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November 25, 2013

It began harmlessly enough—just a little bit of numbness in three toes. At first it was no more than an annoyance, but then the numbness spread to her foot and began to creep upward. Soon it was accompanied by fatigue, nausea, headaches. She visited a doctor and then a neurologist who promptly arranged a battery of tests. And then the diagnosis: “I am so sorry, but it is a brain tumor.” Though the tumor was benign, it was in a bad spot, right at the junction of the brain and the spinal cord. In that moment she knew her life had changed forever.

This is the story of Elaine Grant, a dear friend of my family’s, a sister in Christ, and a woman of exemplary Christian courage.

One Who Knows Christ

Elaine GrantLet’s back up a little bit, all the way to the early 80’s. Back then Elaine lived just down the block from my family in a beautiful North Toronto neighborhood. She and my mother were both young moms, dedicated to raising their children. Elaine was articulate, meditative, and the kind of person who read right through the Globe and Mail, Canada’s weighty, national newspaper. The two families bonded immediately.

Around 1981 Elaine suffered a series of tragedies. In close succession she lost her father, her mother, and her marriage. But amid all the loss, she found Jesus. Or, better said, he found her. My parents shared the gospel with her, introduced her to their church family, and watched her begin to pursue God.

Some of my earliest memories in life are of Elaine and her children, Erinn and Logan. Erinn was a year or two older than me, and Logan a year or two younger. We played outdoors together, racing up and down the sidewalk in front of our homes. I have a snapshot memory of arguing with Erinn at the top of a flight of stairs, trying to settle a meaningless childhood squabble. I have another memory of her singing at a piano, singing beautifully. The two families shared life together for a time.

Those years as a single mom brought Elaine many personal and financial challenges, but she clung to the Lord, and, in the most important ways, she and her children thrived. But that was two decades before Elaine received the news that would change her life.

One Who Knows Suffering

“I am so sorry, but it is a brain tumor.” The doctor recommended exploratory surgery and, once he got a better view of the tumor, determined it would be best to leave it for a time. The tumor had room to grow and leaving it for now would delay the inevitable neurological damage that would come when he removed it.

November 24, 2013

Arthur GuinnessArthur Guinness (1724 or 1725 – 1803) was the visionary, entrepreneur, and Christian philanthropist who founded the Guinness brewery business. Born into an Irish Protestant family, Guinness received £100 from his godfather Arthur Price, the Archbishop of Cashel, in the Church of Ireland. When he was about 30 years old, Guinness invested this money in building a brewery near Dublin, the capital of Ireland. In 1761, Guinness married Olivia Whitmore in Dublin and amazingly they had 21 children.

Like many others during his day, Guinness had numerous family members who brewed their own beer (Arthur’s father had, and three of his sons did as well). Alcohol was a safer alternative to drinking the disease-infested, unfiltered water of the time. However, since so many drank to great excess, some people began to brew beer which had a much lower concentration of alcohol. Guinness was among them.

His Conversion

As noted earlier, the Guinness’s were Irish Protestants. Therefore, Arthur grew up going to church. His personal motto was Spes Mea in Deo, which means, “My hope is in God.” He was a devout Christian who loved Jesus and shared his care for the weak and poor. This love led him to help those who were addicted to strong drinks like whiskey and gin, and to offer a healthier and safer alternative in beer.

Guinness had the opportunity to hear John Wesley preach at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The revivalist made a strong impression on him. In response, he lived Wesley’s message: “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can. Your wealth is evidence of a calling from God, so use your abundance for the good of mankind.” God indeed gave him great wealth and he was faithful to honor God and love others with what he had received.

His Contributions

A significant part of Guinness’s giving was his genuine desire to help people by brewing beer because of its lower concentration of alcohol compared to many other drinks (as we noted earlier). In other words, beer genuinely helped some people avoid the excesses of drunkenness. Similarly, because of Wesley’s influence and message, Guinness worked hard to start Sunday schools and, in fact, founded the ministry of Sunday schools in Ireland. He gave money to the poor, served on hospital boards, and sought to live a simple life despite being quite wealthy.

