Friday, December 21, 2007

God the Gardener

John 15.1-2: I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will become even more fruitful.

Why? Why do we see people who love the Lord all of a sudden or over time just stop serving? Why are there no kingdom priorities in their life? On the other hand, why do God's people go through such great difficulties? They may ask, "Why is my life so difficult? Does God love me? Does He see my pain?"

Jesus answers those two questions in John 15.1-2. Jesus uses a picture of a vine and a Gardener and explains in a way that cannot be misunderstood. If you do not have a life that is bearing fruit for God, then you will be cut off. They will not care because they have already stopped bearing fruit. Pangs of guilt may arise once and a while but on the whole being cut off is really not a deep concern because they have already cut themselves off from God.

But the life of a true believer is different. They are bearing fruit as they live in Christ and for Christ. The difficult matter for the believer is that God knows that with some pruning, they can bear more fruit. So God steps up to the believer and begins to shape and mold and cut so that they become even more fruitful. This wise Gardener knows where to cut and how much to trim so that the vine will produce quality fruit.

This means at least two things. First, it is exciting to know that every believer will bear fruit. There is no one who is able to say that they are of no consequence in the kingdom of God. Part of your privilege as a child of God is to bear fruit for God as you serve him in your sphere of life. Second, this can be a painful process. That is why at times the believer is left wondering about God's activities. Why Lord? Well, the answer may be that some pruning is being done so you can bear even more fruit in His kingdom.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hospital Gowns

Recently my brother-in-law had to take his wife to the hospital and as they sat down to wait for her operation, he noticed the gowns the patients wore. As he contemplated this, he mentioned how it struck him that it did not matter your social status, the size of your house or the amount of presents under the tree - they all wore the same type of gown.

His reminder was timely as Western culture is consumed with material gifts while neglecting the true gift of Christmas - Jesus. It shows you how rebellious our hearts are before God. We have the freedom to learn about the birth of Christ and our culture spends its time in malls - not church. It also shows you how great and precious the gift of God is - that it meets our greatest need, not just felt needs.

When it comes time for me to put on one of those gowns, I am so thankful to God that the gift given me is not under the tree but He is on the throne.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Battling Temptation?

John 12:25-26: The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

The battling temptations surround all of us - daily, constantly. We can experience the triumph of obedience one moment and the defeat of disobedience the next and so it is important in the moments of being tossed by the waves of temptation to stand on the solid Word of God.

Jesus, in John 12, gives direction and hope as he tells his disciples not only of his coming death but also of what the believer's life must consist.

1. Learn to hate your life and value the life to come (While that man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life) When Satan tempted Jesus it was about the here and now - you can have bread now, you can have the kingdom now and without the cross. Jesus' answer? Man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God; worship the Lord your God and serve him only. Jesus practiced what he preached as he valued the life to come and the life he would give to all who would follow him.

2. Learn to be a servant - this life is not about you (whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be) Even in the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Eve with words that would make her the master and put God in His proper place. But Jesus states: you are my servant. That one line or that one heart attitude helps us understand temptation and what is constantly bombarding us: will we serve Christ or our desires? Will Christ be master or will we?

3. Learn to be satisfied with God's approval (My Father will honour the one who serves me.) God will honour the one who serves Christ. Will I be satisfied to let go of the praise of men and women and simply long to hear the words of God: I honour you, my servant and my child? I sometimes wonder if the most precious moments in Jesus' life on earth were when he heard His Father say: This is my Son, in whom I delight. The servant of Jesus, as he battles temptation, must have a greater longing for God's approval and honour.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Psalm 9 - A Good Reminder

Psalm 9 begins with the inscription For the director of music. To the tune of , "The Death of the Son." A psalm of David. Sounds ominous, doesn't it? Put away the happy instruments and bring out the "low, sombre notes" setting the stage for the death of the son tune. David finds himself surrounded by the sad "music" of rebellion against God as the Godless relentlessly attack God and His people. However, what is surprising is that the death of the son seems to be a warning to those who oppose God. We read in the Psalm that David spends most of his time warning the rebellious that God reigns forever and therefore He will judge, He will avenge the blood of His people, and He will strike them with terror.

But it is this last line that I want to mention - let the nations know they are but men. Imagine the last words of the song - you, you who stand against God - know this: You are but men. Nothing more, nothing less. Try to stand against God as you will but you will fail and you will know that you are but men.

We also live in a culture that says: we are men! God adds a simple word - as you stand before me, you are "but men".

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sin Is Active

Genesis 4 is an interesting chapter because it is the first glimpse of a sinful world after the Fall. Genesis 4.7 gives us a great deal of information about sin. We read as God speaks to Cain after his sacrifice was not accepted: If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.

What is striking about this picture is that sin is active - it desires to have you, it is crouching at your door. That means you always have an enemy hiding, prowling, leaping - ready to attack. We do not even have to go and look, sin is right there on the doorstep.

What does this mean? It means that there is no down-time for a believer in Jesus. If sin is right there we must be ready to stand firm. It also means that the believer must take sin seriously - it is not like a rabbit attacking but as we read in the New Testament, a lion seeking to devour God's people.

Sadly, Cain was mastered by sin as he invited his brother out to the field and he killed him. He was mastered by sin and it led to devastating consequences.

Do not let sin master you instead master sin.

Friday, October 26, 2007

David Brainerd C&C Retreat Nov 2nd and 3rd

David Brainerd was a preacher/missionary and a passionate follower of Jesus who gave his whole life in service to God. He lived to the age of 29, having committed his life to Christ and having sacrificed all for His Name. Our prayer as we host this two day retreat is that a generation of young adults will be raised to give their all to Christ, counting the cost and impacting our culture in a radical way.

That is why Grace Bible Church is holding the David Brainerd C&C Retreat November 2nd and 3rd. Friday night at 7:30 I will be speaking on the subject God IS Great (a response to the bestseller god is not great by Hitchens) and then on Saturday Pastor Carl Muller from Trinity Baptist Church will be speaking from Romans - Not Ashamed: Why the Whole Truth Matters.

If you know any young adults who would like to attend or are a young adult, married or single, please feel free to email Janice VanEck at janicevaneck@rogers.com . The cost is only $25.00 for the two days, meals included. The location is Grace Bible Church, 334 Preston Parkway.

We are thankful that we have around 90 registered so it should be an encouraging time of worship and fellowship.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Mongolian Poet


As mentioned in one of my previous blogs, at the end of the second week of teaching, a man stepped forward and in great Mongolian poetry told the tales of the last two weeks. I couldn't believe it! Poets pop up all over the world. Anyway, here he is - the Mongolian poet.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Class Moments from Mongolia


Teaching in the country of Mongolia.

Mac Coffee time! A mixture of coffee, sugar, powdered milk and water - after a while it is very addictive!


I am talking with Pastor Chinzorig Jigjidsuren of Immanuel Church. He is one of the two pastors who spoke English and he also translated for me when I preached at his church. Very kind man with a zeal and passion for the gospel to be shared in Mongolia.

Teaching Hermeneutics the second week.


A picture of my translator (who did a very excellent job!! If I lifted my Bible up, he would lift his Bible - very enthusiastic and kind man!)



Here is the class of men and women standing on the church steps. This was taken just before the took their Hermeneutics test which explains their HAPPY faces!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mongolia 2007 Pictures


These past few days I have tried unsuccessfuly to put a video montage on my blog so I will begin to post some pictures and continue to work on the video.







Here is a picture of the church I attended the first Sunday morning I was in Mongolia. The little "barrel" with the cross you see at the front of the stage is their "offering plate". While they sing, the people will walk up to the front and give their gifts.



Chinggis Khan - a good view of the city!



A picture outside my apartment window




Another picture looking out of my window off the balcony. These apartment buildings are middle class dwellings in the city. Sometimes whole families or various families woulc occupy one apartment, each taking a room.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Back Home

Well, last night at 8:55 the plane landed in Toronto and after passing through customs and waiting for my luggage I once again saw my family at around 10:20 p.m. The plane trip back to Toronto was packed, much more so than on the way down. I sat beside a young teenage girl and her mother , both of whom slept for most of the trip. While I was happy for them I wished I could figure out that sleeping thing on a plane - I probably maxed an hour, maybe.

So today has been pretty much wake up, have a breakfast, go for a walk and then sleep - and sleep. Our ETB (Estimated Time for Bed) is going to be extremely early tonight. I can't wait.

