Tag - God

Ishi: Coming together in peace

Just had a great cab ride back from downtown Nashville to the ecological disaster they call the Gaylord Opryville. What an amazing conversation!

I always like to talk to cab drivers and learn something about the city, the people, the milieux of the place I’m visiting. Last month in New Orleans we had a cabbie who was a black gangsta version of Mario Andretti, and we cruised Nawlins with open windows, screeching tires, and rap music blaring out something incomprehensible that included “sojer boy” and “crib on 40 acres.”

This time coming back to the hotel we had Ishi, a black Muslim cabbie originally from Ethiopia. He chatted about war, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and where he was from. Then we got on the subject of religion when I asked if it was true that Eritrea was mostly Muslim and Ethiopia mostly Christian.

Turns out he’s a Muslim. The wonderful thing is that he was very open to talking about religion and other religions … the opposite of the “infidels must die” that we see too often in missives from the middle east. A clue as to why is his name, “Ishi,” which means “coming together.” His father gave him that name because one parent was Muslim and one parent was Christian (I forget which was which).

I told him he was carrying a bunch of Christians in his cab, slapped his shoulder as we both laughed, and then we drove right into a conversation about the Old Testament, New Testament, the Quran, and more. Neither of us converted the other 🙂 but the beautiful thing about the conversation was that we were having it … and no-one was shouting or angry or upset. In fact it was a wonderful conversation in which we shared our beliefs.

It turns out that Ishi has been in America for 17 years, and loves the multi-cultural aspects of his adopted country. He talked about Egypt and Iraq as places where religious differences end in death, and deplored that reality. And he was thankful to God that he’s been give the opportunity to live in a land and raise his family in a country where there is safety, the rule of law (he must have mentioned that 3 or 4 times) and the ability to have conversations where differences are expressed without anger, hatred, and violence.

When he pulled up at Opryland, we stayed in the cab for another 5 minutes, chatting. Finally we paid, I shook his hand, wished him the best of God’s blessings, and departed.

There is hope for peace among people of goodwill.

Letter from pastor Atkinson of Mediterranean Missions

Terry Atkinson is a pastor who is originally from England, has served in the US and Canada, and for the last 40 years or so has been serving in Greece.

We know him because he has had a preaching tour of duty through Canada and the Free Reformed Church of Abbotsford, which we attended a few years ago. He spent a month or more in Abbotsford, and we loved every minute of it.

I just received this newsletter from him and his wife, Cathie:

Dear Friends:

In August 1957 I was ordained to the gospel ministry in one of the churches of the reformation in Grand Rapids, Mich.USA. In February of the following year Cathie and I were married. As we began our ministry in this congregation as a student God was pleased to pour out His Spirit upon the people and many men women and children were brought into the kingdom of God. It was an overwhelming and unforgetable experience for them and for us. The revival continued for about two years and was accompanied by some opposition. In 1960 Cathie and I began our work in Italy and Greece where we still live. We are humbled before God’s goodness and undeserved mercy in granting us fifty years in the ministry, forty seven of which have been spent in these adopted countries.

It will be obvious to you as it is to us then that we are now in the very last stage of our life. It is solemn to think that soon we must quit this world and be ready to give an account to the supreme Judge of all.You will surely agree with me that were it not for the gospel of free and sovereign grace which, in spite of weakness and failure we have sought to preach, we would have no hope. We live and trust to die believing and preaching a gospel of justification by faith only.

Count Zinzendorf of the Moravian bretheren expresses this truth gloriously,

Jesus Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in Thy great day,
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

When from the dust of death I rise
To claim my mansion in the skies.
Even then, this shall be all my plea,
Jesus has lived, has died for me.

For the last four years now we have been living here on a Greek island which we visited for the first time in 1969. As far as we know it is here we shall spend our remaining days. As we settled here the exortation of Peter [1Peter 4:7-11], addressed to all Christians living in the period that stretches from tne incarnation of Christ to the His second coming was very much in our thoughts. This of course is especially challenging to all who are literally in the last stage of their lives. How shall we then live? First of all prayer, then love supreme, with heart and home open to all with joy and then the service of others for the glory of God. To these things then, we were determined to give ourselves. What we did not anticipate however, was the onslaught and the fury of Satan that has been our experience in these last years.

