Reading through the opening chapters of the Book of Acts reveal some key marks of the early Church. These are helpful to recognize to see what ought to be the marks of the Church today:
May we pray that the Church of today will reflect our glorious beginnings!
Among the 120 that made up the earliest body of believers after the Resurrection, were not only the Disciples, the women, but “His brothers.” (Acts 1:14b). His brothers! You mean the brothers who it says in John 7:5 didn’t believe in Him? His family who thought He was mad (Mk 3:21). Those brothers, James, Joseph, Simon and Judas (Mt 13:55)? Yes!
They grew up with Jesus, no doubt beholding His uniqueness, but also His commonness. They had difficulty believing He was their Messiah. Perhaps difficulty seeing what their mother, Mary, saw.
Yet, somewhere in the 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension they saw their Risen brother and came to believe. Everything that had happened to Him, including His perfect life lived before their eyes, now made sense when the one they’d [presumably] seen slain, they now saw risen from the dead in glory.
The most famous of these, James, went on to be a pillar in the Jerusalem church and author of the Book of James. He came to be a slave of the very brother he had once not believed in (James 1:1).
The mere words “His brothers” should cause two things in us:
 Joseph and Mary went on to have other children and then, presumably, Joseph had died before Jesus’ ministry.
The Jews, led by Zerubbabel, had returned to Judea and Jerusalem, yet many things were not as they appeared to be and their glory was not as of old. They felt very small (as the church can today) in a much wider world (the Persian Empire). They felt as if it was a day of “small things.”
“For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.” (Zech 4:10)
Despite how they felt, moment by moment, day by day, they trusted God’s promises and waited upon Him believing that He would use His people to accomplish great things, chiefly: the coming of Christ through Zerubbabel’s line. All of the steps along the way were part of God’s plan to, as John the Baptist proclaimed, prepare the way.
As Christians in our daily walk, or as a local church, it can be easy to feel as if our lives and ministry are “small things,” insignificant to God’s plans, not useful in the grand scheme of ministry or the vastness of the world. May Zech 4:10 call us to think again! Consider these examples:
There once was an old farmer’s wife who died. Prior to dying she expressed a very odd request; she wanted to be buried with a dessert fork. Her pastor, who very much believed that “you can’t take it with you when you go,” questioned her thinking until he learned of the reason. She said that all through her life, being an expert baker of pies, tarts and puddings, she would always tell her quests, “the best is yet to come.” She wanted to be buried with a fork so her pastor could preach on the gift of eternal life Jesus had provided for her and that was available for all who’d repent and believe!
In the book of the prophet Joel there is a similar promise of better things:
I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you. (Joel 2:25).
Joel prophesied at a time when things were difficult for God’s people (before, or just after the Exile). He drew people’s attention that both past and present judgements (“the Day of the Lord”) were a result of the people’s sin. However, he called people to draw near to the God of mercy and repent, truly. Because of God’s faithfulness He would then reverse the curse of judgement and restore His presence and blessings (progressively, ultimately pointing to Jesus and lastly the future and final Day of the Lord).
What is beautiful in this message is that whatever your locusts have been, whatever hardship, disaster or trial has come upon you because of your sin, there is still hope. Whether you’ve never trusted in Jesus or you’ve grown cold to Him and wandered, there is hope that the best is yet to come. In Christ your life that was empty and purposeless can be filled and full of meaning. In Christ your finances that were self-oriented, under God’s principles, can be channelled and used for His glory (and your good). In Christ your relationship or marriage that is on rocky ground can be restored. In all these things, regardless of how much waste there has been and how irretrievable they may seem, through repentance and faith and looking to Jesus Joel’s promise can be true for you: in large part in this life, but in whole in the hereafter. Your best days can be before you. Whatever we face, may cling to this promise and look to the great Restorer in repentance and faith and be amazed at what He will do!.
No I’m not referring to some sexual sin, or any other matter Christians can sometimes be silent on, but the sin of spiritual laziness or slothfulness, historically known as acedia, a sin which is rampant and largely unaddressed in contemporary Church culture.
In Cover to Cover we’re in the period of the Kings, which is characterized by this roller coaster of spirituality, sometimes a nearness to the Lord and the associated blessings and sometimes a departure from him and the related consequences.
As a pastor, zealous for the honour of the Lord, desirous that His people would glorify and enjoy Him, and that others would be led to do the same, it pains and even deeply grieves my heart when I see the sin of acedia in the world, but especially when it creeps into the visible church.
