Pastor Terry Stauffer and his wife Juanita and their family suffered a terrible loss late Saturday afternoon in the death of their 14 year old daughter Emily Joy. Please pray that God will comfort them in these dark days and that somehow this tragedy might be used to bring God glory and do others good in this life - this veil of tears.
This past weekend, as I was lecturing on Old Testament Theology at the Fyfe Study Centre, I was struck again by the richness of the Old Testament revelation. The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that explodes upon the scene in the New Testament is not something that was made up by people looking to introduce innovation into Judaism, nor does it represent the failure of the Jews to accept the earthly kingdom that God wanted to give them. Rather, it is the fulfillment of all that God had been revealing from the very beginning of time, from the time that Adam and Eve fell into sin and corrupted the entire human race. Theological schemes, no matter how deeply entrenched and publicly promoted, that do not see that the church is the new Israel, the Israel of God, and that this has always been God's intention are just not reading the Bible carefully enough, nor are they paying attention to the typological promise-fulfillment structure that is stamped on the Bible all the way through.
It is my prayer that God will bring a greater unity of understanding to Christians everywhere in these days so that with one voice we may proclaim the glorious riches of God in Christ Jesus. While none of us as arrived, and in some ways we all still see through a glass darkly, much progress has been made in understanding how the Old and New Testaments fit together. And to a growing number of us it is quite clear that while there are both covenants and at least two dispensations in the Bible, neither covenants or dispensations hold the key to understanding the Bible. The key, or better, the person, who holds everything together is Jesus. He is the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17).
If we do not see that his coming and kingdom ultimately determine the direction of biblical prophecy and theology, we have missed what is truly important and our eschatological and theological systems will go wrong in one way or other. And as if this were not bad enough, errors with regard to the basic structure of the Bible will skew our doctrine of the church and can lead to confusion when it comes to pastoral ministry. So in all things, let us keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2). If we do, and if God is pleased to bless our feeble efforts, great days may be just ahead of us.
Later today, and for the next two days, I will be lecturing at the Fyfe Study Centre in Sarnia, which is one of a number of study centres linked to TBS. This is a relatively new venture for TBS, something that was begun under the leadership of my predecessor in the Principal's office, Dr. Michael Haykin. I believe it is a great idea for a number of reasons.
First, opportunities for serious biblical and theological study are few and far between. And I know from years of pastoral experience that even where pastors and churches are committed to biblical exposition there are practical reasons and constraints that limit the depth at which the Bible and the application of it can take place as a part of the regular Sunday services and other study times during the week. Hence there is the need for the theological academy, not only to train pastors and Christian workers, but also to provide an opportunity for Christians from all walks of life, to delve into the Bible and Christian theology (including biblical, historical, systematic and pastoral theology) in more detail and with time for unhurried and unrecorded discussion and debate.
Second, while I fully recognize that this kind of study and discussion is not everyone's 'cup or tea' or 'coffee' for that matter, the long term health of the Christian church depends on someone taking time to wrestle with biblical and theological truth in light of the challenges we face in our day and then having the opportunity to pass that knowledge on to others. If the church does not educate its leaders and its membership it becomes susceptible to all sorts of 'isms' that stifle evangelism and the development of Christian character. Another danger is that we will fail to adequately train a new generation of young Christian men and women who think like Christians in a world of bewildering theological and spiritual options.
And so I am thankful for scholars like Dr. Haykin who had the foresight to see the need and then take practical steps necessary to meet it. As I think about what lies ahead I trust the 'study centre' idea will prosper and spread, along with regular theological forums where serious study, debate and discussion can take place.
Because of my busy schedule I have not been able to post as often as I would like. This has led to a certain amount of frustration on my part, but it has also got me thinking about blogging as part of the the technologically advance society in which we live.
The blogging world is an interesting one in which anyone can participate. Generally speaking I think this is great and I think that those who dismiss it entirely are simply out of touch with their surroundings. And yet the fact remains that the digital world is somewhat artificial and there are still so many things to do in the real world of flesh and blood people. Of late, I have become convinced that Christians need to be careful that they do not become so taken up with the virtual world of blogs and Facebook, etc., that we lose touch with our ongoing responsibility to testify to the real people who inhabit the real space (as opposed to virtual space) around us.
