Redeeming the ‘Testimony Time’

Redeeming the ‘testimony time’ by Rehearsing the Grace of God

We need to redeem “the testimony time”. I know that sounds so pretentious, but it is something that we, at PAXnorth have been seeking to do in our young congregation.

Why, how, and some of the initial results.
Teaching through whole books of scripture as the focus of our Sunday Worship services has caused us to grow together as a community of disciples. It has given us a shared ‘language’ as we talk through the application of God’s Word in our discipleship groups. It has caused us to see the bigger threads of God’s instruction for both our redeeming and Christian living. It has also caused us to have a shared response of thanks giving, or appreciating of God’s grace.

This, shared thanksgiving, is becoming an important part of our collective worship response. So much so that we have begun to set aside the Sunday at the end of our sermon series, or when we shift into a new season (i.e. Easter or Christmas), as an entire Sunday to ‘Rehearse the Grace of God’.

The reasoning is simple, so we might make much of the grace of God at work in our lives both individually and corporately. Also that in rehearsing this corporately we might grow in our ability to speak and live out the Gospel together. Grow in our  “gospel fluency”
This reasoning drives the ‘how to’s’ of ‘testimony time.’ We instruct our congregation as they prepare to share – 1. You are the priesthood of believers. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit at work in us, together. 2. Save your sermon. Everyone has a sermon they would love to preach. This is not the time. Try it out on your spouse or roommates see how that goes, and get back to us. 3. You are not the hero of grace. Jesus is the hero. Tell us how the life, cross, burial, resurrection and new life united with Christ is being made real in your life by the work of Holy Spirit. How has God been using the truths of His Word, that we have been wrestling through in this series, to speak the Gospel into your life? 4.  There will be time for rehearsing both personally and corporately God’s grace. [Personally(see #3); Corporately- what have you seen God doing in us? Our church family is experiencing God’s grace at work, where? How? Is there words of encouragement to be shared, again, as it relates primarily to the Gospel work of Jesus, that we need to hear?]

A few initial results ?  Admittedly we have only done this twice in the last five months however we have seen some positive results. Apart from some of the obvious that sharing publicly brings us a sense of unity and encouragement along with getting to know our people a bit more, there is something else that is coming out of these times.

  •  Our people have begun to think through not simply what they share but how they share. It’s pretty typical in a church testimony time to hear a testimony that makes much of the ‘Sharer’ (either as the terrible prodigal or the righteous older brother) with a tag on of Jesus. Jesus usually plays the affirming roll while the Sharer plays the hero in the testimony. Understanding Christ as the hero of our story causes us to think through how we live out of a life united to Christ and walk in hope by faith in Christ in our everyday.
  • Our Church has begun to expect God to move in response to His word being preached. There is a growing alertness to what God is doing through His Word in our lives, both personal and corporate. So often we open God’s Word in private or public then walk away unmoved or unaffected. God’s Word spoken is always a pre-cursor to God’s work in our world. By rehearsing the grace of God in our life and church we are opening our eyes to this truth, if God is preparing His people through His Word it is for a work He is doing or about to do in/with us. Open your eyes!
  • Our Church is growing more sensitive to God’s Spirit speaking through the Church body. We are encouraging and making opportunity for the priesthood of believers in these worship services to pray for each other. Specifics needs for healing, freedom from addictions and oppression, grief and wisdom. Also giving opportunity to speak truth to the congregation or to the elders. (Works like this- if someone feels they have a word for the Church beyond encouragement they run it by one of our elders. This allows for the elders to discern if it’s something to be shared now or something we in leadership need to take and pray over on behalf of the church).

We are new and young at ‘rehearsing the grace of God’ in this way. It still feels a bit awkward and strained. It is proving to be an affective way of drawing our church to make much of the grace of God, for that we are excited.

Thanks for reading,





Blogging Calvin wk 4: The Knowledge of Man and Free Will prt2

The Knowledge of Man and Free Will prt 2 – week 4
(my blog subtitles  are  bold, quotes of Calvin in italics, applications are mine)

What better describes you when it comes to approaching rules or boundaries?

Do you feel like rules and boundaries are what allow for us to live and work in relative harmony, peace and prosperity? “The rules are there for our own good. If each of us would put in a reasonable effort of pulling our weight in following them, this world would be a whole lot fairer and, overall, happier place.” – Do I hear an AMEN?!
Do you tend to see boundaries rules as obstacles to be overcome, ignored or just straight -up broken? “Rules, rules, we don’t need no stinking rules! You show me your rule and I’ll show you how far beyond it I can live. If we had less controls, rules and boundaries people would be a whole lot happier.” – Can I get a YEEHAW?!

