Book Review – A Lost God in a Lost World

November 25, 2015

We truly live in a lost world. We live in a world that has rejected God. The problem is that worldliness has infected the church. Our churches tend toward looking like the world, rather than the authentic Christianity of the New Testament. Melvin Tinker in his new book, A Lost God in a Lost World, tackles these issues in a clear and effective way.

The solution is to make less of the world and to make more of God. In that vein, Tinker addresses a number of problems that exist in the church and the solution that is rooted in God. He begins by addressing the weightiness (the immense glory of God) and why that should root out the problem of idolatry in our lives. Tinker articulates key points on the necessity of the cross, of Gospel proclamation, of grace, and of being heavenly minded. In sum, Tinker offers us a mini-systematic theology complete with the problems that exist in sinful man (and in sinful churches) and the solution rooted in various points regarding who God is and how God operates in the world.

David Wells in the forward writes, “If our vision of God is clouded, or our knowledge of him is deformed, living in a hostile cultural climate becomes an unequal contest.” Surely, we live in a 1 Peter context with a hostile culture around us. The solution is not to mimic that culture but to live out a unique culture rooted in the supremacy and majesty of the Triune God. To get there, Tinker simply reminds us of the beauty and majesty of God from the Word and reminds us of it’s significance for serving as our framework for life and the church.

If you’re like most in the church, you’re concerned by the lack of growth; both in our own lives, and in our churches. Tinker will remind you the solution is not in fads or programs or in mimicking the culture, but instead is in a bigger picture in our hearts and minds of God. While some more detail on how that would look (rubber meets the road) would be helpful, overall, he sets a good foundation for us to work on in each of our contexts. Highly recommended.

Memories of Thanksgiving

November 21, 2015


It’s not the event itself that makes you nostalgic, it’s the memory of the event.

I remember back to a life of memories of the second Monday in October. It always seemed nice to have the three day weekend with no shopping Armageddon following it. I remember the turkey, the mashed potatoes, the corn, the stuffing, the home-made rolls. And the pies… Dear Lord I remember the pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Pecan. You name it. It was there. That was of course because my mother wasn’t able to make enough food only for us. Clearly she had to make enough for an invisible army that was going to attend. I remember her maxim for how many mashed potatoes to make: one large potato for each of us, and then add 2 or 3 others for good measure. But I digress…

Certainly my experience of the event may not have been as profound as many Americans. Yet, so much of it was the same. A meal with the family. An opportunity to be thankful for what we had. Time spent with family (whether we liked it or not!). And whatever the historical reason why we celebrated, we simply wanted to enjoy a good meal together and to be thankful. And, while I may not always have been thankful at the time, I’m thankful for the experience and the memories to this day.

While so much is the same, so much is different. In a few short days we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving here in the United States. There will be turkey, pie, and all the trimmings. There will be traditions and family, and good times had by all. And while the proclamation of giving thanks for survival in a new land in 1621 might be more profound than giving thanks for the recovery of King Edward VII in 1872 (although Thanksgiving was celebrated informally in Canada as early as the 1578 voyage of Frobisher), at the foundation, they are the same: being thankful for what we have, no matter what we have. I haven’t been able to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving since moving to the US (it’s hard to make the trip back to Canada for the weekend), but I am thankful for the many years of Thanksgiving celebration that I did have. And I’m thankful that, even while I celebrate the event on a different day, I’m thankful for my homeland, my family, and Thanksgivings of bygone days.

And that’s what being thankful really means. It’s not about being thankful when in plenty. It’s about being thankful in all situations (1 Thessalonians 5:18). There are times in our life where we don’t have all the family support or even the big turkey on our table. That doesn’t mean it isn’t time to be thankful. Have a roof over your head, but stovetop stuffing on your table? Be thankful. Don’t have a roof over your head, but have friends and family that help to take care of you, be thankful. Don’t have friends or family to take care of you? Be thankful you are alive and have breath. Everyone has something for which they can be thankful. The question to ask yourself this year is, in plenty or in want, what can I be thankful for?

I missed Thanksgiving in Canada for another year. But I celebrate my Canadian holidays in abstentia (my wife is gracious to me that way). I don’t have to be present to celebrate Victoria Day, Canada Day, or Canadian Thanksgiving. I can be thankful that I can celebrate here, both Canadian and American Thanksgiving. I can be thankful for family, for food, for fellowship, for friends, for everything I have. And I can be thankful for, the things I once had, and the things I will have. I’m thankful for the memories of things past, and the memories I make today. What are you thankful for today?