We should have read the following verses.1 Peter 4:12,13
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

Prayer we found as never before to be a relentless and on going battle. It made us aware that what we had considered as prayer for most of our lives was hardly prayer at all. Paul writes, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers..”

In a time of great distress a word of encouragement came to us from Adolph Monod in his book “A dying man’s regrets”.

“God seems sometimes to confound our prayers by putting off deliverance to such a point that it seems removed to a distance from which it cannot reach us. He does not often deal thus with us, because He is merciful, but He does sometimes for the very same reason.’

Another word from a veteran missionary of last century was our comfort when devestated by a sense of our own sinfulness,

“The acceptance of our prayers as the acceptance of our persons, depends entirely upon the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and of His heavenly intercession.”

It is Isaiah who tells us that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. He is speaking of the righteousness of God’s covenant people. What he means is this: that the most holy sanctified, Spirit indited prayer of the most holy man on earth, is so polluted by sin that in and of itself it has no acceptance before Him who is of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look upon iniquity. But what confidence we can have and what boldness when despairing of ourselves we pray trusting in the merits and righteousness of the Son of God, our Mediator.

In living with other Christians in community love is tested to the uttermost. I often wondered why Peter in speaking of love in these verses quotes from the book of Proverbs and tells us that love hides a multitude of sins. It is our experience that one can only live in harmony with others by literally overlooking their weaknesses and frailties and inperfections as love constrains them to do the same with ours.

Hospitality with joy, is also tested when one’s home is open to everyone and anyone in need. It is self sacrificing service of others, but it does bring joy. What we did not expect was the misunderstanding and criticism of others outside the community. But time is short and we are thankful that we do not have to give an account to any one except to God.

It is good that at this stage of our lives we can still do our generation work, as the puritans described it, and use the gifts God has given us, not so much as in times past alas, to enhance our own reputation, or to be admired, but solely for the glory of God in Christ. This becomes uppermost in one’s mind when time is running out.

We are so thankful that we are here and that Cathie and I are here together. She is typing this letter so she must allow me none the less to say that I could not have done the work that I have done without her unfailing help and support. And thankfully there is still yet so much to be done.

In the providence of God we have been able to seize an opportunity to befriend some of the immigrant population. These are mostly Albanians. We ask you to pray for a work of the Spirit of God amongs them. How God will do this we do not know. Perhaps we shall just be permitted to sow the seed in their heart and others will reap the harvest. It was much like that when we began our ministry in Grand Rapids. We reaped what others had sown in the past. How good it is to leave all these things in the hands of God who works sovereignly in the hearts of men when and how He pleases. We are however, encouraged by the response of respect and affection of so many of these Albanians.

We are now in the midst of our summer work and we have a young American couple here to help us. This is especially helpful for our own grandchildren who recently were able to go to a christian camp on the mainland. They are teaching English to them and to some of the young Albanians who come to our house.

We have had a few visitors at our services so far and more will be coming throughout the summer.
However our main concern and the the thing that weights most upon us is ‘what can we do for the Greeks?’

The American Board of Foreign Missions two hundred years ago eventually withdrew from work amongst the Greeks during the time of the Ottoman empire. They described them as “the irreconcilable greek element” and truly, that seems a good description of them. In the forty years that we have been working in this area, the numbers of evangelical christians remains the same in spite of the many agencies and increase of missionary activity and experiments in evangelism and forms of worship.

The church of the Greeks still awaits the outpouring of the Spirit and the necessary reformation. In the 16th century the patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucas, attempted to do this, being influenced by Luther and Calvin and actually put out a Calvinistic catechism. But he died suddenly, perhaps poisoned.

In many ways the Orthdox Church is admirable. It still stands for the first 5 eucumenical councils and for an infallible bible. She sees to it that christianity is taught as the truth in all the elementary and high schools of Greece. She also survived 400 years of Islamic domination.

Most Greeks however only hold a loose connection with the churh, but in spite of this Greek Orthodoxy is embedded in their psyche. They cannot imagine themselves to be anything else. To be Greek is to be Orthodox.

Reformation if it is given will surely come from within and so our task is to bring the gospel to individuals, as God gives us opportunity. We thank God that we do have this opportunity from time to time.

