Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Make Me a Barnabas

Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet. (Acts 4:36-37)

And when [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.
But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. (Acts 9:26-28)

The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.  When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:22-26)

I have spent a fair bit of time over the last years working to build coalitions and Gospel-centred cooperative movements. I have noticed that the best builders of these kind of groups are pastors who are generous of time and money, quick to build relationships between others and godly. They are not petty, suspicious, or worldly.

My life was deeply impacted by reading Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield. To me, Whitefield was a master at bringing men together by emphasizing what they had in common instead of where they differed. Later in life, John Newton became a second mentor to me in this regard. Both men, in my mind, were Barnabas’s in their day. I hope that when I die I might be remembered in the same way. I want to give my life to helping Christians move closer together rather than further apart. 

Lord, make me a Barnabas.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Announcement: Here We Grow!

You may not have heard our big news. Grace Fellowship Church has two encouraging announcements to make.

A New Auditorium
First off, we have prayed for many years that the Lord would provide us a physical meeting place of our own. He has faithfully done that through our long-term partnership with Timothy Christian School. TCS has been a great landlord and I hope we have been a decent enough tenant. Even though we have desired our “own” place, we have developed a very workable relationship with the school that enables us to do almost everything we want to do as we work around their schedule. 
Last summer we started talks with the school concerning a building project. It has been their desire to increase the gym size which would be of immediate benefit to us. Grace Fellowship Church currently pushes some 50 folks into a video feed overflow room so getting a new auditorium that seats 400 instead of 200 is a big help to us.
The project also includes an addition along the front of the building with a new lobby area and new office space. As we got to talking, the school offered to include us in the project. So, for a donation of $150,000, we help finish the new auditorium, gain all new (real), permanent office space, and guarantee our rental for the next ten years. This seemed like a great move to our members, so we jumped in with both feet. 
We intend to help with the purchase of seating and a sound system on top of this $150,000 donation. We are excited to work with the school on this and even more excited to get renovated bathrooms! :-)

A New Summer Meeting Location
The construction is scheduled to begin July 1. That leads to our second announcement. Since the bathrooms are being gutted and most of the parking lot will be fenced off over the summer, we have decided to move our summer services to a nearby school. For every Sunday in July and August we will be meeting at St. Basil the Great College School (20 Starview Lane, North York, ON, M9M 3B2 - just 3km from our current meeting location). Due to the increased rental cost and the unavailability of TCS, we are only able to offer one service during the summer at our normal time of 10AM. The nice things about being at St. Basil are that we will all be in one room, there should be some air conditioning for the hot months of the year and there is still plenty of free parking.

We are super grateful to TCS for inviting us in to their building project. Although we do not end up increasing our capitol (our donation does not buy ownership), we are pleased to help another Christian group and thrilled to have a facility for our unhindered use during our rental times. Plus, TCS is a great group of people to work with. We are thankful for the Lord’s provision.

Want to Help?
A number of pastors and other folks have asked me if they can help us in any way. That is part of the reason for this post. We have about $92,000 pledged toward our $150,000 goal. I am thankful that a church of our size, economic standing and age (we are very young) has been able to come up with these funds, but it leaves us a little shy of what we need. So, if you would like to help us in this project you are welcome to make a donation. You can do that online at gfcto.com/donate It would be pretty cool to see the Lord provide that needed $58,000 by September 1 when we intend to make our donation to the school. 

We are so very grateful to our wise God for all the ways He answers our prayers and supplies our every need. If you have a second, please thank Him with us for all He has done!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ministering to the Sick - Some Practical Considerations

I came across this little list the other day and thought it might prove helpful for young pastors in particular. Much of this I learned from tagging along with my father-in-law to hospital visits during our summer vacations. But this is the kind of stuff every Christian can do. 

Your Demeanour - - You should be humbly confident.
  • the sick are already struggling to not be anxious, they don’t need you to add to their anxiety
  • “pray yourself up” before meeting with them; yours is a spiritual work
  • enter the room slowly, but with a smile that is full of love 
  • don’t let your eyes rivet on tubes and monitors... look into the eyes of the sick or the family that attends them
  • hospitals are not modest or clean - just deal with it
  • have some idea of what you are going to say before getting there --> a plan breeds confidence (I like to have a Psalm in mind that I have read over in advance)