Jesus tells a parable including these two types of personalities within the same family structure. There was son who didn’t want to, couldn’t and wouldn’t live under the rules of his father’s house any longer. The only way he believed he could succeed was to get what his father had promised to give him and get as far away as he could from the whole family. He had a brother who thrived under these same rules. He was steady, solid, capable and worked hard in his father’s successful business. He was ready to take over the business and see it soar to new heights whenever his dad was ready to promote him. He was just waiting for the day.prodigalpic

Which one was right? Which one finally found the success they craved?
I’m guessing you know the story of the prodigal son and the elder brother. There has been countless books written on this incredible story Jesus taught. The lessons seem endless from this parable. Quite often I have heard the concluding application, in church settings, from church pulpits boil down to… don’t be like the prodigal son… CHOOSE to come home now.
The emphasis of the appeal is most often on my ‘choosing’, my ‘free will’, my ability to rightly assess what the state of my life is in and to make the best logical choice for my best life now.
Wonder what Calvin would think of such an ending appeal that I have heard so often in our North American pulpits?

How free is Man?
We have seen that the lordship of sin, having overcome the first man, made the whole of humanity its slaves. It remains for us to discover whether, being now in bondage, we are devoid of all freedom and liberty, or whether, if some part survives, how far it extends.
To discover the truth of this matter Calvin sets out to show the reader “the goal to which our argument is directed,” he points out two dangers as we need to consider in understanding how free man is:
“When men is destitute of all goodness, he may often adopt an air of indifference; and because he is told that he is powerless to do good, he will not care to try, as if it were no business of his.” Like a prodigal son who cares nothing for the design, the rule, the boundaries.
“Conversely, it is impossible to concede, anything to him without filling him with false confidence and excessive boldness, and without robbing God of a potion of his honour. ” Like the elder brother believing that we deserve grace. The Father owe’s us.

Calvin’s concern here is to arouse man to the desperateness of their situation and to cause them to take great diligence in seeking, understanding, knowing and pressing for a solution. In this way he hopes to be used for the purpose of “awakening man from his carelessness and sloth…. demonstrating his utter poverty.”

Now as our own ‘goodness’ protests against this approach of calling humanity utterly bankrupt to, by free will, change the most important part of our nature, he wishes to be fair thinking; “no one should deprive man of what is truly his… no one should credit him for less than he has.”
Therefore in order to make a fair assessment we need to be able to identify what is honestly man’s “false and empty boasting” (elder brother self-righteousness). In this way what remains will be the clearer view of what has been given by the good grace of God to the nature of man. The result should be a humble thankfulness and a desire to steward the gifts of God in the creating of us with a happy obedience. Failing this, the response will be man “consigned to endless shame through ingratitude.” This describes the great need of humanity to recognize and lean into the grace of God. Here we will begin to understand the extend of the ability of our human ‘free will’.
Calvin takes us back to when man and woman were considered perfect. That brief time in human history when every  man and woman was complete and declared very good. At the pinnacle of man’s “highest honour he could obtain, Scripture says no more to his credit than that he was created ‘in God’s image’ (Gen. 1:27; James 3:9). By this it means that man was not rich by virtue of his own gifts, but that his blessedness lay in his partnership with God. So what now remains in humanities condition? When man held unstained the image of God in every part of his created being he failed to acknowledge him with everlasting thanksgiving and delight in the obedience of knowing him.” 
This shunning of the great grace of God at the pinnacles of man’s goodness leaves us with the greatest means left to us in glorifying God here: “Now the highest response of the pride filled human heart is to “glorify him by avowing his poverty.”

To ignore this great poverty in our ability to do anything that might bring about our own saving but to listen to those who “urge us to live in own strength and power”, our own goodness is to offer merely “smoke”; A hope in something empty and fleeting. So Augustine is right when he so often repeats the memorable saying that ‘those who defend free will wreck it, instead of making it secure.”
There are many who believe that “this whole controversy as not only useless but highly dangerous…. to see man’s power eclipsed and obliterated, and God’s power built up in him instead….. instead… it is one of the foundations of religion.”

Philosophic theories regarding mind and will
Calvin sketches quickly, so that he might abandon, Plato’s division of the make up of mankind. It is based on an appeal to reason as understood and received through the senses of sight, hearing, taste, scent or touch. In this model “reason does its work by judging all these things.” This is then ruled by intellect “which contemplates with calm and steady gaze everything which reason turns over in its mind.” It is through this grid then that Plato points out our cognitive abilities, our own power, make choices/decisions. “These powers are reason, intellect and imagination”. What then falls in line in Plato’s reasoning, is those powers that guide our desires and eventually out of which we form our appetites and lead us to “seize the things imagination sets before us.”