It is our great joy that a student of ours from the early days is now preaching the gospel in the town nearest to us on the mainland. It was a joy to renew fellowship with him. He is a godly man and a humble preacher. It was in our house many years ago that God met with him as he prayed “Oh Lord, if I am not thy child, make me thy child and if I am thy child show me that I am thy child” and God did and called him into ministry amongst the Greeks in which he has persevered all these years in spite of much opposition and affliction.

How exciting it is to live in these days in spite of all the confusion, the appalling weakness of the churches and the spiritual declension of the people. For after all, is it not a great privilege to serve Him and to be faithful to Him in a dark and cloudy day? We thank God for every one of you who remembers us in your prayers.

With love in Christ, Cathie and Terry

Church-planting: helps if God’s onside

What are the reasons why church plants succeed? Why do they fail?

ChurchRelevance has a list of reasons why they fail which is originally from Griffith Coaching Network.

Here’s the list:

  1. Lack of a clear definition of “success” and a clear exit strategy
  2. Premature birth (starting public worship too quickly)
  3. Mismatch between the planter and the community/context/target audience
  4. Insufficient assessment (of the planter and the planting context)
  5. Lack of training and coaching
  6. Putting all your eggs in one basket (depending on one big advertising campaign or event)
  7. Too much overhead too fast
  8. The inability or unwillingness to recruit new people
  9. Lack of focus and ignoring the pressing priorities
  10. Inebriation (being drunk on your vision)

Oddly enough, lack of God’s blessing is not one of them. Not following God’s will is not one of them. No prayer is not one of them. The church plant not being God’s will is not one of them.

Churches are not businesses. Success isn’t a result of following a checklist. Success is due to God’s blessing, first, foremost, and finally.

That seems obvious enough to a Christian, doesn’t it?

[tags] church, christianity, building, planting, god, prayer, john koetsier [/tags]

Love your neighbor as yourself

One of the things that I really struggle with as a Christian is the second great commandment.

Jesus simplified and explained the original 10 commandments into two:

  • love God with all your heart, soul, and mind
  • love your neighbor as yourself

The first is hard. The second is even harder – especially for me. I’m not necessarily a person who just finds it easy to love everyone. I’m usually in too big of a hurry, pursuing my latest goal. Or I’m judgemental, and not seeing the person for who she or he really is in God’s eyes.

I’ve been trying to work on that lately … by telling myself as I see a person, any person: Jesus loves him. Jesus loves her.

As the Bible says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son – that whoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.”

If that’s true, God loves people. And if He does, I should. And it’s somehow easier if I remind myself every time I see someone, silently, with these words:

“God loves you.”

The End of the Spear


You are a woman with a young child in the jungles of Ecuador. It’s 1956 or so. Your husband and four of his fellow missionaries have just been murdered by a vicious tribe known for murdering others at the slightest provocation.

Do you flee – go home? Do you run to the city? Or do you take your child and go live with the tribe that murdered your husband?

Last night Teresa and I watched The End of the Spear (and here). I had some familiarity with the story, having read Through Gates of Splendor almost 15 years ago.

The widows and their children elected to go live with the tribe that killed their husbands. Slowly, through their work, and through the work of one of the tribeswomen who had lived with them outside the tribe for some years, the Woadani tribe accepted the Christian ethic of love, and the Lord of that ethic, and the murder rate dropped 90% over a few years.

This is an amazing story, and I really recommend the movie – and the book.

[tags] end of the spear, christian, woadani, movie, john koetsier [/tags]

Packer: notes from a lecture

My sister Henriette went to hear theologian J.I. Packer yesterday at Regent College, here in Vancouver. Here are her notes from the evening:

Went to hear Packer presented as a free lecture by Regent College at UBC.  Amazing man, gracious, full of vitality with a mind and wit as sharp as a pin.  I tried to summarize some of his points, first of all to clarify them in my mind but perhaps you also might be interested in what his message entitled “Spirituality in the 21st Century” might hold for you.  Dale said Packer has been called the greatest theologian of the 21st century.  His message is intriguing in its simplicity and also its sense of timelessness, as he quotes Puritans and saints of the early centuries of the church.  It is unique and fresh to hear it spoken into our seeker/sensitive, “me”ism, type of church structure, although he is careful to refrain from making criticisms.  He directs his message to us personally as he said the best way to make change is to model it.

This is by no means a comprehensive summary as I had only jotted what I considered salient points down.   Some facts will be disjointed from the whole but bear with me.   Here goes:

Packer’s favourite theologians and authors:  Calvin, Owen and Edwards.