It has been great to see the family and I learned while I was away there was a tremendous amount of work done around the house. Our hallway and living room were painted, trim completed in the bathroom, wood split and stacked and the roof shingled! Imagine that, all done without my expertise and gifted hands that make work projects look easy. Thank you to all who helped my family finish everything - you were all busy!!

Thank you again for all your prayers. I hope to give a report with pictures this coming Sunday evening at our church and also post some of my pictures on my blog after my report. God has been extremely gracious in all aspects and we give Him all praise and glory for His kind gifts.

Well, I think it is a quick supper and then something that never happens in airports: our ETB has been moved up a few hours!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Landed in Seoul

I am once again in South Korea Incheon Airport and it is around 6:30 p.m. (thirteen hours ahead of Cambridge ON time). The plane from UB was delayed because of weather (it snowed earlier in the day and there was quite a bit of wind) so we did not take off until around 2:45 in the morning. The flight only takes 3 hours but because of the time change, we landed around 6:30 in the morning. Just a note on the time change thing - Mongolia decides on a yearly basis whether or not to follow the change in time. Some years it does and some years it doesn't. This year apparently they did not so that is the reason for the hour difference.

After the plane landed, I was able to email my family and then I found a "couch" and slept for about 2 and a half hours.

The rest of the day has been somewhat of a blur and I am thankful that in about 2 hours I will be boarding the flight from Korea. My wife tells me the weather has been hot the past little while so it will look kinda funny walking into Toronto Airport with my winter jacket strapped over my carry-on. Probably my bahama shorts would have been a better option - or maybe not, come to think about it.

Anyway I am praying for the church services today as various people serve and as Paul Martin preaches in both the morning and evening. I pray that God's Word may prosper in the hearts of His people and they will meet with their Redeemer, enjoying His presence as they worship Him.

Psalm 89.1-2: I will sing of the Lord's great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known throughout all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that your established your faithfulness in heaven itself.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Last Day of Classes

Well, today was the last day of teaching Hermeneutics. This morning we looked at the prophetic books followed by wisdom literature. After we broke for lunch, which consisted of a big bowl of soup and a large plate of rice, potatoes and meat (fat included), we discussed interpreting the book of Revelation. I closed in a word of prayer, asking God to bless the men and women, their churches and the spread of the gospel in Mongolia. We then went outside and had a group picture, capturing all their happy faces at one time. I passed out the test at about 2:35 and they took their time answering the multiple choice questions (I was able to mark them when I got back to the apartment and they all did very well).

Then they all sat close to the front and Sundui, one of the organizers, thanked them all for coming. They then presented me with a very kind gift of a “ram” enclosed in a picture frame. This gift was hand made by a Christian in one of the local churches. I thanked them for the kind gift and told them we would hang this up at our church in Canada so we would be reminded to pray for them and the churches in Mongolia.

Then two things happened which are very memorable to me. First, one of the men stood up and gave a funny poem he had written about the week. I couldn’t believe it! If you are familiar with the Carey Family Conference held in August, you will know that there are two men in particular who WOW the people with their poetic finesse and musical ability – the first being my dad and the second being Paul Martin. And so I come to Mongolia and what happens? At the end of the conference, a man stands up and in the Mongolian language, delivers a poem about our two weeks together. I could not understand a word but it was a great time seeing the men and women laugh. One woman had tears running down her cheeks. We had worked hard for two weeks and it was a real blessing to see the joy on their faces.

The second memorable event was after the laughter (a little poetry of my own), they asked me to sit on a chair and they all gathered around me and prayed. Again, I did not understand a word but it was a real time of unity and blessing as they prayed for me out loud and I quietly prayed for them once again. I had been told before they wanted to pray that God would bless the ministry in Canada and that I would have a safe journey back. We then said good-bye to one another and the only words I spoke to them so they could understand was a prayer once again: God bless and keep you.

At 5:00 tonight the team from the organization that planned the conference took me out to supper at, get this, a Korean restaurant that was Korean – I know, it sounds too simple to be true. It was a very filling meal as I had beef, rice and French Fries (I don’t know if French Fries are considered Korean but will let this pass so as not to make it too confusing) followed by a very spicy bowl of soup. They asked if I wanted more and I had to say that I was still full from lunch and I could not eat anything else. We had a good time talking as I heard some of their testimonies of how the Lord worked in their lives. And then one of the men, who had grown up in the country and had ridden a horse since he was 6, asked me if I had ever ridden a horse. Well … this gave me the opportunity to tell him my famous story about the last time I hopped on a horse and almost smashed my face in the side of a mailbox as it turned into the driveway. The moment was somewhat lost as a mailbox sticking out of the ground is really an unknown object in Mongolia but after it was explained the story was somewhat of a success. I was then told that when you ride a horse in outer Mongolia it is very relaxing as there are no mailboxes. I thanked them for the encouragement and assured them it was probably much safer in Mongolia and I would probably enjoy the ride.

The Lord has been very gracious these past two weeks and I thank Him for the opportunity to serve the “infant” church here. All of them were very thankful for the teaching of the Word. One of the leaders of the team that I went out to supper with this evening expressed his thankfulness because he said the church really needs this teaching in Mongolia. I responded that as I have spoken and watched the pastors, I can see that the Lord has begun a good work and we trust that He will bring it to a completion in the years ahead.

So thank you for your prayers over this past week. God has been gracious, as He always is, and has done much in my life and the lives of the men and women in the class. I now look forward to returning to my family and church and seeing them all once again. I leave tomorrow night, Lord willing, at 12:00 landing in Korea at 4:00 a.m. and then fly out of Seoul at 9:35 p.m. and land on Toronto tarmac at 9:35 p.m. I will have spend 13 hours on a plane and not gained a minute!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Surfaced Once Again

I feel like I have been in hiding for the last few days as I have been unable to get to a computer. A $22.00/night hotel in UB has a 3 piece bath (the toilet seat is not attached, the shower doors barely shut), a sitting room (classy green leather chairs and couch) and two single beds (pillow cases were not included so you do two things: first, you turn your brain off not letting your mind wander about who was here before and second, you grab a towel and use it as a pillow case). The hotel lobby is a large room with the service desk near the far end close to the corner. My room was almost directly beside the desk so you could hear all the phone calls, the shoes “clipping” on the wooden floor and the TV that roared 25 feet away from the desk until 2:00 Tuesday night and 12:00 Wednesday night.

However, here is how the Lord works. There is a “house” that is on the premises of the church, half the house being used for cooking and the other half for living space – at least I think as I have not had a “house” tour yet. On Wednesday the door to the living space was open (mysteriously, as it was usually shut) and I had a quick peak inside. I noticed the pastors had their beds on the floor all in one room and all of a sudden, my $22.00/night room is a quality 4 star resort. How is that for perspective! God certainly works in mysterious ways to show us our many blessings (and our often grumbling hearts).

The last few days of teaching have gone very well as we have been able to cover many areas of Scriptural interpretation and sermon preparation. Today we covered parables, the kingdom of God and the interpretation and preaching of the Psalms. As an example, we talked about how to interpret “imprecatory” (to pray for “curses” on the enemy) Psalms and how they apply to today. Then we talked about how the Psalms are not just God’s Word to us but God’s Word to us so we can speak about God and to God. We had some interesting conversations and discussion time.

The pastors are really soaking in the teaching as we have worked through how to prepare a sermon beginning (exegesis) to end (sermon and application) following rules of interpretation (hermeneutics). We prepared a sermon from Mark 1.40-45 on the compassion of Jesus to the Leper and then we prepared an Old Testament narrative sermon on the faithfulness and uncompromising message of Micaiah in 1 Kings 22. My goal was not only teach Hermeneutics but to show them how the Word of God lives and how the preached Word is powerful. So we went through sermons so they could experience the joy and challenge of the preached Word. I was told that many pastors base their sermons on what has taken place throughout their week or on topics they think their congregation needs to hear. I encouraged them that the amazing thing about the Word of God is that when we preach through a book of the Bible, God has organized Scripture in such a way that we will cover areas for our people that we would never even have thought to cover. God has not only given us His Word, His Word is effective for all of life.

Tomorrow will be my last day of teaching. We will look at Epistles and Wisdom literature in the morning and the book of Revelation in the afternoon. After the classes the Genesis Team is going to take me out for supper which is very kind of them. While it seems I have only contributed a drop in the “spiritual” bucket, I am thankful that I am heading home to see my family once again.

