Wednesday, February 5, 2020

God is Not Jimmy Stewart

A number of times recently, I’ve heard it said that God is the perfect gentleman, He will never impose himself on you, he will always hold the door and politely wait for you to walk through. The spirit of this sentiment is noble. It draws on all of the wonderful attributes of our good Father and creates a caricature that is benevolent and kind and patient. Unfortunately that caricature looks more like the friendly, helpful and kind, fatherly persona of Jimmy Stewart than it does of God as He reveals Himself in Scripture.

The entire narrative of scripture bares out the nature and character of God. He is our Good, Good Father. The gospel of Jesus Christ begins with God and His holiness (John 1:1-18; Leviticus 11:44-45). It begins with just who God is as outlined in His Word: immutable (Psalm 102:25-27) creator (Genesis 1:1, Colossians 1:16), eternal (Isaiah 44:6), just (Job 34:12), truth (John 14:6), powerful (Genesis 1), jealous (Exodus 20:4-5), merciful (Psalm 136:1), wrathful (Romans 2:6-11), patient (Nahum 1:3), compassionate (James 5:11), omnipresent (Jeremiah 23:23-24), omniscient (Psalm 147:4-5), God is perfect (Deuteronomy 32:3-4) and triune (Ephesians 4:4-6) and holy (1 Samuel 2:2).

Certainly God is long-suffering, His patience with our rebellion is beyond comprehension in light of His perfect holiness. But is it really true that He is the kind of cardigan clad, slipper shuffling, gentleman that will never impose Himself on us? Is God really stuck waiting to see what we will do? The idea suggests that we have some innate ability to obey Him aside from His work in us (Ephesians 2:8-10). Let’s look at just a few people in Scripture and ask them if God imposed on their lives.

Noah
Not only does God impose His will on the entirety of humanity in their death, but on Noah in His commands to build the Ark, occupying decades of his life. (Genesis 6:13)

Joseph
Joseph’s brothers treated him horribly, threw him in a pit and sold him into slavery. (Genesis 37:12-36), near the end of this narrative we hear Joseph affirm that this was God’s work; “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.” (Genesis 50:20). God imposed Himself on the life of Joseph through the actions of his brothers, and further imposed on the lives of the brothers to achieve His purposes in the life of Joseph. Notice in particular the word “planned” (“meant” in some translations), it is intention not reaction. God didn’t simply use the evil for good, he planned it for good.

Moses
God spoke directly to Moses from the burning bush, gave him specific commands to be obeyed and expected them to be followed out, in spite of Moses reluctance. (Genesis 3:4 - 4:17)

Pharaoh
God worked His will in the life of Pharaoh to achieve His will. God actively hardened the heart of Pharaoh, imposing on him intentionally for His own ultimate glory. (Genesis 9:12)

Abimilech
God applies judgement on the life of Abimilech by sending an evil Spirit to bring tension between he and the lords of Schechem. God’s active interference here is in His work to achieve His will. (Judges 9:22-24)

Samson
Samson desired a Philistine woman as his own and returned to his parents and demanded they retrieve her for them, their reluctance was understandable. What they didn’t understand, as revealed in v. 4 is that this desire came directly from God. Samsons desire for this woman was rooted in God’s work to have an occasion against the Philistines. To achieve His own will, He imposed a passion on Samson. (Judges 14:1-4)

Hophni and Phinehas
God's imposition in the lives of the sons of Eli was in His giving them over to the hardness of their hearts. "..they would not listen to their father, since the Lord intended to kill them." (1 Samuel 2:25). God had plans for them, as rooted in the disobedience of both they and their father. His intention was to kill them, and as such, closed their ears to the scolding of Eli.

Job
God brought Job to the attention of Satan for the purpose of bringing Glory to Himself through the suffering of Job (Job 1:8-12; Job 2:3-7). This is not in contradiction to God’s goodness, nor does this make him any more or less a “gentleman”. When the nature and Character of God is understood as scripture presents it—central to the narrative, there is no need to strive to protect God from His own public image.