The legacy Guinness left is still felt today. In 2009, Guinness & Co. established the Arthur Guinness Fund (AGF), which offers people opportunities to help their communities. One of the main reasons his influence has lasted so long is that he invested a great deal of time and energy into his family. He taught his children the same values that he himself cherished and lived by. Thus, his children developed the Guinness corporation into a strong, effective organization that is still widely known to this day. Much of the reason it has done so well is because the corporation has been very generous with its customers, with its own employees, and with those outside the organization. For example, during World War II, Guinness gave a bottle of their beer to every British soldier serving in the war. Through many other similar stories, Guinness sought the good of mankind and the praise of God.

November 21, 2013

About a year ago, or maybe a little more, Paul Martin (the Senior Pastor at Grace Fellowship Church) went away for a couple of weeks and left me to preach. Because I prepare my sermons digitally, I was finding it increasingly silly to convert them into the older medium of paper. They say that “while the cat’s away the mice will play,” so I took this as an opportunity to begin preaching from an iPad instead of a paper manuscript. I have been preaching from that iPad ever since. 

There are many ways to go about it, but I will tell you about the system I have been using for the past year or so. I have found that it works very well. You need only two programs to do this: Pages and GoodReader (or Word and GoodReader if you use a PC). While I continue to use a full-size iPad, this system will work just as well with the Mini.

1. Prepare Yourself

Preaching from an iPad can be a little bit intimidating at first, largely because we have a good deal of confidence in paper and a lot less confidence in electronics. It always amuses me that if something goes wrong with your paper manuscript (e.g. You drop it, or the pages get out of order) you blame yourself, but if something goes wrong with the iPad, you blame the iPad. The fact is, both are simply media and both have advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses. If you are going to preach from an iPad, you have got to do it boldly, not dreading it and not convinced that something will go wrong. Make sure you understand the process and be sure you practice it a few times. At the beginning you may want to take a paper backup with you as a means of increasing your confidence.

2. Get a Case

Pad and QuillWhile the iPad is an excellent tool for preaching, it can also serve as a distraction if people think, “He’s preaching from an iPad!” This concern is fast fading as iPads become ubiquitous, but for the time being, I find there is value in using a case that looks like a notepad. This is not to hide the fact that you are preaching from your iPad as much as it is to keep the fact from becoming a distraction. The cases from Pad & Quill are excellent, though there are also less-expensive alternatives.

3. Prepare Your Manuscript

I have found the best tools to use are Pages and GoodReader. Pages is excellent for preparing your notes or your manuscript. Using iCloud, you can prepare it on your computer and have it automatically sync to the iPad. When you are finished, bump the font size to 16 or 18. It will look obnoxiously large, but make it far more readable at a glance. The new version of Pages allows you to very easily add page numbers which can be helpful with your pacing. Once your sermon is ready to go in pages, you’ll need to get your file to GoodReader. To do this, tap the icon at the top right (the square with the arrow pointing up) and then “Open in Another App,” “PDF,” “Choose App” and “Open in GoodReader.” A couple of seconds later you will be ready to go.

The reason you want to preach from GoodReader rather than Pages is that it allows you to swipe or tap from one page to the next; you do not want to scroll from page to page as it is too easy to lose your place.

If you use a PC, find a program (such as Word) that will allow you to save a PDF file, and either email that to yourself or use Dropbox to transfer it to your iPad. Then open it in GoodReader.

November 20, 2013

Every year Oxford Dictionaries announces a Word of the Year. This is a word, or expression, that has attracted a great deal of interest that year. Throughout the year the Dictionary staff track words using all kinds of interesting means and in November they narrow in on a few for special consideration. A final selection team is made up of lexicographers and consultants to the dictionary team, and editorial, marketing, and publicity staff. This year, all of that effort led to this word: Selfie.

A selfie is a photograph of yourself taken with a mobile phone or other handheld device, and uploaded to social media—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any of the others. The Dictionary team found that the word was first used in 2002 by an inebriated Australian:

Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.

It has been in use ever since. However, in 2013 the word reached a kind of tipping point in popularity when both individuals and media began to refer to it with increased regularity and decreased shame. Over the year it increased in usage by 17,000%.