Well, thank you for all your prayer for me and my family. At the beginning of the week I asked if you would pray for the course in Hermeneutics and I am so thankful that God has heard your prayers. I had a pastor come to me today and just express his appreciation in what he is learning and how it is challenging his thinking. So God has been gracious to hear your prayers for the Mongolian people. I sometimes think of what would happen in both the nations of Canada and Mongolia if pastors took the LIVING WORD to the people and preached the text and the truth without compromise and with great compassion. Do we believe God could move a nation? As we ended our class today, we once again said: We just have to say it – our God, He is a good God! He is able to take His Word and transform nations.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Jean Claude Vs Hermeneutics

The elevator broke down today and as I have been in and out of the apartment 3-4 times, I figure I have climbed a total of 36 floors. I am hoping it will be fixed by at least Saturday so I don’t have to drag my big suitcase down the steps. Not that I am complaining because Mongolian food sits heavy in the stomach so walking a few extra flights is definitely what is needed!

As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, driving in UB is absolutely horrendous and to continue this theme, I will give you what might be labeled as a “serious example of road rage”. I was taking my walk along a main street and I turned around and saw a white car parked in the third lane closest to the middle of the road with a bus stopped only about a foot behind. The man, who was probably in his 50’s, got out of his car and went up to the bus and broke the driver’s side mirror. This not only upset the driver but the guy who collects the money for the driver as they both got out and just started thumping the man from the white car. Actually they started to kick the car and then they went after the man. A short elderly man appeared from the white car and got out to try to stop the fighting but he was unsuccessful. These two young men continued to lay a sound beating on the man, kicking and punching. The older driver landed a number of good punches as well and would not give up even when the driver walked away. All of this took around 5-7 minutes so the traffic was being held up behind them. It was quite a sight to see and I hope a good lesson for me. When I get back to Canada and somebody honks because I cut in front of them, I will be able to say, “Is that all you can give me? Just don’t touch the mirror” and let it all go. Amazing the things you learn in Mongolia!

Today I began to teach Hermeneutics to the students. I have titled this day: Hermeneutics vs Jean Claude Van Dam (or however you spell his name) and if you were to score the bout, it would be Jean 1 – Herme 0. I’ll explain: at lunch I was talking with some of the men and I told them that some appeared tired. He explained that he stayed up until 2:00 a.m. and watched Jean Claude punch other guys out (actually in telling this story, I am seeing a theme in my rather violent day). Well, I thought to myself, can Hermeneutics even stand a chance against Jean Claude and his moves? Apparently not! I had a few extra breaks in the afternoon as I knew this would probably be one of the heaviest days of class. We looked at what Hermeneutics means, how God communicated to His people throughout history and the importance and qualities of the Word of God. So tomorrow when we meet again, we will begin with the practice of Hermeneutics. I just hope Jean Claude has a night off of defending the universe and mangling faces.

I may not be able to blog for the next two days. Andrew has to go out to a conference until Thursday and that means I will be in a hotel for the next two nights. The hotel costs a whopping $22.00 a night so I am thinking that high speed internet is not an option.

Please pray for these men. One of the men came up to me after and thanked me for teaching because the material is very helpful to him. As I was talking with Andrew and Liz tonight at supper, they mentioned how many of these pastors may be very young in the faith and called to lead churches. That is why a course like Hermeneutics is so important to them as they are learning God’s Word. So please pray for the pastors as they learn the principles of interpretation over the next few days.

Thanks for your Comments

Thank you for your comments. I am sorry I cannot respond as I am on a dial up network and have limited time - but they are encouraging!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ecyc

It was very loud as we walked in the movie theatre. I was picked up by the pastor, his wife and 16 year old daughter and we drove across the other side of UB to their place of worship. This morning the youth led the service and I will say that I enjoyed worshiping with them despite not understanding very much. They had their words up on power point and I understood one word they sang and repeated often: Ecyc (Yaa-sus or Jesus). At one point I was able to sing with them Blessed be the Name of the Lord, Blessed be His Name, Blessed be the Name of the Lord, Blessed be His holy Name – He gives and takes away, He gives and takes away, He gives and takes away – Blessed be the Name of the Lord …

It was so exciting to be able to sing together in English. At one point while they were singing a rather joyful song I did not recognize, I turned around and out of the corner of my eye, I saw this older man, probably in his 60’s or 70’s, standing, a bit bent over clapping his hands and singing. I just rejoiced at the goodness of God of being part of their celebration of praise, watching them as they rejoiced in the goodness of our Saviour. The striking thing about the older man is he was one of the few older generations in the building. Mongolia became open to Christianity around 1991 and so these are first generation Christians. I was talking to the lady who helped out with the elderly ministry and she mentioned it is a very difficult ministry because many consider themselves to old to change so they stay with their superstitions. That made it all the more amazing to see this elderly man standing before His God and worshiping Him.

I was able to speak from 2 Chronicles 20 when Jehoshaphat prayed to the Lord because he was going to be attacked and slaughtered by the Moabites and Ammonites. It is an interesting passage as Jehoshaphat prays: We do not know what to do but our eyes are on you. And so I mentioned how we can trust God with our problems and God will hear our prayers. Finally, when Jehoshaphat and his people go to war, they go out singing: Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever. They were praising God before the victory. Amazing to stand before God’s people and be able to say that whatever our circumstances, we can praise God as His love endures forever. After I spoke there was some more singing and then one of their men got up and spoke for about ten minutes. I did not know what he said but as the people around me opened their Bibles I noticed they turned to Genesis. I pray that the book of Genesis will become a very special book to the people of God in Mongolia!

It was a privilege to be able to be able to worship at this church in Mongolia. There is such an evident passion for the Lord. However, while I was worshiping here it also made me very thankful for Grace Bible Church. Whether in Mongolia or Canada I worship with a people who love God, desire to serve Him and long to bring Him all the glory and honour. So while I was worshiping today, I remembered God’s kindness to me that when I come back home, I come home to a church zealous for the ways of God and I can stand alongside of them to worship and serve. I look forward when I can be with them once again.

After the service, I was taken out to a Korean Restaurant with Chinese food (I know, the food situation gets a little confusing to follow but it seems to all make sense when you are here). It was very good but at one point I bit into a seriously hot pepper and my mouth exploded in complete agony and misery and my nose responded accordingly (OK, so I am a little melodramatic but it was hot!!) Thankfully I learned to recognize the little red enemy and swallowed them whole from that point on in the meal. Following the meal I went with the pastor and his wife to an Irish Coffee place named after one of the Khaans. I wondered if that particular Khaan would be impressed that he was associated with the Irish (that one was for you Nick D.!!) Anyway, this Irish descendent of Khaan made a mean cup of coffee and it was good to be able to talk with the pastor and his wife.

Tonight I hope to look over my Hermeneutics course and prepare myself for the week ahead. If I had to choose which course is more difficult for me to teach, it would be Hermeneutics. I have begun to understand that some of these pastors have had very little training and need some of the basic foundations.

I am also thinking tonight that this time next Sunday I will be in Seoul, Lord willing. That will mean that I am very close to seeing my family who I miss very much. But God has been good to all of us so I thank you for your prayers and practical support for them while I am away.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Gers" and Pedicures

It is Saturday today and I had the opportunity to spend the day seeing some more of Mongolia. After marking some of the tests from yesterday, I set out at around 9:00 this morning to walk around the city. It is a very “Russian” city with large imposing buildings and it is also a very dry place so there is very little grass or for that matter, anything green. I walked around the city for about three and a half hours, actually hoping I would find a Starbucks or a Tim Hortons but to no avail. I now know a place on earth where there is not a Tims or Starbucks on every corner.

After I came back, I went with Andrew, Liz and their family for a drive into the country. Mongolian tourism promotes itself as the “Land without Fences” and when you leave the busy city, you understand their slogan. There are massive rolling yet rugged “mountains” jutting in and out or just gentling sloping into one another. We saw cattle, sheep, goats and horses with “gers” dotting the hillside. After about an hour (I think), we found a place to stop and have a campfire so we could boil some water for coffee and tea. We hopped out of the van and settled between two mountains, seeing first hand what a jagged and harsh existence it is to live out on the hills.

On our way back to the main road Andrew and Liz wanted to buy some hay from one of the “gers” and so we stopped at one as an older lady came out. She invited us in and I was able to take some pictures of what the inside of a “ger” looks like. This particular “ger” was a smaller version and it was explained to me that one side is for the man and the other for the woman (I don’t think they were fighting, I think that is just the way it is in this area). The older man was in his bed sleeping and did not wake up as 7 of us entered his small dwelling. There were single beds on either side with cooking and storage spaces surrounding the stove in the middle. The only place for light to enter is through the roof and Liz mentioned that during the winter there can be a lot of depression as they would see very little light in their “gers”. All in all, it was a very interesting experience.

