Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Testimony of Tony Snow

Here is the powerful testimony of God's abundant mercy and sovereign grace in the life of Tony Snow, President Bush's Press Secretary. Commentator and broadcaster, Tony Snow announced that he had colon cancer in 2005. Following surgery and chemotherapy, Snow joined the Bush Administration in April 2006 as press secretary. Unfortunately, on March 23, 2007, Snow, 51, a husband and father of three, announced the cancer had recurred, with tumors found in his abdomen,- leading to surgery in April, followed by more chemotherapy. Snow went back to work in the White House Briefing Room on May 30, but has resigned since, "for economic reasons," and to pursue " other interests. On July 12, 2008 Tony was by called by God to a "higher service."

"Blessings arrive in unexpected packages” - in my case, cancer. Those of us with potentially fatal diseases - and there are millions in America today - find ourselves in the odd position of coping with our mortality while trying to fathom God's will. Although it would be the height of presumption to declare with confidence "What It All Means," Scripture provides powerful hints and consolations.

The first is that we shouldn't spend too much time trying to answer the "why" questions: Why me? Why must people suffer? Why can't someone else get sick? We can't answer such things, and the questions themselves often are designed more to express our anguish than to solicit an answer.

I don't know why I have cancer, and I don't much care. It is what it is, a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.

But despite this, - or because of it, - God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don't know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face.

Second, we need to get past the anxiety. The mere thought of dying can send adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you. Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get nowhere.

To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into life,- and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. We accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction that stirs even within many non-believing hearts - an intuition that the gift of life, once given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, main, and faith to live fully, richly, exuberantly - no matter how their days may be numbered.

Third, we can open our eyes and hearts. God relishes surprise. We want lives of simple, predictable ease,- smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see, - but God likes to go off-road. He provokes us with twists and turns. He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance; and comprehension - and yet don't. By His love and grace, we persevere. The challenges that make our hearts leap and stomachs churn invariably strengthen our faith and grant measures of wisdom and joy we would not experience otherwise.

'You Have Been Called'. Picture yourself in a hospital bed. The fog of anesthesia has begun to wear away. A doctor stands at your feet, a loved one holds your hand at the side. "It's cancer," the healer announces.

The natural reaction is to turn to God and ask him to serve as a cosmic Santa. "Dear God, make it all go away. Make everything simpler." But another voice whispers: "You have been called." Your quandary has drawn you closer to God, closer to those you love, closer to the issues that matter,- and has dragged into insignificance the banal concerns that occupy our "normal time."

There's another kind of response, although usually short-lived an inexplicable shudder of excitement, as if a clarifying moment of calamity has swept away everything trivial and tiny, and placed before us the challenge of important questions.

The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious, and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs, and epiphanies. Think of Paul, traipsing through the known world and contemplating trips to what must have seemed the antipodes ( Spain ), shaking the dust from his sandals, worrying not about the morrow, but only about the moment.

There's nothing wilder than a life of humble virtue, - for it is through selflessness and service that God wrings from our bodies and spirits the most we ever could give, the most we ever could offer, and the most we ever could do.

Finally, we can let love change everything. When Jesus was faced with the prospect of crucifixion, he grieved not for himself, but for us. He cried for Jerusalem before entering the holy city. From the Cross, he took on the cumulative burden of human sin and weakness, and begged for forgiveness on our behalf.

We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us, that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God's love for others. Sickness gets us part way there. It reminds us of our limitations and dependence. But it also gives us a chance to serve the healthy. A minister friend of mine observes that people suffering grave afflictions often acquire the faith of two people, while loved ones accept the burden of two peoples' worries and fears.

'Learning How to Live'. Most of us have watched friends as they drifted toward God's arms, not with resignation, but with peace and hope. In so doing, they have taught us not how to die, but how to live. They have emulated Christ by transmitting the power and authority of love.

I sat by my best friend's bedside a few years ago as a wasting cancer took him away. He kept at his table a worn Bible and a 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer. A shattering grief disabled his family, many of his old friends, and at least one priest. Here was an humble and very good guy, someone who apologized when he winced with pain because he thought it made his guest uncomfortable. He retained his equanimity and good humor literally until his last conscious moment. "I'm going to try to beat [this cancer]," he told me several months before he died. "But if I don't, I'll see you on the other side."