Your Speech - - You should get to Christ and the Gospel.
  • there is lots of time to talk about physical conditions, but not everyone has someone in their lives to remind them of Christ
  • remember to speak in a calm, conversational, not-too-loud voice (this is where nervousness can kill you - getting too loud or stuttering, etc)
  • have a specific passage of Scripture to read and comment on
  • I like to use whatever the Lord has blessed me with recently in my own devotional time
  • you do not need to read all of a passage
  • admonish through the Word (e.g. “Here the Psalmist says that God’s voice can still a war or move a city... how glad I am that our Saviour is that strong.  He is still that strong and will be for you.”)
  • keep your admonishment simple, and clear... no need to “preach the whole counsel” today; avoid obscure thoughts or things that do not relate to suffering
  • don’t shy from asking simple questions that remind them of Jesus
  • don't shy away from asking difficult questions. The very ill often want to speak of death, their salvation, heaven, their assurance, etc. Often some of the sweetest fellowship happens when you ask a saint if they are prepared to die.

Your Timing - - You should serve the sick, not your schedule (whenever possible).
  • ask family and/or medical staff when the sick one is at their best
  • if you visit in hospital, avoid shift changes (frustrates nurses) and mornings (when much lab work, etc completed)
  • if visiting in hospital, it is great to tell duty nurse who you are (“I am an elder/deacon from Grace Fellowship Church, their home church”) and who you plan to visit
  • usually 5-10 minutes per visit is good for those recovering from surgery or suffering from serious ailments (you have to be careful here to not appear rushed like you have other things you would rather be doing, and not to overstay a welcome.  People are usually quite tired when very sick and long visits only wear them out -  you become counter-productive)
  • you may stay longer for new births, etc... again, offer to leave within 10 minutes and stay if they beg you to do so
  • the dying: you will get to know when things are drawing near to the end; I always pray that I might be there as they pass, if not, be ready to stay for long seasons to minister to the family and to be with them afterwards
  • prior to surgery is a great time to pray with someone
  • day of surgery, give plenty of recovery time

Your Prayer - - To the point, to the cross and for their good.
  • keep it simple
  • keep it short; don’t be offended if a person duped up on morphine falls asleep!
  • pray the Gospel
  • pray the Truth you have taught/admonished with
  • intercede for what they need most: Christ
  • pray believingly 

Your Person - - A live body visiting is better.
  • emails are okay
  • a card is better
  • a live visit is best
  • being there communicates love: you have taken time out of  your busy life to come and see them
  • it will cost you gas, time, parking, etc. (If you do a lot of hospital visits, we will gladly reimburse your parking!)
  • make sure you don’t stink (body, breath, etc)- odours take on a new life to many sick folks
  • take a Bible with you
  • usually holding a hand is a nice gesture; some kind of human touch tells the sick they are not disgusting
  • do not sit on bed of sick unless invited
  • try to stand still, not wiggle around or move quickly (just think how you feel when you have a flu)
  • dress appropriately (I have a theory that if you are dressed “better” you will get more help from hospital staff and also subtly communicate more confidence to the sick)

Your Optimism - - The Lord can do things
  • the Lord can use you in the lives of staff, family members, other patients
  • the Lord may use you to greatly encourage a fellow saint
  • the Lord may answer your prayer and heal someone.  Why not risk praying.

A Few Other Things

  • read up on their medical condition
  • be careful of what you ask female patients
  • a little gift of flowers is always nice

Friday, March 04, 2016

Friday Fun: A Little Hip Hop From My Boy

A few months ago the boy's dreams came true and he got some studio time with a couple of musicians in our church.

What you are about to hear is a one-take wonder. Remus had a basic track laid down and the boy just went to town. One take. Over. See ya.

It pops up on my iTunes feed every couple of weeks and every time it makes me smile. Everything is perfect about this. :-)

You can listen here.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Canadian Winter of the Soul

The Canadian winter can wreak havoc on the Christian soul. I see it every year. Good people just wear down under the cold and grey and shortened sunlight hours. This winter has been the mildest I can remember, but that doesn't solve everything. In fact, not even July solves everything.

John Newton made this observation in this wonderful hymn. He compares his soul to the winter ground pining for spring. I have always enjoyed that imagery and found this hymn in particular a tonic to the soul. Lewis's famous, "always winter, never Christmas" line captures what many of us feel by the end of February. If that is you, use Newton's words to direct your heart back to Jesus.

See how rude winter's icy hand
Has stripped the trees, and sealed the ground;
But spring shall soon his rage withstand,
And spread new beauties all around.

My soul a sharper winter mourns,
Barren and lifeless I remain,
When will the gentle spring return,
And bid my graces grow again?

Jesus, my glorious sun, arise,
'Tis thine the frozen heart to move;
Oh! hush these storms, and clear my skies,
And let me feel thy vital love.