Don’t be fooled by the philosophy follow the function
Calvin examines Plato’s model of human reasoning that leads to the ‘free will of man’ and man’s choices and rejects it’s source of knowing as deeply faulty. This he goes along with Aristotle’s model of the foundations for man’s free will or choosing; “for whom the soul contains one part which is not-self rational, but which can be guided by reason while the other part actually partakes of reason.” In these basic break-downs, as well as that of the philosopher Cicero, Calvin points out there is a basic two-part make up, however the end results in decision-making for man. These two basic parts of the soul, as seen through the philosophers, Calvin points out could be plainly labeled “a contemplative intellect which stops short of action, being concerned only to observe… intelligence; the other kind of intellect is practical, once it has apprehended good or evil,it implies the will to follow or to shun it… and so in the same way the philosophers divide desire into appetite and will…
Within this basic model the philosophers, “still fancy that man retains the gift of reason, by which he is able to lead a well-ordered life.” 

The basis of this understanding fails, in Calvin’s thinking through scripture. He will argue that the problem in this understanding is that “human reason is corrupt”. Therefore it is impossible for both the reason, intellect, imagination and will that follows is at its heart broken and must be informed by something outside itself in order to be transformed on the inside.

Foundational Christian perspective on mind and will
“Our soul consists of two parts: intellect and will. Intellect seeks to discriminate between the many things which come to our notice and to decide what should be approved and what condemned. The roll of will is to choose and follow whatever mind judges to be good and conversely to reject and shun what it reproves” Much then relies on the state of our intellect or out of which source our intellect functions.
“Now in due course we will see just how reliable the mind is in giving proper direction to the will”

Free will: the problem stated
“The philosophers agree in believe that reason is lodged in the human soul, which is like a lamp to guide the intellect, and like a queen to rule the will.They imagine that reason to be so full of divine light that it is able to distinguish between good and evil and has the power to command. Sense on the other hand is crude and ignorant, unable to rise to the study of superior and exceptional things, confining itself to the things of the earth.” So goes the argument for man’s goodness and the free will to choose what is good or best that by natural tendency man’s “desire… if it chooses to obey reason and does not allow itself to be mastered by sense, has a natural tendency to seek out whatever is good and honourable, and is thus able to keep to a straight path. If, however, it becomes a slave to sense, it is corrupt and defiled by it, and will indulge in mischief of every kind.”

This leads to the conclusion that man is able to reason himself to live right and in happiness, so long as he keeps himself as noble and pure as he can and is able to stay surrendered to the clarity of his reason not simply to give himself over to the control of his senses. If reason, couched in man’s nobility drives then man can expect a favourable outcome. If sense is in the driver’s seat then man will doom himself to a life consumed with “lower” passions that are ever-changing and never satisfied. The will, in this thinking, is the free agent that can choose who is driving.

Practice has a way of debunking theory however, which is our actual experience (Romans 7).
Free will that is said to be able to choose what is good over what is evil our ‘will’ as the driver of our own intentions and our Creator at best in the back seat or at worst on the side of the road. This thinking makes light of our broken sinfulness, our need for a Saviour, and places God at the mercy of our free will.

“To sum up, then, this is the philosophers position. Reason, which resides in the human mind, is sufficient to guide us aright and to show us the right things to do. Will, being inferior to reason, is tempted and beguiled by sense to do what is evil; but insofar as it has freedom of choice, it cannot be prevented from wholly following reason.”

  I agree with Calvin, this falls short. More later.

Thanks for reading,


Blogging Calvin Wk 3 The Knowledge of Man and Free Will prt1

Blind side – a direction in which a person has a poor view, typically of approaching danger.

   I have to confess. It’s been pointed out to me, and I know it’s right, I have blind sides. I don’t see myself clearly. I don’t often or easily recognize my own flaws. My negative personality traits, habits of dealing with others and the narrow filter through which I see the world are many and often remain unacknowledged.
  On top of my tendency to ignore or deflect these blind sides I tend to go a step further, towards impending danger. I reinforce my blind sides by listening to, reading, or sharing life primarily with those who I believe agree with me. I’ve heard this called the silo effect.  Where we close ourselves off from those who might be of a different mindset or opinion than us and surround ourselves in the ‘safety’ of those who are of same opinion. Albert Mohler this week in “the Briefing” series refers to this as living in our own bubbles. He points out that it is a growing concern for the political climate of U.S. culture as #therealdonaldtrump takes over the office of President.
     Calvin begins the hard work of wrestling through how we see ourself, our will, our hearts, our places of decision-making. He points out a macrocosm level blind side of humanity -our sin nature – and how this blinds even what we might consider our free will. This second chapter takes work. Takes time. The take away is worth the work though; We get to walk away with a clearer view not just of our blind side but of the source of our blind side.
“Know thyself” – is one of the oldest and most famous of greek philosophy maxims. It has been given multiple meanings depending on who might be using it.
  We all have blind sides. I don’t know too many people who take great hope or comfort in this being pointed out to them. Calvin points out the flaw in humanities attempt at knowing ourselves based on the source out of which we are searching, ‘our own self’.

