're told that having achieved enlightenment, he realized that suffering comes from, among other things, attachment. And one of the attachments which cause suffering is the idea of a personal God and personal afterlife. Instead, Buddhism teaches, we must abandon the idea that we are individual, ongoing persons in the after-life and that there is a personal God we will meet and have unrestricted fellowship with in a state of perfect bliss. Rather, we are "not persons" who's five "aggregates" disassemble upon death. Once we accept this and that there is no afterlife to be attached to (among a huge host of other potential attachments since I'm greatly oversimplifying here), nirvana is the answer. No, not the Nirvana of rock and roll fame nor the popularized concept of a paradise full of blissful pleasures. Buddhist nirvana is emptiness. That's the state of no suffering. Nothingness.

Again, I find this very unsatisfying. Indeed, the very idea of it causes me suffering...and I'm not being sarcastic nor facetious in saying so. Since I lived, worked and did my Master's studies in Asia, about half of my esteemed professors were Buddhists, some of whom were former monks. At least half of my fellow students were Buddhist, including a host of Burmese monks. We had hours and hours of conversations. Thus my personal reflections are not mere viceral rejections. And so, on our worldview search goes.

How Does Atheism Address Suffering?

Christopher Hitchens famously claimed "religion poisons everything" in his 2007 book God is Not Great. And it was Richard Dawkins who said "religion causes wars." [To investigate a fuller treatment of these questions, I recommend this link.]

Since atheism claims to be a science based rational worldview, and since science is based on evidence and reproduce-ability of observable facts through experiments, lets test this idea: If we remove religion, do we have peace?

The 20th Century has been a huge petri dish to test this. Prior to the 20th Century one would be hard pressed to find a truly atheistic or non-thestic government in the world. Yet the 20th Century has been replete with them. What has been their performance? Upon having removed religion, have they removed war and suffering? Let the evidence speak for itself:

  • Mao Ze Dong - China & Tibet - killed between 48 and 78 million people.
  • Josef Stalin - USSR - 15 million killed.
  • Adolf Hitler - Germany - 12 million.
  • Pol Pot - Cambodia - 1.7 million
  • Kim Il Sung - North Korea - 1.6 million.
  • General Tito - Yugoslavia - 570,000
  • Suharto's government in Indonesia killed 500,000 Communists.
  • Ante Pavelic - Croatia - 359,000
  • Ho Chi Mihn - Vietnam - 200,000
  • Lenin, USSR - 30,000

In fact, the 20th Century has seen more death than any other in recorded human history. And the majority has been not at the impetus of religion, but rather upon the removal of religion from human government.

Removing religion doesn't remove suffering. It increases it.

Suffering as a Challenge to Christian Faith

Suffering is an acute problem for Christianity, however, because we believe that God is both good and all-powerful.

Christian writer and theologian C.S. Lewis characterized each side of this argument in this way:

If god were good he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were Almighty, he would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore, God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.
— C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 14

Theologians, philosophers and the rest of us have wrestled with these questions for not just centuries, but millennia. And we’re still wrestling with it. In fact, we each have to wrestle our ways through this conundrum as suffering intersects our lives.

So Lewis continues with his examination and concludes that to “try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you will find that you have excluded life itself.”

Suffering and the Psalmist

King David knew his own share of suffering. And, like us, it came into his life from all points: Self induced by his own actions, foisted upon him by the evil actions of others, a consequence of natural forces beyond our control – the fallen world in which we live.  We are given a window on his heart and soul in Psalm 22:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
2 Oh my god, I cry out to you by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
3 Yet you are enthroned as the holy one; you are the praise of Israel.
4 In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you deliver them.
5 they cried to you and were saved; in you with a trusted and we’re not disappointed.
— Psalm 22

David experienced discrimination by his brothers, the ridicule of being an overzealous youth, the shame of his behavior with Bathsheba and loss of their firstborn son, his own children in a case of sibling rape, treason and rebellion by his son, the wars of an entire nation against him led by King Saul on false accusations, and on and on. David knew suffering. 