His gift was to remind everyone around him that even though God doesn't promise us tomorrow, he does promise us eternity, - filled with life and love we cannot comprehend, - and that one can in the throes of sickness point the rest of us toward timeless truths that will help us weather future storms.

Through such trials, God bids us to choose: Do we believe, or do we not? Will we be bold enough to love, daring enough to serve, humble enough to submit, and strong enough to acknowledge our limitations? Can we surrender our concern in things that don't matter so that we might devote our remaining days to things that do?

When our faith flags, he throws reminders in our way. Think of the prayer warriors in our midst. They change things, and those of us who have been on the receiving end of their petitions and intercessions know it. It is hard to describe, but there are times when suddenly the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and you feel a surge of the Spirit. Somehow you just know: Others have chosen, when talking to the Author of all creation, to lift us up, - to speak of us!

This is love of a very special order. But so is the ability to sit back and appreciate the wonder of every created thing. The mere thought of death somehow makes every blessing vivid, every happiness more luminous and intense. We may not know how our contest with sickness will end, but we have felt the ineluctable touch of God.

What is man that Thou art mindful of him? We don't know much, but we know this: No matter where we are, no matter what we do, no matter how bleak or frightening our prospects, each and every one of us who believe, each and every day, lies in the same safe and impregnable place, in the hollow of God's hand."

Tony Snow

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Do You Really Use Your Bible as Much as You Ought?

In conversations over the last few days about Pastor Tim Bartel, it was brought to my attention that he, like myself, loved to read books. Yet he also came to the place in life, as I have also, where his passion for reading the Word of God overshadowed any personal interest he had in any other reading. I was reminded of an excellent exhortation I read recently from Bishop J.C. Ryle, written over a century ago about reading the Bible. This is from a tract called "Bible Reading." It's available at the Bible Bulletin Board. Here is an excerpt:

You live in a world where your soul is in constant danger. Enemies are round you on every side. Your own heart is deceitful. Bad examples are numerous. Satan is always laboring to lead you astray. Above all false doctrine and false teachers of every kind abound. This is your great danger.

To be safe you must be well armed. You must provide yourself with the weapons which God has given you for your help. You must store your mind with Holy Scripture. This is to be well armed.

Arm yourself with a thorough knowledge of the written word of God. Read your Bible regularly. Become familiar with your Bible. . . . Neglect your Bible and nothing that I know of can prevent you from error if a plausible advocate of false teaching shall happen to meet you. Make it a rule to believe nothing except it can be proved from Scripture. The Bible alone is infallible. . . . Do you really use your Bible as much as you ought?

There are many today, who believe the Bible, yet read it very little. Does your conscience tell you that you are one of these persons?

If so, you are the man that is likely to get little help from the Bible in time of need. Trial is a sifting experience. . . . Your store of Bible consolations may one day run very low.

If so, you are the man that is unlikely to become established in the truth. I shall not be surprised to hear that you are troubled with doubts and questions about assurance, grace, faith, perseverance, etc. The devil is an old and cunning enemy. He can quote Scripture readily enough when he pleases. Now you are not sufficiently ready with your weapons to fight a good fight with him. . . . Your sword is held loosely in your hand.

If so, you are the man that is likely to make mistakes in life. I shall not wonder if I am told that you have problems in your marriage, problems with your children, problems about the conduct of your family and about the company you keep. The world you steer through is full of rocks, shoals and sandbanks. You are not sufficiently familiar either with lighthouses or charts.

If so, you are the man who is likely to be carried away by some false teacher for a time. It will not surprise me if I hear that one of these clever eloquent men who can make a convincing presentation is leading you into error. You are in need of ballast (truth); no wonder if you are tossed to and fro like a cork on the waves.

All these are uncomfortable situations. I want you to escape them all. Take the advice I offer you today. Do not merely read your Bible a little—but read it a great deal. . . . Remember your many enemies. Be armed!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

That's My King! - S.M. Lockridge

In reflecting on the reality that Pastor Tim Bartel is now eternally with Jesus, I was reminded of one of my favorite messages by S.M Lockridge. Here is part of that sermon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Memorial Service for Tim Bartel

The memorial service for Pastor Tim Bartel is planned for 1 pm on July 30th at Cedar Grove Baptist Church (10330 144 Street).Surrey, BC. We are looking into setting up car pools/vans or a bus to take those from Arrowsmith who desire to go. Details will be forthcoming.