“the fate of certain philosophers who, while exhorting man to know himself, at the same time encouraged him to reflect on his worth and excellence, and taught him to consider only what might boost his self-confidence and puff him up with pride”  

Calvin concedes that this is a pathway to further blindness. We need a truth that doesn’t begin with ourselves but outside of ourselves.

 “Now God’s truth requires us to look for something different when we think about ourselves- namely, a knowledge which banishes our arrogant belief in our own strength and which removes every excuse for vain glory, leading us instead to humility.”
“everyone acting as his own advocate, is open to the false idea that man is competent, in and of himself, to lead a good and happy life.” 
“Nevertheless, any reaching which urges man to trust in himself is merely a deception-so great a deception indeed that whoever belies it is destroyed by it.” 
17f72a42-87d4-4c15-9911-c36912429c4b“What, after all, do we gain by vainly trusting in our ability to plan, order, undertake and implement our cherished schemes, when we lack both sound understanding and power to accomplish anything at all? These things, I maintain, we lack from the outset, yet we stubbornly insist on going our own way until we come to utter ruin. This is bound to happen to all who believe that they can do things in their own strength. Anyone who needs teachers like this who uselessly urge us to dwell on our own righteousness and power will achieve nothing by way of self-knowledge, but will be blinded by the most deadly ignorance.”
 “So although God’s truth accords with universal opinion that self-knowledge is the second part of wisdom, here is much disagreement as to how we attain that knowledge.”
   It is out of what source we reach to find the truth of who we are that makes the difference. A false source of self-knowing and we will live a blind lie of ourselves. A true source of knowing self and we will live out a clear-eyed understanding of both ourselves and the world around us.
Calvin takes us directly to our own and usual source of knowing self – SELF. He reflects the teaching of scripture that our natural self is deeply flawed, blinded and broken.  He uses two simple means of demonstrating our inability to know self clearly:
Consider, first, the end for which man was created and endowed by God with exceptional gifts; this thought should encourage him to contemplate the life to come and should make him want to serve God.”
“In the second place, we ask man to judge his true wealth, or farther his penury; once that is clear to him, he will be utterly dismayed, reduced as it were to nothing. The first approach aims to teach man his duty and his role, the second to show him how capable he is of doing what he ought.” 
And so goes the first section of this chapter on man’s knowledge of himself.