The new technology is great for disseminating information but it does not guarantee that the information available is worthy of distribution. There is such a thing as the tyranny of the mob. The will of the people is important but not always right. In digital terms this means that what attracts the greatest attention and garners the most 'hits' is not necessarily worth anything. And the reality is that in spite of our technology, all the sermons available for download, and all the slick Christian websites, wide-scale revival has not occurred. Lots of people have had their say, new media superstars have emerged, many have found a way to promote themselves and their ministries, but the world is largely unchanged, and in Canada measures of spiritual health like meaningful involvement in church have never been lower.
So what do we do? Simplistic answers are easy to throw around but like water-balloons they often burst when they hit the ground and accomplish little more than getting everyone wet. Without a doubt we need to pray because genuine revival is a work of God. But I also believe that we must not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing (cf. Hebrews 10:24-25). We must recognize that people will go to incredible lengths to justify their own disobedience even if it involves the repudiation of patterns of behavior spelled out in the New Testament and practiced by the church for centuries. Meeting together, encouraging one another, bearing one another's burdens, resisting the isolation that reduces communication to emails and cell phone calls, is important if we are going to make a lasting impact on anyone. And so I will keep 'blogging' when I can, but I will put more effort into preaching and teaching live and in person, in meeting and praying with those who come looking for help, and in talking to the people who inhabit the immediate space around me.
Here is a great quote from famous basketball coach John Wooden - "Ability is a poor man's wealth."
In a world in which it seems that all the breaks go to those who for one reason or another control the wealth, we should never forget that genuine ability goes a long way to get around old-boy networks of money and influence.
Ultimately this is because old boys don't run anything, they merely work temporarily for a sovereign God. He raises up kings and kingdoms of various sorts for a brief while, and then he brings them to nothing just as quickly as they came to power.
The trouble is that those who briefly control the levers of power frequently imagine that they deserve the job because they are superior to everyone else. The fact is that God gives these jobs to some of the most unbelievable sorts of people in order to show the folly of human pride and our universal need of a Savior.
Even better than Wooden's quote is this one: "In the Lord's hand the king's heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him" (Proverbs 21:1).
In a world of inequities and injustice there is no safer place than in the loving care of the Lord who made all things and who has provided salvation in his Son.
Commenting on the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, the downfall of Merrill Lynch, the troubles at AIG and the unlikely hood of any of the executives with their seven figure salaries being held criminally responsible, one of the 'experts' on the radio station I was listening to sarcastically said that it was another case of the "rich men playing and poor men paying." Without a doubt this is a gross oversimplification of a complex problem and a classic example of blame-shifting on the part of sinful human beings. Typically no one wants to take responsibility for their actions, it is always someone else's fault, and all of us are victims. But, it seems to me, that this misses the point. Behind the sensational news headlines there are more profound and searching issues to consider.
For instance, one thing that we all need to talk about is how none of our systems will work very well if people do not conduct themselves morally and ethically according to the standards of God's word. At some level this morning's financial headlines are another example of the price everyone pays if we push Christianity to the periphery of life, or we try to contain it in some mythical 'spiritual realm' far away from everyday, real life decisions. Morality that is not rooted in the triune God of the Bible, or morality that is arbitrary and relative, will not be able to sustain the freedoms and prosperity we have known in the western world. Sin is costly and Satan is a cruel and exacting taskmaster. The liberty found in Jesus Christ goes beyond spiritual deliverance--although it most definitely and wonderfully includes that. Christian salvation touches our lives in many surprising and unexpected ways. Jesus was not kidding when he said: "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32).
Tomorrow evening Toronto Baptist Seminary's 2008 Convocation Service will take place at Jarvis Street Baptist Church (corner of Jarvis and Gerrard). The convocation service marks the beginning of the new school year at TBS. While classes began this past Monday, and we are off to a great start, convocation is a time when we formally begin the new year and we seek the blessing of God on our endeavors. Everyone is welcome to join with us. If you do not have an evening service at your church come out and share the event with us. If you do, then ask your church to send you and other as representatives. Dr. Glendon Thompson, the pastor of Jarvis Street and the president of the seminary will be speaking. Six students will be graduating. There will be refreshments afterwards for everyone to enjoy and a chance to visit together.
In terms of seminary news, the long anticipated renovation of the student residences is now underway. It is exciting to see those historic buildings being repaired as the workers move steadily ahead. Please pray that God will see us through to the end and that he will provide all the finances we need to finish the project. This is a big undertaking and we do not expect it to be completed until next spring or summer. When fully restored the residences will better serve our students who come from around the world to study with us. At present TBS is a small school but we are looking to the Lord to increase our numbers and influence as we serve him in this very needy country and city. As the songwriter says: "Our God is an awesome God, he reigns from heaven above, with wisdom, power and love, our God is an awesome God!" May God do great things in all of our lives this new academic year and may he be glorified in and through our labours.