A past sermon on the ant in Proverbs 6:6–11 (July 27) taught us the vital spiritual lesson of Christian industry. The ant is our teacher on industry, initiative, purpose, and ultimate satisfaction or reward in our work. Like our Creator we were created to create. Like our God who is Spirit, we too are designed to be spiritual. Are we busy about our souls and winning and nurturing the souls of others? Do we have to be told, prompted or reminded to seek the Lord? Is He the sole purpose of our life? Are we storing up treasure in heaven? If we are like the ant—spiritually speaking—we will answer a hearty, “Yes.”
Do we take advantage of the spiritual means of grace that He has provided His people and Church?
Acedia is quite possibly the greatest sin of our age, yet its unspokeness makes it all the more dangerous.
If the seeking or worship of the Lord is our great call then not to be zealous in that pursuit, to not love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength is indeed criminal and injurious to our soul.
Oh the joy that Christ has in store for His people if they would but, in faith, be spiritually industrious! Acedia breaks my heart every time I see an instance of it; yet to the contrary, when I see spiritual industry my joy is made complete for the joy the other knows through their obedience to Christ's promises and commands.
If you are zealous for the Lord would you please join me in making the Psalmist’s prayer your prayer:
Will you not revive us again, that your people may delight in you? (Ps 85:6)
 From the Greek, an inert state without pain or care.
 A means of grace is a way that God has appointed through which, when trusted in faith, the believer derives His unmerited favour, or untold spiritual benefits.
It is hard to believe that August 19th marked one year since we arrived back in Ontario from the UK and August 30 will mark one year as residents of Grey County.
On Thursday I went on a retreat to reflect upon the past year as pastoral-elder of MBC—a great privilege—and also to pray about the way forward as Jennie (our border collie) and I hiked 20 km of the Bruce Trail around the Beaver Valley.
2019–20 represented a positive challenge: reintegrating into Ontario culture, saying farewell to our Chapel family but gaining a new one; preaching (including Cover to Cover); restarting weekly Life Groups, beginning an evening service; and, very importantly, getting to know the congregation through visitation. We also accomplished many property projects, some of which had been in view for a while and some of which were new initiatives.
We also navigated through Covid-19, one of the few churches in our area to livestream and keep the “doors” of the church open.
Added to all this teaching at Toronto Baptist Seminary, renovating an old farm house and raising a little boy, I can positively say this was all only possible with the help that comes from abiding in Christ, and from His people working together.
I pray that as we live out the Great Commandment and seek to fulfil the Great Commission over the next year we will be led mightily by the Holy Spirit, that He would make us know the way we should go, and that we will stand ready to do every good work that He calls us to.
What is forgiveness?
Many people have some very confused views on what forgiveness is and is not. For example, many think it is simply treating something as “water under the bridge” or “letting go.” These, and many other false notions, are not what forgiveness is. What then is forgiveness? Biblically, it must be understood in at least 4 different ways, but first we’ll consider its broad definition:
Forgiveness: If you asked Mr. Oxford it would say: “to stop feeling angry with somebody who has done something to harm, annoy or upset you.” I suppose the reason why so many people struggle to truly forgive someone in the world today is because on what basis can you do that? Forgiveness is very difficult. Older dictionaries have much more robust definitions: to grant, remit, pardon a debt, give up. In fact the old English word for forgive is a compound word that combines “completely” & “give.” As such older dictionaries defined the word as “to give up desire or power to punish.” This definition is at least heading in the right direction (and similar to the Greek- to send away, release, permit to depart, remit, etc), but again, upon what basis?
To build a definition of Biblical forgiveness, one must see the different contexts in which forgiveness is spoken of, along with the acts which it is based upon.
Seeking God’s forgiveness
Because we have offended God, dishonoured Him, profaned His holy Law, each human being stands in need of God’s forgiveness. Indeed, in light of this reality (Ro 3:23) we ought to actively pursue it. Though speaking of Christians sinning 1 Jn 1:9 stands as a faithful promise for all who would repent and seek God’s forgiveness—His promise to forgive.
If anyone sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 Jn 1:9).
Long before we speak about forgiveness amongst humans we need to recognize the forgiveness we stand in need of before God. This begins with repentance. No repentance no forgiveness.
Seeking other’s forgiveness
Scripture also makes clear our obligation to seek the forgiveness of others. Mt 5:23–24 says:
23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Reconciliation involves forgiveness, both the seeking and extending. We’re a hypocrite if we think we’re ok with God but aren’t ok with our neighbour (so far as it depends on us, Ro 12:18). If we know we’ve sinned we’re called to own up to it both to God and to others. In fact, in Mt 6:14–15 Jesus goes so far as to say not to do this will become an impediment to God forgiving us:
14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
If we have been forgiven of our sins by God we will naturally forgive others, much.
