For Whom Did Jesus Die?

I was recently asked to speak at a Men’s Conference at a nearby church in Nassau. Initially I was told that the theme would be the “Solas” of reformed theology and that my assignment would be to teach on “Soli Deo Gloria” (to God alone be the glory). Shortly after receiving this assignment, the conference theme changed to: “What Is The Gospel?”. I then came to understand that I was to attempt to answer the question, as best as I could, while staying with my assigned “Sola”.

The audio message below does not provide a comprehensive answer to the question: “What Is The Gospel?”, but it does make the assertion (based on Romans 3) that Christ did not merely die for our sake, but that He died for the sake of His Heavenly Father, and His righteousness.

I am indebted to Pastor John Piper who was the first to highlight for me the God-centredness of the Gospel in his best selling book, “Desiring God”.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Tebow, Prayer, & Bahamian Street Hockey

2012 Stanley Conch ChampionsThis might be the strangest title I have ever used for a blog post, so I should probably connect the dots for my readers.

After moving to The Bahamas in June 2010, I joined the Nassau Street Hockey league—playing for the Potter’s Cay Pirates in my first year and then playing for the (Stanley Conch Champion) Nassau Hurricanes in year two.

Aside from the fun I have playing hockey with a great bunch of guys, it has been amusing to observe how my teammates and opponents have engaged me. I’m pretty sure that a few of these guys aren’t used to having a pastor around, and I’m likely the first “preacher” to play regularly in the NSHL.

Some of the players have admitted to testing me with behind-the-play “bumps”, elbows, and theologically rich chirping. One of the comments I’ve heard a couple of times has followed my making a save, “Rev., let’s see you Tebow!” (In the event you don’t know what “Tebowing” is you will need to read this article.)

For many of these guys, the frame of reference for a devout Christian playing sports is Tim Tebow. I am a huge Tebow fan, but I’ve always resisted the invitation to “Tebow” after a big save. Which leads me to the reason for this post. How does a devout Christian engage God prior to, and during, a competitive match?

My instinct is to pray. I pray a lot before the game, and I pray a lot during the game. To my teammates and opponents it probably just looks like I’m intensely focussed. I don’t bow my head. I don’t close my eyes. I don’t “Tebow”. But I pray.

Tim Tebow

What do I pray for?

I pray for a bunch of things, but one thing I don’t pray for is a win. I wonder if my inspiration for not praying for a win will surprise you…It’s Tim Tebow. I’ve enjoyed reading Tebow’s autobiography, “Through My Eyes”, and hugely resonated with this comment in particular:

“I’m not sure God is into who wins or loses—He probably is more concerned with what you do in the process and what you will do with either result.”

I’m acutely aware that my attitude and actions on the rink can positively or negatively impact another person’s view of Christ and Christianity. Hockey is a rough sport and there is a fine line between playing tough and still keeping it clean. Accordingly, my most frequent prayer is for my attitude towards others. I’ve been speared, butt-ended, and even thrown into the net—it’s not fun, and it tests your self-control. That’s part of the reason I need to pray.

As a goalie, I also pray that I don’t let in any weak goals. That probably sounds very close to praying for a win, but I can honestly say that I don’t mind losing. What I mind is being the cause of our losing. I let in some bad goals this year, but thankfully that wasn’t the case in the Stanley Conch Finals.

I didn’t sign up to play goalie. Although I played goalie in ice hockey for 30 years, I didn’t like the idea of putting on all that gear in this tropical Bahamian heat. But when our regular goalie quit, I was pressed into action without even having all of the necessary equipment. Accordingly, I did pray for a measure of safety as one of the pieces of equipment I was missing was a cup. If Chris Wheaton had hit me with a shot there, I might never have walked quite right again.

So yes, pray before you play and, as you have opportunity, pray while you play. I don’t want to be overly demonstrative with that. I don’t want to draw attention to myself when I’m praying. But I do need to pray. I do so remembering the apostle Paul’s instruction, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thess. 5:16-18).

I thank God for the opportunity to play street hockey in The Bahamas, and I am grateful to do so with a great bunch of guys–even when they slash me.

The Blessing Of Bad Traffic

[I will probably regret writing this post the next time I am running late because of bad traffic.]

Traffic jams are a daily problem in Nassau. I assumed that all my years living in traffic heavy Toronto would prepare me for the traffic challenges of this 22 by 6 mile island. I was wrong.

My GPS tells me that the drive from my home to my church office should take me 7 minutes. Rarely, do I get there in less than 20. On occasion, this short drive has taken me more than 60 minutes.

At this moment, I’m sitting at my desk, at the church, in downtown Nassau. There is no use trying to go anywhere. I’m stuck here—and that’s the blessing. Terrible traffic is enabling me to do some extra things today–like write this blog post (I haven’t written a post in more than 5 weeks). I’ve had more time to read my Bible. I’ve had more time to pray. You might say that I’m experiencing a forced retreat, but I’d prefer to think that I am rolling with providence.

