Monday, 2 November 2009

The Ragamuffin Gospel

I was recently loaned a copy of the Ragamuffin Gospel, written by Brennan Manning, a former Catholic priest, recovering alcoholic and now a happily married encourager. Please, please, get yourself a copy! I accidentally spilled coffee on my friend's copy and had to buy him a new one. Actually, I 'm quite thankful for this minor accident as now I get to keep the loaned book. Romans 8:28 anyone?

Brennan Manning has an extraordinary gift to simplify the message of grace. In fact the book is all about grace from the point-of-view of a grateful recipient.

He writes. "The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise. He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness. Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, it is crucial for understanding the gospel of grace."

This was my own experience. In fact it was probably weeks, if not months, after I became a believer that I really became aware of the need for repentance and, sometime after that, that I learned that even repentance is a gift (Acts 5:31) - something that I am continually thankful for.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Absence of God and Generic Prayers Answered

I was recently listening to a series of messages from the Spiritual Life Conference held at The Peoples Church a few years ago. Occasionally I transfer messages to my IPod that are worth listening to repeatedly. This particular message happened to be on the Absence of God, those times when God just seems to have ‘disappeared’.

Of course, just as I have been out of sight from my blog for the past three months, seemingly incommunicado, clouds can sometimes obscure our view of God. I’ve been going through one of those patches where my mind has been very distracted and I just haven’t been communicating that well with God. It’s not that my faith in God has been impaired in any way – I still see the evidence of his power and grace every day – I just hunger for closeness.

Life at Bus Stop Bible Studies continues as always. Even in a ministry like this activities can become routine and the passion seems to ebb. I want to say, “God, where’s my sense of excitement?” Even these unprayed prayers God chooses to answer in his ever graceful and encouraging ways...

On Saturday Wendy and I went to see a movie. We had 45-minutes to kill before the movie started so we wandered into the Indigo bookstore. Amongst the piles of new releases was a new book by Bruce Wilkinson, You Were Born for This. I grabbed a copy, found a place to sit and started scanning through the book. Bruce made reference to his bestselling book, The Prayer of Jabez. I bought the Prayer of Jabez several years ago and gave away a great number of copies. I have often prayed Jabez’ prayer but it always seemed so ‘generic’ and how could I tell if God actually answered my prayer?

Jabez’ prayer goes like this, “Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that it not be to my sorrow!” and then the Scripture passage goes onto say, “God granted him that which he requested.”

As I sat there reading those words again, it was like God was saying to me, “Well, David?” A whole rush of awareness came over me; God had answered my [generic] prayer! God had expanded ‘enlarged my borders’ from my family and church to the whole of Toronto! Bus Stop Bible Studies have now been viewed more than half a billion times!

Praying the prayer of Jabez anew, I thank God for the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling giving Bus Stop Bible Studies access to all of Canada. Which brings me back to my original observation that even when God appears to be absent and I crave closeness to him, I still see the evidence of his power and grace every day. God continues to enlarge my borders and above the clouds the Son still shines!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Witnessing an act of violence...

Occasionally I do a Google-search to see what people are saying about Bus Stop Bible Studies. Very occasionally one pops up that really grabs my attention, saying something that is of real significance. The following is text copied from the blog of one David Barker.  I think the text speaks for itself.