Our Original Creation: Made in the image of God
Calvin’s thinking here is that we cannot blame God for our current condition, warped and trapped by a nature that is diseased with sin. This is not how He first made us.
 “The fact is that Adam, the father of us all, was created in the image and likeness of God. As such, it is clear that he was made to share in God’s wisdom, righteousness, power, holiness and truth.”  Calvin points out that Paul had such a high understanding of man’s original design in God and that he pointed believers back  to this reality  as a result of redemption in Christ (Ephesians 4:23-24; Colossians 3:9-10).
“Thus man, having been created in God’s image, was endowed with gifts and superior powers which testified to his Creators’s extraordinary generosity toward him”
In this God made man with all the advantageous, set him up for success. Man was created to glorify God- here in is man’s greatest joy and purpose realized- then God gave man all the gifts and powers to accomplish this purpose.  But the original, the proto -type, the forefather of all humanity….
” through his ingratitude, he quickly made himself unworthy  of all the benefits which God had given him.”
“there came upon him the dreadful plagues of ignorance, weakness, filth, vanity and unrighteousness.These not only beset him personally, but also burdened his whole posterity. For all Adam’s descendants are like him; they take their origin from him, and are born with the taint of his defilement”
So that you might argue the first man was given every advantage and the will to walk in the advantage for the delight of his own soul and for the glory of God, opts instead to take advantage and grasp for delight in his own glory. To the extent that Adam and Eve were given this choice is to the extent that humanity’s free will was exercised for all who would follow.
“All of us, therefore, who spring from impure seed, are born sullied by sin’s infection; even before we emerge into the light we are defiled in the sight of God. For ‘who can make clean what comes from the unclean’, as the book of Job says (Job 14:4)?” 
Adam’s original choice propels the rest of humanity
“Just as though from a rotten root only rotten branches grow, which then convey their rottenness to all the twigs and leave  they produce, so Adam’s children were tainted in their father, and now bring defilement upon their successors.” 
Adam’s original choice defined
 “We therefore affirm that original sin is a hereditary corruption and perversion of our nature, which in the first place renders us guilty of God’s wrath, and in the second produces in us those works which Scripture calls ‘works of the flesh’ (Gal 5:19) 
You might feel that this is not fair or that something was stolen from you before you had any say in it. Such as it is in genealogy and more so in the truest part of ourselves, the very nature of our soul.
“There are two points which we must examine separately. First, that we are so corrupt in every part of our nature that, on account of our corruption, we are justly condemned in God’s sight…. but because through his (Adam’s) transgression we are all caught up in his ruin, he is said to have made us all liable. 
“In truth the sin which comes from him (Adam) dwells within us, and for it punishment is due…. the apostle also bears witness that ‘death came upon all men, because all men have sinned (Romans 5:12).
  I know these are hard words for our western ears. Typically we tend to feel we are not that bad, we get to choose everything we want (including our gender), and we deflect or are deeply offended by the possibilities of stark truth. But if you do the hard work of thinking it through, letting it settle, continuing to be open to where this might be going you might find ‘that the faithful wounds of a friend avails much’ (Proverbs 27:6).
The second point we must consider is that this perversion of our nature is never passive in us, but continually produces new fruit- the works of the flesh to which we referred earlier. In the same way a fiery furnace always spews out flames and sparks, or a spring gives forth water…. For our nature is not only void and destitute of all good, it is so fertile in every kind of evil that it can never be idle…. namely that all parts of man, from the mind to the will, from the soul to the flesh, are defiled and filled with just such lust. Or to put it more briefly, man is, in himself, nothing but lust.” 
Be clear who we are blaming. God is not guilty of our sin.
 “We contend that man is naturally perverse and corrupt, but that his perversion is not in him by nature. It is not, we affirm, by nature, in order to demonstrate that it is an additional trait acquired by man, rather than a quality belonging to the substance implanted in him from the beginning. “
“Now how could God be angry with the noblest of his creatures, given that the least of the works which he has made are pleasing to him? The answer is that he is angry not with his own work but with its corruption.”
Let me leave that right here.
More next week.
Thanks for reading;

Spirituality. It isn’t what you think.

How do you measure if you’re spiritual?
Being spiritual can mean a lot of different things.

spiritual-e1440634043386For those who follow an eastern religious mindset it could be the making of many different sacrifices or offerings to a myriad of gods or spirits. It could be following a religious regime (rules) so that we might either put ourselves in a place of peace and happiness, or so that we might gain merit to enter some form of nirvana or earn a better standing in this life or next.  In this understanding spirituality equals how we have gained peace or hope through our religious merit or habits.

In a North American mindset we often equal spirituality with the degree of self-care  and personal comfort we achieve. “Yes I’m a spiritual person. I take personal time to meditate, reflect, do yoga or have ‘me time’ each week.” We tend to measure our spiritual health by how well we feel, how much space in our lives we have to take care of ourselves or how much control we have been able to gain on our lives. Spirituality equals how good, peaceful or comfortable our lives have become because of our habits of self-awareness.

God doesn’t measure Spirituality the way we do.
“Spirituality” in the Bible doesn’t equate to what we do for merit before God through self-sacrifice or how peaceful we can make our lives through self comfort.

  • Spirituality in the Bible always includes a work  initiated by Holy Spirit, with evidences of Holy Spirit’s work. Romans 8 would be a good place to think on this.
  • Spirituality in the Bible is always measured in actuals. A contrite heart, a broken spirit, a need for the great grace of the God we cannot reach, a desperate soul and delighting simply in God’s grace (evidenced by how we treat other broken people in humanity)- these are the things God will not despise.
  • Spirituality in the Bible is understood by our actual proximity to God, not a worked up or perceived by others proximity. It is so often those who appear to be spiritual to others or who have worked themselves into a position of spirituality, in the Bible, who God says, “I do not know you.”