(I wish I could include pictures on my blog but I forgot the cord that connects my camera to my computer. Also, Andrew and Liz have dial-up and it would take forever to download.)

Tomorrow I am going to preach at a church in the city. A pastor who attended this past week invited me to speak and I am thankful for the opportunity. The service is at 12:00 noon on the other side of the city so he will come and pick me up at 11:35-40. The Mongolian time context is a little different from ours as I imagine we will arrive at the church precisely at 12:00 or maybe even a little later. I am also thankful to be speaking at his church as this particular pastor speaks English. One of the very frustrating parts of being here is not being able to communicate to the other pastors who speak Mongul without an interpreter present.

One quick story before I pack it in for the evening. We went out to a typical Mongolian restaurant tonight for supper. A plate of eggs, noodles, mutton (sheep meat – fat included) and salt (with a bit more salt added to the salt) is about $1.50 Cndn. While I am eating, I look up at the TV in the corner and I see a lady giving a pedicure with close up detail of nails being filed and the sole of the foot being scraped (or whatever you call it). You could even see the skin falling off the bottom of the foot onto the ladies sweater. Learning how to give a pedicure with such detail and precision just seemed to make the meal go down that much easier.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Christian Struggle to Know God's Great Love

Well, this was the final day of Genesis for the class. We finished at around 3:00 noticing that the last verses of the book were words of life in a world filled with sin and death. The curse may have come but God in His mercy provided a means of life. We then went to the book of Revelation and saw how the final chapter ends for us: Behold, I am coming soon. Just like for Joseph and the Israelites, God leaves us with words of hope.

I try to begin each day with a short meditation and this morning we looked at Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3. I mentioned that it will be a struggle in the Christian’s life to understand just how much God loves them – the height, depth and width. In Ephesians 1-2 we looked at how we are loved from eternity past and we are loved in Christ. I was so thankful to tell these men of God’s abundant love for them and how they must “struggle” to know of how great this love is and ever will be.

The Mongolians have had the New Testament from about 1993 and the Old Testament for only 3 years. 3 years! And the OT translation is very weak as they rushed through to translate it. So it was an amazing experience to be able to work through the first book of their OT with them this past week. It felt like there was so much more to teach as we did not even look at the life of Isaac or Jacob. But that is with most of life and ministry opportunities – the task is always bigger than our time or strength. So I am also thankful for a sovereign God who, like Ephesians 3 reminds us, loves the Mongolian church with an everlasting love.

We have two breaks during the day and I have taken to drink their “coffee”, a mixture of coffee, powdered milk and sugar poured into boiling water. Believe it or not it is called Mac Coffee. The drink of choice for lunch is a mixture of water, milk and salt and this I have not been able to get used to yet. The man sitting across from me at lunch poured a huge portion into his bowl and began to drink it like soup. Needless to say, I was duly impressed and now consider him my lunch hero for being able to handle that much WMS mixture at one time.

This afternoon after the test I went for a walk again and nearly got run over. Mongolian driving is absolutely bonkers! There was a slight accident on a three lane road and the two cars could not move until a traffic police came and figured out who was in the wrong. So I saw a traffic police come towards the cars and the traffic was just building behind them. And then all this honking started. No one was going to move because everyone was blocked but they honked anyway. It’s as if the power of the honk will get traffic moving in front of them. Before this accident, I was walking across a laneway for a supermarket and a truck came behind me and nearly cracked me. I moved aside and he pulled up and stopped, only to start going in reverse. I think he started to go in reverse because he did not hit me the first time. So with a certain amount of agility (I say this with all humility), I sidestepped him and just missed hitting the front of the truck. That really annoyed me as it was a rather large truck and if I got hit, I would have been a little disturbed. So I turned around to look at the man and he was yelling at me – me! Thankfully Christian grace kicked in and I left the scene of the (almost) accident.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

This One is for my Boys

Do you know how some things strike you as funny when they probably shouldn’t? Or there are maybe certain subjects that would be better left unsaid? Well, instead of following my gut on this one, I am going to write about it anyway. At the church, there are outhouses which as about 75 feet away from the building. The other day I went to visit and noticed that they were only a hole in the wood – no seat, just a large hole. There were spaces between the boards so if any broke, you would be in trouble. So why do I tell the story? Because this morning when I went to visit, I noticed that there was reading material. It just really struck me as funny.


Anyway … (I thought my boys would like the above paragraph so if it grosses you out, just skip it) … the day went well. Actually, I have to go back to the previous paragraph. I mentioned to Andrew and Liz the bathroom situation at the church the other day and they told a story of a foreigner (I forget what nationality but I am thankful to report it was not Canadian) who used similar outhouses. The Mongolians looked over and instead of seeing a closed door they saw feet sticking out the door. He had sat down on the floor. The Mongolians could not stop laughing as they saw his feet sticking out the door, knowing what he was doing.

OK, I promise I will move on.

The day did go well for the most part. The time after lunch can be a real struggle and I have noticed that as the week has gone on, the men seem to be getting more and more tired. From 2:40-4:00 we looked at Genesis 21 and we worked through how to put a sermon together from an historical book. We talked about finding joy in the Lord as Abraham and Sarah rejoiced in the birth of their son. It was all a good reminder that your joy does not depend on our circumstances but on God’s grace and promises. I try and end each day by saying: Our God is a good God – He is good. And He is good.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wednesday

There is one man who sits in the classes who I talked to on the first day. He speaks no English and when I tried to pronounce his name, I failed miserably. And I really tried – a number of times. So I told him my name was David, hoping he would also have trouble, but he got it the first time. In fairness to me (I really feel the need to defend myself), Mongolian names are extremely difficult to pronounce because they are long and the ones I have met demand the exact pronunciation with no room for err. They usually shorten them but this particular man did not give me a break.

Anyway, I think he is a more simple man. He just sits and does not participate and I do not see him talking much with the other men. But after the class today, he was the last to leave and he came and give me a big hug (he is a bigger man). And then I met him again in the parking lot and he said one word: Go. And I said “Go” and we walked part way home, not saying a word. As I walked, I just wished I knew the language and could hear his story but his story remains silent to me. At the same time I was thankful just to walk part way home with this man. He would take the time to walk with me and in that short time of silence, there was an unspeakable “enjoyment” of just walking.

I had to wait at the church a little later on and I met a boy whose name is “Tuksa”. He walks with one straight leg and is a little slow mentally. I pointed at myself and said “David” and then pointed at him. “Tuksa”, he said. Tuksa. David. David. Tuksa. And then he would play games with me, standing straight in my face until I looked at him and then he would step back as if nothing happened. It was good just to see him laugh and I was extremely proud that someone accepted my pronunciation of their name. It was a win - win all around.

Today we covered Genesis 3-9 and in so doing, we covered all sorts of topics. Someone asked about 2 Timothy 2.15 (women being saved in childbirth) and someone else asked about whom Cain married. Many questions posed where questions that went beyond the Bible and so at one point I simply said: if the Bible is silent, then we should be silent on the matter. So it will be interesting to hear what questions are asked tomorrow and if I’ll have the opportunity to say that again.

After teaching, Andrew invited me to go along with the team from Canada to a cultural play put on in the city. So we fought traffic and arrived at around 6:30 to pay an equivalent to $6.00 Cndn to see Mongolian culture on the stage. After starting off with a Buddhist ritual with masks filled with skulls, there were various dances, singers and musicians. Probably the two most interesting features were the throat singer and the contortionists. The throat singer sings, yes, from the throat and makes various noises that sound, this is hard to describe, like a noise coming from the throat. He played an instrument and at times it sounded exactly like the note he was playing on his Mongolian “guitar”. The contortionists were younger girls who bend their bodies in unnatural (and even unreasonable) positions. The three girls would bend and fold and twist and fold into many different postures.

Afterwards we went to a … Chinese restaurant. Part of the reason for the choices of restaurants is the cleanliness and knowing that one will probably not get food poisoning or something else.

I continue to be thankful for the opportunity to teach these men. They are starting to call me their “teacher” when I walk past them and some are coming up and asking more detailed questions during the break and at lunch. Here’s one: a man asked what to do when he gave someone money (quite a large sum) to fix his churches’ “ger” and the man never finished the work. This man who did not finish the work is in another church and when he spoke to the pastor about it, nothing happened. What should he do? And part of the difficulty is not only knowing how to properly respond as a Christian but as a Mongolian Christian.