“Last evening I rode the bus half way across the city. I sat at the back of the bus beside a woman in a hijab to my left and a Sikh in a turban to my right. After all, this is Toronto. I was on my way to a meeting - a workshop really - to review a draft statement of values called VisionWorks. Depending on who's describing it, the community producing this document could be characterized as a far left post-Christian postmodern community, or as a far right band of neo-literalists who are supplanting one dogma for another. I don't identify with either characterization but that's neither here nor there.
I was using a copy of VisionWorks as a bookmark in an English translation of Friedrich Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil, which I was readng assiduously as the bus bumped and whined its way east. I read:
219. ‘Moral judgement and condemnation is the favourite form of revenge of the spiritually limited on those who are less so, likewise a form of compensation for their having been neglected by nature, finally an occasion for acquiring spirit and becoming refined - malice spiritualizes. Deep in their hearts they are glad there exists a standard according to which those overloaded with the goods and privileges of the spirit are their equals - they struggle for the 'equality of all before God' and it is virtually for that purpose that they need the belief in God.’
As someone stood to leave, I heard a crinkling on the floor. The Sikh beside me leaned over and pulled up a poster. It was an advertisement from the Toronto-based - a scriptural quotation about loving god. You know the one. Somebody had pulled it down and tossed it on the floor. The man beside me stood and tried to insert it back into the slots that hold the ads in place, but the ad wouldn't stay there and fell back to the floor. He tried again but gave up because there was no way to prop up the scriptural passage. He moved to the front of the bus and I noticed on the seat beside him an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper covered in selections from the Psalms. The heading was sandwiched between a crown like the one in the margarine ads and a star of David. It read:
This was my evening for religious pluralism! The document I was on my way to consider is intended, in part, to address the fact that we live in a world where buses are packed with Muslims and Sikhs and fundamentalist Christians and postmodern poets who believe only in the bus ride.
After the Sikh had moved forward, I had room on the seat beside me to stretch out the ad and look at it more closely. What struck me most was that the ad was covered in dirty footprints. Not only had it been torn down; it had also been stomped on. Now I understood why the Sikh had tried so hard to put the ad back in its place.
I could share with him a sinking feeling at the sight of the footprints. It evoked in me something visceral, as if I had witnessed an act of violence. While I have no great regard for proselytism, nor for the religion being proselytized, it diminishes us all when anyone's beliefs are stomped on.”
David, I hope you don’t mind me copying your words but your closing paragraph caused me to say out loud, “Amen!” I hope to be able to shake your hand, and the hand of the noble Sikh, one day.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Justice has become perverted.

Last November I was stopped by a policeman for speeding. Let me state for the record that while I was undoubtedly guilty, I was caught in a well known radar trap location at the bottom of a relatively steep hill and was only doing the limit when the officer jumped out from his hiding spot and flagged me down. Was I guilty of speeding? Yes. Where there ‘reasonable mitigating circumstances’? I will leave that to you to think about. I felt there were, or perhaps I should say that I felt a little leniency would have been appropriate.

Not wishing to impair my clean driving record I decided it would be worthwhile appealing to the Court. Last week I went to the Old City Hall (downtown Toronto), Courtroom E, along with about 50 others to see if I could at least get a reduced sentence, i.e. dropping the offence to 15km over the limit from what was shown on the ticket.

I had been advised to be at the court early to meet with the Prosecutor. The Prosecutor ‘holds court’ at a table just outside the courtroom doors. “Do you wish to negotiate a plea?” He asks. “Yes.” I say. With all the noise behind me in the corridor I can barely hear him but I hear the words “lesser” and “no points”. The very words I came to hear so I eagerly I agreed. He makes notes on his long list of names and offences and I enter the court.

My case was halfway down the list, all a myriad of traffic offenses. Nearly everyone was agreeing to plead guilty to a ‘lesser charge’. Of the twenty of so that went before me, all pleaded guilty to the exact same lesser charge. The Clerk read out the offense, “That on the 26th day of November, 2008, that at the corner of Bay and Richmond Streets, you did fail to proceed on a green light contrary to Item 405, Section 144, of the Highway Traffic Act.” “How do you plead?” I almost had it memorized. “Guilty” is the answer each time the question is asked.

The judge asks each guilty party if a $50 fine was reasonable. I was left wondering what would have happened if someone said, “No.” Reasonable! I though the judge was supposed to decide what was reasonable. [According to the Highway Traffic Act the set fine for this offence is $85 and no points.]

As I watched this happening each time I became more and more agitated. Twenty people had just pled guilty to the exact same offence, at the exact same intersection, on the same day, etc. Each one of those twenty people had just perjured themselves with the full knowledge and endorsement of the Court. Could I now, as a Christian, stand before the judge [and The Judge] and perjure myself?