Which episode drove him to write Psalm 22? We don't know. We don't need to know. God put in in there because he knew we needed to relate to it. We can each identify with David in it. And its inclusion in the Scriptures is part of the beauty of the Word of God. This emotional connection is why the Psalms in particular are appreciated not only by Christians, but by people of many religions world over.

Look at the honesty of his despair and cries to God in the first two verses. Raw. Unrefined. We need to cry out to God like this. It actually helps us.

And also see this: He starts verse 3 with this transition, "Yet..." There's a change, a nuance, another side to his appeals to God. "Yet you are still God." David doesn't seek to dethrone or denounce God in the midst of his pain. He seeks more relationship, more understanding. Railing against God as the source of the suffering isn't the answer. Rail to God, yes, but rail not against Him.

Here I share what I've found to be a valuable thought:

What God allows, God redeems.
— Jim Denison, Wrestling With God

David trusted God. So did Abraham. And it was credited to him as righteousness. Saving faith. We see this reflected over and over in Psalm 22, too: In verses 9 and 19 there are these transitions. And in verse 22 we see his statement of faith in God, his declaration of action before other witnesses.

God alone has the ability to take the suffering of our lives and make it come out for something good. Can Taoism do that? Can Buddhism? Or Islam? Or atheism? Or any other 'ism? I've not found any that can. Yet the God of the Bible does.

How God Uses Suffering in Our Lives

RBC Ministries, the parent ministry of Our Daily Bread devotionals, has a pamphlet on trusting God despite and in the midst of our sufferings. They list many reasons, but I share only three:

  1. Suffering reveals whats in our hearts. While it might seem obvious once you read it, we rarely appreciate this fact they bring out: "Strength of character is shown not when all is well with our world but in the presence of human pain and suffering."  Suffering, then, is like gold and silver in the refiner's fire. It reminds me of the saying I've shared from time to time with my sons from Smith Wigglesworth, "True gold fears no flame." In Christ, you and I will NOT be consumed in the flames of suffering. Rather, as we look to Christ in the midst of them, we will be refined. Cf. Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-5; 1 Peter 1:6-8.
  2. Suffering gives us opportunity to trust God. Perhaps the most famous sufferer of all time, Job went through the refiner's fire. But have you noticed this: God never told Job why he was suffering. And in the end Job trusted in the character of God, concluding that if God had the power and wisdom to create the physical universe, there was reason to the God of all created wonders in times of suffering, too. See Job 42:1-17.
  3. Suffering takes us to the edge of eternity. Atheists and other philosophical materialists who deny the reality of the spirit world and an afterlife tell us to live this life for all we can get out of it, because that's all there is. Understanding that, RBC Ministries' comment here shines: "If death is the end of everything, then a life filled with suffering isn't fair. But if the end of this life brings us to the threshold of eternity, that the most fortunate people in the universe are those who discover, through suffering, that this life is not all we have to live for. Those who find themselves and their eternal God through suffering have not wasted their pain. They have let their poverty, grief and hunger drive them to the Lord of eternity. They are the ones who will discover to their own unending joy why Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 5:1-12, cf. also. Romans 8:18-19.

So what do we do with all this? I recommend three action steps drawn from what we've seen today and experienced in our own lives:

First, lift up your eyes - and your questions - to the God who is real, who is personal, who sees, who answers, and who seeks to redeem. He is waiting for you.

Second, make a choice like David did: Choose to trust God even though you (and I) don't understand all the particulars of why these things have happened. Trust that He will make His purposes known to you, either in this life or the next.

And third, be an encourager to others today, too. They, too, are suffering through something. Speak words of encouragement to them despite their faith position. Affirm what you've found: The God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, is trustworthy.

You can start your encouragement today by liking this post and commenting below. Thank you!

Is God Both Good and Evil?

Pastor Charles

There is no doubt that evil is real. All we have to do is watch the news.