There is no use in me belly-aching about conditions beyond my control. I know the cliche is that “When life serves you lemons, make lemonade”, but the Christian recognizes that “life” doesn’t have the ability to serve you anything. We serve a God who is sovereign over all things. Nothing takes God by surprise. Jesus reminds us,

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31)

There is so much in that little text. God is not too busy with “big” things that He cannot care for the little things. He cares about the smallest detail of your life. In short, you matter to God. On this basis, Jesus tells us to not be afraid and to not worry about trying or uncertain circumstances (Matthew 6:25-34).

I do realize that traffic congestion is a tiny issue in the greater scheme of things, but I rejoice that God’s purposes remain even in the tiny things.

I don’t always use my time wisely. And I don’t always have a positive view about the traffic here in Nassau. But today, I thank God for an opportunity to catch up on some things that matter immensely. I am grateful for the fact that, out of a negative thing (insane traffic), can come a positive thing (an opportunity for more intentional communion with God).

You might not live in a place with traffic problems, but perhaps you know what it is like to have your plans interrupted by adverse or unexpected circumstances. “Life” did not serve you “lemons”. God has entered in. How will you respond?

Jesus tells us not to be afraid and to not worry.

That’s a lot easier to do when we position ourselves in close proximity to Jesus Christ. But perhaps that is God’s intention with the adversity or interruption that you’ve encountered.

Eventually, the traffic will ease up and you’ll be on the move again. Until then, let me encourage you to use this time to draw close to God. That’s what He wants, and that’s what we need.

5 Reasons I Cheer For Tim Tebow

Tim TebowTim Tebow has been referred to as the most polarizing individual in the NFL. Fans seem to either adore him or loathe him.

On the field, Tebow is a proven winner. In 2007, he won the Heisman Trophy as a sophmore. In 2008, Tebow led the Florida Gators to their 2nd National Championship in 3 years. As I write this, Tebow is 7-1 as a starter for the Denver Broncos (who began the season 1-4). Of those 7 wins, 6 were 4th quarter comebacks (unprecedented). Not surprising that “Tebow-mania” is running wild.

When he’s not eluding tacklers or throwing to receivers, Tebow is promoting his faith in Jesus Christ. For some people, this is a turn-off. Critics ask rhetorically whether God actually cares who wins a football game. Others chirp, suggesting that if God was with Tebow, “He would throw a tighter spiral”. Some television analysts (former NFL QBs) have implored Tebow to “tone it down”. Even Kurt Warner (fellow Christian, and former NFL QB) has suggested that Tebow do less talking, with regard to his relationship with Christ.

I happen to be among those who hugely respect Tim Tebow and the way he carries himself on, and off, the field. It’s not just because he’s a Christian (and a pastor’s son)–there are Christians on every NFL team. Tebow is different. He’s special. And here are the 5 main reasons I love to cheer for Tim Tebow:

5) His Toughness

You could argue that toughness comes easily when you are 6’3 and 250 lbs. Tebow is no Doug Flutie. And yet, in a league filled with QBs of similar physical proportions, none take on tacklers the way Tebow does. In his junior year of high school football, Tebow suffered an injury to his right leg late in the first half of a game. Originally thought by the coaching staff to be a bad cramp, Tebow played the entire second half with a broken fibula, at one point rushing for a 29-yard touchdown.

4) His Sticktoitiveness

Tebow has this attribute on and off the field. On the field, the clearest demonstration of Tebow’s sticktoitiveness are his six 4th quarter comebacks. Sure, there were some long field goals and big defensive stands, but Tebow was the engineer of those comebacks and is undisputed leader of his team. Off the field, Tebow has been equally passionate and persistent in his promotion of Jesus Christ. Critics plead for his silence. Reporters attempt to draw him away from talking about God. Peers exhort him to “just play football”. But Tebow is undeterred. By every appearance, talking about Jesus Christ is the natural overflow of Tebow’s love for Christ. In the face of great pressure to stop talking about Jesus, Tim Tebow keeps talking about Jesus.

3) His Boldness

Tim Tebow eye paintTebow rarely misses an opportunity to promote Jesus Christ. In his college playing days, Tebow even wore Bible verses on his eye paint. In 2010, a new rule for the next NCAA football season, dubbed “The Tebow Rule” by media, banned messages on eye paint. In the 2009 BCS Championship Game, Tebow wore John 3:16 on his eye paint, and as a result, 92 million people searched “John 3:16″ on Google during or shortly after the game. When Tebow switched to another verse, there were 3.43 million searches of “Tim Tebow” and “Proverbs 3:5-6″ together. On the sidelines, Tebow is so often seen praying that the action is now widely known as ‘Tebowing’. The technical definition for Tebowing is “to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.”

2) His Generosity

Not too many 24 year-old athletes have set up foundations designed to help impoverished people. The Tim Tebow Foundation is the outgrowth of an initiative from his college days, “First and 15″. Tebow’s foundation has raised funds for Uncle Dick’s Orphanage in the Phillipines, Shands Hospital (Pediatric Cancer Center) in Gainesville, FL, and the foundation is currently raising funds to build a children’s hospital in the Philippines. Tim Tebow is serious about helping others.