During the afternoon I answered questions during our ten minute break so I taught for three hours straight. If you would remember to pray that God would give physical, mental and spiritual strength during this time. These men (and some women) are eager to hear God’s Word so I am eager to speak. I just pray that God would strengthen me so I can teach with enthusiasm and the energy required.

One final “brain picture” I have from the day. I had to wait for the Canadian team to finish their meeting, so I walked into the church and I saw a young girl sitting near the front. I walked to the back to spend some time praying and as I was sitting, the young girl began to hum. It was beautiful. She was in a “church” building, alone, just spending time with God. The Lord placed that young girl to teach me again of the importance of being with God and being silent in his presence. It is a picture that will linger for a while on my brain … and my conscience.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Headed to Mongolian Grill or This One Is For You Dad

We seem to split the day up into four parts of teaching: 9-10:30; 10:40-12; 1-2:30; 2:40-4:00. A little bell rings at the end of the session and the first day when I went a little past, the bell rang again – 10:30 means 10:30. And so I have learned that when the bell tolls, I stop. Anyway, in our last session, I finished with Genesis 3 when God came to Adam and Eve. And we talked about how God comes to us when we have sinned against him. God came to Abraham, God came to Moses, God came to Israel, God came to us – and this is an act of grace on the part of God. The Lord was able to take the truth and give us an opportunity to respond with singing. I told the men and women that our knowledge is not to be just head knowledge but heart knowledge and an expression of thanksgiving to God. There is this one particular lady who does an excellent job leading songs and I asked if she would come up and if we could sing a song of response to God – I asked her if we could sing You Are My All In All. I wanted to sing that because it is the only song I can sing along with in English.

In the context, the chorus is powerful: Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is YOUR NAME. I rejoiced with a hand full of believers in Mongolia that God came to us and brought us salvation through Jesus Christ. It was a real moment of rejoicing in God’s mercy, grace, and kindness.

I need to mention lunch for a moment. If you were to sit down around our family table and we were to have meat and there was a bit of fat on it, you would notice that sometimes subtly and not so subtly my dad would cut away the fat. He would cut his meat well away from the fat so that no part of his body, fingers or mouth, would ever touch a piece of fat. So, this mention of lunch is for my dad. The main meal in Mongolia is lunch so they first brought out a bowl of soup with noodles, meat and yes – fat. Clumps of fat mixed in with the broth, sitting in all their white glory. (How are you feeling dad?) That was the first course. The second course was rice with a stir fry of what they called black mushrooms (Eva would be proud that I did not even make a facial grimace at the sound of black mushroom). As I began eating, I noticed once again mixed into the stir fry is – yes, none other than serious globs of fat. I found it all rather tasty and enjoyed the meal. I am so thankful that it is not extremely spicy because they give you lots of food. So dad, this “fat” paragraph is for you!! I hope you enjoyed.

The men and women today asked more questions throughout the teaching time. I was so thankful for this because it gives me an indication of where they are at and what they are thinking. We were able to talk about the coming glory, the new creation, sovereignty of God, what sin looks like and how we can battle against sin and many times they had questions. So the teaching seemed to go well and I believe it is an answer to prayer. So please continue to pray because the Mongolian leaders need to hear God’s Word so they can bring it to their people.

Well, I am off to BD’s with Andrew and Liz, their family and a group of Canadians Chartwell Baptist Church in Toronto. BD’s is apparently an American chain that calls itself Mongolian BBQ. When Chinggis and his troops would go off to fight, they would fry their food on their shields. It is like our Mongolian Grill. Some of you joked if I went to Mongolia, would I go to the Mongolian Grill and the answer apparently is YES – tonight I am going to an American Chain like our Mongolian Grill in Mongolia. It is a strange world, is it not?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Moday In Mongolia

Monday morning we met at the church after a 10 minute walk from the apartment. It was a little chilly and windy so the sand and dirt would swirl around causing your eyes to fill up with sand every once and a while. We passed the infectious disease hospital on one side and empty construction lots on the other. We then turned the corner were numerous “gers” or tent houses were which led to the church.

The day began at 9:00 with singing. There is one song that I recognized – You Are My All In All. So while they stood and sang in Mongul, I stood and sang in English. 2 languages, one God, one faith. It was, I think, a glimpse of glory when people from all tribes, nations and languages (Rev 5) will gather before the throne of God and praise him together. I sometimes wonder if we will all be singing in our own languages but somehow be able to understand one another. Then we can look around and say – he is from Mongolia and she is from Canada – and we would be reminded that God saved His people from all tribes and languages.

After the singing, they introduced me and I only know this because I heard “David Robinson” and “Grace Bible Church”. I was then invited up but sat there because I did not understand that part at all. Someone then motioned for me to come up and I took that as the universal invitation to get off my seat and start.

I prayed for the men and women who came – there are around 20-24 – and I began teaching from the book of Genesis. One of the things I wanted to show is that you can preach through the Bible and a book like Genesis and it is not only truth but it is relevant, Biblical truth. So we talked a lot about context and how to take a message from the context of the Bible, the book and then the passage. I had one young man talk to me at lunch and he mentioned that there are different philosophies of doing ministry and preaching is not always necessary or relevant. I appreciated his honesty as he talked more about building relationships, etc. As I listened to him, while agreeing that “church” can be done a variety of ways in a variety of cultures, there is the absolute importance of preaching the Word of God faithfully and relevantly.

We finished at 4:00 and I walked back the apartment with Andrew. I had been inside all day so I mentioned to them that I would go for a walk and set out for about hour and a half to explore part of the city. One of the things about Mongolia is the traffic and the driving, In Canada there is a walk sign at the lights and the pedestrian has the right of way. In Mongolia, the walk sign really means nothing at all. Actually, I think it means: Good luck as you try to dodge the cars that are coming at you full speed. I successfully avoided traffic and at times found a crowd of people and followed them. The other interesting thing is how much people honk there horns. There is wall to wall traffic and nobody can move but people are honking their horns as if someone could move. All very interesting.

Now it is 8:15 and I have finished a stir fry meal – my second big meal of the day. Mongolians have their big meal at lunch and I was served a delicious bowl of soup (would compete with the proud Dutch tradition of soup making) and then a plate of rice and I called them hamburger balls but that is probably not what the Mongolians call them. I am tired and plan to head to bed after I email my family and see how they are doing.

Thanks for your prayers and also for looking after my family yesterday. It still takes a while to get used to the thought that I will be going to bed and you will be beginning your day – a day I have already completed! Anyway – have a good sleep – I mean a good day.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

First Full Day in Mongolia

The trip from Seoul to Ulaan Baatar went very well. The flight took about 3 hours (a sprint compared to the first trip) and I landed comfortably around 10:30 at night. I am staying with a very nice New Zealand couple (Andrew and Liz – with three children) and Andrew was waiting to pick me up. After going through customs and picking up my luggage, I walked out and within 25 feet I was asked twice if I would be taking a taxi. Apparently they like foreigners.

I was in bed about 1:00 a.m. and slept until 7:30. This morning I went to a Mongolian church in the heart of the city – the political district. We arrived 20 minutes late and walked into very enthusiastic singing. They have a passion for celebrating the goodness of the Lord. After this, the pastor invited the S.S. children up and the congregation stretched forward their hands in prayer for the “next generation” of believers in Mongolia. There were a few testimonies of men who lived in the sewers who had been saved. One man’s kidneys were almost destroyed and the congregation prayed for healing.

A lady from Korea preached – the whole service was in Mongolian and Liz translated a bit for me. It is amazing to travel half way around the world and watch as people bring glory to God in their language.

Following the service, I walked back the two Kilo’s with Liz and we stopped at the Ghinggis Khaan Mausoleum - facing a big square (public place). We traveled through some markets to pick up lunch. Following lunch we went up one of the surrounding mountains and looked out over the city.

I just finished meeting with two ladies who are setting up the conference. There will be 24 pastors and the leaders will be coming from various parts of Mongolia. I will start to teach Genesis tomorrow morning beginning at 9:00 a.m. I did not know this but they have only had the entire Bible since 2000. Also, the OT translation is not the greatest and the Bible Society is seeking to complete it with a more accurate translation. They seem very enthusiastic to take the two courses and are looking forward to learning more from Scripture. There is and enthusiasm to learn the deeper truths of God’s Word.