The Loss of Pastor Tim Bartel

Today we mourn the loss of our dear brother Tim Bartel, the former pastor of Arrowsmith Baptist Church who was currently serving at the District Executive Minister of the Baptist Conference of British Columbia. Pastor Tim passed away yesterday afternoon after he suffered a heart attack while on holiday at a cabin in Penticton. Please pray for Cynthia and the family as they grieve through their loss. Funeral/memorial arrangements are forthcoming.

Jamie McDonald, the president of the Baptist General Conference of Canada, wrote that Tim has "preceded us to be with the Lord. Did he cut in line? Or does God see the lineup differently than we do? We are all only a heart beat away from eternity."

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." (John 14:1-3)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Can God Forgive Our Worst Sin? - John Piper

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Romans 3:23-26

Friday, July 18, 2008

Our 27th Anniversary

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. Proverbs 31:10

27 years ago Nancy and I were married on this day. While I did love her, I did not truly know what a gift from God she was to me until I surrendered my life to Christ a few years later. We both came to faith in Jesus about the same time and since then we’ve also together traveled the sometimes hard but always joyous path of following God’s call to full time pastoral ministry. Nancy has not only been my best friend but also a great friend to many in the churches we’ve served. She has not only been a wife who is “far more precious than jewels” but also a priceless partner in faithfully serving the family of God in the places where He has called us.

We have grown together, struggled together, laughed together, cried together, raised children together, sacrificed together, been blessed together. I have always said that Nancy is the "rose among the thorns” of my life. She has poured more love and more grace into my life than I deserve. I am – and I still continue to be – truly blessed by who she is and what God is doing in her life.

I love you Nancy!

Here also is a post from our daughter Jennifer's blog reflecting on our 27th anniversary.

On My Parents' 27th Anniversary

27 Things That I Am Thankful For:

1. They both love Jesus.
2. They love each other.
3. They love me and my brothers.
4. They always made me clean my plate and drink my milk.
5. They spanked me and made me sit in the corner (quite often for my part...).
6. They got me a pony.
7. They paid for and drove me to piano lessons for seven years.
8. They tucked me in and prayed with me before bed.
9. They stepped out in faith several times over the years (including moving across the continent, to another country, and to a new church just this past December).
10. They are letting me take up space in their new house by storing boxes of my books and childhood memorabilia in their basement.
11. They obeyed God's call for them to enter into pastoral ministry.
12. They took us on a lot of family vacations.
13. They like to laugh.
14. They had us memorize Scripture as a family.
15. They never gave me false hopes by telling me I was good at something I wasn't.
16. They encouraged me in the things that I was good at.
17. They took the time, money, and effort to homeschool me for grades 3, 4, & 5.
18. They made it possible for me to spend most of my childhood growing up on a farm.
19. They have always made family time a priority.
20. They helped me save money by letting me live at home during college.
21. They had me start paying rent as soon as I graduated.
22. They came to all my track meets.
23. Even when they disagree about something I still always know that they love each other.
24. They enjoy being together.
25. They don't expect me to be perfect, but they do expect me to do my best for Jesus.
26. They both work hard.
27. They strive to glorify God in all that they do, and I know that they desire for me to do the same.

Little Qualicum Falls

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

There is a Reason - Alison Krauss

This coming Sunday our music during worship will be in the traditional bluegrass gospel style. I thought I would post this video of my favorite "modern" bluegrass gospel song by Alison Krauss & Union Station. I like the song not only for the music but also because the words reflect the mystery of God's sovereign grace in midst of our struggles in life. (This also connects with my previous post - "Why God Doesn't Fully Explain Pain"). The words of this song are posted below.