1) His Christian Integrity

We’re familiar with the saying, “If you’re going to talk the talk, you had better be prepared to walk the walk.” Tim Tebow talks about Christ, but more importantly, Tim Tebow lives in a manner consistent with the ways of Christ. While critics continue to dissect the technical aspects of Tebow’s passing game, none have been able to find fault or failure with Tebow’s lifestyle choices. No, Tim Tebow, is not perfect—we all get that. But there is a consistency to his message and manner which I find winsome and inspiring.

I’ve never been a Broncos fan (I’m a Niagara Falls born boy who grew up cheering for the Bills), but Tebow has changed that. I’m now cheering for the Broncos. And I’m cheering for Tim Tebow—on and off the field.

GB2

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Tim Tebow touchdown passAfter writing this post on Dec. 15, the Broncos lost 3 in a row and backed into the playoffs at 8-8. Tebow struggled massively in those three games. Today, Tebow and the Broncos shocked the football world and the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 29-23 win in OT. It was Tebow’s best ever professional game.

When asked for his immediate reaction to the game winning touchdown, Tebow responded, ”When I saw him scoring, first of all, I just thought, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ Then, I was running pretty fast, chasing him — Like I can catch up to D.T! Then I just jumped into the stands, first time I’ve done that. That was fun. Then, got on a knee and thanked the Lord again and tried to celebrate with my teammates and the fans.”

My copy of Tebow’s book, “Through My Eyes”, arrived in Nassau on Friday. I look forward to that read and posting a review in the coming weeks.

GB2

How To Fight Discouragement

despair and depressionI know what it is like to be discouraged. I know what it is like to feel as if I’m being pushed to the brink. Thankfully, I also know what it is like to be rescued by a God who promises, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will rescue you, and you will honour Me” (Ps. 50:15).

I delight in the reality that we worship a God who helps the helpless. I rejoice that when I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, there also walks my God, an ever present help in times of trouble (Ps. 23:4; Ps. 46:1).

If you’ve ever battled the giant named Discouragement, I want you to know that this is a common war. As you survey the Scriptures you’ll see that many fought this same giant.

Discouragement emerges when certain conditions exist. Recently, I’ve been leading the worshippers at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk through the Book of Nehemiah. Here we discovered that discouragement emerges when we focus on what is lacking rather than on what has been accomplished.

Those attempting to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem were singing a sorrowful song: “So much rubble for us to haul! Worn out and weary, will we ever finish the wall?” (Neh. 4:10).

At this point in the story the wall was already halfway built. But instead of celebrating their progress, the builders were focused on the work which remained. They began the work with a “glass half full” optimism, but it had been replaced with a “glass half empty” pessimism. The rubble which once inspired their efforts to rebuild had now become the thing which inspired their complaints.

The second condition which invites discouragement is when our strength fails.

Think about it. When your energy tank is full, discouragement struggles to take hold of us. “Rolling with the punches” is much easier to do at the beginning of the round than it is at the end of the round.

It was said of those rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall that they had become “worn out and weary“.

It’s not as if we like being discouraged. Most of us don’t mean to be pessimists, it’s just that when we’re exhausted—when our strength fails us—the natural drift is towards discouragement.

Along similar lines, the third condition which invites discouragement is when our confidence fails.

The lament being sounded by Nehemiah’s countrymen was, “Will we ever finish the wall?

Again, this is a shift from a former way of thinking. Surely the work would have never begun unless they believed the wall could be rebuilt. Having set out on what they once thought was an obtainable vision, they now found themselves doubting whether the job could even get done. Moreover, the builders were aware of the opposition—they were mindful of those who not only wanted to hinder the work, but wanted to also inflict harm on them. With a growing number of factors working against them, the builders began losing their confidence.

A focus on what is lacking, failed strength, and a loss of confidence—add those components together and you have a recipe for profound discouragement.

How do we fight this giant? What is the remedy?

Quite simply, the remedy is GOD.

I agree with John Calvin who has said, “Whatever we need, whatever we lack, is in God.”

Focusing on God changes our perspective, and calling upon God brings increased strength and confidence.

I think of David, the shepherd boy, who did not consider the size of the giant before him, but the size of the God behind him. Similarly, Nehemiah counters the discouragement of his workers with a call to “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome” (Neh. 4:14).

If God is the remedy, then prayer is the means to applying that remedy.

Consider the words of the prophet Isaiah, “(God) gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Even the young grow weary and tired and vigourous young men stumble badly, but those who wait upon the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not faint” (Isa. 40:29-31).

If you are exhausted, if you are doubtful, if you are afraid, I want you to know that a sufficient remedy is within your reach.

The Lord, “who is great and awesome” stands ready to help you.

Fight discouragement with constant prayer. “Call upon the Lord in the day of trouble and He will rescue you, and you will honour Him.