Prayer Update November 8, 2018

Linda and I are in Ottawa this week, privileged to speak at the missions conference for the Metropolitan Bible Church.  We had the joy of serving at the Met for almost 15 years before coming to Heritage.  The church still has a deep love for God’s Word and a commitment to reaching God’s world.

CELEBRATE MISSIONSI’m writing to ask you to pray for me as I preach God’s Word Thursday night (young adult group), Friday night (all church) and Sunday morning.  (Linda spoke to two ladies groups yesterday).  Please pray that the Lord would empower me to speak with clarity and conviction on the topic of missions.  The Met has a history of sending out many missionaries.  Let’s pray that God would raise up more through this conference.

Also, join me in praising the Lord for answering the requests I gave last Friday.  I heard from Heritage today that the event with Dr. Christopher Wright was well-attended and well-received.  Also, our first year college students were out in the community today collecting food for the local food bank.  This is part of our Love Hespeler initiative, a way to show the love of Christ and to open doors for the message of Christ.

Food Drive

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 26)

26This chapter is dated “early in the reign of Jehoiakim” (1) which makes it one of five chapters specifically tied to events from this time period (four chapters are from the “fourth year of Jehoiakim”—25:1; 36:1; 45:1; 46:2). Chapter 26 likely occurs before the fourth year as by the fourth year (perhaps as a direct result of what is recorded here), Jeremiah is banned from open proclamation in the Temple courts (36:5).

Jeremiah is commanded to fearlessly and completely (“do not omit a word”) proclaim a message of impending judgment on Jerusalem.  The Lord’s purpose in having Jeremiah repeat this message is redemptive: “Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way.  Then I will relent . . .” (3).  However, if they continue in their indifference and disobedience, the Lord promises to “make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth” (6; 7:12).

repentShiloh, a city in Ephraim, ten miles north of Bethel, had been the place Joshua set up the Tabernacle during the conquest, 500 years before Jeremiah’s ministry (see Joshua 18).  During the time of Eli, the ark was taken from Shiloh (and captured by the Philistines) making the Tabernacle diminished in importance.  During Saul’s reign (1 Samuel 21), David visits the priests at Nob who give him consecrated bread from a sacred tent (not specifically called the Tabernacle). Shiloh was no longer the place of meeting.  In fact, Shiloh became a wilderness and remains that way until today.  The message Jeremiah proclaimed about Shiloh was a reminder that God had allowed a holy place to be completely decimated before; He would do it again unless they repent.

A glorious past does not insure a glorious future.  The churches receiving letters from the Risen Christ in Revelation 2-3 are warned about having their “lampstand” removed if they do not repent (Revelation 2:5).  Today, those cities in Turkey are also spiritual ruins, devoid of a vibrant church.  This sober warning is one churches (and schools!) need to hear today.  Past fruitfulness must be matched by present faithfulness to insure future usefulness.

Jeremiah’s dire pronouncement about the Temple, Jerusalem and Judea caused quite a stir.  The prophets and priests who heard him were incensed, as were “all the people” (8). He is surrounded (like Paul would later be—Acts 21:32) and almost lynched.  He is brought to trial before the officials at the New Gate.  The priests and prophets call for the death penalty for having “prophesied against this city” (11).

Jeremiah’s defense is that “the Lord sent me” with the goal of warning the people of impending judgment so they might repent and obey the Lord.  Jeremiah’s good news was that if people repent, God would “relent and not bring the disaster He has pronounced against you” (13).  Jeremiah submits to their judgment on him, but warns that killing him would bring “the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it” (15).

Jeremiah voices the biblical idea of collective guilt: the actions of a few can implicate the many.  This truth was the basis for the punishment given to Achan’s entire family for his sinful actions (Joshua 7:24-26).  It is applied in a universal way in Adam’s sinful choice as well as the righteous life and suffering of the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-21).  Our lives have wider ripples than we often realize.

courageJeremiah again shows great courage and faithfulness to his calling.  When called to bring God’s message to the people at the Temple, Jeremiah obeys.  He has been ignored and insulted repeatedly by a people who “have not listened” (5), but still he goes.  As seen from the response of the priests, prophets and people, Jeremiah was putting himself in mortal danger.  But, like Paul, he is “ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem” (Acts 21:11).