How do christians measure if they are spiritual?
In our modern-day North American churches we can get caught up in believing we are spiritual people in ways that exclude true spiritual life by living as a ‘instagram, pod-cast, free-range Christian”

Instagram Christian – our deepest engagement with the Word of God, His voice to us, is via instagram one-liner scripture quotes. #like #yesJesus #makeitsoforme #thismakesmehappier

Pod-cast Believer– We gain a head knowledge of Bible by listening to our favourite pod-cast preachers so that we know the arguments, the winsome applications, the best known teachers/speakers/preachers of modern-day church but know little of wrestling the truth of Christ out within  the broken, stumbling,  life of the face to face church community. #letmeunpackthisforyou  #landtheplane #bringit #preacheriskillingit

Free-range Saint – We float in and out of Church with no real engagement in the difficult, messy realities of being a part of the local imperfect body. We come in once or maybe twice a month. Try to look content during the 30 minutes of singing. Check our phones during the 40 minutes of preaching. Say as little as possible. Keep it light. Get out as soon as we can (to get to more important stuff in our schedule). Treating church like a hair cut. Has some sort of cosmetic effect on how spiritual we can appear but not something we are particularly engaged or threatened by. Unless of course we judge it to be a horrible or distasteful event. Then we’ll float to some other place next time we feel the need to go.

Spirituality or Spiritual Life?
  I am struck by how we measure our ‘spirituality’ and by how God measures our spiritual life. Where and what we do to appear spiritual and how Christ calls us to deep engagement in His Body, the Church, so that we are confronted with authentic living of a Spirit-filled life. Struck by the testimony of the first century church -true spirituality will not leave us comfortable but will cause us to abandon the pipe dream of what treasure we believe we can gain on earth and fight to delight with all we have in the person and  work of Jesus. For He is the only means to truly be made spiritual.

Prompted in thinking on this by studies in Acts (see especially chpts7-9)

Thanks for reading


Blogging Calvin Wk 1: The Knowledge of God prt1

Blogging the Institutes – January week 1

(my blog subtitles  are  bold, quotes of Calvin in italics, applications for present day are mine)

CHAPTER 1 The Beginning of Wisdom
  If you were so moved to write a dissertation of what your core beliefs are, a systematic lay out of what you hold as the key truths that have driven your thoughts, your will and your life, what would you write? How would you capture the true essence of the WHY behind the WHAT of who you are and how you have lived your life so far… where would you start?
  The Institutes of Christian Religion are John Calvin’s dissertation formed over many years, through reflection, meditation and practice. Born out of a single Source. A source that Solomon of old declares to be the very beginning of wisdom, an understanding and awe of God.
 Awareness of God as the source of true wisdomproverbs-9-10-free-bible-verse-desktop-wallpapers-1
“The whole sum of our wisdom- wisdom, that is, which deserves to be called true and assured  -broadly consists of two parts, knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves.” pg1,pp1- and so it begins with not simply what is true wisdom but where, indeed, WHO is the source of true wisdom.
   We are in a culture that has sought to strip and redefine what has been considered the foundational structures of humanity to be true. I suppose it is an inevitable cycle of what we call human progress to constantly press, rearrange and hope to redefine the boundaries of understood truth. However our current western liberal culture, the culture in which I live, has snowballed this process so that the one truth that seems to be in the driver’s seat of moral, political, educational, and developmental process is “I am the basis of my truth.”  There is a great inherent danger and detrimental problem with this basis of self-proclaimed truth.
Self-knowledge is impossible without the knowledge of God
“Conversely, we observe that no one ever attains clear knowledge of self unless he has first gazed upon the face of the Lord, and then turns back to look upon himself.”
   This could be a summary thesis for the Institutes. The institutes is the result of and a means to, gazing into the face of God so that we might turn back to look upon ourselves with ever sharpening clarity. To fail to look into the face of God as the source, the basis of what is wisdom and true, is to blunder into the darkness of self-delusion. It is to try to redefine ourselves by making our versions of self-awareness the definition of truth. It is not only extremely poor logic but holds a shifting sand  of identity that produces hopelessness and bondage to self-expression~ always recreating ourselves but never coming to a deeper, solid, certainty of who we truly are.
  It matters what or who we consider to be the origin of truth upon which we base our life.  An awareness of God both unnerves us and assures us.
Awareness of God and it’s affects
An awareness of God is common to all
“We regard it as beyond dispute that there is in the mind of man, by natural inclination, a certain feeling for divinity, so that no one should seek refuge by claiming ignorance. The Lord has instilled in everyone some understanding of his majesty, so that all, having learned that there is one God and that he is their Creator, should be condemned by their own testimony because they have failed to honour him and to devote their lives to doing his will.”
  This is Paul’s great theme in the first section of the Epistle of Romans, in the New Testament. The arguments that Calvin makes come out of obvious meditations in Romans. Calvin himself affirms this in his introduction saying that those who have studied the Institutes here, will have already an understanding of his commentary of Romans.