Please pray as we begin the classes tomorrow – that God would be honoured and His Name would shine in all glory.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

First Night In Seoul

I am just glad I was able to remember how to get to this part of my blog as the computer I am using is all Korean. Needless to say, I am a little rusty with the language!

Anyway, I flew out of Toronto at around 12:15 a.m. Friday morning and arrived in Seoul at 2:09 a.m. - yes exactly 2:09 a.m. because on a 13 hour flight you seem to remember details. The flight was really uneventful. As we took off over Toronto, I could see the massive city - and then darkness. Around 4-5 in the morning I opened my window (I had to do this discreetly because they asked you to shut them - but I just needed to know we were still in the air!!) and I could see the red sky in the horizon. At one point I could see we were flying over the clouds - a beautiful sight! But for most of the 13 hours, we just followed the darkness around the world.

Two things preoccupied my mind. One was every few hours I would think - how is it possible for this huge machine to stay in the air for so long? Amazing - and thankful!. The second- I talked to my dad before I left and he told me to remember Psalm 121 - the Lord does not slumber or sleep. That was a great comfort as I left my family knowing God will watch over my wife and children and ... the plane. What a comfort to know God ... and find our rest in Him.

So after two movies, three meals, 2 hours sleep, approx 5 glasses of orange juice, 5-7 trips to teh bathroom (it is more for the exercise really), and dozens of nodding off moments we landed safely in South Korea. I went to a hotel room (you can get them for 12 hours) and slept for a few hours. It is now 1.24 in the afternoon and I have my ticket ready to fly to Mongolia at 7:30 tonight - at least that is when I board the plane (there is a 12 hour time difference between Mongolia and Ontario). After I am done here, I hope to take a short nap and then I will have to leave my room.

Thank you for your prayers - God has provided abundantly. The only tragedy that has struck is that I had to surrender my MASSIVE (according to them) tube of Crest toothpaste - apparently that offends them and I had to put it in the no allowed items in TO. Sacrifices!!!

Please pray for the Mongolian men. As I walk around the airport, I wonder how many know the Lord Jesus Christ? It is quite a striking feeling to be the minority and to not understand the language and signs posted around the airport. And so as I head to Mongolia, my heart becomes burdened once again for the people of God and the need for the gospel to be proclaimed and spread. My prayer for the mission to Mongolia is 1 Thessalonians 3.10: Night and day we pray most eaarnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith. But if I have learned anything in the years the Lord has been working in my life, I imagine the brothers and sisters will bring an ample supply and show me what is lacking in my life and walk with the Lord. God seems to humble us in the most amazing ways so we may experience an abundance of grace.

Now I have to guess if it is the orange or blue button below that will post this update ...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Teaching Trip to Mongolia

Purpose
As a church, we have the opportunity to teach the church leaders of Mongolia. Mongolia has recently been opened to the gospel and has a great number of new Christians but with very little theological training. Pastor David will take two weeks to train church leaders so they can go back to their churches and instruct their people.

Description
September 24-28, Pastor David will be teaching a course in Hermeneutics (Interpretation of Scripture) and October 1-5 he will be teaching Genesis. This will be for about 8 hours a day. There will also be opportunity to preach in the churches of Mongolia.

Place of Residence
Pastor David will be staying with a New Zealand couple who are missionaries in Mongolia

Flight Plans

September 20 Depart from Toronto 11.50 PM
September 22 Arrive at Seoul 2.50 AM
Depart Seoul 8.50 PM
Arrive Ulan Bator 10.35 PM

October 7 Depart Ulan Bator 12.20 AM
Arrive at Seoul 4.15 AM
Depart Seoul 9.05 PM
Arrive at Toronto 9.05 PM

Prayer
· Pray for the spread of the gospel in Mongolia. Teaching theology is simply telling people more about the God they love and what He has done. Pray that the people of Mongolia would understand how great God’s love is as they learn His Word.
· Pray for those who will minister at GBC. Roger Fellows will preach September 23; Noel Musket and Haniel Davy will preach September 30th; and Paul Martin will preach October 7th
· Pray for Pastor David’s family as he is away
· Pray for Pastor David as he teaches and preaches. Pray that he may effectively communicate the Word of God with passion and clarity.
· Pray for one another that we may all have opportunities to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Psalm 88 and Depression III

Imagine ending a conversation with a friend the way the Psalmist ends his conversation with the Lord: You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend. Would you let it happen? Or would you hang on until they at least paid lip service to some sort of hope?

A few thoughts about Christians going through dark times

1. Christian living is not like sitcoms - life is not wrapped up nice and neat. The psalmist ends with a messed up life that still hurts. The loneliness is palatable. The darkness is thick. The big questions of life have not been answered, the mysteries of life have not been settled. Yes, Christianity is messy. And that is OK because as you read throughout the Psalm because the psalmist is having a dialogue with God. Life may be messy and will be messy. That is part of living by faith in the sovereign ways of God.
2. We do not need to defend God. It is OK for people to walk away disillusioned with God without us trying to defend God until our throats are parched. We can let people walk away disappointed with God. God is able to defend Himself and provide for those who are disillusioned. We simply seek to speak - God will act.
3. There is a place for sullen times in the Christian life. If not, God would have solved the problem right there and then. He chose not to and in so doing, he affirmed that part of the path of a believer at times will be the shadow of the valley of death. In other words, do not always try to cheer people up or get them to praise God. Walk with them through the valley - weep with those who weep.
4. Balance, balance, balance. The majority of the psalms which deal with a trial or dark moments end with praise. The one walking through darkness must plead for faith so that as they walk out of the darkness, they do so with increased faith and praise on their lips and in their hearts.
5. I am sure Psalm 88 is not the last word as God cares intimately for His people. Genesis to Revelation tells the story of God's abundant grace overflowing into the life of the believer through Jesus. Psalm 88 is part of the story but not the complete story. That is the hope for all believers. We still have Psalms 89-150 to read and we know how it ends


Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
(Psa 150:1-6)

That is the place God faithfully brings His people because of His abounding love and mercy.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Depression and Psalm 88 - II

We are going to look at the psalmist's description of his darkness but before we do, we mention two matters briefly.

First, in darkness or with depression, the forgotten element is often Psalm 88.1: O Lord, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. It is often forgotten because at least in North America, we are so secularized and psychologized. I do not mean that secular counseling or psychology is all bad - in fact, on the balance it has done much good. But in the search for help, especially in the church, the cry to the God who saves is often left out of the picture. However, for the psalmist, it is the beginning point. This does not exclude the usefulness of medicine or other helpful techniques but it does say that the greatest help is missing if the cry to the God who saves is not in the heart or on the lips of the person in darkness.

Second, the psalmist describes his trouble. He articulates his darkness. This is why I think it is often helpful for a person who is depressed to journal - to write down his or her thoughts concerning their darkness. In fact, it almost seems to be a natural occurrence for someone in depression because it can be that they do not even understand the darkness and they just need to see if they can explain it to themselves. If you are with someone who is in darkness, ask them to describe to you their darkness. Don't interrupt. Just listen. And if they have left out verse 1, ask them if you can just pray for them to the God who saves.

How does the the psalmist describe his darkness?
  • His soul is full of trouble: interesting that when he sees his inner self, he sees only trouble - it is full.
  • Life draws close to the grave - hopelessness.
  • Counted among those who go down to the pit - again, if we were to use today's language, we would put the psalmist on suicide watch.
  • I am a man without strength - you will find with those in darkness, they are often tired - physically, emotionally, spiritually. The battle is overwhelming, their thoughts are unsettled and tiresome. They are often without strength so some will just sleep - not so much because they are tired but because they are too tired to deal with reality.
  • I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave - you notice this a lot in the psalm - his fixation on death. Darkness is like death - something has died and they need life. A good description for some on depression - a part of me has died and I see no life.
  • Whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care - this is interesting as depressed people can often feel like no one cares for them. Someone may be intimately involved in their life, but still, no one cares

And that is only the beginning, the first 5 verses. There are 12 more to go. When dealing with someone who is in darkness, we may say - well, are you just exaggerating? Isn't there anything good in your life? Are you a half-empty glass kind-of person or what!! That becomes the importance of listening as mentioned above. When we read this psalm, do we say - just get over it? No, we listen to the psalmist and seek to enter their world taking their words as the reality in which they live.

If you suffer with depression, pick up a pen and begin to freely write about the darkness. If someone comes to you with depression, listen. Let them talk and express freely their thoughts and emotions.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Dealing With Depression: Psalm 88

Psalm 88 is a dark psalm. In many other psalms, the writer is going through troubles as he is surrounded by enemies or as he is dealing with his rebellion or sin. As the psalmist finishes, he usually ends with his eyes refocused on God and a word of trust and praise. Psalm 88 ends with the words You have taken my companions and loved ones from me; the darkness is my closest friend.