And we don't doubt that good is real, possible, and desirable, too. We are inspired by everything we perceive as good all the time.

Yet many doubt that God is real, despite the reality of both good and evil. Both of these actually point to the existence of God, and that He is a good God, too.

But many of us wonder from time to time if God is both good and evil, rather than God being only good and the opposition to all things evil. His actions are often mysterious, complex, unfathomable. At such times we are left wondering - even while licking our wounds, nursing our hurts or grudges, or suffering in silence - if He isn't also a mixture of both good and evil?

  • Why allow natural disasters?
  • What about all the innocents who suffer?

Or perhaps the questions strike closer to home:

  • Where was God when [insert bad experience here]?
  • Why was this [insert injustice here] allowed to happen?

These questions which arise from our own hearts and shed light on our efforts to interpret our experiences in light of what we believe. Is God really good? If God really is good, why did He allow this?

This series Jesus Among Other Gods is a cursory examination of essential questions of life examined through the lenses of various religious and philosophical worldviews, with a response from a Biblical and Christian theological perspective.

Perhaps it arises from our desire a midst the chaos of life to find a solid anchor in God that I hear Christians say from time to time "God is in control of everything." I admit that I cringe when I hear this. "Everything?" Really? Every rape? Every murder? Every injustice against innocents? All contractions of diseases? Etc. Etc.

What we do believe is this: God is all powerful. God is all knowing. God is working out His will in human history. But what we also find is this: God has limited his power and control to allow us a space we refer to as "free will." We are morally free agents able to make both good and bad decisions. Follow me in thinking this through: If God exercised the full extent of His power and will at all times, nothing would actually happen outside His control. All things would be good, perfect and holy in accordance with His divine nature. But true love - yes, philosophically genuine love, not the mushy, sappy stuff Hollywood and culture have carnalized and dumbed it down to be - requires freedom of choice. If we can't choose not to love God, is it really a choice? No. So in order to give us the freedom to choose to love God and walk in relationship with Him, He also had to risk and give us the freedom to choose not to love Him, too.

And we did make that second choice.

But we didn't make it in a vacuum. We are told in Genesis 3 that the serpent, a physical embodiment of Satan, had for his own strategic purposes in opposition to God, positioned himself at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil...the ONE tree of which Adam and Eve were told not to eat. It was this one tree and it's fruit and this one prohibition placed in the Garden of Eden that provided true freedom of choice. If there were no prohibitions and nothing to contravene, could they have sinned? No. But the enemy was there to capitalize upon this possibility.

And, having rejected God's Word and way, we chose Satan's word and way. And thus evil, sin, suffering, death, disease, injustice, etc. etc. entered into the world, both into humankind and all human kind was given responsibility for: All of physical creation.

God is not the source of evil. Satan is. And we bought into his lie.

And this is why we need a Saviour, for we cannot save ourselves from the mire in which we've cast ourselves throughout human history. 

Do you know the Saviour? Check out the "Why Jesus?" page on this site, and/or contact us to find out more. We look forward to this conversation with you.

But hold on for just one more minute!

This series is "Jesus Among Other Gods," so we need to compare our Biblically based thoughts on this topic with those of other faiths. Let me summarize what we covered in this sermon:

In Taoism, with it's centrally focused theme of Yin and Yang, it might be easy to construe that God is both the source of good and evil. That's because Yin represents all that is feminine, negative and dark (sorry ladies...I didn't make that up, so don't criticize me on that point), and Yang is the principle that is masculine, light and positive. Yin and Yang are present in all things, and to be in balance. God as we conceive of Him in Western or Middle Eastern theology doesn't enter into the picture. So to lift the non-theistic good-and-evil duality from Taoism and try and superimpose it upon the God of the Bible is a suit that won't fit.