On the radio this morning I heard a report about someone who stopped and stole the motorcycle of the man who had been riding it but who was now dying by the side of the road. As unbelievable as that sounds, it reminds us that although human beings are created in God's image, sin has corrupted us in many ways. This does not mean that we would all stoop as low as this particular motorcycle thief, in fact, most people who try to help the injured rider if they could, but it reminds us that people can do some pretty incredible things to one another. Even though the news often picks up on sensational stories like this one, it is not unusual to hear of traffic crashes caused by the stupidity of street-racing, of stabbings and shootings, and of white-collar corruption and breach of trust, and much more besides. All of which reaffirms what the Bible says about the human condition even though it is deemed politically incorrect in our day. Human beings need a supernatural Savior. They need someone who can rescue them from themselves and the folly of their sins. What a great privilege to know that the Jesus revealed in the Bible is such a Savior of sinners who have wandered far from God. May his name be praised and proclaimed until he comes again at the end of the age. Only he can save the 'up-and-out' as well as the 'down-and-out!'
This morning I spoke to the students in chapel about the need to walk by faith. In conservative evangelical circles we hear a lot about being justified by grace through faith, and rightly so, because it is an vital part of the genuine Christian gospel. But not only are we justified by faith, we are also called to live our Christian lives by faith. By this I mean that we must live in light of the promises of God, promises that speak of future events and realities that will change us completely into the image of the Lord Jesus. Our grasp of these promises will determine our progress in the Christian life. If we believe what God says in his word and act accordingly, we will find that he is faithful and he will see us safely through to the end of our journey.
On the internet there is a quotation that is attributed to Albert Einstein, though there are many who doubt that it originated with him. It defines insanity as "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Based on this definition how many of us live "insane lives." We will not move ahead in any area of life if we do not accurately assess our present state of affairs and make the necessary changes. While this may seem simple, it is far more difficult in practice. We are creatures of habit and we easily fall into patterns of behavior that we thoughtlessly repeat over and over. This is not inherently bad, but it can be a hindrance to growth if we do not change in response to God's word and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
This brings us back to the matter of faith. Faith in God that embraces his word as true spiritual food will inevitably move us forward. No one can stay the same if they take the word of God seriously and endeavor to obey it. God's word constantly challenges us to grow, to move forward, to strive after the Lord Jesus Christ who has gone before us. Our problem is often one of faith, or more accurately, a lack of faith. We do not really believe that God means what he says. We do not believe that obedience to his commands is in our own best interests. And so we hesitate and we waffle back and forth. Faithlessness must go. We must have faith in God because in the end, living by faith is not just a slogan or a theoretical construct; it is intensely practical and over years it will revolutionize our lives one step at a time.
Here is another reminder of the upcoming Toronto Baptist Conference (TBC)
On October 3-4, Jarvis Street Baptist Church and Toronto Baptist Seminary will be hosting the Toronto Baptist Conference (formerly known as the International Baptist Conference). The theme of this year's conference will be "God's Design for Family Life: How the Bible Can Transform Our Lives, Our Homes and Our Churches." We are looking forward to the ministry of Phil Johnson from Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and Dr. Daniel Akin from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, who will be giving two lectures each on various aspects of marriage and family life. Dr Michael Haykin and I will also be presenting a lecture on the church as a family. For more information on the conference consult the TBS website (http://www.tbs.edu/).
The conference schedule is as follows:
Friday, October 3
3:00-4:30 pm The Church as Family - Michael A. G. Haykin and Kirk Wellum
7:00 pm Family Life in the 21st Century - Phil Johnson
Saturday, October 4
9:00-10 am Biblical Marriages in a Broken World (Part One) - Daniel Akin
10:45-11:45 am Cultivating Spiritual Development in Family Life - Phil Johnson
1:30-2:30 pm Biblical Marriages in a Broken World (Part Two) - Daniel Akin
I have just returned from the TBS student-faculty retreat which was held this year at Millstream Bible Camp. Not only did we enjoy wonderful weather and mealtimes together but it was great to get to know the new students and to be challenged by the ministry of Pastor David Daniels. At TBS our goal and reason for existence is to prepare people for local church ministry. We believe the local church is at the heart of what God is going in the world through the preaching of the gospel that is centered in his Son. And we know from talking to people and leaders in local churches that there is a dearth of biblically qualified and divinely gifted individuals to preach and teach the Bible and to shepherd the congregation. This is not to say that there is a shortage of 'pastoral wannabees' or people whose skewed interpretation of 'the plurality of elders' encourages them to think they are pastors when they are not. Unfortunately too many churches are plagued with such individuals. But those with the necessary gifts and graces to shepherd the flock of God are few and far between.