There is no further word of trust, no glance heavenward. The psalmist stares headlong into the life given him and his conclusion - darkness is my closest friend.

The first thing we notice about the Psalm is that it is a song. The inscription reads: A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According to mahalath leanoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite. Imagine standing up Sunday morning and singing this psalm with one another. But that is what this psalm is - a song set to music to be lead by the director of music.

What is the response of the church to be for those who suffer with depression? While depression often remains hidden in the church, as if the depression person must be either rebuked or pitied, Psalm 88 teaches us to sing to one another about darkness. While we love to praise God with songs of thanksgiving and salvation, there is a place to talk about the darkness of the soul. Depression/darkness is to be out in the open. The people of God are to address the issue.

That means two things:

First, those who struggle with depression must learn to talk about depression and second, the rest are to learn to listen to those who struggle with depression.

Sounds simple? Well, no because if someone struggles with depression, one of the hardest moments of their life is to talk about their darkness. Sure, they may talk but listen to receive words of hope? Or they may not even be at the point of talking. At times it may be like no one will understand or at other times it is like laying on the weight bench with too much weight on the bar - they just cannot lift this to a conversation. Darkness is a lonely place.

On the other hand, those who listen must learn to listen and not give out cliche, religious, empty answers. Or they must be able to patiently draw out a persons darkness, which takes time and trust. It is usually not time to be looking for sin or casting out demons - it is a time to listen, love and patiently suffer alongside of the one in darkness.

How does the church deal with those who struggle with depression? Psalm 88 tells us to speak about it, sing out loud the struggles with darkness. God's Word is profound here. What happens when we sing about it? First, God is found in the pciture. Second, the person living in darkness understands this will not be swept under the rug and the church is not filled with Christians who have it all together. And third, those who sing for the depressed person are reminded to love them, to have mercy on them and to above all remember them.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Choices Have Consequences

Deuteronomy 4.7-8: What other nations is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nations is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today.

Two people come immediately to mind as I read these verses in Deuteronomy. The first is a young man who was very confident in his Christian belief but when interesting, friendly and persuasive Mormons came calling, he rejected Scripture and was baptized a Mormon. He would come to visit and try to persuade me "really, Mormonism is like Christianity in so many ways." Ah, no. The other is a young woman who wanted to talk about her walk with Christ but then admitted that while her walk was not what it once was, she is doing fine. I left it up to her to call me and pray that she will.

Choices have consequences. That is one lesson God is teaching the people of Israel as they are about to enter the promised land under the direction of Joshua. What other god answers like the God of the Bible? Moses would go on to write that they are not to worship other gods which cannot see or hear or eat or smell. God point Moses - not a wise decision to follow stone gods. What will happen when this young woman calls to the world when she is 70 years old? Will the world answer with kindness?

The other lesson is in verse 8: God's ways are righteous and kind - even though the go contrary to the world. Again, Moses will go on to write that this lawgiver is merciful and he will not abandon or destroy you. Choices have consequences. Following God in the promised land brings blessing and life.

Choices have consequences. What happens when a young person leaves God's ways and embraces god-less life patterns? What happens when families begin to neglect spiritual disciplines and priorities? Choices lead to certain consequences. Who will you call on when life takes a turn? Do the gods of the age have answers that last beyond this life? Look at the gods you are serving and then watch others who serve the same gods - do they hear or answer or provide life as the years pass? What happens when beauty fades or when wealth decreases? Will your doctor provide ageless beauty or will your bank or boss call you up and grant you money?

I look at certain choices which bring immediate pleasure but long term pain. Our text tells us God not only brings blessing but it is long term blessing. Consider your choices - they have consequences.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Path to Peace

Psalm 34.12-14: Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Peaceful relationships do not just happen. In other words, peace is not an easy process but must instead be pursued. David tells us in Psalm 34 how to seek peace in relationships.

First, it comes when we fear God (Psalm 34.11). The foundation of peace is the fear of God, that is the standing in awe and living in reverent fear of our holy God. The fear of God is to live within the bounds God has set and seek to love Him and glorify Him above all.

Second, peace happens in the realm of controlling your tongue, fleeing from evil and doing good. Peace in a marriage will not happen when there are loose and angry tongues. Do you want to know the pathway to peace? Turn from evil and commit yourself to doing good. Simple, profound and highly practical.

Third, peace takes place when pursued. You can see God bending to speak into the human ear as He says, Do not give up. Do not give up - seek peace and pursue it. Too often in relationships we take the easy way out and give up on peace. We run from our problems and we do not humble ourselves before God. In a society where every problem is solved within a half hour sitcom, we can not seem to grasp that peace sought in the fear of God is attainable.

This is all brought together when we look at how Christ pursued peace. He came from heaven to sinners and he glorfied God as he died for His own. Amazing how God loved the unlovable and brought peace between them and God. As you see Jesus living his life and then dying on the cross, you see Jesus as he pursued peace. He did not give up, rather he said in the garden Not my will but yours be done.

Seek peace. Pusue peace. And remember how Jesus reconciled you with God your Father.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Boundary Blessings

Proverbs 29.18: Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraints; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

Proverbs goes contrary to worldly wisdom. We are told today that the fewer restraints and the greater freedom we have, the happier we will be. "No one can tell me what to do" is the mantra of our society and the reason is people have rejected revelation, ultimately God's Word.

The opposite is found when we keep God's Word we find blessing. In other words, living within the boundaries of God's Word, one will find happiness and true life.

2 thoughts as I look at this passage.

First, a task and privilege of a Christian is not just to tell this to the next generation or the world around us but to live this truth. When we speak to our children about Christianity or when we live in front of our neighbours, are they able to see that the boundaries of God's Word are pleasant? It is no use saying we love God but complain about all the fun the world is having. Casting off restraints leads to confusion and hurt, ultimately death; living in the presence of God's boundaries brings blessings. Does this show in your life?

Second we need to thank God for boundaries. My wife and I were talking to a nurse the other day and she told us how many 12, 13, 14 year old girls are coming into the hospital with multiple STD's. There are no restraints and therefore, really, no blessing. The greatest blessing to happen in these young girl's lives would be for someone to come and show them boundaries. And this can happen in so many areas of life. So thank God for boundaries because they not only protect us but they enhance our standard of living.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How Do We Battle Sin?

Genesis 2.16-17: And the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

Genesis 3.1: [The serpent - Satan] said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

We can learn about the subtlety of sin as we look at the first temptation. Notice God's word to Adam contain 3 parts: 1. The blessing or the goodness of God - you are free to eat from any tree in the garden. 2. The command - you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 3. The warning of judgment - for when you eat of it you will surely die.

When Satan tempts Eve, he leaves out the blessing and the judgment. Instead, he simply asks Eve, did God really say? In leaving out the goodness of God, Satan's temptation causes Eve to question the love of God and in leaving out the judgment of God, Satan causes Eve to downplay the punishment of God.

We know that Eve was duped because we read her answer: The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die." Notice what is missing are words like every and surely. In other words, Eve begins to doubt the goodness of God - yes, God will let us eat from the trees but not every tree and the judgment of God - we will die but will we surely die?

When we are tempted today, the same process happens:
1. We begin to doubt the love of God. We begin to look at sin as something good that God withholds or as something which will satisfy - even though God has told us it will not.
2. We lower the fear of judgment. God is holy but surely die? He will show mercy or accept me, after all I'm basically a good person.

How do we battle sin? Ask Am I beginning to doubt the love of God within His boundaries? and Am I beginning to downplay the judgment of God? Sin is subtle and will attack God's love and wrath/punishment of sin. Knowing with confidence that God is both love and holy will help us in our battle against sin.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Sad Phone Call

I came into my study this morning and collected my calls. I had one message from a lady who said:

Yeah I was just wondering if I could speak to Mr. Christ. Mr. Jesus Christ. But aahh, I guess he's not hear right now - I guess, I guess Mr. Christ doesn't love me enough to talk to me - cause I've been praying for like 10 years and he hasn't made my wishes come true at all. So God is a bad man.

Click. No name. No number.

As I reflect on this call, sadness is probably my first reaction: sad as the lies of Satan have not made her life a happy one; sad as Jesus freely offers life to all who come to him - eternal life; sad that her conclusion is God is a bad man when her very breath is a gift from the one she calls "bad".