In Buddhism the Buddha encountered demons, who are tortured souls in turn torturing others. Upon encountering his enlightened being, the story goes, they submitted themselves to him. And so elements of evil became servants of what is good. In the larger Buddhist scheme, this non-theistic religion/philosophy was developed to answer the question of why there is suffering in the world. Since suffering is perceived as evil, yet there isn't any god in Buddhism, we cannot say that it teaches that 'god' is the source of evil as well as good. Rather, Buddhism teaches that our suffering arises from the errors of our attachments - be they mental or physical - and our behaviours. And a central false attachment producing suffering is the belief in a personal god.

If any good reaches them, they say, “This is from Allah,” but if any evil befalls them, they say, “This happened because of you.” Say: “All things are from Allah.” What is wrong with these people that they do not understand any word?
— Al Qur'an, Surah An-Nisa' 78

And what about in Islam? It's classified by Muslims as an "Abrahamic faith" with roots in the person of Abraham of the Bible. As such, we'd expect that Islam would have a very similar perspective on good and evil and their relationship to God, the Creator, Sustainer and Judge. But this point shows a stark difference between Allah of the Qur'an and God of the Bible.

“Your Lord creates what He wants, chooses what He wills. They do not have the right to choose.”
— Al Qur'an, Surah Al Qasas 68

Instead of God being all good, resisting evil and standing in judgement over it and all who participate in it, it is surprising to most outsiders to find that Allah is the source of evil.

“It is Allah who creates you and what you do.”
— Al Qur'an, As-Saffat 96

Muslims have conceived of Allah as being so supreme, that he must be the creator of all things, including evil. They conceive of Allah's will as being so supreme, that he has willed all things - all thoughts and actions of every man, woman and child. As such, Allah becomes the source of evil, the perpetrator of evil, and therefore an embodiment of evil totally unlike the God of the Bible.

See the quotes here from the Qur'an and go to this page to see many more, and many of the Hadiths which affirm this position. While I've only references one web page here, this is a common (the most commonly held) belief among Muslims. Just research it yourself to see that I'm not misrepresenting this theological position.

“The Creator of everything is Allah”
— Al Qur'an, Az-Zumar 62 & Al-Mu'min 62

Each of us wrestles at one time or another this doubt, this question: Is God the source of evil? Like some of you, I've studied all the major religions of the world. I've read their original texts (not just commentaries on them). And, perhaps unlike most, I've been blessed to travel and have done much of my studies and interactions with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others (yes, including atheists, too) in their countries, in their cafes and in their homes. I've always found it a delightful, relational process. Yet I've always been brought back around to this: The Bible has the best and most satisfying answer to these perplexing questions. Does that mean I understand everything? No. Does that mean all my questions are answered? No. But it does mean that through my faith in Jesus, brought by knowledge of Him through the Bible, I've always found rest for my heart, mind and soul. It is my prayer for you that you do, too.

Throw A Pair of Socks At Your Pastor

Pastor Charles

Pastor Frank, a good friend to both me and our congregation, put me onto this article. It's about the role of your pastor, his 'study,' and the benefits we each gain corporately in this body life together. Here's a preview of Megan Hill's thoughts:

My husband and I have a running joke. When the milk puddles on the kitchen floor, or the laundry baskets explode in the family room, or the kids start leaping from the light fixtures, he eyes the door and calmly says: “Well, I’m just going to go to my office to pray and study the Bible now.” 

Typically, I respond by throwing a pair of just-matched socks at him. 

Like many Christians, I’d dearly love more opportunities to pray and study. I’d love to read more commentaries, listen to more sermons and lectures, fill the gaps in my knowledge of church history and systematic theology. 

Curious where she goes with this? Read the rest of the article here. Be blessed and, remember, I and my study are here for you.

Sincerely,

Pastor Charles

P.S. If you appreciated this blog posting, will you do two things real quick for me? First, click "like" since that let's me know you were here, read it, and liked it. And second, consider who will you "share" this with? How might it bless them their day, too? Thank you for doing these two things. PC

Reach Out & Steal Your Relativistic Friend's iPhone

Pastor Charles

Many of the topics we've been covering in our current series, Jesus Among Other Gods, touch upon moral relativism.