On one level we are completely dependent on God. The Lord of the harvest must send workers into his field. We must pray that God would call men to serve as pastors, and men and women to serve in many other capacities within the church and related ministries. Without his work, what we are trying to do is a complete waste of time. But our understanding of the priority of God's call and our dependence upon it must be balanced by our belief that Jesus will build his church, that he has a people whom he will save, and that he will raise up from among his people those who will provide leadership in this hour. Therefore, we pray and work to that end. We strive to pass on to our students the burden we have for the church, and to equip them to serve in the most demanding and challenging ministry situations.
Given all of that, the retreat got us off on the right foot. It was a time of bonding, of developing community, of encouraging all of us to see again the greatness of our God and the many ways he is at work in the world. David's ministry was particularly timely as he spoke to us about the need for forgiveness and the difference between forgiveness and forbearance. Without an experimental knowledge of these things we are doomed before we start. As important as theological education is, unless our character is moulded by the word of God applied to us by the Holy Spirit, it will only make us arrogant. Truth that is not acted upon hardens the heart. And a hard heart leads to disaster. At one level all of this is very simple, but at another, it is deeply profound. It means that the implications of the gospel must be impacting our lives before we can do anyone any good. It is my prayer that God will help us to remember these lessons as the school year unfolds, and beyond this year, that he will write these truths on our hearts forever.
The hypocrisy of some in the news media and in Hollywood is staggering. The fuss being made over the pregnancy of Governor Sarah Palin's daughter boggles the mind as late night talk show hosts line up to take cheap shots and political opportunists seize on the news to advance their own cause. As if any of them really care about pregnant unwed teenagers. This is the same crowd who believes that abortion is an 'answer' to the 'problem.' A 'problem' they are part of as active players in an entertainment industry that promotes immorality at almost every turn.
The truth is that all families must deal with problems and difficulties, even those who occupy the office of Governor. Life in this world is not easy and there is much brokenness. Magnifying the weaknesses and failures of others while glossing over similar foibles in themselves and their families proves nothing except that human beings are desperately wicked and need a Savior. The extravagant nature of the vitriol south of the border only illustrates the magnitude of the struggle and the deep divisions that exist in a society that is struggling to define itself in the face of a seriously eroded Christian consensus. Major worldviews are in collision and those on the inside understand that the stakes are high.
Today there is a quote attributed to Paul Harvey on the top of my Google mail box which says: "I've never seen a monument erected to a pessimist." As I have been writing it occured to me that Harvey's thought is a good thought to consider at the end of this post. Although this world is sometimes dark, and its politics frustrating, no Christian should be pessimistic about the future because eventually we believe that Jesus will put all enemies under his feet. These are days when we need to proclaim and live out the gospel which gives hope to the broken and sinful if they take refuge in the forgiveness and mercy of God.
And here is another thought -- what preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said many years ago is still true today, "The world today is looking for, and desperately needs, true Christians. I am never tired of saying that what the church needs to do is not to organize evangelical campaigns to attract outside people, but to begin herself to live the Christian life." Now there is something to ponder and therein lies the greatest challenge.
September is here and it is time for school to begin again. This morning at Toronto Baptist Seminary the faculty and staff welcomed an enthusiastic group of new and returning students who have come to fulfill what they believe is God's calling on their lives to further prepare them for Christian service. Seminary training is not just Sunday School on steroids. It is far more challenging and intense than many people realize. Whenever we try to 'think God's thoughts after him' we find ourselves pushed to the limits of our abilities. And yet, for all that, there is nothing more satisfying than learning more about the one who made us and his plan to glorify himself in and through the glorious ministry of his Son.
Time goes by so quickly, both in life generally, and in seminary. When we are younger we do not appreciate that because we think we have lots of time. But before we know it, years, and then decades slip by. And with the passage of time there are regrets from which no one is completely exempt. But we can minimize regret by taking full advantage of the time we have by living each day to the full. So this year, whether or not we are at seminary, let's make the most of every opportunity. Which is another way of saying, let's 'redeem the time,' which just happens to be the theme of this blog. Please pray for us this academic year that we will 'do our best to present ourselves to God as those approved, workers who do not need to be ashamed and who correctly handle the word of truth' (2 Timothy 2:15).