However, the call does give insight into the hearts of people today - Jesus or God exists to make them happy. When Jesus does not listen and when life does not add up, then God is a "bad guy."

As you are reading this blog, pray for "Jane Doe". Pray that she would be struck with the gospel, the love of God and the power of the cross. Pray that those around you would know Christ and His promises of life.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Psalm 62 - Dealing with Worry

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. (Psalm 62.1-2)

The Bible puts words in our mouths that seem to describe exactly what we are experiencing. Today we may use words like worried or anxious, troubled or restless. When we minister to others or when we are going through such times ourselves, speaking as the Bible speaks helps us understand what is going on inside of us and how to deal with those moments of "unrest". David describes his worry as "not finding rest in God alone" and as being "shaken".

What is important is that these words include God in the process of dealing with worry and unrest. Anxiety and worry are never just an inner problem - the Psalmist David brings his soul before God. This is a good lesson as we live in a godless society and try to deal with issues through day-timers and stress suppressing measures. David first starts with an acknowledgement of his soul in the presence of God. If there is worry or anxiety, if his fortress is about to be shaken, then he will bring the matter into the presence of God.

Then, as you read Psalm 62, David spends time bringing his "unrest" before God. He brings his unrest before God and then finally leaves it in the presence of God.

How do we leave our worry in the presence of God? David shows us. The final two verses of Psalm 62 read: One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you O God are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.

Do you see what David did? He left it before God not in some mysterious manner. He simply confessed who God is in relation to him. In the midst of unrest and a shaken fortress, David humbles himself before God and confesses God's power and love - the twin towers of peace and rest. David is then ready to leave his worries, his unrest in God's power and love - his fortress will not be shaken.

Dealing with worry is best dealt with in the presence of God and it is best dealt with when we bring Biblical truths to mind. We need to know God is strong, stronger than our issues or our worries and we need to know God's love is overwhelming and intimate.

Those times when our fortress is shaken the most, are probably times when God's character is far from our thoughts and souls. Bringing God's strength and love into our souls brings worries into perspective and the tough issues of life into God's care.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

God Cannot Win

An issue people have with God is that He does not prevent death. How could God be good and let all of these things happen - a friend died in a car accident, a mom is dying of cancer, thousands are being slaughtered by civil war, earthquakes and the list continues. And God just stands by and let's it all happen.

Here is the quandary and how God cannot win. Another issue people have with God is His sovereignty. People refuse to believe God is sovereign over all areas of life - they cry out "human freedom". Free will demands that there are pockets where God is not allowed to touch - God cannot touch salvation or day to day activity. After all, it makes us robots, right?

So on one hand people complain that God is not involved and on the other hand they complain when He is involved. God cannot win in the sinful human heart because the bottom line issue is that man wants to rule. Man sits on the throne demanding God to stop all evil or sin but have nothing to do with their lives - they are free, after all.

Sin is confusing. The sinful heart demands action from God one moment and the next demands freedom. And so in their confusion, sinful man rebels against God in his sad and pitiful manner.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Paul Wept as Jesus Wept

Philippians 3.17-18: Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

As Paul looked at the world - tears welled up in his eyes. He urged the believers to live according to the pattern of his example. The very first thing he talks about are his tears as he observes the lostness of the world.

Those who are lost are not spoken of in neutral terms - they are enemies of the cross of Christ. Their life stands opposed to God - as nice as they may be - they are enemies. And so Paul weeps.

Jesus wept. Jesus wept as the crowds gathered and he knew their hearts of rebellion.

Does the church weep today? Are we to busy compromising the gospel? Pastors and people in churches today try to downplay the "enemy", welcoming as many people in as Christians as is possible - even though they deny all sorts of essential, fundamental doctrines. Are we busy pursuing the world so there is no time for tears? What real difference is there between an evangelical Christian today and the world? One hour on a Sunday morning?

We ask - where do we begin? How do I follow the example of Paul and Christ? Tears. Weeping. This allows us to understand grace (we have been saved by Christ alone) and evangelism (we must be praying and seeking for souls to be saved). Why? In the following verses, Paul talks about the second coming of Jesus. Jesus will come again and judge all His enemies.

Jesus is coming and there is an eternity to follow either in heaven or hell. For those who are headed to hell without Christ - they need our tears which leads to prayer, leading to action and love and grace and mercy.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Willingness of Jesus

In John 18 we read of the arrest of Jesus. One of the striking features of the soldiers coming into the garden to arrest Jesus is the willingness of Jesus to go to the cross.

First, it is very clear that Jesus knew he was going to die for sinners and the pain and suffering that would be involved. John 12.27 we read: Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!

When Jesus was arrested, we read that he did not run or hide - he went out to meet Judas and his gang of thugs. Jesus knew Judas would betray him and we read that after Jesus had finished praying, he went to the exact spot Judas knew he and his disciples could be found. We read in verse 4: Jesus, knowing what was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, Who is it that you want? When Jesus reveals himself, they all fell to the ground (so much for the torches, lanterns and weapons they were carrying). And still, Jesus did not run - he did not hide.

Simon Peter brings out his sword and cuts off an ear, when Jesus commands Peter: Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me. Jesus' statement is striking. In the midst of the sword incident, it is almost as if Peter is offering Jesus a way out - we can fight them Jesus and you can go free. But Jesus' response is clear - I will go and bear my Father's cup - I will suffer your wrath.

What a joy for the believer - Jesus, willingly going to the cross for his people. His love so great, His grace so overflowing, and His forgiveness so complete - he went to face human humiliation and torture and God's wrath - so we may have life.

The message: the willingness of Jesus cries out to His people you are loved with an everlasting love. Rest in Him - and you will find peace and stillness in His presence.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Christian Forbes

A recent article reported that there are now 946 billionaires, worth a total of 3.5 trillion - up from 793 last year. The top billionaire is Bill Gates with $56 bn followed by Warren Buffet at $52 bn. Of particular interest to where some of my money has gone, Ingvar Kamprad, the owner of Ikea, sits in his comfortable chair with $33bn.

Now, I cannot imagine having even 1 billion dollars, let alone 56 of them. What is interesting, however, is that it is searchable - we can know the dollar value and say - this person has this many billion and this person has this many billion. We can search their riches.

When Paul is explaining God's amazing work through Jesus and his ministry in the book of Ephesians, he writes: Although I am less than the least of all God's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (3.8)

The gift of Christ - his life, sacrifice, death and life - and his free offer of life for all who come to him, repent of their sin and believe in him - this gift is unsearchable. We cannot begin to even put a figure on how valuable Christ and his gift of life is for those who have come to him.

I conclude two things: 1. to know Christ and have his eternal gift of life is the greatest gift of all because the riches are unsearchable. 2. to preach Christ is the greatest message - though preachers may be the least of all God's people. Whether you know Christ or you know Christ and preach Christ, we have so much to be thankful for in this great gift.

Your name may never make it in Forbes but if it is written int he book of life, we have now and evermore the unsearchable riches of Christ to enjoy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gaining Wisdom - Crying Need for the Church

To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding. Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. (Proverbs 8.4-6)

It is striking how freely godly wisdom is offered to all God's people in the Bible. In Proverbs 8 the simple and foolish are taken aside and spoken to with opportunities like gain wisdom or gain understanding.

But in order to gain wisdom and understanding, we must listen to and study God's Word. How desperately needed this ministry of wisdom is among God's people! Would that God's people saturate themselves with God's Word and then, with humility, love and gentleness, patiently instruct one another. Sadly, however, we live in a culture of quick fixes, pithy sayings and "do as I say not as I do" teachers. We also live in a day of professionalism where when it comes time to help the people of God, we send them to less than Christian counselors.

What did the early church do when a brother or sister was in need of counsel? The older would counsel the younger. Or the wise would be sought out in the church. I am not saying there is not a place for professionals; however, I am saying while professionals have their place, the people of God need to fill themselves with Scripture and be ready to help one another.

Let's take the example of a depressed housewife. What is today's solution? Professional counseling! But what about a godly woman coming into the house - listening, loving and then quietly ministering and mentoring the struggling woman. This godly woman has spent years placing herself and her life under Scripture so that when she steps into this ladies life, she is ready to speak discerning words.

Do you want to be a counselor? Do you want worthy things to say? Study Scripture and then pray for the presence of the Spirit to open doors to quietly come alongside and speak to those who are hurting or need direction. A church with Bible-filled people expressing godly truths in quiet love would be a ministry where God's people find life.