Packer was defined by his biographer as a catechist.  His definition, one who lives orthodoxy with vitality to lead people into a spiritual life, ie. spirituality.

He spoke of the inner life of the new Christian, given a new heart.  The inside struggle is to be motivated by spiritual disciplines.  The heart is the powerhouse, the driving force.

The outward story is developing Christian character, behavioural patterns developing, the fruits of the Spirit.  We are trying to live lives of influence and impact.

The above provides a brief context for below:

Packer looked at the Christian community in the 21st century and saw the following weakness:

-  Not really clear in the head (dry English wit), not having sufficient knowledge
-  Not understanding the “Trinitarian Plan”
-  Not humble in heart because not facing facts

Though we know God hates sin:

-  Many forget God’s character is as it was
-  His purity
-  His grace
-  Not understanding our sinfulness.
-  Not thoroughgoing in living a penitent life as we should be
-  Repent (military term) changes whole direction
-  Allowed to dream, then think, and drift along with the world.
-  Not as different as we need to be.

21st Century is:

-  Post-Christian
-  Secular – another word for worldly
-  Syncretistic – another word for idolatry
-  Consumed with “Selfism” – me and my happiness – got deep into us
-  Anti Christian era
-  Pride masquerades as intellectual perplexity.
-  Islamic drive for world domination

Packer said:  “What is key to faithfulness, fruitfulness, spiritual health and strength in the 21st century?”

What we need:  Renewed focus on “holiness”

His text – 1st Peter – As He who called you is holy, ……    In a Barna poll only 1/3 of evangelicals believe Christians are called to be holy.

Holiness means separation and contrast.  A technical term in Scripture, a quality that distinguishes God.  In terms of the attributes of God, it is called the attribute of all attributes.  It makes God awesome  and fearsome.

He also spoke of the love and loving kindness and mercy of God, the word he coined was “Holy Love”.
The holiness of God’s people – separation is the basic idea – separated to God in order to imitate Christ.  We practise love to God and neighbour.
-  Consecration
-  Commitment
-  Separation
-  Focus on God
-  Committed to live by the Bible.

Holiness starts in the heart.  -  Not legalistic asceticism, built on the supposition if outer behaviour is right, inner must be right, ie Pharisees, had hard hearts, were unloving and pride drove them.

Inside story – how holiness begins in the heart:

-  Rebirth, regeneration
-  God renews heart, we want to do what Jesus wanted to do, love, serve, exalt Heavenly Father.

Following dispositional acts practised:

-  Purity of God
-  Presence of God – practice it – what he called “hiking with the Trinity”, a journey that is not straight but has peaks and valleys.
-  Recognize the “ugliness” of sin – recognize self-service is a horrible thing.
-  Burden of sins is intolerable (taken from Book of Prayer – Anglican)
-  Recognizes urgings of a regenerate heart.
-  Heart resolves to practice friendship with God.  Quoted Gregory of Nisan, 4th Century, “Falling from God’s friendship is dreadful, becoming God’s friend is perfection”.

Friendship with God:

-  Conversation with God
-  Intimacy in prayer
-  Informality with God, speaking naturally from our heart.

Holiness grows downwards:

-  Grows into deeper repentance and humility
-  Model standard – template is Psalm 51 and the book of Job.  Job stayed faithful but at the end he acknowledged there were things he should not have said to God and he repented in dust and ashes.  We need to do this on a daily basis..

Opposite of Repentance and Humility is Conceit and Complacency.

Holiness looks ahead:

-  Truth of assurance of faith stemming from truth of Justification.
-  He spoke of the “Great Exchange” being the last judgement of God pronounced now.
-  Having assurance of faith makes you realistic about death.
-  He felt we concentrate on the blessings of this life.
-  We should have steady meditation and anticipation of life to come.
-  Most Christians are not ready to go
-  We should be “preparing for life at home, while travelling home”.
-  Quoted Richard Baxter, a Puritan who advocated a daily mediation of 1/2 hour on the glory of heaven.

Holiness absorbs hurt:

-  Life is full of suffering
-  Pleasure seeking world demand/expects right to pain-free life
-  Definition of suffering:  when you get what you don’t want
when you don’t get what you want
-  God uses suffering to sculpt our souls.
-  Keep sweet, steady and not to get bitter, looking to Jesus.