Jonah
God sent a great fish to consume Jonah in his disobedience, this for the purpose off achieving His ultimate will for Jonahs life - that he go to Ninevah and preach. (Jonah 1:17)

Paul
God struck Paul blind for the purposes of achieving his ultimate conversion. (Acts 9:1-19)

These are just a few of the many, many examples of God imposing His will on humanity. Throughout Scripture and with intentionality. We must be wary not to create a god to meet our personal design. But please don’t misunderstand, we must examine the entire narrative of Scripture as we consider the core of it’s purpose is revealing the nature and character of God. God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) nor does He cause anyone to be tempted to sin (James 1:13); but these truths must be held in tension with the truth that the steps of man are established by God (Psalm 37:23-24).

Through the entirety of Scripture we see over and over again, the supreme majesty (Hebrews 1:3, Psalm 145:5), ultimate power (Psalm 62:11, Job 26:14, 1 Corinthians 6:14) and complete authority (Romans 13:1-7, 2 Timothy 3:16) of the God of the Universe. We, very clearly, see through creation (Genesis 1), the awesome greatness of God (Ephesians 1:19, Revelation 11:17). God exercises His perfect will in spite of our sinfulness, and this is something we will never completely comprehend (Proverbs 20:24; Romans 9:21-24).

Certainly we must also remind ourselves regularly, that even as the redeemed we are not our own (Romans 8:9). We have been purchased and belong to Him.

I think this quote from the second book in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia sums up the situation very nicely.
“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.” ― The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
If anything, we should desire God's sovereign hand in our lives, left to ourselves we will always choose sin (Matthew 6:24). We do not need to squeeze God into a cardigan and slippers in order to satisfy our definition of what good is. Scripture adequately defines God in His goodness. He has an intentional plan. We must simply believe or not.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths” Proverbs 3:5-6

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Measure of Ministry

*This blog article was originally published in the Northern Canada Evangelical Mission's, Northern Lights magazine and on their website. (HERE)

AS MANY OF US IN MINISTRY CAN ATTEST, we like to measure how effective we have been. Measuring gives us opportunity to report. In fact, there are entire ministries dedicated to assisting other ministries with measuring!

The question: “How are things at your church?” might be met with something like: “Great! We have five new programs and 100 new members.” This is how we communicate a measured success. But an honest answer like: “Fifteen percent stopped coming because the cost of Christian discipleship was taught … those who remain are growing in their faith” would more accurately express a healthy measure of success.

AT ARROWHEAD Native Bible Center we desire, above all, to hold high the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the glory of our most Holy God. We’ve begun to measure our ministry differently.

No longer do we count and report the number of converts that we have the immense pleasure of seeing. Our hearts rend for the lost souls that we welcome to the Center, but the convicting and saving is a work of the Holy Spirit. We are called to disciple and to teach (Matthew 28:19-20). As Arrowhead director, I am responsible to see that the Gospel is handled well and communicated adequately – a serious charge that I do not hold as trivial.

We cannot measure this ministry based on the number of converts. Delivering a new nature in redemption is a work of God. Of course there is great value to seeing numbers of people being saved, and we should rejoice and pray for that very thing. Scripture emphasizes numbers being added to the Church (Acts 2:41, 4:4).

I CAN, HOWEVER, seek to ensure and measure two things:
1 Was the Gospel clearly, consistently and accurately taught?
2 Was the teaching clearly and accurately received?

These we can observe by the questions coming back from those exposed to Gospel teaching. We’ve found at Arrowhead that, when given the opportunity, our campers ask the most profound questions! This shows us what they are understanding, and what we need to further address from Scripture.

When people leave one of our conferences or summer camps, it is my responsibility to see that they have been taught, and taught well. Whether they decide to reject or invest in the Gospel is between them and God. I cannot force someone to understand the Gospel – God alone gives understanding (2 Tim. 2:7, Rom. 10:17, Eph. 2:8-9). I am commanded to give them an answer, and to do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

I THINK ABOUT A CERTAIN TEEN CAMPER. She said she didn’t believe in God and, following each chapel, would challenge our speaker. The truth of Scripture was creating a tension with the lies she had believed. Sad to say, she left camp holding firmly to her atheistic beliefs. We could not make her understand or force her to believe. We could only lovingly point her to God’s Word. “Some plant; some water, but God gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

With joy I can say that others have not resisted the Holy Spirit’s prompting. I cannot and should not try to coerce or manipulate anyone, lest I try to take on God’s role (1 Cor. 2:14). This can be tempting to do in our zeal to see people saved. But we can plead with and persist in the proclamation of God’s Word. That includes educating and equipping ourselves to communicate clearly. Teaching and discipleship are so much more than simply delivering information – it is striving to make the truth clearly understood!