Some might know what that is, but a few others might be saying, "Those are big words and concepts, Charles. What is that?"

Moral relativism is the belief that says what is true for you may not also be true for me. Perhaps in a most limited context there are some places where moral relativism has place in our lives and interaction. In most areas of life and social behaviour, morality is not relative at all.

How does this play out in our lives and conversations?

You and your friend are conversing. You're getting into the nitty-gritty of real life stuff, touching upon what you believe versus what they believe. You each realize that your individual worldviews are impinging upon the others. In reaction to the truth claims of Jesus you're sharing, they reply, "Well, that might be true for you, but that's not true for me. What's true for you isn't true for me." And some are more blatant than this, claiming that there are no moral absolutes, such as those decrying a Christ-follower's lack of enthusiastic embrace toward alternative sexual lifestyles or other areas of morality. "There are no moral absolutes!" they cry.

Really?

How do we respond to this kind of claim?

Reach out and steal your friend's iPhone. This is Andy Bannister's advise. Go ahead. Try it. BUT first, watch his short video on how to follow up this radical action to challenge your friend's claim to belief in moral relativism.

Enjoy!

Are You Worshipping the God of [insert religion here]?

Pastor Charles

"Well, it doesn't really matter what religion you follow or what name you call him, we all worship the same god anyway."

Really? What makes you say that?

Listen carefully for the reply. What do they say? Really listen. You need to in order to follow through with your next question:

How did you come to that conclusion?

These are the two basic, conversational apologetic questions. They're conversational, because we're asking our friend to open up and share even more. They're apologetic because we're using them not only to understand our friend's worldview, but to also defend and explain our own faith based worldview in Jesus Christ.

So, is it really true that we're all worshiping the same god?

We looked at one aspect of this in the previous blog Eat Your Fingers Off and Other Adventures in Mistranslation: Do all roads lead to [the same single] god? And, in summary, we saw how even a brief, logical look at the various major religions of the world shows we can't possibly be worshiping a single god: Not all of those religions even worship anything close to our concept of a personal, relational and redeeming God. Some worship no god at all. Others' concepts of god are so radically different and diametrically opposed that they can't possibly be the same god.

It is a common question posited among Christians, among Muslims, and between the two groups as well: Is Allah of Islam the same and the God of the Bible? This arises out of the contention that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all "Abrahamic" religions, or faiths that originate with the Patriarch Abraham. If they all have the same root, are they all not worshiping the same god?

Entire books have been written on this subject, including Allah: A Christian Response by Miroslav Volf. His is a largely philosophical approach in which he says (I'm summarizing and paraphrasing grossly here) that both are aiming at worshiping the same philosophic "object." While philosophically that might be true, a character comparison shows a different picture. 

The most basic and generic characteristics of the God of the Bible and Allah look essentially similar: Eternal. Creator. Judge. All powerful. As soon as you go beyond these, however, the divergence becomes more and more obvious: Both will say God is merciful, but that mercy is demonstrated in vastly different ways. And then there are the completely opposed character qualities: In Islam, God is both deceiver and the source of evil. In the Bible, this is inconceivable. And, the God of the Bible personally makes Himself - his own personality, emotions, and interactively - known to mankind. This is ultimately done in the Eternal Son, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity. Muslims deny all of these, saying Allah is never known personally - they know only his will, not his person, and further that he would never stoop to know any of mankind (that's too far beneath him). Further, the Trinity is blasphemy to them (though in my experience they totally - perhaps willfully - misunderstand what we actually teach on this central Christian doctrine. Thus, Jesus in Islam is not the personal revelation of God Himself. Just a man. No atoning sacrifice.

How can these two be the same deity?

Yet these difference don't change one thing: God's love for Muslims, and our love for Muslims.

I love being with Muslims. I find their desire for God refreshing, and their willingness to discuss things of religious import invigorating in the sterility of secular North America's selective topical suppression. And it is the love of the Personal God, made know to us in His written Word, the Bible, and His personal Word, Jesus Christ, that compels us to love them.