Holiness is “Habit become Character”:

-  If we practice the fruits of the Spirit, these are qualities that grow.
-  Fruits of the Spirit are the moral profile of Christ, to be reproduced in his disciples.
-  Love is a matter of habit – matter of serving others to make them great, God first and then man.
-  Joy is priming the pump of the mind.  The heart will rejoice when we think of things that make us rejoice.
-  (This is the most remarkable fact to me) – Habit becomes Character becomes You!
-  He lamented we have a great need of Christian people to honor.

His closing text in his quest for re-discovery of holiness was Psalm 139, vs. 23 and 24, “Search me O God and know my heart:  Try me and know my anxious thoughts:  And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way”.

He then said Amen and we all echoed that.  There were many young people in attendance last night and I found this very encouraging.

His ageold and timeless message resonated with all of us and I hope it will with you too.  May the quest for holiness begin with me and you.


Thanks for the summary, Henriette!

The one question

My wife Teresa and I are going through a bit of a tough time right now around church: which church should we attend?

This is always a tough choice: as my mother reminds me from time to time, you don’t just choose for yourselves, you choose for your children.

In our case, it’s particularly tough as we go to a smallish church, which means that any member leaving is a cut deeply felt. Leaving means leaving friends – you can say “we’ll keep in touch,” but realistically you won’t. Or even if you do, it won’t be the same. And in our case, my parents go to our church as well, and they – naturally – would really like us to stay.

Something that my sister Maria mentioned to me yesterday made a lot of sense. The one question to answer, she said, when making choices in life is: will God be glorified?

Should I switch jobs: will God be glorified?

Should I go to a different church: will God be glorified?

Should I move: will God be glorified?

It’s a very good question. Our purpose on this planet is to know God, to worship Him, to enjoy Him, to glorify Him. Therefore anything that maximizes our glorification of God is right down the strike zone of what we should be doing.

That’s some much-needed simplicity that I’ve been needing for a while. I can get so bogged down in the pros and cons of a decision, the consequences of a decision, that the key thing sometimes gets missed: what path glorifies the Creator?

It’s a question I’m going to try to keep top-of-mind every day.

A still small voice

Doubt versus faith: which wins?

Douglas Adams’ last book was The Salmon of Doubt. Publishly posthumously, it contains bits and pieces of his writing, including letters, addresses, a chunk of a partly finished book … and even a sample of his writing at age 12! Adams, of course, wrote the excellent and amusing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, among other things.

Included in The Salmon of Doubt are his vigorous defenses of atheism and evolution. That struck me as unfortunate, to say the least. Mostly because Adams died before finishing this book, and he no longer has a chance to change his opinions.

But also because one of his reasons for atheism was morality. In a talk he gave almost extemporaneously, Adams declared that morality is contingent. In other words, relative, not absolute.

Actually, I think morality is one of the strongest proofs of God’s existence. Why? Simple.

Rather than morality varying extensively across cultures and continents, the basics of morality are actually pretty universal: prohibitions against murder, theft, and so on. (Of course, the prohibitions are often ignored by individuals and groups in cultures … but still, the culture as a whole agrees that the rule is valid).

But here’s the deal: if there is no God, there can be no absolute morality. There can be some relative, local, constructed morality, but there can be no ultimate standard of what is right and what is wrong.

Law requires a law-giver.

But at bottom, even those who are agnostic or atheistic do not believe that morality is relative. They may say so – and often do. But they know that morality is absolute. And you can demonstrate to them that they know it … even when they’d prefer not to admit it.

Here’s one way.

It’s the question: is rape wrong? Almost everyone will acknowledge that it is. And the knowledge that it is wrong is so strong, so right-feeling that I have never met a person who, confronted, maintains that this is just a local, relative, contingent feeling. Rather, there’s an immutable law of the universe in operation.

Moral law, to be sure, but law nevertheless.

Another is to simply hit someone in the face. (Or, to be more polite, to say: what if I hit you in the face? Would that be OK, morally?) Even people who are well-schooled in the relativistic social sciences are very hard-pressed to take a smack in the face with equanimity. And again, the feeling is not just one of anger or revenge, but a very real sense of a basic law of morality (fairness) being broken.

That people universally believe in the existence of external moral law is strong evidence for a law-giver. And that law-giver is God.