IF I CAN ANSWER yes to these two questions, then I can be confident that I have been obedient to the call of God in the proclamation of the Gospel. Of course that by no means draws an end to my role as a discipler, but it is an appropriate measure of my calling. I don’t need observable results other than my submitted and sacrificial obedience. The rest is God’s work and I am meant to be content in that.

Obedient discipleship is never of ill effect. Tensions arise when people’s expectations supersede the expectations of Christ. If we have been overwhelmed by expectations of “measurable” results in our ministries, let’s be encouraged that to obediently disciple and teach to the greatest of our ability is the real measure of success. That ultimately makes God the object of our work!


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Gospel is Not Tupperware

We talk so much about all of the mechanics of cross-cultural missions and ministry and strive to walk deeply in the pool of culture and sound communication. It can be easy to lose sight of Christ if we are not intentional about maintaining Him as central to our ministry and indeed, our very lives. So often we neglect to examine ourselves in light of scripture and with our relationship to the philosophies of our world. Do we recognize just how profoundly we allow ourselves to be affected by our own culture?

The Product
Our consumer driven, individualistic culture has had a far more profound impact on how we understand the Gospel (and how we communicate it) than we like to consider. But we must. You see, if sin is simply something we do, then there must simply be an opposite action to reverse that sin. And if that is the understanding we have of the Gospel, then we start to think of how we can present this opposing action to those who are not Christians. This way they to can compartmentalize their sins and move on. Say this prayer, walk this aisle, sign this card, act this way, sing this song, do all of these things, follow these rules and you can have this personally beneficial religion. The gospel message becomes a sales pitch for a product. Jesus, scripture and the Church become products, totems for the consumer. Christian lifestyle becomes a product, prosperous and personally beneficial. Christianity becomes a means to an end, a service that can provide benefits to the client.

The Pitch
As with any good sales pitch we must convince our client of their need for the product. We replace evangelism and discipleship with marketing. This is then done by extolling the virtues of the product, the benefits that it can offer to the consumer; forgiveness, a better life, happiness, wealth, prosperity, health, heaven, community. But a good salesman also presents the inverse benefits of the product, what will this product prevent; it staves off depression and darkness, protects you from evils and keeps you safely from the fires of hell. But further to that we have to consider the market research, how has this product benefitted others? Just look at all of the fabulous Christians in all of the fabulous churches and how wonderful they have found life to be as a result of this product called gospel. Our personal testimonies become lists of benefits instead of being a story about how Jesus raised us from spiritual death to life. And then, of course, we must report to one another our sales figures. Counting heads and claiming huge numbers of converts. The question we have to ask is; converts to what?

The Pricing
By forgetting the depth of our sin and the magnificence of the redemptive, sanctifying and preserving work of God in our lives and allowing ourselves to compartmentalize our sin, we have made a horrible mistake that has impacted both our relationship with the gospel message and with our Redeemer. The price of the product is presented; prayer, Bible reading, attending church, giving monies. Paying these expenses ensures that the product will always be there when needed. Our perspective should be precisely the opposite, the gospel maintains us, we don't maintain the gospel. God's work in us is daily gospel work, and often that work is hard and it hurts. It is God working is us that which is well pleasing and good, and this by His Spirit for His Glory.

The Tupperware
The gospel is not Tupperware; long lasting, freshness locking, preserving — following Jesus is not simply an investment in our future. It is not a product that we must convince others to buy. It is true, there are so many fantastic blessings to following Christ. The gospel of hope has magnificent rewards. But we err when we forget that all of the blessings that come with following Christ are simply byproducts. Heaven is the bonus, not the prize. What the gospel produces is change, often painful, always entire — change (Ezekiel 36:26), rooted only in a moving of the Holy Spirit. What we get, is Jesus; and in Jesus — life. Jesus is the beginning, middle and end of the Gospel. When we present anything else we make the gospel a sales pitch for a religion to be bought and sold.