Dear Lord, regard my feeble cry,
I faint and droop 'till thou appear;
Wilt thou permit thy plant to die?
Must it be winter all the year?

Be still, my soul, and wait his hour,
With humble prayer, and patient faith,
'Till he reveals his gracious power,
Repose on what his promise saith.

He, by whose all commanding words,
Seasons their changing course maintain;
In every change a pledge affords,
That none shall seek his face in vain.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

An Open Letter to Jemima Kirke (Star of Girls)

An Open Letter to Jemima Kirke
(Star of Girls)

Dear Jemima,

Besides sharing the lovely name of my grandmother you also have this in common: Your life has had its share of difficulties. I thought of her in some of her trials as I watched you share the story of your abortion.

I assume the intention of a video like this is to make me think. It worked and how I wish we could sit down over a dinner at my house and talk in person. In lieu of that, may I interact with some of your ideas here? Your words are in italics. Mine follow.

In 2007 I became pregnant with my boyfriend at the time

I know you know this, but you did not have to get pregnant. You and your boyfriend could have had a very meaningful, enjoyable and sexless relationship. I simply want to point out that although your pregnancy might have surprised you, it was not by accident nor was it spontaneous. You became pregnant because you had sex with your boyfriend. That was a choice you made. 

I think that is important because all of our decisions have consequences. How we respond to them is so crucial to who we become as a person.

I wasn't sure I wanted to be attached to this person (your boyfriend) for the rest of my life - my life was just not conducive to raising a healthy happy child - I just didn't feel it was fair, so I decided to get an abortion and I went to Planned Parenthood

I can understand your concern about marrying the right person. I stressed over that decision, too. But there is a jump in your logic. You go from concluding the relationship was not conducive to raising a child, directly to aborting that child. Did you notice that you called your child a “child?” I did. 

But if your concern was really for that child in your womb, you would have never killed it. Lots of wonderful people I know adopt children. Sometimes family members who understand the predicament you are in offer to take the child. There are hundreds of options for that child. You say you did not feel it was “fair” to your child to bring it into the complex world in which you then lived, but was it fair to her to end her life?

Because I couldn't tell my mother that I was pregnant I had to pay for it out of pocket

I understand this, too. There is a stigma attached to unwed pregnancies. I don’t know enough about your relationship with your mom to comment much more than that, but I do know that every major city in North America has a Pregnancy Care Centre where very kind and loving women will help you navigate those waters. 

We are terrible predictors of the future. I have watched many delicate situations between mothers and daughters end up wonderfully. Not every time. But often. Especially when they realize that regardless of the circumstances of the pregnancy, new life is here. 

reproductive issues are something women especially should be able to talk through together

Again, I agree with you. In fact, that is what I am trying to do, even though I am a man. But I have noticed that you need a man to get into this situation. Oh, for more men to step up and exercise their responsibilities. I honour the man who has the courage to tell the women he got pregnant that he will take care of everything. Whether that is financially supporting the new mom  and child or helping arrange an adoption.  Men are more of the problem here than we often admit.

(I’m) a mother of two… I have two daughters and I would love it if when they're older… that the political issues surrounding their bodies were not there anymore

I respectfully disagree with you here on two fronts. 

First, these are not political issues, but issues of right and wrong. I realize that sounds pre-historic to a culture that has abandoned itself to moral relativity, but we still think things like theft and murder are wrong and there is a reason for that. Just as we know, intuitively, that the fetus in a woman is a living person. We can deny these things and spin our words, but our consciences tell us differently. So, this is not politics in the way that budgets and highway planning are. This is right and wrong. And abortion is wrong. 

Second, I think you are counting incorrectly. Like you said at the start, you chose to abort a person. And that means you are a mother to three, not two.

I could be wrong, but I think your talking about your abortion has more to do with assuaging your conscience than it does about reproductive rights. I think you know what you did was wrong in the eyes of your Creator. 

Did you know the most surprising pregnancy of all happened 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem? Mary was young, poor, single, about to endure social scorn and (miraculously) pregnant with Jesus. He was born into the world to live the perfect, sinless life we never could and to be our substitute when it came to the punishment for all our sins. 

I needed a Saviour. So do you. Your abortion was wrong and sinful, but God sent Jesus into the world to die in the place of wrong and sinful people like you and me. If you admit that guilt, rather than bury it and justify it, you can be sure God will forgive you. He forgave me and I am sure I have done far worse than you. And with that salvation He will give us that peace and wholeness for which our hearts crave.