I find this word fascinating on two levels. First, I love words, so am always eager to learn new ones, to see how they have come into use, and to see how they’ve become popularized. Selfie is just such a word.

But of greater interest to me is the selfie and ourselves. I keep an eye on the digital world and find that selfie has some special interest here. I have often looked for a word that will aptly summarize life in this digital world, and this may be it. We are the selfie generation.

November 17, 2013

Henry Parsons Crowell (1855–1943) was a Christian philanthropist who founded Quaker Oats Company. Born into a wealthy family (and having inherited a large sum after his father’s death at age 36), Crowell worked hard and honestly even though he probably could have lived very well from what he had inherited. He saw all that he had as a stewardship from God and therefore sought to honor Him with his wealth.

Crowell overcame tuberculosis at a young age (the same disease his father died of). After traveling around the country to help fight the disease, his family eventually settled in Chicago. He bought Quaker Mill in 1881 and married his first wife, Lillie, a year later. Lillie suddenly died just two and a half years into their marriage, after giving birth to their first child, a daughter they named Annie. In 1888, he married Susan Coleman and together they had a powerful influence on others for Christ.

His Conversion

When Crowell was a boy, his family attended Second Presbyterian Church in Massachusetts. His father was concerned about how his great wealth would affect his children, so from a young age he taught them eternal values that would put earthly values in their proper perspective. Crowell was only 9 when his father died and the loss pressed him to come to terms with his own faith in God. So, having spoken to his pastor, he trusted in Christ. After listening to D. L. Moody preach, Crowell prayed, “I can’t be a preacher, but I can be a good businessman. God, if You will let me make money, I will use it in Your service.”

November 14, 2013

A couple of days ago I began a short series on modesty. It is not my intention that this series will say everything about modesty. Rather, I am trying to corral our thoughts and lead them in a specific direction and I think that direction will become clear today. I acknowledge in advance that this final entry in the series will inevitably be unsatisfying in some ways. But hang in there and I think you will see the value in thinking about modesty in this way. First, though, you may want to read The Heart of Modesty and Imperishable Beauty.

Modesty Matters

Yesterday we looked at two principles from 1 Peter 3:1-4. We saw that the crucial difference between immodesty and modesty is that the primary concern of one is being noticed while the primary concern of the other is God being noticed. There is a third principle we need to take from this text and it is a simple one: Modesty matters. Modesty makes a difference because God uses modesty to glorify himself.

Peter begins this whole section by holding out a great possibility: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” He assures the women he is writing to that modesty matters because it allows them to put their Christian character on display. This Christian character can serve as a powerful form of evangelism. These women needed to choose whether they would draw attention to themselves by defining beauty only in relation to outward things or whether they would draw attention to God by defining beauty primarily in relation to inward things. If they chose the latter, they would be living witnesses of God’s grace.

Remember, Peter was writing to a very specific group—to women whose husbands were followers of a different faith. Maybe these women thought the way to win their husbands was to go with the brute force approach and to nag their men into the kingdom, or maybe they went with the approach that involved crying and begging and pleading. Peter tells them not to do any of this. Instead, they are to put aside immodesty and focus on godly character. Their kind and respectful conduct will give such evidence of Christ in their lives that it may even draw their husbands to the Savior. In this context, true modesty, modesty that flows out of the gospel, has an evangelistic component to it.

We need to be careful we don’t make Peter say more than he means here. No one is going to become a Christian simply because you dress modestly. If wearing a long dress was enough to convince people to trust Christ, I’d be wearing one right now! What Peter wants his readers to know is that these women can either complement or contradict the message they speak with the way they behave and the way they dress.

This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? If you preach the gospel while wearing a scandalously low-cut dress, you are offering mixed messages. You are saying one thing but giving evidence of another thing altogether. With your words you are saying, “Look to Christ” while with your clothes you are saying, “Look at me!” If you go to share the gospel in a poor area of town while wearing a twenty thousand dollar suit, you are saying one thing but displaying another. Your words say, “I live for the glory of God” while your clothes say, “I live for the glory of me.” Your clothes contradict the message. Dressing modestly pushes you into the background and pushes the message into the foreground; dressing immodestly pushes you to the front and the message to the back.

