Monday, August 17, 2015

A post on a new journey for me

For any of you who didn't see this, the following is a blog I posted at where I have recently assumed the role of interim lead pastor.

In the summer of 1995, I was playing my first year of professional football. As a proud member of the Hamilton Ti-Cats of the Canadian Football League, I was living a dream. Playing a sport and getting paid for it is something most young, athletic boys wish for at some point in their childhood; I was no different.

I did not become a starter until my second year. Thus, as is often the case, my rookie season had me pegged as a backup. As a backup, I was only going to get playing time one of two ways. The first way for me to get on the field was if we got way ahead in a game. This would be a great thing on every front. The second way I could find myself on the field was if one of the starting lineman was injured. In 1995, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were not likely to be ahead in any game, much less way ahead. So, for the most part, I was often biding my time on the sidelines, waiting for someone to get hurt. For clarity, I did not want any of my teammates to get hurt, but I desperately desired to get in the game and play.

And play I did. I started 6 games that year despite never really being a regular starter. And every one of my starts was due to one of my fellow offensive linemen getting knocked out of the starting lineup with an injury. Playing in games was thrilling. But as I relive those days of seeing actually playing time for Hamilton’s football team, the best word I can come up with to describe the totality of my feelings is bittersweet.

Bittersweet is a word to describe something that is both pleasant and painful, both wonderful and woeful. And seeing action in a real, live professional football game was sweet. I can still taste the sweetness as I reminisce about the games I played. But I also remember the bitter taste that came from the knowledge that one of my fellow lineman, all of whom mentored me in those early years, had experienced great disappointment and possibly great pain in getting bumped from their position. My feast was the result of a friend’s famine. My rise was precipitated by a buddy’s fall. Those thrilling days of 1995 which saw this young, inexperienced gridiron greenhorn take the field were days of mixed emotions; sweet as a result of the sweat induced in playing the game I loved, bitter from the brutal reality that someone else’s disappointment led to my opportunity.

Here it is, 2015. It could be almost 20 years later to the day of my first professional football start. And as I consider what I am about to experience, I find myself contemplating an all too similar sense of bittersweetness.

I am becoming the interim lead pastor of a wonderful, Christian congregation in London, Ontario that gather under the name of West London Alliance Church. The road that brought me to this juncture is filled with many weird, wild, and wonderful stories…stories that can wait for another day. For today, I’d simply like to explain what makes this event so bittersweet.

Before I expand on the pleasantness of becoming a regular preaching pastor, and the pain that brought these changes about, let the reader know that the gravity of this situation makes the bitterness far more stringent.

The bitterness that is so thoroughly mixed in with the sweetness of recent events comes, once again, from the pain of a friend and mentor, in fact, a teammate in the race of faith. Pastor Mike Wilkins has pastored this congregation for over 30 years; I was just becoming a teenager when he started. Pastor Mike has been the “starter” behind the pulpit for many, many years. And just like those men that I backed up on the football field, Pastor Mike’s health has forced him to step aside. His ongoing battle with cancer has brought about, as it were, a change in the lineup. Unlike the trial that injured footballers face, this is a life and death battle. And so, there is a great deal of pain, sadness, and disappointment mixed in with this exciting opportunity that I’m facing. The bitterness is a result of the trial of a valiant, resilient, and faithful man of God. It is his difficult situation which has precipitated my move behind the pulpit that he has dutifully and fruitfully filled for so many years.

But it’s not all bitter. There is sweetness too. There is great excitement. The opportunity to preach the Word of God is an honour far beyond what I deserve. The thrilling challenge of loving, serving, and leading the bride of Christ, even in an interim position, is a turn of events so wonderful I can barely articulate it. And there is sweetness because the man who is stepping aside to make room for me wouldn’t have it any other way.

Despite the sadness in the situation, Pastor Mike continues to preach and proclaim the sweetness of a sovereign God who works all things for good for those who love him (Romans 8:28). Pastor Mike continues to exult in the beautiful peace of God which is ours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). And Pastor Mike continues to point to the One who drank the most bitter cup, a cup brimming with God’s wrath, on behalf of those who deserved to be punished (Romans 5:9) so that their cups would no longer be bitter but rather brimming with living water (John 4:10-14). Pastor Mike fearlessly and faithfully points to the cross of Christ, and the empty tomb of Christ, which brings eternal sweetness into our dark, painful, and bitter world (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). We would do well to harken to Pastor Mike’s preaching even as he steps away from the pulpit.

One day all bitterness will be removed; only sweetness will remain. For now, this really, really amazing honour of becoming West London Alliance Church’s interim lead pastor will be, for me, bittersweet.

Book Review – Understanding Prophecy

Have you ever experienced a “left behind” moment? I have. Before I held to a different eschatological position, I remember being a young teenager who believed in the rapture. And I also remember an instance where I was unable to find any of my family in the middle of the day when they all should have been at home. I recall being a little panicked, wondering if I had been “left behind.” If nothing else, that anecdote reminds me of the importance of biblical prophecy, and how imperative it is to understand the Bible in general but biblical prophecy more specifically.

The primary goal of Understanding Prophecy by Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle is to “give readers a framework of how to interpret any passage in the context of the Bible.” That is, they want to do more than just explain prophetic texts; they want to help students of the Bible read these passages with understanding.

The first three chapters of this book outline prophecy and how one might approach it from the biblical-theological perspective. The authors do this by providing guiding principles for interpreting predictive prophecy which take into account such things a redemptive history, the Christo-centricity of Scripture, and the progression of revelation. They elucidate on the ministry of the prophets, the genre of prophecy, and some of the challenges prophecy presents. Finally, they locate prophecy in their biblical-theological framework.

I found this first section, chapters 1-3, extremely helpful in providing me a foundation for my ongoing attempts to read and understand this genre of the Bible. Some parts were review, some were new to me, but all were helpful. This section of the book is one which I’m sure I will revisit.
In the next two sections the authors apply the framework for understanding prophecy that they presented in section one. Chapters 4-6 consider prophecy in the Old Testament and chapter 7-10 examine the same in the New Testament.

In examining OT prophecy, the authors compare unconditional prophecies, conditional prophecies, and fulfilled prophecies. They consider restoration prophecies given to Israel as well as messianic prophecies which, the authors contend, are both fulfilled ultimately in the Messiah.

Again, there was very interesting and enlightening material n these chapters. I particularly liked how they took these pre-Christianity writings and demonstrated how they point to Christ. There is thorough interaction with many prophets and their writings from the Old Testament.

The final section of the book focuses on prophetic texts found in the New Testament. These include prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the Spirit, and the return of the Messiah. The book of Revelation is dealt with extensively, with many helpful and intriguing insights.
These chapters address many of the obvious questions people have regarding the end times. I found it helpful that the authors dealt with the main perspectives of eschatology and did so in an irenic and fair manner.

For me, this book’s strength is in the accessibility it provides for the average lay reader to some very difficult passages of the Bible. The topics covered may be popular in our Christian culture, but sound answers and thorough explanations of those answers are less than common. Understanding Prophecy provides answers to some hard questions but also provides a framework for working through those questions for oneself. I recommend this book as a solid resource for understanding prophetic texts on the Bible.