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love," 1 John 4:8-9.

For the full, detailed exploration of this topic, ask for the sermon CD from Jan. 17, 2016 (Yes, we're working on getting our sermons online!)

"Eat Your Fingers Off" and Other Errors in Translation

Pastor Charles

Yep. That's what a Kentucky Fried Chicken ad in China read like. Literally, "Eat your fingers off." How did they arrive at this? Bad translation. Probably by someone who's first language wasn't Mandarin Chinese. Of course, they really wanted their ad to read "Finger lickin' good," their famous tag line. That's not what they got.

There's a similar error in translation between worldviews, too. It reads like this: "All roads lead to God." People with what is most often the best of intents try and translate between religious worldviews using the equivalent of Google Translate to move between spiritual belief systems. The result? Garbled gunk.

In the desire to look all-accommodating and gloss over differences between our spiritual viewpoints, the adage instead offends all sincere religious viewpoints.

How do we know this?

Take a minute and think about it: Are the "roads," i.e. religions or spiritual practices and pathways, of each religion describing the same ultimate destination? Hindus are seeking through thousands of reincarnations to be merged into 'Brahman,' the ultimate reality we refer to as "god," yet the Hindu concept is genderless, unconscious and impersonal. Buddhists state that belief in a personal god is one of the greatest causes of suffering and seek to be set free from this. For them, we're each made up of five elements that disassemble at death. There isn't anything of the person left, and no "god" is involved in the process or waiting at the end. Muslims believe they will never meet and know Allah, not even in paradise: He is unknowable, too transcendent to ever stoop to converse with us. Meanwhile Christians are looking forward to personal union - meeting and eternal fellowship - with the personal God, the only creator, sustainer and redeemer.

As soon as we look beneath the veneer of the thought that all roads lead to God, we easily discover it can't be true no matter how well meaning or sincere we are in our belief. When we hold sincerely to such a thought, we are sincerely wrong.

And that's a tough thing to take. I cringe a bit even writing it.

So how do we as followers and imitators of Jesus respond to our friends and others who make this claim?

Since we follow Him who is "the way, and the truth and the life," we, too, must stand for truth. Yet we need to do so in the same peace-promoting way that our Example did: With love and grace.

To do that, you don't need to become a world class expert in all religions. I know I'm not. Nor do we even need to become amateur experts, though it is helpful and healthy to know and learn more about our friends' and neighbours' belief systems. Instead, we simply need to learn two basic questions. These two questions help us delve deeper conversationally, non-offensively with others in relational sharing.

First, when someone makes a worldview statement like "All roads lead to God," or another, ask the broadest of opened ended questions: "That's an interesting thought... What makes you say that?"  Be honest and genuine in your inquiry. Seek to understand what your friend is saying. Don't trust your own jumps toward conclusions, as often that first impression is a bit off. Really make sure you understand what they're saying. Once you've got that, move on to the second question.

"Okay. How did you come to that conclusion?" Here we use another open ended question to continue deepening our friendship and understanding. And here we're seeking the foundation level elements that under-gird our friend's thinking on their worldview assertion. We're looking for the factual evidences which can be tested and examined.

Don't be surprised, however, if your friend either doesn't know what those facts are, or if they give a generalized response such as "well isn't it obvious?" No. To someone else, it may not be 'obvious' at all. The goal here is to gently get our friends to look at their own assumptions and often unsupported thoughts they're holding on to.

And now, where do you go from here?

Having prompted your friend to do most of the talking, now you've earned the right to be heard. Ask another question, "Can I share with you what I believe?" And then be salt and light, sharing your own worldview based in Jesus. Lift Him up, and as you do, your friend will be drawn to Jesus, too.

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Going Deeper extra: To read more about these two diagnostic questions, read Greg Koukl's book on apologetics called Tactics. You'll find it practical and useful in all areas of conversation!