November 13, 2013

Yesterday I began a short series of articles on the always-tricky subject of modesty. I’m sure this will not be the final word on the subject, and I cannot cover every aspect of it, but I do want to get us thinking and talking about modesty. At the very least I will give you something to agree or disagree with—usually a good way to stimulate your own thoughts. Thanks to all those who left comments and feedback. You should begin with part one: Modesty Matters

Yesterday we looked at Colossians 2:20-23 to see that as sinful human beings we love to make and to break rules; when we come to tricky areas of life, we can very quickly take refuge in rules, and this is exactly what many discussions of modesty turn into. We also saw that the heart of modesty is dressing in such a way that you show love to others and bring glory to God, while the heart of immodesty is dressing in such a way that you show self-love and claim the glory for yourself.

Today I would like to begin with 1 Peter 3:1-4:

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

In this passage, Peter is speaking to a very select group of people—married women whose husbands are followers of a different religion. He knows these women will face some very specific challenges and offers them some pointed guidance. What you and I do when we read passages like this is to try to understand what the author said to his original audience and then learn how we can apply those principles to our own lives. We find that the biblical principles always have wide application.

There are three things I would like to draw out of these verses. We will look at the first two today and wrap up tomorrow with the third.

We All Want to Be Noticed

The first thing we can take from these verses is this: sinful people want to be noticed. Peter writes, “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing.”

November 12, 2013

Modesty. It is one of those topics we have all discussed at one time or another. We have all heard a preacher or youth pastor talk about it. And somehow we rarely seem to be satisfied at the end of it all. Modesty, it turns out, is a difficult subject.

I find modesty a fascinating subject exactly because we find it so difficult to discuss it well. I plan to share some thoughts on modesty in just a couple of articles. I want to encourage us all to be men and women marked by modesty—modest men and modest women clothed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Note: Modesty can cover a wide range of character including speech and behavior, but in this series I will speak only about modesty in dress.)

An Appearance of Wisdom

Colossians 2:20-23 makes an interesting place to begin as we think about modesty. There Paul writes,

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

In these verses we see the stark truth that as sinful human beings we are rule-makers, ruler-followers, and rule-breakers. We love rules! We love to make rules and we love to break rules. And if there is any discussion in all of the Christian world that is dominated by the making, keeping and breaking of rules, it must be this one. The modest woman is the woman who knows the rules and keeps the rules. And this is exactly where this passage helps us.

Paul wrote this letter to Christians, to people who wanted to honour God by allowing their faith to extend to every part of life. They had encountered some challenges to godly living and had determined they could meet these challenges by creating a list of rules. Here is how they would please God in this situation: Do not handle. Do not taste. Do not touch. They were sure the rules would guard them from sin.

That is how it always seems to go. This is exactly what the New Testament Pharisees did. They wanted to keep the Ten Commandments so they created hundreds of other laws that would keep them safely within the ten big laws. Paul sees this in the church in Colosse and understands that while the rules may have been well-intentioned, they were actually very, very dangerous. He tells the church that while rules like this do have an appearance of godliness, they are actually of no value when it comes to the most important thing—addressing the heart. These people could follow every rule and still be utterly spiritually rebellious. Paul knew this because had been a Pharisee. He had been the most zealous follower of rules and the most righteous person in the nation. But then he met Jesus and immediately realized that the rules had not helped him but hindered him, they had not brought freedom but captivity. He had almost followed the rules straight to hell.

And this is what so many modesty discussions turn into. “Only this high. Only this short. Never in this combination.” We feel what may be a good desire to be modest and we address it through rules. Soon we become captive to the rules; the rules become our salvation and our sanctification. (Of course not all rules are bad. There is a time and place to talk about dress codes. But it needs to be gospel first, and then specific rules and specific applications.)

Paul wrote to this church with a far better solution than rules. He went straight to the gospel to show them that if they wanted to put sin to death, if they wanted to live holy lives, they would need to do it by and through the gospel of Jesus Christ. This tells us that before we even think about limits and rules, we need to think about the gospel and all the freedom it brings. The gospel frees us from thinking that obeying rules will save us. It frees us from thinking rules will actually stop behavior God hates or motivate behavior God loves. It frees us put aside and to deny our freedoms and desires out of love for others.