By the grace of God I did not have to answer that question (although I still often think about it). The police officer who gave me the ticket did not appear in court and my case was summarily dismissed.

What I saw and experienced in Court that day weighs heavily on my mind as I wonder about the depths of contempt this country has for its justice system. Some might call it a matter of expediency but when our justice system condones, if not promotes, perjury on such a scale I am left thinking of Habakkuk’s plea to God, “The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.” Habakkuk 1:5.

What kind of example are we giving to our children? Why do our youth have so little respect for The Law? Quite simply the leaders of this formerly great nation have abandoned their responsibilities and failed us. Justice has been indeed become perverted and this at the lowest levels of our judicial system. What hope is there?

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Traditions Require Caution

There are many traditions in the church today. Indeed, traditions are often the differentiating factors between the many ‘Christian’ denominations.
There is nothing inherently wrong with traditions. Your family may celebrate Thanksgiving Dinner together year after year – this is a great tradition that helps bond a family together. However, when a tradition distorts Scripture and distracts us from its inherent truths we create significant problems and can do much unintentional damage. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He did not say, “I am the way, the tradition and the life.”
I recently conducted a study concerning the tradition of Good Friday. I have long had a problem with Good Friday as Jesus had specifically prophesied concerning his death that, For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Matthew 12:39-41 An unambiguous statement if ever there was one! If Jesus was indeed crucified on Friday and raised to life Sunday morning, according to my calendar, he could have only “been in the earth” two nights.
It is only in some of the modern Bible translations that we read of Jesus being crucified on a Friday. I would respectfully argue that they are wrong - they are merely repeating traditions. For clarity one should research the Old Testament instructions on which days the Passover feast(s) were to be eaten and to understand that there are Special Sabbaths, and more than just one day of preparation. Depending on whether one follows the Pharisees' or Sadducees' calendar there could have been three consecutive 'days of preparation' - not just Friday! Read a literal (word-for-word) translation of the Bible and it will become clearer. Almost uniquely, the King James Bible does not mention the crucifixion happening [specifically] on the Friday. Jesus had to be crucified on the Thursday. Scripture says so!
A questionable tradition of the church is making [beatifying] and praying to 'the Saints'. This is a potentially lethal exercise as it takes our focus off the one upon whom the Bible instructs us to call and keep our attention focused on – Jesus.
Proclaiming special sainthood is a long-held tradition but it is not found anywhere in Scripture. Forty-five times the Bible refers to God’s children as saints - exclusively.
  1. Miracles (acts of God outside his physical laws of nature) are often deemed by the church to be a rational for making someone a saint. Miracles have happened, and continue to happen, to all kinds of people every day all over the world. Consider all the miracles of the Old Testament – were those involved not worthy of sainthood?
  2. People are encouraged to pray to these long-dead saints. The Bible strictly warns against calling up the spirits of the dead.
  3. There is no intercessor between man and God except the Lord Jesus Christ. "...the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." [Romans 8:26]. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, indwells us. Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” and he also said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be in their midst.” Jesus - not ‘the saints’!
  4. God has the prayers of his saints (yours and mine) in his presence. Revelation 8:4
  5. From a practical perspective how do ‘the saints’ supposedly hear our prayers? They Bible would infer that they are otherwise preoccupied worshiping God. If our prayers are not ‘relayed’ by and through the Spirit of God, then how?
  6. All ‘the saints’ throughout time were sinners just like you and me. The Heavenly Father, to whom we pray, has no favourites (including ‘the saints’) when He judges [1 Peter 1:17]. God tore the Curtain of the Temple in two so that we could come directly into his presence – no obstruction, no saints, nothing!
Satan would much rather distract us and direct our prayers to ‘deaf ears’, rather than have us direct our thoughts and prayers to Jesus Christ, the One who can both hear them and answer them.
Always teach, practice and celebrate traditions with caution.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Today’s Economy and Revelation Chapter 18

I have just finished reading a truly fascinating book, Discipleship on the Edge, An Expository Journey Through the Book of Revelation by Darrell W. Johnston. A rather mundane title but a life-changing read.