The Consumers
We ring our hands and wonder why youth aren't interested in church. Why people buy our product and then seem to fall away, they want a refund. So often, I fear, it is because we have made ourselves salesmen instead of evangelists. We have invested all of our energy in making the Gospel a product, and that appeal to the flesh sets Jesus aside as secondary to the client — the consumer. To be an evangelist of Christ we must bring this good news of Jesus by holding Him high and exclusive.
"He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Corinthians 5:21
The Glory of Christ
The Glory of the Gospel is Christ. Proclaiming His Glory by virtue of His nature and character. The change that following Him precipitates is His work in us. We don't have to convince anyone to buy anything we're selling. We are called simply and clearly to proclaim Christ, to disciple and teach. We don't have to convince or manipulate, simply teach; and when unbelievers continue in their unbelief — we teach again, we start over. We proclaim Christ.
“but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” 1 Corinthians 1:23  
“For I didn’t think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Greetings from the Wilds of New Brunswick

Hello friends,

It’s a cold rainy night. As I sit here, we have just returned from a few days away at our little cottage in Nova Scotia. We’ve put a great deal of energy into some thoughts over the past couple of weeks that we feel it necessary to communicate with you. We have not made it a typical part of our ministry to appeal for financing from our friends and supporters. Of course, we did a lot of that ten years ago when we first started out as missionaries, but we have tried, as best we can, to simply rely on the Lord and His provision, leaving the reality that we are Faith missionaries something for people to be a part of or not as they feel appropriate. It is not comfortable for us to talk about money, it is not something that we feel anyone “owes” us or that we somehow deserve. It is simply a reality of the nature of our work that we must live in financial reliance on the gifts that people see fit to contribute to the work we are doing for the Lord here at ANBC. So, thank you for reading this far, and please bear with me as I give you some context for this eMail.

We have lived at 619 Cox Point Road, in the Arrowhead Mission house for a decade. We rent this mini home from NCEM. Our rent has always been nominal - we pay $275 / mo plus utilities. The building is inefficient to heat and not especially large, but we are comfortable here and have justified the high electric bills and limited living space with the fact that our rent is lower than average. It is also a benefit to NCEM to have us living on the property. Two weeks ago I received an eMail from head office informing us that our rent would be going up to $400 in January and then to $550 in June. This will effectively increase our rent expense by 100%. In many circumstances you might think an additional expense of $275 a month is trivial - for us, it is quite a significant change. It is an additional financial burden of over $3000 a year. This is compounded by some financial losses we have had this past year, we have had some supporters with changes in lifestyle that has made it necessary to reduce our support and we have seen our support impacted by a church suffering internal conflict. All of these things combined have left us feeling a bit adrift financially.

A bit of good news is that after several years of requesting paperwork, the NCEM Board has given directive that as the director of the Bible Centre, they will furnish me with the appropriate paperwork to apply for the Clergy Housing benefit (for which I qualify). This will, hopefully, alleviate some of the financial burden of this rent hike.

Another burden I feel in relation to this situation is the Arrowhead Chapel Fundraising program. There are currently 700 beautiful colour letters sitting on my desk all ready to send out in the mail. Most likely you will receive one. It is a fundraising letter for the chapel project. I feel very conflicted to be sending out this personal appeal for financial support and then next week I will send out the letter for Arrowhead. Please understand that the timing of this is not mine. I trust the Lord will compel individuals as he sees fit, and I do hope you will understand that were it possible I would not have planned it this way.

Many of you receiving this message are faithful prayer and financial supporters, and we praise God for you and the care you have given our family. We are not wanting to ask you for more, or burden you beyond what you already sacrifice. We are simply wanting to clearly articulate our need. Perhaps you have not been a part of our ministry team and would prayerfully consider joining our support network. If you would like to contribute to our living expenses fund on a monthly basis, you can do so by visiting www.arrowheadNBC.com/donate. Everything you need to know you can find there.