Before we get to a text that speaks directly to modesty, I want to cover two things: A little thought experiment and a definition of modesty.

November 10, 2013

GuthrieThomas Guthrie D.D.(Doctor of Divinity) was a popular Scottish preacher, writer, and Christian philanthropist who lived from 1803–1873. Born at Brechin in Forfarshire, Guthrie’s early life was spent in his native town, where his father was a merchant. His wife, Ann, was the daughter of the Rev. James Burns, one of the ministers of Brechin. Together, they had ten children and their family was well known for their warmth and hospitality. 

His Conversion

God blessed Guthrie with a Christian family who were members of the Established Church of Scotland. His mother was a very earnest and godly woman, and numerous times throughout his life, Guthrie thankfully acknowledged his mother’s powerful influence on him. Thus, Guthrie’s embrace of Christ was most likely how he himself describes many conversions. They are not all dramatic and sudden. Rather, as he says,

Unconscious of the change when it began, they know not when or how it happened. And thus, with many, the dawn of grace resembles, in more respects than one, the dawn of day. It is with the spiritual dawn of many—with the breaking of their eternal day—with their first emotions of desire and of alarm, as with that faint and feeble streak which brightened and widened and spread, till it blazed into a brilliant sky.

From a young age, Guthrie aspired to be a minister of the gospel. Though he studied surgery and anatomy under Dr. Robert Knox at Edinburgh University, he later concentrated on theology and was then licensed to preach in 1825.

But there were no opportunities for Guthrie to preach for the first five years, so he worked for his father’s banking office. He did not begrudge this time, however, because it gave him experience in business and in dealing with others that proved valuable in his gospel labors and giving. Eventually, he became the minister of Arbirlot in Angus and then he ministered at Free St. John’s chapel in Edinburgh. He had a great presence and masterful powers of speech. Thus, he had a strong, godly impact on many.

November 08, 2013

Aileen (Tim’s wife) here! After Tim wrote 18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing With My Kids and 18 Things I Will Not Regret Doing With My Wife quite a few people got in touch to ask if he would round it out with an article by a wife for her husband. He hadn’t intended to do that when he began writing, but thought it would make sense to close out the little series that way. Tim asked me if I would be willing to take it on. I am kind of a reluctant writer, but decided to take the challenge (with the agreement that he wouldn’t change everything I said!).

So here are 18 things I will not regret doing with my husband.

1. Dating him. Because Tim is a pastor, Monday is usually his day off.  But like most days off, our Mondays are usually filled with chores (and in his case, writing). But one thing we always try to do is to get away from the house and go out for some time and some lunch. I will never regret setting aside that time to be together.

2. Cooking. Well, Tim mostly watches, but some of my sweetest memories come from him pulling a chair into the kitchen to hang out with me while I prepare dinner in the evening (I think he does it totally subconsciously too!). Friday nights is our pizza and movie night and Tim usually pitches in and we make the pizza together. I love these moments and will never regret that time spent cooking together.

3. Praying with him. I love praying with my husband. I love hearing him pray because I see so much of his heart when I listen to him speaking to the Lord. I will never regret prioritizing the times praying with him.

4. Freeing him to serve. This has been a struggle in our marriage and there have been times I have resented how much time and attention his pastoring takes. Freeing up Tim to serve our church not just by allowing him to go, but by believing in the necessity and benefit of his ministry to the church allows him to function as he should in the position God has given him. He is a better elder, husband and father when he feels this freedom. I know I will never regret freeing him up to serve.

5. Kissing him goodnight. Tim and I usually go to bed at the same time and pray together before we fall asleep. Too often it is easy, at the end of a long day, to simply roll over and go to sleep. But that goodnight kiss is such a sweet, simple way of showing affection. I will never regret kissing my husband goodnight.

6. Working together on projects. From the time we began dating, Tim and I have worked together on events or projects. From home improvement projects, running companies together, or promoting concerts and conferences, we have always worked well together. The time spent working together for a common goal has only strengthened our marriage. Working together is something I will never regret.