Book Review – Gospel Conversations

November 2, 2015

One of the areas in which most of us are poorly trained by the seminaries is counseling. We spend much time studying good and important things, but considering the inordinate amount of time that most pastors spend on speaking Gospel truth into people’s lives, you’d think we would do a better job of preparing people to do just that. I’m finding in 15 years of ministry, that I’m woefully under prepared for the counseling that I do, and that I am looking for further training. What is wonderful though, is that there is a great abundance of resources being published to help address these most pressing needs. Robert Kelleman, in his new series, Equipping Biblical Counselors from Zondervan is filling a large gap in those resources. His newest, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ, is exceptional, not just for pastors and counselors, but for all in the body of Christ who want to minister like Jesus did.

Kelleman’s previous book in the series, Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives and another companion book edited by himself and Jeff Forrey, Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World (both from Zondervan), offer helpful resources to most pastors and counselors and the dedicated layperson. The first offers a helpful look at the entire counseling process and the theology behind it, in particular, the 8 ultimate questions of life to apply Christ’s truth to, and whereas the second devotes copious resources to understanding how biblical counseling uses God’s Word as it’s source. Both are excellent, but where Gospel Conversations shines in that it is designed for all of us in mind.

Gospel Conversations, though is written as a second work following Gospel-Centered Counseling, in that it is the continuation of that discussion and bringing what we’ve learned into actually doing counseling. The beauty of this though is taking the principles that Kelleman lays out and seeking to apply them to all our Gospel conversation, not just to the formal counseling situation (think Tripp’s, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands).

Kelleman employs his “four compass points” of biblical counseling to speak Gospel truth into any situation. These points are:

  • Sustaining – “It’s normal to hurt.”
  • Healing – “It’s possible to hope.”
  • Reconciling – “It’s horrible to sin but wonderful to be forgiven.”
  • Guiding – “It’s supernatural to mature.”

Kelleman uses these four points to build off speaking the truth in any Gospel-focused conversation, whether it be formal counseling or simply speaking to a brother or sister.

These points are developed along 5 or 6 further points of development (21 in all) through the handy acronyms of GRACE, RESTS, PEACEE, and FAITH. Each one develops the points further into helpful characteristics for counseling. For instance, under the 5 Sustaining counseling competencies of GRACE, Kelleman wants us to develop the following:

  • Grace Connecting
  • Rich Soul Empathizing
  • Attuned Gospel Listening
  • Comforting Spiritual Conversations
  • Empathetic Scriptural Explorations

All of these points, rooted in God’s Word, provides a helpful map of helping each person in each situation. So many Christians, “don’t know what to say,” when people are hurting. Myself, with the recent loss of our unborn baby, struggled through some severe depression. So few had anything helpful or sustaining to say from God’s Word. How wonderful would it have been been to hear the kind of words outlined above through that acronym, and which Kelleman develops further, to help to sustain me in my dark depression?

Keep in mind, this isn’t an easy book. It’s certainly prepared as a textbook format, and Kelleman, while offering some foundations of biblical counseling in the beginning, also presumes we’ve got a good understanding of those foundations before we begin. That being said, for those who are interested and willing to be stretched and grow in how they speak Gospel truth into people’s lives will be richly rewarded, not only through how they apply the Gospel in their own lives but how they apply it in each others as well. You’ll apply Gospel truth to a number of real situations that will shape how you apply those same truths to those whom you meet.

Are you frustrated that you “don’t know what to say,” or frankly, that what you do say is unhelpful (often too, the case for Christians), then I would recommend Gospel Conversations, as a helpful tool to train you to speak the Gospel into any and all of life’s circumstances.

Book Review: The Blender Girl Smoothies

September 30, 2015

The following is a book review from my wife Tracy.

Every week in our house we have “Smoothie Tuesday”. Our kids in particular look forward to their weekly concoction of fruits and sometimes veggies. We have had several smoothie recipes in our rotation that we all enjoy, but I was very glad to come across this book and find many, many new ideas to try.

In The Blender Girl Smoothies, Tess Masters gives a wonderful introduction to smoothie-making that will please beginners as well as advanced blender-users. The book opens with some helpful introductory information including the proper order for adding ingredients to the blender, as well as a basic formula to help you create your own recipes. The end of the book includes recommended resources as well as information on various ingredients and the nutritional profiles of various fruits, veggies, and superfoods.

One of the best features of the book is the full-color illustration of every smoothie. The recipes are divided into fruit-based recipes, green smoothies, and dessert options. We have tried several of the fruit recipes and everyone, including the kids, liked them. I am even motivated to try some of the green recipes! All of the recipes use easily-found ingredients and feature clear instructions. Each recipe also includes three optional “boosters”. These could be herbs, spices, extra veggies, or superfoods. Some of them are pricier items, but since they are optional, the smoothie will turn out just fine even if you don’t choose to use them.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking to expand their smoothie recipes. These blends taste great and they are practical to make. We will get lots of use out of this book.
I received this book free of charge in exchange for my honest review.