I have such mixed feelings about hitting send on this message, but I have a very dear Christian Brother who gently rebuked me for never having given him the opportunity to say no (or Yes) to supporting us financially. So, here it is, your opportunity to know about where we stand. And please, feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns at all - we really do love hearing from you.

Blessing & Peace,
Grant, Liz, Ivy & Willow

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Questions about Finances

We are often asked about our financial situation. It can be tricky to talk about and maybe even a little bit uncomfortable. As missionaries, we are open books, our financial situation is open to the public. And there are a lot of different ideas about the lifestyle that should be maintained by missionaries (pastors too). It is certainly not the perspective of us at Arrowhead to seek after wealth, but we want to answer some questions for you that we are often asked.

So I'm going to take a few minutes to help clarify just how we survive here financially. Liz and I serve in leadership here at Arrowhead Native Bible Center. We are full time supported missionaries with NCEM. As full time missionaries we have to raise our own financial support team. Our colleagues, Marcus and Kameron Cook work in much the same way, though they have another income source outside of their regular financial support.

The mission encourages us to strive to be at a support level that will allow us to live in the region we are in without the distraction from ministry that can come with financial burden. Our priority is not money, it is not fundraising - our priority is to serve the Lord fully and faithfully - and to be good Christian stewards of those resources God provides for us. NCEM has made recommended goals for both the Cook family ($5,000 a month) and the Fawcett family ($6,300 a month). These goals sound lofty, but these recommended levels include; all government contributions (taxes, CPP, EI, etc.), a 7% administration fee from NCEM, all planned savings for retirement, health and life insurances and living expenses.

Something that complicates things a bit in the mind of people is the fact that Arrowhead too operates by the generous donations of churches and individuals wishing to partner in ministry with us. Arrowhead is not subject to taxes and administration fees, 100% of money given to our general fund or project funds comes to Arrowhead. These funds are used for the stewardship of the facility, the function of programs and of course our beloved summer camp programs.

I hope this answers any questions you may have, but if not - please do feel free to drop us a line and ask. We're happy to answer as best we can.


Monday, April 16, 2018

A Little Road Weary

The last few months have seen a lot of travel for us. It has been fantastic to be able to visit and share with folks about the ministry at ANBC. Our most recent journey afforded us the opportunity to visit a number of places while we were on the road.

We pushed through the run to Gorrie on Friday, We hit the road at about 6am. Kyle and I picked up our friend Matt Peppard on the way. Eighteen hours later we landed at Marcus & Kameron Cooks home in Gorrie, Ontario.

Early morning selfie as we prepared to hit the road. 


Our first order of business was to host the volunteer training sessions at Gorrie Bible Fellowship. As always it was a great time—we're excited to see what the Lord will do this summer.

Sunday morning I was asked to give a brief update about the ministry at Arrowhead. It was a privilege to share about all of the exciting things coming this year at Arrowhead.

It was great to hang with old friends too! 

Sunday afternoon we hit the road for Jackson, MI to the Ethnos360 Bible Institute campus. 

I was privileged to have the opportunity to preach in chapel and share about the ministry of NCEM at Arrowhead. We are looking forward to have one of the students join us for this coming summer at ANBC. 

Our friends Austin and Jesse are students at EBI. It was great to connect with them while we were State side!

We have some friends in Peterborough, Ontario at Peterborough Free Methodist Church. They have been sending ministry teams on a missions trip to Arrowhead for almost a decade. They hosted a Pancake supper at the church while we were in the neighbourhood and we were so pleased to be able to attend and share about what the team will be doing this year when they come. 

We had a bit of a fender bender while we were on the road. We spent over 50 hours behind the wheel during this week long journey, we are thankful to God for His protection—even during this mishap. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

So long to an old friend

The time finally arrived for us to need to say so long to our faithful old Pontiac Montana. It had been given to us as a gift and has served us very well for almost 5 years without incident. Unfortunately the harsh NB roads finally made it a liability for repair.


In very short order a Ford Flex became available for a price that was sufficient for us. Although it is still 9 years old, it has a reasonable amount of miles on it and is in fairly good repair. We did have some unexpected work to put into the vehicle - but such is the nature of buying used. We are very thankful to have this new vehicle and hope that it will serve us for another 5 years.