Paul Martin

Monday, December 28, 2015

Pastoring a Culturally-diverse Church

I have been thinking a lot lately about cultural diversity in the church. Toronto is still widely regarded as one of, if not the single most ethnically diverse city in the world. And thankfully that is reflected in many of our churches.

But guys like me did not grow up with this kind of diversity. There were two visible minorities in my public school. Yet that demographic has completely flipped in my lifetime. I love it! Standing with my daughter at a college expo a few months ago I looked around the massive room and saw one other white person. One! That was amazing for a guy who grew up here.

And I am not lying about loving it. I find the process of learning another culture totally fascinating and at times, dumbfounding. As a pastor, I am constantly asked to step into people’s lives and ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” which is an entirely different question than, “What do I think they should do?” I think (or hope, at least) that our situation has made me a better reader of the Word.

Cultural Idolatry
Our church really does enjoy cultures. There is, in my opinion, a very healthy mix of culture-respect, culture-denial and culture-enjoyment and so much of this is fuelled by a kind of self-deprecating humour toward one’s own culture. I think that is one of the ways the Gospel changes people. We stop idolizing culture, learn to enjoy parts of it for what they are worth, and even laugh at some of our weird eccentricities. All because we worship a Saviour who rescues souls out of “every tongue and tribe and nation.” The Gospel is of far greater importance to us than our culture.

Cultural Dominance
Still, I worry sometimes about how to keep things good. I recognize that my culture is the dominant culture of my church, if for no other reason than I planted this church. I watch with real interest certain countries struggle to understand the needs and pains of their non-dominant cultures. It is almost like one of those conversations where two people are yelling at each other in two entirely different languages. They just cannot comprehend what the other is saying. So, I worry that the same thing might creep into our church. But the Gospel answers this. If Christ left the glory of heaven to die in my place, it ought be my joy to leave the comfort of my culture and actually give preference to the culture of another. Isn’t this what Paul was doing when he became “all things to all people?”

Fake Oneness
I also worry that we will feign oneness in the church, without risking cultural offense. This might seem the opposite of what I was saying before, but I think part of learning to really love folks of wildly different cultures from your own is learning to ask questions that might get you in a lot of trouble. If we let fear control our church relationships, we will never come out and ask the things that would really help us understand each other. But this too, is exactly where the Gospel is needed. If you and I are both saved by the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, even if my question is dumb and offensive, you have to confront me, I have to repent and you have to forgive me. Done deal. 

That is why I think Christians are the ones leading the way when it comes to crossing ethnic barriers. I recognize that place and history have put me in a very unique and advantageous situation to live an ethnically-diverse church life. But it will take more than immigration and social policy to make it work. Praise God for His one Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Saviour of the world.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

When You Don't Delight in God

At Grace Fellowship Church we have one primary mission; to delight in God, to the glory of God, for the good of all people. We think this best summarizes the purpose of every Christian’s life.
But choosing to be happy in God is not easy. We contend with the world, the flesh and the devil, and at any given moment might be fighting against all three. At our prayer meeting last night we tried to come up with the most common ways we fail to delight in God. After that, we tried to answer each from the Word. This gave us a great framework from which to pray for our church family.
I was so blessed by this I thought I would share it with you.

Obstacle to Delight    
    --> Answer

Fear of man  
    --> Fear of God

    --> Self-forgetfulness

    --> Contentment

    --> Prayer

    --> Faith

    --> Worship of God

    --> Joy

    --> Humility

    --> Single-mindedness

    --> Deliberateness

This list helps in several ways.

  1. It helps identify what might be going on in our heart when we are not delighting in God.
  2. It provides a possible antidote for what ails us.
  3. It gives us a great list of things to pray for fellow church members any day of the week. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

About that Tim Challies Guy

I no longer have the first email I received from Tim Challies, but I remember the first time I saw him. Tim had found me from my “world famous blog” and had suggested we get together for lunch. I pulled up to a local restaurant and spotted a computer-programmer-looking guy standing sheepishly by the door. “That must be him,” I thought. And I was right.

Little did I know where that first meeting would take us. Soon after that lunch, the Challies family made Grace Fellowship Church their home. It was not the easiest transition, but it was certainly deliberate. Tim knew where he wanted his young family to worship.

After becoming members, Tim and Aileen began to serve in various parts of church life. And one of the first things Tim did was to sit down our elders and ask for spiritual oversight. Whatever this blog phenomenon was, Tim knew it could prove dangerous to his soul unless he was submitting to the elders of his local church. To be clear, this was never intended to be a kind of editorial oversight, but the kind of shepherding that every worker should seek. Tim wanted to be grounded, held to the Truth and have people in his life who really knew him and pursued his soul. 

