It was a very tough decision

We had to make a decision. It was incomprehensible and completely illogical. I have such a great job, in a sort of place we have always dreamed to live, living among people anyone would be blessed to know. It seems like we just got here. But now we must leave.

In January 2010, we made a decision that changed our lives. We decided that I would go back to school. Thus began our journey to Alberta. Since then, we have experienced life like never before. I have been a college student, staff and faculty, a student leader, and an intern in the President’s office. I’ve travelled around the world, become a pastor, a library trustee, a Big Brother, a coach, a teammate, and a companion to hundreds of people along the way. For the last nearly eight years, it has been the people that have brought real value to the experiences.

I had a conversation with someone the other day about the challenge that comes with investing 100% in where we live. We enter a community, and we decide to fully live there. We completely give ourselves to making it a better place. Both we, and the community, are never the same because of that decision. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We expected to be here a while. If we had known our time would have been so short, we would have made different decisions. I’m glad we didn’t. We bought a house, and made it our home. We invested in our community with our whole heart, sincerely hoping we could somehow make a lasting impression so that Bergen would have been better because of our presence here. I hope we have done that.

It was a very long and difficult process, this last several months. We contemplated what we feared most: leaving. Could it possibly be that our time here is already done? We denied it. But there was no way of escaping the truth. When I silenced God’s still, small voice, He allowed me to suffer so that I would be brought to my knees before Him. Sickness, sorrow, hopelessness. They came like an army at the walls of my heart and broke them down. I did not know at the time what was happening, but now I see it.

God knows that I want to follow His lead, but He also knows the stubborn heart of a proud man. I thank Him for His demonstration of love toward me by not allowing me to follow my own wisdom. The suffering was a sort of grace.

I believe with all my heart that a good pastor sticks around. I want to be a good pastor. I want to see these children, born during my time here, raised up to know Christ. I want to baptize them and be there when they graduate and get married, and have children of their own. I held these children, just a day or two old, and blessed them, imagining all the years ahead of them. Oh, how sad I am that I may not be a part of those lives any longer.

It is so painful to leave. I only think about it in short bursts. The names that flash through my mind, people I have come to know and love. We will part ways and carry on, but for now, there will be sorrow. In a way, I am glad for the sorrow. It means I have given all I have to these people. Part of me now belongs to them, and part of them will remain with me. I am richer for it.

Before we know it, we will be in another place, investing our lives in that community, with those neighbours. We will not stop giving ourselves away. Even if we are there for a short time, we will give what we have. And when we leave that place, it will be painful. But, how else shall we live? There is no point in hoarding what God has so graciously given to us. If we do, that is all we will get. But if we give it away, riches far beyond measure await us.

I echo the words of the Apostle Paul when he said, it is all worth nothing compared to knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. These experiences during our time at Bergen have made our lives rich and sweet, but they cannot compare to the love and acceptance of Jesus. He is all we need, and what He has to offer will never disappoint and will never run dry. This is why we can give away all we have. This is why we do not fear the pain and sorrow of loss. Whatever we have to lose here in this life is nothing compared to the gain of knowing Jesus.

And so we will shortly depart, leaving behind a community blessed by God. We will never forget Bergen, and most of all, we will never forget the people of Bergen. I am thankful for those who stick around. The rocks of the community. They are the true heroes of a place. Thank you for being here and inviting us into your home.

May the love of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of His Spirit be with you.

Romans Chapters 9 through 11 Study

Chapters nine through eleven in the New Testament book of Romans is notoriously difficult to understand. Therefore, when my young adult Bible study group wanted to study the book of Romans, it was with tremendous humility and caution that I approached these three chapters. Below are my notes from the study. I did not seek to answer all of the questions that often come up from these chapters. Rather, my goal was to provide just a bit of insight into what Paul was communicating through this theologically dense portion of Scripture.

Romans Chapter 9

Read 9:22-24, and think about these questions:

Did God really desire to show his wrath? What does that phrase mean?

Who are the vessels of wrath? Who are the vessels of mercy?

What does it mean that God prepared the two different vessels?

What do you conclude from this passage?

There are traditionally three interpretations of this passage:

  1. Paul taught “double predestination”: before creation, God determined to save some and damn others (a view often associated with Calvinists). God fixed the number He will glorify and the number He will destroy. Given that all sinners deserve condemnation, God’s choice to save some demonstrates His mercy.
  2. God elects some to save, leaving the rest to their deserved fate. In both of these views the non-elect, objects of His wrath, justly deserve their fate; so God is not unjust by not electing them.
  3. God predetermined the general outcomes-either wrath or glory—but the saved or the destroyed determine their own fate (in response to God’s initiating grace). In this view the criterion for inclusion or exclusion in “My-People” is whether sinners pursue righteousness by faith or in self-reliance (v. 32; 10:3–4, 9–10). That is, those destroyed prepared themselves for their destruction. People are predestined to condemnation so long as they choose to continue in their ways and resist God’s grace.1

 

Regardless of the interpretation one chooses, there is no denying that a paradox exists in Romans Chapter 9. On one hand, all things are of God, and on the other hand, human beings have free will.

Read Verses 30-32. Paul is writing that it is Israel’s fault that they did not succeed in become righteous because they tried to do it by their own efforts, whereas the Gentiles received righteousness by faith. These are truly acts of free will, yet Paul also says in verse 18 that it is God’s choice who receives mercy and who does not.

Questions:

Do you find Paul to be contradicting himself? How?

Do you think that God can both predetermine who receives mercy and yet maintain human free will?