There Is A Reason

I've seen hard times and I've been told
There isn't any wonder that I fall
Why do we suffer, crossing off the years
There must be a reason for it all

I've trusted in You, Jesus, to save me from my sin
Heaven is the place I call my home
But I keep on getting caught up in this world I'm living in
And Your voice it sometimes fades before I know

Hurtin' brings my heart to You, crying with my need
Depending on Your love to carry me
The love that shed His blood for all the world to see
This must be the reason for it all

Hurtin' brings my heart to You, a fortress in the storm
When what I wrap my heart around is gone
I give my heart so easily to the ruler of this world
When the one who loves me most will give me all

In all the things that cause me pain
You give me eyes to seeI do believe but help mine unbelief
I've seen hard times and I've been told
There is a reason for it all

Monday, July 14, 2008

Why God Doesn't Fully Explain Pain

John Piper:

One of the reasons God rarely gives micro reasons for his painful providences, but regularly gives magnificent macro reasons, is that there are too many micro reasons for us to manage, namely, millions and millions and millions and millions and millions. God says things like:
  • These bad things happened to you because I intend to work it together for your good (Romans 8).
  • These happened to that you would rely more on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1).
  • This happened so that the gold and silver of your faith would be refined (1 Peter 1).
    This thorn is so that the power of Christ would be magnified in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12).
But we can always object that there are other easier ways for God to accomplish those things. We want to know more specifics: Why now? Why this much? Why this often? Why this way? Why these people?

The problem is, we would have to be God to grasp all that God is doing in our problems. In fact, pushing too hard for more detailed explanations from God is a kind of demand that we be God. . . .

. . . God cannot make plain all he is doing, because there are millions and millions and millions and millions of effects of every event in your life, the good and the bad. God guides them all. They all have micro purposes and macro purposes. He cannot tell you all of them because your brain can’t hold all of them.

Trust does not demand more than God has told us. And he has given us immeasurably precious promises that he is in control of all things and only does good to his children. And he has given us a very thick book where we can read story after story after story about how he rules for the good of his people.

Let’s trust him and not ask for what our brains cannot contain.

To read the whole article - Click Here

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pray - Darlene Zschech

I found this video which seems to reflect some of the ideas from the message I shared today at Arrowsmith on "Praying for One Another."

August Rush

My family and I watched the movie August Rush this past week - and our hearts and souls were truly stirred and awakened by it. While the movie is somewhat of an urban fairly tale, it is one of those “secular” movies that reflects many “sacred” principles that followers of Jesus Christ would (or should) embrace (i.e. - love, mercy, grace, family, passion for life, faith, worship, restoration, redemption, victory, etc). This movie came highly recommended to us - and we would wholeheartedly do the same. And for guitar guys like me (and Eric and Micah) this movie really was a Rush!

Here are a couple of clips. The first is a scene where Evan (the main character) discovers a way to exercise his passion for music. The second scene is Evan and his father Louis playing guitar together – even though at this point they are not even aware they are related to one another.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tall Ships 2008-07-11

Here are a few photos from our time at the Festival of Sails on Friday in Port Alberni.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What should we do when our spiritual life isn't what it should be?

John Piper:

"I think it's a good place to be in this life, to be aware that we're not what we ought to be. . . . the thing to keep in mind when I sense my inadequacy as a Christian is that my acceptance with the Father does not depend ultimately on my adequacy, because Christ has made me his own. He has reached down and—by his cross, by election, by his calling, and by his regeneration—made me his own."

Click here to listen to the full audio of Dr. John Piper's answer to this question.

The Joy of the Lord in Suffering - C.J. Mahaney

In preparing for this week’s sermon on “Praying for One Another” from James 5:13-16, I came across a recent interview of C.J. Mahaney (former senior pastor of Covenant Life Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland and current president of Sovereign Grace Ministries), by Joshua Harris (current senior pastor of Covenant Life Church) regarding the truth that joy in the Lord is a lesson that is often best learned in the trials of life.

This interview struck me as appropriate considering the first verse of our text for this week: "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise" (James 5:13). Throughout the Bible we often see a connection between suffering and joy. (I will be focusing on this issue more specifically in a message on the second Sunday of August.) Here is an excerpt of the interview. I pray you will be blessed with as much insight and encouragement by these words as I have been:

Joshua Harris: C.J., I am wondering if there is a personal story in your own life where you experienced—whether it is a trial or a difficulty—a shift where God was helping you realize your joy wasn’t grounded enough in the work that he had done for you?