Is the Reformation Over? Part 1

September 28, 2015

It seems that every era is guilty of forgetting the lessons of the previous one. We often think, a bit nostalgically perhaps, of the lessons we learned as we were growing up, and how the current generation has not learned those same lessons. There is an election in Canada happening shortly, and a potential candidate made a crude joke about the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, and then apologized for making it saying she didn’t know it was a death camp. One may wonder how quickly we can forget such a thing, but even in the church, we are so forgetful about the lessons of the past.

The arrival of the so-called, “People’s” Pope to the United States recently is one such event in which we have forgotten our past. It certainly should be expected that Roman Catholics would be excited about the arrival of their highest religious leader. It also shouldn’t be surprising to us that people who have no strong religious connection would welcome the Pope, since he has been advocating issues toward the Left that many would welcome, despite the cognitive dissonance this should demonstrate.

What should be surprising is the amount of Protestant Christians who were whipped up into a Pope frenzy with his arrival, forgetting that, according to that Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church, as heirs of the Reformation, we still are condemned to damnation because of our theology (Council of Trent, Canons 9, 12, 14, 23, 24, 30, 33).

While certainly there has been change within the Roman Catholic Church over the years, there is much that has not changed, and therefore should make us Protestant Christians wary of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. While there are so many issues on which we disagree, and are reflective of underlying fundamental differences (Popery, Mariolotry, the Mass etc.), at the foundation, there are two differences that set us apart as Protestants.

First, a history lesson. Why are we called Protestants? Because our historical forbears “protested” against the theological errors within the Roman Catholic Church. While it was not the design of the these people to leave the church and form their own denominations (they were “Reformers” of the Roman Catholic Church initially), ultimately, the fact that there could be no reconciliation over these issues should give us pause today in our relationship with Roman Catholicism.

At the core of our difference is two things:

1) The Basis of our Authority
2) The Basis of our Salvation

First, on what basis does our authority exist? In Roman Catholicism that basis is the authoritative interpretation of the Magisterium. “Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal Magisterium.” (Vatican I, Dei Filius, 8). Further, “In matters of faith and morals the bishops speak in the name of Christ, and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent of soul. This religious submission of will and of mind must be shown in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, ch. 3, n. 25).

In contrast, as heirs of the Protestant Reformation we hold fast to the doctrine of sola scriptura, or that Scripture alone is our only basis of authority. In the Words of Martin Luther, “The true rule is this: God’s Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so.”  Smalcald Articles II, 15. Many years later, John Wesley could remark, “In all cases, the Church is to be judged by the Scripture, not the Scripture by the Church.” (Popery Calmly Condemned, 1779). The Westminster Confession of Faith gives us further detail how this looks for Protestants, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” Chapter 1, Section VII. Ultimately, this is rooted in our understanding of the nature of Scripture being God’s divine revelation to man and sufficient on it’s own (2 Timothy 3:16). 

We believe that we do not need some ruling body to tell us what we shall believe, but that each of us, can turn to God’s Word to interpret it and understand it for ourselves. In fact, the Bereans (Acts 17:11) are commended for being more noble because they searched the Scriptures to determine if what they were being taught was true. We as Protestants have the Bible in our hands in our language so we can understand it for itself. It is it’s own sole authority and not I, nor any other person, can bind your beliefs to one interpretation. Therefore, we cannot in good conscience agree with Roman Catholicism which puts the Word of God ultimately in the hands of only a few, and binds their hearers consciences to only church approved teaching.

Next week, I will address our second point of departure, namely our fundamental differences on the issue of saving faith, justification, and imputed righteousness.

On the Day My Baby Died

September 16, 2015

“I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Today, I mourn the death of my child. Unlike David, I still grieve. The pain is fresh and potent. It burns. Yet, like David, I too know that I will see my child again.

Today at the breakfast table I told our children that Jesus loved our baby so much He wanted the baby to be with Him now in heaven. How heartbreaking were those words coming out of my mouth.

While I only knew my child in the womb for a few weeks, the Lord had already firmly planted him or her in my heart. I prayed for that child. I loved that child. And now, that child has been taken from me. I knew so little about my baby…

I did not know if my baby would be a boy or a girl, but I am confident the Lord knew.

I did not know my baby’s name, but I am confident that my baby has one from the Lord, written down in glory.

I did not know what was in store for the life of my baby, but I am confident the Lord knew.

I did not get to hold my baby, but the Lord did.

I did not get to meet my baby, but one day across the Jordan, I will see my child.

Without the hope in my sovereign and merciful God, and without the knowledge that my child has gone to be with the Savior, I would be in utter despair. I am hurt. I am angry. I cry and I wail, and like the voice crying out in Ramah, I weep for my child. Weep with me.