For the first time in my walk with Christ, I feel that I now understand the principles of interpreting Book of Revelation! Darrell Johnston answered for me one of the big questions concerning the Book of Revelation, the Apocalypse (or revealing) of Jesus Christ: Are the fascinating figures and numbers the Apostle John uses to describe what he sees literal or symbolic, or a mixture of the two? I have come to agree with Mr. Johnston that the illustrations are symbolic and, in order for the Book of Revelation to make sense, must be viewed this way consistently.

He clearly and simply explains the meaning of numerology in the Bible as it would have been understood by the first century church. He also explains the symbolism of the many 'creatures' and wonderful figures described. The one that has got me thinking most, especially in light of our present times, is understanding what John was saying when he used the name Babylon.

Essentially, he says, Babylon, ever since the construction of the Tower of Babel, has come to represent governments, most especially world governments and their efforts to draw people away from God rather than lead them towards God. Today more than ever we seem to have a one-world system and especially when it comes to the economy. Governments around the world are deliberately excising God from the public square and from government completely. Having a Christmas tree in a judicial court lobby is an absolute no-no. Governments are condoning and promoting all kinds of evil that the Bible cautions us against.

With all this in mind you might want to read Revelation, Chapter 18. In many Bibles the chapter heading is The Fall of Babylon. As you read it keep these symbols in mind:

Angel = messenger
Babylon the Great = World Government(s)
One Day = a short time
One Hour = a very short time
Great City = wealthy economies of the world

Verses 22 and 23 infer that the economy will never recover (remember, the present time is the first time we have encountered a world-wide recession). What do you think?

Were it not for Chapter 19 I would be very scared right now. Praise God! He is in control!


Sunday, 1 March 2009

Convincing Atheists

Ultimately, only God can prove to the human heart that He exists. How would Jesus convince Richard Dawkins, or people of any other belief system for that matter, that they are wrong. I know Richard Dawkins is wrong in his belief. I say this with not one whit of arrogance because there is no physiological way I can prove to Richard that he is wrong. It just can't be done. We can debate back and forth 'til the cows come home and nothing will have changed.

There is no miracle, in the physical realm, that God could perform that can change a hardened heart. Sure, one might be convinced that God does in fact exist, but will anything have actually changed? If Richard Dawkins witnessed an undisputed miracle [from his perspective], scientifically verifiable and repeatable, would Richard be a changed person the next day? The simple answer is, "No." Even when Jesus performed miracles in the presence of religious leaders all they wanted to do was kill him for working on the Sabbath. Their hearts were hardened before they witnessed a miracle and their hearts were still hardened after they witnessed a miracle. Nothing had changed. Miracles are only a 'sign' to those who want to believe, to those who are seeking to know the truth.

So what gives?


The essential attribute of God that must be understood for belief is the attribute that cannot be seen, the attribute that cannot be scientifically proven, the attribute that can only be experienced by a grateful heart, is GRACE. Grace; the freely given, unmerited favour of God.

Until an atheist is willing to discuss the topic of grace there will never be any convincing.

Friday, 13 February 2009

God's least favorite words

I have recently come to the conclusion that God’s two least favourite words are Denomination and Pharisee. I must be careful though when I pigeon-hole people as I belong to a denomination [even if it has no specific organization behind it] and I can sometimes display the tendencies of a Pharisee [a person who says one thing and does another]. As Saint Paul so eloquently expressed my feelings, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 7:24-25.

I am in the middle of reading a great book by Darrell W. Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge – An Expository Journey Through the Book of Revelation [a heavy title but a truly exciting read]. As I read through the chapters concerning Jesus’ messages to the Seven Churches, I was struck by the fact of how much we need each other.

The problem we face is two-fold. First all denominations are based upon specific doctrines which must mean that everyone but the Brethren Church has it all wrong ;>) and second, when it comes to church, ‘like seems to attract like’. Joking aside, I feel one of the key benefits of attending a Brethren church is the focus on the study of the Bible – everyone is encouraged to participate in a home-study group. You can’t effectively live and preach the Word if you haven’t studied it. I attend Bendale Bible Chapel .