(Still on what basis can we or God forgive?)
God’s forgiveness of sinners
Here we finally answer the question on what basis God can forgive a sinner. Eph 1:7 says:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.
God cannot wishfully pretend our sins away. Sin is real. For justice to be done sin must be atoned for. So for God to let go of the believer’s sins someone had to pay the price and that someone was Jesus (atonement means an act that enables us to become at one with God). Jesus needed to die the perfect death, His righteous blood needed to be shed so we might know life instead of death. He did this all out of sheer unmerited favour. Our need of forgiveness is so great no human work can suffice, only a work of God is capable of removing the sin of the penitent believer (and indeed in bringing us to that place).
Our forgiveness of others
This final exploration is perhaps most interesting. Upon what basis must I, as a believer, forgive someone else? After all we’re commanded to forgive our brothers and sisters on the basis of Christ’s forgiveness of our sins (Eph 4:32), and indeed others (see above).
Yet our forgiveness cannot absolve them of their sin, what good is it? Our forgiveness is not on the basis of the Cross, for one must appeal to Christ directly for that. So what use is my forgiveness and on what basis? Here Romans 12:14–21 is most helpful. It reads:
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Our call to forgive and love our enemies and those who have done us harm (even forgiving those who do not ask for forgiveness) is not based upon our ability to forgive but in trust and obedience to Christ’s command and that He alone is judge and will execute justice upon the guilty. It is a call to stop playing Judge. Therefore, by entrusting the situation to Him—itself a work of the Spirit— we are enabled to have peace from anger, being liberated to live our lives and love others. It is in letting justice for the situation go to God, a giving of it away to His justice, that we see a glimpse of some of the older definitions of what forgiveness means and the benefit it brings to the one forgiving.
Through our withholding of forgiveness we often think we can inflict deserved harm upon those who’ve harmed us, yet ironically, it is only by forgiving that we can “heap burning coals upon their head.” Our higher road of faith in the Lord is the very thing that sinners will detest most, and we pray will be the thing that brings them to the repentance they so desperately need.
The radical nature of this forgiveness is vividly portrayed in the film The End of the Spear, which recounts the wives of slain missionaries continuing in their mission to reach the very tribe who murdered their husbands.
May the Lord help us seek His forgiveness, that of others, and also to extend forgiveness too.
Covid-19 has been a challenging time for many visible churches.
During lockdown many closed completely, some for want of means of continuing virtually (etc), while others persevered into varied forms of creative ministry, gathering and worship. We continued to hold our worship services through live-stream, Life Groups and leadership meetings via Skype and Zoom and Facetime and communicated congregationally through our print and e-newsletter (along with many other means).
From June 12 places of worship in Ontario were permitted by the government emergency order to emerge from the lockdown returning to physical worship services at 30% building capacity. We safely re-opened our morning and evening services on the Lord’s Day, June 14, also continuing our live-stream for those at risk or still uncomfortable; a few other local churches did the same not long after. However, there are many, many visible churches that remain closed with all or most of their ministries shut down. Many of them cite health concerns for this, which is something genuine to assess, however, “where there is a will there is a way” (i.e. if you have a reason to meet and a purpose to exist you will labour to find a safe means to accomplish it. See also: 2 Ti 1:7). A participant of one such church confided in me his dismay at their church’s decision wondering if anyone would return come September?
You see, if something stops for a week because of a snow storm, it is not terribly life changing, but the moment you speak of ceasing to do something for weeks and months and seasons, it becomes habit forming and life altering (for good or ill).
This raises two important and interrelated points:
ONE. If a church’s god is the only God, perfect, almighty, all-wise and most holy, sovereign, loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abounding in truth and goodness, the rewarder of those who seek him and the judge of all who don’t (I’m referencing the 2nd London Baptist Confession, 2.1) and if you know this God through faith in Jesus Christ then YES, absolutely, you have a reason to bring Him the corporate worship He has commanded and to fellowship together with other believers. Nothing, not persecution, or want or pandemic will stop you from doing this. If this is NOT the case, then naturally why would you gather to worship a God who you think is not really real or worthy, or immanent or knowable or known by you?
TWO. If a church, made up of redeemed or purchased people—bought by the blood of the lamb—has been commanded by their Saviour to publish Good News to all people, a message of repentance and transformation, to glorify Him in all they do, a life lived in gratitude to their King, then YES we have a purpose to exist for we have a Great Commission to fulfil and God to glorify. If this is NOT the case, if church is only a social club or a good works hobby, couldn’t I spend my time better somewhere else?