And in the midst of this, I have a word for the church of Jesus Christ.

  • Children are a rich blessing. Despite what the world tells us, children are a blessing from the Lord. They are expensive, and tiring, but I cannot imagine what life would be like without my 3 little ones the Lord has given me. I won’t know what it would have been like with 4, but it would have made my life all the richer.
  • There is a stigma in our churches that miscarried babies are somehow less to be grieved over than babies already born. I’ve heard the callous and insensitive words uttered by Christians that “she’s young, please Lord give her another one” as if another child could replace the one that was previously growing in her womb. For all we talk about as pro-life people and “life in the womb” we are terribly insensitive and callous when people, who want the ones the Lord has given to them, lose them acting as if it was less of a baby somehow.My baby died. Just as if my 5 year old died. Just because I knew not the name of my child, or held that baby in my arms, does not mean I loved that gift any less. Grieve with me. Weep with me. Hope with me. But don’t act like that baby was any less a baby or that the baby could be so easily replaced.
  • Keep your theological concern to yourself at this point. I know the Bible doesn’t explicitly say babies go to heaven, but I believe there is enough material to draw concepts from God’s Word together to form a reasonable inference that it be true. If you disagree, the best thing you can do is keep it to yourself instead of trying to theologically out-reason grieving parents.
  • Losing your baby, at any age, at any stage of development is one of the most horrific experiences to go through as a parent. Yet, our culture has such a lackadaisical attitude to babies, and in particular, to killing said babies in the womb, when they are inconvenient. The church needs to be more dedicated, prayerful, and involved, with boots on the ground, in seeking to end the abhorrent abortion industry in North America. It’s not enough just to be angry, do something about it. As I grieve for my own lost baby, who was loved and cared for, I grieve, in some ways, even more for those who were not loved or cared for. Oh, how I wish I could hold each of them in my arms. If someone came to me today and said, “I’m going to abort this baby unless someone adopts it,” I’d be the first to reply, “I will love and care for your baby just as I would my own.” How much do you love and care for the babies of our nation?

This is all so raw. But I didn’t want to wait until the rawness was gone. Then I’d edit out things and change the ways I worded them. I wanted you to come alongside me and weep with me and grieve with me in all the rawness of the loss of life. Then, I hope and pray you will be even more understanding, sensitive, caring for those who lose their babies in the womb, and dare I say it, even more willing to step up and help take care of the little ones who are not loved except by our Savior.

An Anniversary We’d Like to Forget

September 11, 2015

Today marks the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. I recall the event vividly in my own mind even today. I was in class at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary that day. I was the only Canadian at the school that day. It was if what I heard and saw truly were not happening. I waited for almost 4 hours at the border trying to re-enter Canada. The after effects were immense as crossing the border for a few weeks after that was almost impossible. This was nothing compared with what so many went through that day and following.

It was truly a world event that has affected us all even if we do not realize it. It will forever be remembered as my generation’s “where were you when?” What struck me the most after the event though was more theological than anything else. Many church leaders could not fathom that God could have had anything to do with that tragedy. That it must have been out of His control. Now, I know I am not saying anything here that is new. In fact, better men than I have eloquently explained how a sovereign God did control these events. But I want to focus on a few passages of Scripture just to remind us once again, that we serve a God that is sovereign and in control, of the good, and the bad.

Amos 3:6 often resonates in my mind as I think of the relationship of God to world events. It reads, “When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it” (NIV). Disasters, calamities, and suffering, are not outside of God’s control. We do not serve a God who is impotent, but a God who is omnipotent!

Daniel 4:34b-35 also reminds us of the sovereign control of God. “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him ‘What have you done’” (NIV)? Nebuchadnezzar, the major world leader at the time, realized that God is sovereign and in control of all events. He does as He pleases.

There are many other passages which demonstrate that God is sovereign. He is not weak like Open Theists would argue. Our God does in fact know the future. He knows the future because He has planned the future! That is designed to be a comforting thought, not a troubling thought. God is in control of all events in world history. Even 9/11. And  yet, He is not a capricious God. He loves and cares for mankind and His creation. Isaiah 54:8 reads, “‘In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer.” (NIV). We should consider that all of us deserve death. None of us are less guilty than others (Luke 13:1-5), and so God is incredibly gracious to allow us to live, when we should die, just as others have always done. 

On this anniversary of a terrible event in human history, let us remind ourselves that if God was not in control of that situation, then we serve an impotent God. I do not want to serve an impotent God but an omnipotent God! I also do not want to serve a capricious God, but a loving and merciful God. What an amazing God we serve, the sovereign and merciful Lord of the universe! Blessed be the name of the Lord!