   I realize in this culture where most of my neighbours would either identify as atheist, or agnostics (who function as atheists) there might be a long “pfffft- as if” from Calvin’s borrowed statement of universal awareness of God. Which would then most likely be followed by a, gawfah” at his follow-up statement:

The seed of religion is perverted by self-will

  “We have already mentioned that the knowledge of God must be such as effectively to plant in our hearts some seed of religion. This is so that, first, we may be taught to fear and reverence God; and second, that we may learn that all good things must be sought in him, and that for these we owe him the duty of gratitude. For how can our mind conceive of God if you do not immediately see that you, who are his handiwork are, by right of creation, subject to and dependent on his rule?”  – this is a great few sentences to meditate on.

 Because the darkness of our own minds and hearts. Our inability to define ourselves clearly to any eternally happy-end (a kind of true religion before God) remains outside of our self-realizing grasps. We must be taught to reverence God, such is the major  function of both our conscience and creation, in which we continually live, ALL of us.
   Calvin presses us further we must learn that all good things (truth) are found in Him and that such a revelation demands our obedience to God, as a  loving, submissive “duty of gratitude”. A kind of holy delight in our daily living.
   To begin to understand that we are the handiwork of God, holds the right of creation on our lives so that we are in everything “subject and dependent on his rule”. How can we not know this as we begin to form an understanding of God via the witness of creation and conscience?
Where it all goes wrong
The twin evils of superstition and craven fear
“In this respect we sin chiefly in two ways, First, in their search for God’s truth men do not, sadly, go beyond the limits of their nature as they should: rather, they judge God’s greatness according to their own crude understanding. They comprehend him not as he has made himself known, but according to the image which they themselves have arrogantly fashioned.”  – Calvin refers to this tendency as a living out of our own superstition. The God we want, or only want to know partially when we need, as opposed to the God who is.
“The second error which men commit is that they think about God only reluctantly, when necessity compels them. They are not moved by fear born of reverence for his majesty, but only by dread of his judgement, which fills them with terror because they cannot escape it.”
– this is living with God in such a way that only fear drives us. The God who is like an angry Father or a controlling spouse. If we can walk the line, step around the egg shells maybe they will like us.
  Neither of these two, superstition or fear, are able to absolve the hearts wicked appetite for self-indulgence and so will not produce the lasting fruit that comes out of knowing God. Indeed what Calvin reminds us is that neither our superstitious understandings of a god we want or a fear driven religiosity will ever give us a clear understanding of who God really is. So that we will, hoping in these two man made devices, never truly know God.
Where it all goes right
What true godliness entails
“ This is what is meant by pure and true religion- namely faith joined with unfeigned fear of God, the ‘fear’ comprising both love for the righteousness which God has commanded in his law and reverence, freely and wholeheartedly given, for his majesty.”
The fact that God has revealed himself so that we might know this true and pure religion Calvin says is what makes us wholly different then “the beasts”. The truth of God being known is not founded in mere intellectualizing or the making up of god from our own imaginations. God has revealed God. This is how we can, indeed the only true way, know Him. To know Him in this way is to begin to start to understand what it is to delight in Him. It is to touch the very purpose of our lives, to know God and to glorify Him forever.
Next Week:
 The Knowledge of God prt2
Thanks for reading.

Blogging Calvin’s Institutes in 2017

2017 is set to be a memorable year.
There is some great celebrations ahead. Canada, my home and native land, is celebrating its 150th Anniversary. I am looking forward to digging deeper into some of the historical and cultural developments of our great nation. I am your typical Canadian, apologetically patriotic (read ‘closet nationalist’) and outspokenly bias (read ‘defending our right to own hockey’ by using cutting sarcasm). I have begun to put together some reading on the history of our provinces and the cultural development of our country for my reading list in 2017 (any suggestions would be welcomed).
Another significant celebration is the 500th year of the protestant reformation. Sparked by Martin Luther, fuelled by Augustine and clarified by several key reformers including John Calvin.john-calvin
At the end of 2016 I began to read John Calvin’s Institutes. The first half has been so thought-provoking and spiritually deepening that as I reviewed some of the personal notes and applications that I made I decided to try to blog out these insights.

I am not claiming to be an expert in either Church History, the Reformation or John Calvin studies but I am leaning in as a student of all the afore-mentioned. You may want something more scholarly or analytical.
I am  a practitioner. A dad and a Pastor. My roles in life include helping others navigate the world around them in meaningful ways. Ways that will cut through lies, half-truths or confusion and bring clarity, purpose and move ahead truthfully.

This is my approach to reading , thinking and blogging through Calvin’s institutes.  I am reading to learn and apply into the context of today’s culture. In particular, the leading edge liberal culture that is mine, in Canada.

I can’t promise you that these blogs will be short – ‘4 steps to a better…’ – kind of blogs. But I do hope they will be meaningful, insightful and helpful to those who find themselves having to navigate a liberal culture that is in desperate need of a spiritual reformation back to the great God of glory.
For those interested look for a “Blogging the Institutes” at the end of each week in 2017.