C.J. Mahaney: Many stories come to mind (and the lessons continue to this day). I wouldn’t want anybody to perceive me as some kind of compelling model of joyfulness on a daily basis. It is a fight I seek to wage on a daily basis. And I can certainly look back and discern instances, circumstances, and periods of time where there was a transfer underway in my life, helping me to shift the ground of my joy from created things to the Creator, a shift from temporary to the eternal.

A pronounced one for me was a ten-year period where I contracted a particular virus that had a debilitating effect on my body and mind on a daily basis. I am reluctant to speak of this and rarely do speak of this, because I don’t want to be misunderstood as I make reference to this period. Though it was challenging, there was nothing life-threatening about this, and I don’t even consider this experience to be suffering, per se. I know people who have suffered. I know people who presently are genuinely, severely suffering.

But for me it was prolonged. It was chronic. It was wearying. It was challenging. And it did remove any sense of happiness or joy, as derived from circumstances, from my life on a daily basis over those years.

So the fight was a particular challenge during that ten-year period. From the wonderful care I have received from my friends and fellow pastors, from the wonderful books that I have read in relation to suffering, from the wonderful examples that I have observed in and throughout Covenant Life Church over the years, and primarily from the clear teaching of Scripture, I was able to see, early on, the many ways God was working. This was intended to be a sanctifying work in my soul.

So one aspect of my sanctification was to be weaned from emotional dependence and weaned from any dependence on circumstances.

Throughout those numerous years, by God’s grace I was able to experience this transition from the ground of my joy being in any way a personality, emotion, or circumstantial, to an appreciation for the person and work of Jesus Christ on my behalf. And I would argue the trial left a purer form of joy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Sovereignty of God in Storms and Natural Disasters

Click here for a great article from World Magazine from Vern S. Poythress, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Things That Don't Make Sense

Here is a posting from Josh Harris' blog from Jeana (a wife/mother of four children) regarding her perspective of the mystery of living out our faith in a sovereign God.

Things That Don't Make Sense To Me

1. How having four children quadrupled the love I have for my kids instead of dividing it into four.
2. How focusing on meeting my husband's needs results in my needs getting met.
3. Why having a lot of "me" time tends to make me more self-centered, not less.
4. Why serving other people makes me more content, not less.
5. How spending time with God usually results in me accomplishing more that day, not less.
6. Why exercising gives me more energy, and not exercising makes me more tired.
7. How submitting to God's will brings freedom rather than confinement.
8. Why things that taste good often are not good for me.
9. Why having fewer things makes me enjoy them more--and vice versa.
10. How I can know all of these things are true and too often behave as though they are not.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Dick and Rick Hoyt - and the One Another Texts

Here is a video about Dick Hoyt and his son Rick, whose relationship together powerfully reflects many of the heart concepts in the "one another" texts from the Bible that I've been preaching on at Arrowsmith this summer - caring for one another, loving one another, accepting one another, bearing one another's burdens, and living in harmony with one another. (Click here to hear/read/download any of the sermons).

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Gospel in 6 Minutes - John Piper

Men's Canoe Trip - Fossli Provincial Park

Here are a few pictures of our men's canoe trip from 21 June 2008 - thanks to Ben Knapp for taking these pictures and thanks to Doug Faust taking leadership in the planning process!

A Wednesday Afternoon Visit to Stamp River

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14, ESV)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

When Spiritual Leadership is Lacking in a Marriage

What should a wife do when her husband doesn't lead spiritually?

"Leadership has nothing to do with competency . . . It is the courage of initiative-taking."

Click here to hear some words of wisdom for both husbands and wives on this subject from Dr. John Piper.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Blessing of God in the Beauty of His Creation

Today we celebrated our first Canada Day here on Vancouver Island by being blessed spending the afternoon with the Barker family at their home on beautiful Sproat Lake. We constantly stand amazed at what God has done in our lives over the past year and stand in wonder at the beauty of the place where He has taken us. This evening we once again ate dinner on our deck, which overlooks the snowy peak of Mount Klitsa. This is where we often spend our evenings together watching the sun go down and pondering the glory of what God has created. This evening, as I reflected on this scene, the song Shenandoah came to my mind - as played by Tony Rice. I've included it in the video below.