Over the years, the church began to recognize a teaching gift in Tim. Soon, the elders saw gifts of leadership and the training of others. We spoke to Tim about the potential of becoming an elder in our church (a long and thorough process) and he was eager to pursue it. He was ordained to the office of elder on May 16, 2010.

Not long after this, our church began preparing to plant another. The elders thought it best to add to our pastoral staff in the process and Tim was asked to join the team. Tim jumped in with both feet and began full-time pastoral work all the while keeping this challies.com thing running. Every day. For, like, 9 million days in a row. 

When Tim came on staff, we knew about this website. And we agreed it was good for him to keep it going. The fact that he managed to do that for the next five years while never shirking his pastoral responsibilities had a few of us, well, I guess just me, wondering if he was actually a superhero. Alas, such was not the case.

About a year ago we began to recognize that Tim was going to have to turn away from one of his commitments. This was not an easy thing. For any of us! Grace Fellowship Church loves her pastor. And Pastor Tim loves his church. But both the website and blog had grown to the point where they needed more than Tim could give. We prayed, talked, and thought. 

As elders, we loved having Tim as one of our pastors. But we saw and believed in the value of what he was bringing “the outside world” via his website. We also thought that Tim had been uniquely gifted by God to do it. (Not many people have the consistency, integrity, theological chops and wisdom to do this.) 

So, we affirmed our love for Tim and our total approval of his stepping down from full-time pastoral work in order to focus on writing and the website. Tim remains an elder along with our other outside-employed elders, but resigned his duties as a paid staff member effective September 30.

A couple of notes.

1. At a later date, I hope to talk about my personal love for my brother. Working with Tim these last five years has been one the real joys of my twenty years of pastoring. I count it a big personal loss to not have my brother in the office anymore. 

2. God remarkably supplied a replacement for Tim in the span of about two weeks. One of our church plants sent her interns to our offices for a week this summer. One of those interns was a young man we had sent out with the original group to help plant Grace Fellowship Church, Don Mills. Steve Kim’s unique gifts, love of Christ, desire for ministry and providential availability made him an incredible fit to take Tim’s place. He is already on staff. 

(This picture was taken in June, 2006, as Tim and I made our way down to the very first Together for the Gospel. The very introverted blogger was not used to having his picture taken. Especially in public. On a moving walkway. Where other people might see! I have always loved this photo.)

The most touching moment in this process was when we announced this transition to our members on September 27. The very first question asked was, “You’re not leaving the church, right? You are staying here, right?” And that is everyone’s sentiment. We love our brother and thank God for how He has used Tim to extend the grace of His love to our little church. 

In less than ten years, Tim went from being a guy behind a keyboard to a well-loved, well-known, relationally-invested, Shepherd of God’s sheep. Let the example of his faithfulness and zeal spur you on to more love and good works. I know it has done that for me.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Gospel Coalition - Ontario: Another Radio Interview with Neil Boron and Robbie Symons

It was a delight to spend time with my friend Robbie Symons yesterday talking about The Gospel Coalition Ontario Conference. We were hosted by Neil Boron of WDCX fame. Neil is a good egg. 
I was able to spend some of the morning working talking around the them of my workshop. I plan to show how prayer, the preaching of the Word and a spirit of gospel-centred cooperation between churches are signs of potential revival to come. It led to some discussion about what marks a true reviving work of the Sprit as opposed to some manufactured, synthetic and man-centred work. I noted these three foundations, but Robbie added a fourth being an overall sense of brokenness and humility in God’s people. I think he was right. 
Already we are seeing some glimmers of what might be the Lord’s work. I know of pastors forging prayerful partnerships with men outside of their “tribe” and churches that are financially supporting new works in which they have no vested interest. Besides this are the little meetings to pray that are popping up on the radar. None of these things are being advertised or promoted. Just God’s people doing His work in the world.
I remain very hopeful that the conference will be a catalyst to even more of this. When Neil asked me yesterday why people should come, part of the answer I gave him was so they could be at the start of something great. At least, if the Lord is going to do something, how good to be in on the ground floor and be a part of a movement toward all the things Jesus prayed for in John 17, not the least of which is the truth-fuelled unity of all of God’s people. 
The reach of radio is quite remarkable. Anyone that thinks that medium is finished because of the interwebs had better think again. I continue to have people visit our church or call or introduce themselves to me at events from that one interview we did earlier this year. I am praying that the Lord uses yesterday to draw out a few more of His own who perhaps have not heard of us yet. 

Pray then, that God will use all of these things to make His Name greater in Ontario.