Thanks for reading

Do You Have Room For the Tough Questions?

keep-calm-and-no-questions-please  The Church that I have the joy to lead, PAXnorth, is an inner-city motley crew. Made up of a majority of people who have been or are post grad cynics of religion and even church in general, the urban hipster type. Mixed into this group are those who live streetlevel, addicts, and those who have been prostitutes in our neighbourhood. All surrounded by a growing number of very young families with little past Biblical understanding or example of how to build thriving marriages and raise children in our culture. This is the crew I get to do life with, and I love it!

  When we started the church, 7 plus years ago, we realized in order to make even a dent in this culture we were going to have to do things a bit differently. We have. But maybe not in the ways we originally thought. Maybe some time soon I’ll make that storyline a part of a blog- but not today.

Today I want to build a case for the need of the local church to make room for the tough questions. This is a concern that hit me as I was publicly sharing the the type of questions and comments that we recently dealt with at PAXnorth, during ONE Sunday morning worship service.

Not all of our start-up team have liked or are crazy about having a question and comment time right after the sermon and before the worship music. It does interrupt our flow from sermon to response. But all agree that it is an important part of teaching our people how to interact, make application and respond to the Word of God. We aren’t just doing this because in some way we think its cool or hip. The primary reason is because it teaches us a vital step in a response of worship. The step of questioning.

We have witnessed week after week (some weeks more than others) the process of application moving from head to heart being verbalized into proper action in these moments of Questions and Comments. The way we do this is not THE way, or the ONLY way but I have grown to believe it is an incredibly necessary part of helping our people to grow in being well equipped disciples of Jesus. So much so that this RANT exploded from my fingers as I wrote out a couple of questions that were brought up during our church service last week [questions about law, slavery and hypocrisy]  [questions about gospel, the Gospel and Homosexuality]::

   ATTENTION PASTORS AND LEADERS: If you are not having [or making room for] these types of conversations with your people you are, in my opinion, ill equipping them to navigate the very realities that they encounter everyday in the culture we live. My experience, a combination of theology in churches and  realities in an urban culture, is that most Christians have very little idea on how to engage in reasonable and winsome conversations while holding the truth of God’s Word. If that is the case- the shame is to us, the leaders/pastors in the Church – and it causes the Gospel witness (the Goodnews of Jesus Christ), entrusted to us, to be silent or to be ignorant.

Re-reading it several times over, before hitting publish, only confirmed one of the large gaps that I think most people feel regarding what they hear on a Sunday morning and what they then have to navigate through the rest of the week. I am not suggesting primarily we need to make our sermons more relevant by quoting the latest movies, using the modern clichéd language or by re-writing all our worship tunes to match the popular rhythms of the day. NOT AT ALL – and definitely not changing or softening the truth of scriptures.
What I have discovered is that when the Word of God is preached clearly and applied clearly into everyday life it only proves that it is already starkly relative to life and culture. The point I am making is after God’s word has been faithfully communicated have you, leader/pastor, helped your congregation to take the next vital step of response in worship? The step of questioning.

IN FEAR that this post has gotten way too long here’s some short HELPS to get the Questioning started:
Here’s some basics we are learning about making room for the TOUGH QUESTIONS
I am realizing Good Questioning allows for our Church to:

  • wrestle with what we believe to be true already.
  • realize the places where we have only verbally complied but do not really believe.
  •  try and put into words the logic we have been living out of.
  •  confront many of the areas of our life and culture that we may be failing to ‘give an answer’ that is truly godly and in line with His Word (not simply religious or popular).

I am realizing Good Questioning in the Church is not easy.
[it takes shared values that need to be both taught and demonstrated in relationship]

  • it has to be governed by Biblical understanding.
  •  it has to be applied in keeping with the Gospel.
  •  it can only be processed by what is reasonable. [This is the most abstract of these points so let me clarify- No Church leader or Pastor is ready to answer every question at any moment with clear Biblical understanding and cultural insight. This causes many of us to not address or allow for difficult questions at all. I would suggest that you begin the conversations, take them as far as you can reasonably go then expand your study and your cultural engagement and continue the conversations. DON’T keep giving the religious platitudes that we often believe work like a Jedi mind trick- ‘these aren’t the questions you want answered’; It takes a grace- driven humility to admit you aren’t as engaged  as you need to be in order to give a full answer and it takes a passion for Gospel change to do the work of discovering how culture thinks and how scriptures respond thoughtfully.]
  •  it works best when it is both direct and winsome.

Let the questions begin!