IF you answered yes to the above questions but are still not gathering and labouring as part of your local church, then appeal to your church leadership, grant leave to gather with a small handful in your home or outside, or temporarily worship with another church.
IF you are still watching the live-stream from home and not personally and physically worshipping and serving and don’t have a legitimate health risk (i.e. you’re going to the grocery store, shopping, eating out and visiting family but not participating in your church) then it is time to lay down your excuses and do so. Live-streaming is a great outreach and it was and can be a short-term substitute, but it is a long-term compromise from the real thing; don’t grow comfortable with it.
Among many other things Covid-19 is affecting on the church and spiritual landscape of our land is the separation from the wheat and the chaff; with some churches being pruned and others experiencing growth. The churches that will continue post-Covid will have these two things in common: a reason to meet and a purpose to exist.
Scripture commands Christians to SING! Not only in our heart, or when alone, or as a family, but corporately as the gathered Church. Many Psalms begin with “Sing unto the Lord” and Eph 5:19 tells us likewise of the command and joy of singing. There is nothing like the people of God praising Him through song. It is part of who we are.
Yet, because of Covid we are being asked by the authorities to not sing congregationally. Now if we were being singled out this wouldn’t be a question of obedience but of persecution, however, karaoke pubs, concert venues, other faiths, etc, are all likewise being asked not to have group singing. Which still leaves the Christian with the gut wrenching dilemma between the command to sing and obey the authorities (Ro 13; 1 Pet 2:13). As hard as it may be, I believe obeying the authorities for the public good takes precedence. Why? Because there are other ways we can obey the command to sing, whilst cheerfully obeying the Government. Singing is really, really important, and if it was for any other reason than public health I’d happily transgress Government orders in obedience of the Law of God.
A lesson from Church history may help us. There were times in the early Roman Christian Church, for there were Christians outside of the Empire who did do this, when music didn’t really develop because Christians didn’t sing because they were persecuted and singing would alert the authorities. So they met to fellowship, pray, hear the word, celebrate the ordinances, all in relative quiet, singing in their hearts.
So let us pray for a time when we can sing congregationally again. Let us long for it. In the meantime let us rejoice we can gather and Live-Stream and rejoice in as many ways as we may lawfully do so.
Twice now recently I’ve been confronted with this question: should we jettison the good with the bad when a Christian leader or ministry abandons the faith, swerves in their beliefs or whose morals are compromised?
One such case was a pastor of a church who had an affair with the church secretary. Neither was willing to repent. The church was devastated.
The other was a music ministry which wrote some good songs. They drifted more and more into the extreme of the charismatic movement and became closely associated with “grave soaking.” (The practice where their prophet has died and you lie on the grave to absorb the holiness or spirit which had indwelt them—not dissimilar to Roman Catholics rubbing some holy location, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem).
Many former evangelical leaders have also been known to have drifted into neo-liberalism and secular humanism. What shall we make of their writings?
These are all troubling situations, and many others like them. However, while one may feel the need to disassociate with their music or writings, etc, for reasons of conscience or witness, there is no inherent reason to stop using their material, if what they wrote at the time accorded with Truth. If someone spoke truth, whether as an unbeliever or a believer who strayed, what they said or wrote still has lasting value (even if we may be discrete in how we commend or use their works publically).
The old Anglican confession of faith, The 39 Articles, recognized as much. It said:
XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.
One needs to remember that even amongst faithful ministers and ministries no one is perfect. That never excuses sin or apostasy, however, it does help our perspective when we are personally shattered by the realization of some fall.
For Biblical warrant, consider the life of Samson and Judas:
· Samson: While many esteem Samson as a great hero he was in fact a lawless scoundrel. He womanized and broke all three of his Nazarite vows, not to mention countless other commands. He only twice is recorded as crying out to God, and then only when he was desperate. Yet, he is recorded in Heb 11 as among those of faith. His actions cannot be excused, but was there some value in some of the things he did, and did God ultimately use everything for His glory and purposes, yes.
· Judas: Did his betrayal of Jesus invalidate the Gospel he proclaimed to those who truly believed it and were saved? Did it invalidate the example of good done when he gave money to the poor even though he stole from the money purse? No. The truth displayed remains valid despite the person ultimately being discredited as an unbeliever.
So the next time you are deeply troubled, pray for the person or ministry—that God would save or restore them, pray that God would have mercy on you to keep your foot from stumbling and take consolation that it is the Truth spoken and done that ultimately matters and not the faithfulness of the person, however important that may also be.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.
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