The Apostle Paul clearly teaches that all parts of the body are essential for the proper functioning of the whole, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body”. And “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don't need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour.” It is unfortunate that all our Pentecostal friends, with their charismatic gifts, meet together and we, at the Brethren church tend to be deprived of the spiritual gifts they tend to focus on. I’m sure they in turn would benefit from some of our expository teaching. I could go on and list the key benefits of each denomination but that would require its own website.

The point I wish to make is that we need each other and THE WORLD NEEDS TO SEE THAT WE NEED AND LOVE EACH OTHER. Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35.

I think we need to leave our Pharisee cloaks in the closet and love each other a lot more; otherwise the world is not going to get a very good impression of us.

Friday, 30 January 2009

The Offense of the Cross

Praise the LORD for allowing the Atheist Bus Campaign! I don't think this campaign came from the Mind of God, but I am CERTAIN that He can use it for His Glory. Yesterday the national media picked up the story and our daily web traffic shot up six-fold.

City TV conducted a phone-in and on-line poll. Their Question of the Day was: Do you find the atheist bus ads on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) offensive? The last poll results I saw were YES 53% and the No’s at 47%. Personally, I am surprised at the high number of YES votes (I was not one of them). Does the statement ‘THERE PROBABLY IS NO GOD, NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE” offend God? Sadden Him, yes. Offend Him? I don’t think so. Jesus saved His barbs for the Pharisees, the ones who were not sincere in their beliefs.

That atheists and others may be offended by what we post on Bus Stop Bible Studies is a given. The Apostle Paul acknowledges that the cross is an offense to those who are perishing.

What offends God? The neglect of orphans and widows (James 1:27). Divorce (which, in the US, is now higher amongst married Christians than married non-Christians) Malachi 2:16. Fornication (dictionary definition: to have sexual intercourse without being married) 1 Corinthians 6:9. Christians who sit at home watching offensive material on their TV’s and computers in the privacy of their homes, yet condemn homosexuals, strippers and prostitutes for their behaviour. I think God is more offended by those who claim Jesus Christ as Lord and then fail to submit to his authority – cheap grace – than those who don’t know Him. Grace did not come cheap! It cost God everything!

Jesus says to you and to me, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” Revelation 2:5 And leaves us with this promise, “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14. The responsibility for enjoyment of life lies with God's people. As we ask in one of our studies: What are you prepared to do about it?
The word repent simply means ‘to turn around’ or ‘turn away from’. A lot of Christians need to do a lot of turning away from sin and everyone else needs to turn to Jesus. Amen

Friday, 16 January 2009

The atheists are coming! The atheists are coming!

Well, may be it had to happen sooner or later. Today, Canadian Press announced that the Toronto based Freethought Association of Canada hopes to copycat England's "THERE'S PROBABLY NO GOD - NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY LIFE" campaign, starting in Toronto.

As one who has lived on both sides of the fence [I found God/God found me when I was 35], I can honestly say that joy of life pre God has no comparison to joy of life with God. One could by definition say that they are extremes of the greatest order. I can say this from the perspective of knowledge and experience. Unfortunately an atheist has not experienced God-given joy and, because he or she has not experienced it, denies any possibility of its existence.

As one visits other blogs concerning atheism and the existence of God I am continually amazed by the naive and illogical arguments of both Christians and atheists. It only goes to show that neither have conducted any real research and repeat irrational, spoon fed arguments. True [Biblical] Christians do have the advantage of having 'experienced' the Living God but many cannot rationally explain this, while atheists take the adamant position that God does not/cannot exist and will not even take the time or effort to conduct reasonable research into the possibility - they are willfully ignorant.

I find great satisfaction in that when we post our Bus Stop Bible Studies it is not our words or persuasive arguments that necessarily have impact of any significance, it is that the Spirit of God is behind His Words. As God himself says, "It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.." Isaiah 55:11 We regularly have the privilege of being witnesses to this truth.