Greek Lesson:
Have you ever heard or used the phrase, “hate the sin, not the sinner”? Read 9:13. You will see the English word “hated.” Do you think that God really hated Esau? The the Greek word for hate is μισέω, or miseō, and it was used often in secular literature as well as in Scripture. The NLT uses the word rejected in place of hate in Romans 9:13 because it provides the most likely meaning for the word miseō that Paul is getting at. The Roman people were not unlike us today; they used idiomatic phrases (e.g., I hate broccoli). It is possible Paul was using miseō idiomatically in this verse.

Romans Chapter 10

Read 10:13-17, and think about these questions:

Does salvation depend on hearing the gospel?
What is the eternal destiny of those who never hear the gospel?
How should we respond to this passage?

Read James 2:19 and Matthew 7:21-23. Do these verses contradict what Paul wrote in Romans 10:9-10? What is the difference between what Paul wrote and what is written in the James and Matthew passages?

Have you ever heard of universalism? Universalists believe that because God desires for all people to be saved, and because he is a loving and all-powerful God, it is inconsistent to think that he would send people to hell just because they never heard the gospel. What do you think about this?

Romans Chapter 11

Greek Lesson:
The tenth of the ten commandments begins with “You shall not covet…” (Exodus 20:17). God prohibits his people from desiring the things that another person has. In Romans 11:11-14, Paul uses the Greek word παραζηλόω or parazēloō, which literally means to provoke to jealousy. He is saying that through the provocation toward jealousy of the Gentiles, some Jews will be saved.

Would God truly cause Jews to sin in order to be saved?

If not, what do you think Paul is really saying here?

The Hebrew word in Exodus 20:17 for covet is chamad. It means “to desire, take pleasure in.” Obviously, to merely desire or take pleasure in something is not wrong in and of itself. We can and should above all desire or take pleasure in the glory of God, and all the blessings God gives us. However, when we desire something that is not, and cannot become, rightly ours, it is sin.

Summary

Remember the historical context of the book of Romans. There is a major social challenge occurring because up until the first century A.D., the Jewish people considered themselves to be God’s chosen people, and rightly so. But now anyone can come to God. So, the big elephant in the room is, what about the Jews? Here is a summary of Paul’s argument through chapters 9-11:

  1. Israel is the chosen people.
  2. To be a member of Israel means more than racial descent. God chose some of the nation to receive mercy: those who were faithful.
  3. God’s selection is not unfair, for he has the right to do what he likes.
  4. God hardened the hearts of the Jews in order to open the door for the Gentiles.
  5. Israel made the mistake of depending on their own merit to gain righteousness, but God wants those who will trust him, not their own abilities.
  6. The Gentiles cannot be proud; they are wild olives grafted into the true olive stock.
  7. In the end, Jews will wonder at the privilege that the Gentiles have and be saved by trusting in God instead of the Law.2
  1. Cabal, Brand, Clendenen, Copan, Moreland, Powell. The Apologetics Study Bible (Nashville, 2007), 1694-1695. []
  2. William Barclay, The New Daily Bible Study: The Letter to the Romans (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 144-145. []

Advent Day 23: For All People

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11 ESV)

The good news proclaimed by the angel was and is meant to be for all people. This is a call for those who hear the good news to share it with others. Yesterday, we discovered that the news about Jesus is only good news if you believe you are in need of a saviour. However, how is someone to know this if no one ever tells them?

All around the world there is a common understanding of good and evil. People are somehow born with the knowledge of right and wrong. It is also common for all cultures to have some understanding of a justice system. When someone does something wrong, they should be punished. The gospel of Christ explains the reason for this common knowledge, and provides an eternal solution. Because we have all done wrong, we all deserve punishment. However, Christ’s life, death and resurrection solves our problem of eternal punishment. This solution of Christ’s salvation is truly for all people all over the world.

This should be a reason for celebration, and should stir within us a desire to tell people, just as the angel did, the good news of great joy that is for all the people.

Advent Day 22: Good News Of Great Joy

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11 ESV)

The good news proclaimed was that a Saviour was born in order to save all people from eternal death. There is no better news than this in all of history.

However, in order for this to be good news, you must be willing to admit that you are in need of saving. Otherwise, the news of Christ is merely news. it doesn’t make the headlines if you don’t think there is a need for a Saviour.

If you are wondering what all the hype is about, take a moment to pray that God will open your eyes to your need for a Saviour. You may have heard the Christmas story all your life, but the thought that it is good news has never clicked with you. Today, I pray that God will show you just how good the news of Christ is!

Advent Day 21: Fear Not

To wrap up the last few days of Advent, I will be going through the passage in Luke that tells of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11 ESV)

When the angels appeared to the shepherds, the first thing they said was “fear not.” These words are so familiar to me that they have lost their significance. However, there must be a good reason for the angels to reassure the shepherds upon their appearance. Imagine if heavenly creatures suddenly appeared out of nowhere as you were going about your daily routine.

Although we do not see the heavenly realm, we should seriously consider the shepherds’ response of fear. Knowing that God, who is more powerful than any created thing or person, is alive and actively working all around us, we should have within us a healthy respect and reverence for God’s greatness.

And just as the angels told the shepherds not to fear, God also says to those who hear the gospel, “do not fear, for I bring you good news…”

Advent Day 20: Birth, Not Beginning

When a child is conceived, it is the beginning of a new life. This person who never existed before suddenly exists and there is a new person made in the image of God.

This was not the case with Jesus.

When Jesus was conceived, it was not the beginning of his life. The marvel of Christmas is that God the Son, who has existed for all eternity, became a human person.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4 ESV)

The Gospel of John begins by stating that it was through Christ that all creation came into being. Not only is Christmas a time to celebrate the birth of Christ, it is a time to celebrate his eternal glory! It is also a time to think about, with tremendous joy, the future hope we have of living in the presence of Christ in all his glory.