I’m intrigued by the Lord’s statement in verses 3-5: “Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way . . . . though you have not listened.”  God sees the heart and knows the judgment is coming (1:13-16).  Yet He speaks in a way that confers causality upon people; their choice will determine His course (if they repent, He will relent).  Somehow God’s sovereign plans work out in conjunction with human choice (compatibilism: see  God’s desire that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9) move him to give second, third, even thirtieth chances to stubborn sinners.  But there is a limit and a line that, once crossed, brings judgment.

The priests, prophets and people of Judah respond to Jeremiah’s pronouncement not with personal reflection and genuine repentance but with indignation and attack.  They accuse Jeremiah of sedition and anti-patriotic speech; they seek the death penalty.  The officials from the palace convene to hear the case and decide for Jeremiah.  They see precedent for dire warnings in the prophecies of Micah (see Micah 3:12).  They reference Hezekiah’s positive response of Micah as an example of what should be done. Ahikam (father of Gedeliah—who was later appointed ruler by the Babylonians) “supported Jeremiah and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death” (24).

Inserted into the deliberations about Jeremiah’s fate is the sad tale of the prophet Uriah son of Shemaiah (20-23).  He gave a similar message as Jeremiah but was hunted down and killed by Jehoiakim (with the help of Elnathan).  This story is included here to show that Jeremiah was in a dangerous place.  It also shows God’s faithfulness to His promise to protect Jeremiah (1:19).


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Prayer Update November 2, 2018

It’s been several weeks since I’ve posted fresh prayer requests.  Last Friday I was at a meeting for presidents of Canadian Christian colleges, universities and seminaries.  We were given the data from a major study on Christian teens moving into adulthood.  The study revealed that young adults who attend a Christian college or university fare much better when it comes to staying true to their faith in Christ.  I will write more about this in the coming weeks.

God continues to work in some wonderful ways on the Heritage campus.  Many students are being impacted by God’s Word and prepared for His service.

Here are several key requests I would ask you to pray about in the week ahead.

Word of truthThis weekend I (Rick) am speaking at the Word of Truth Conference in Georgetown.  I’ll be giving three messages on the theme of “The Unchanging Nature of the Church in a Rapidly Changing World.”  Friday evening I speak on our Unchanging Need.  Saturday morning I will speak on our Unchanging Mission and Unchanging Power.  Please pray that God would empower me to speak HIs Word with clarity, courage and compassion.

CELEBRATE MISSIONSNext week, Linda and I head to Ottawa to speak at the Missions Conference at the Metropolitan Bible Church.  Many of you know that Linda and I served at the Met for almost 15 years before coming to Heritage.  It’s a joy to return to a church we love so much.  Linda speaks to the women on Wednesday morning and evening.  I speak on Thursday evening (Young Adult Group), Friday evening and Sunday morning.  Please ask the Lord to work powerfully through the messages to impact lives for Christ and HIs mission.

mission of GodNext Thursday at Heritage, we host Dr. Christopher Wright to speak to our students as well as students from Emmanuel Bible College and McMaster Divinity College.  Dr. Wright has written a number of important works, including The Mission of God.  Pray that his lecture will help students have their minds and hearts shaped by God’s truth.

Thank you for continuing to pray for Linda and me.  And thank you for praying the ministry of Heritage College and Seminary. God is answering our prayers!

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 25)

25When he was first called to prophetic ministry, Jeremiah was appointed “over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (1:10).  Over the first twenty-three years of his ministry. Jeremiah had already “prophesied . . . against the nations” (including Babylon—25:13).  Now he is commanded to bring a message of coming destruction against Judah, the surrounding nations and, ultimately, against Babylon.  In this message, God’s judgment is compared to a “cup of wine” that nations are forced to drink until they are dead drunk, reeling and falling to “rise no more” (27).

Chapter 25 is given the same time stamp as Jeremiah 36 and 45:  “in the fourth year of Jehoiakim . . . which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar” (25:1). This is the same year Jeremiah is told to record all the words God had given him over the past 23 years (36:2; 25:2) and the same year Jeremiah was instructed to confront Baruch (45:1-5).  The fact that this message was given in the year Nebuchadnezzar came to power is significant—he would be the king God would use to subjugate and “completely destroy” (put under the ban) Judah and the surrounding nations (25:9).

The fact that God empowers Babylon and expands their reach and rule is not an indicator that He approves of their beliefs or behaviours. The prophet Habakkuk was troubled at the thought that God would use the Babylonians to judge His people, since the Babylonians were more wicked than Judah (Habakkuk 1:12-13).  God’s answer to Habakkuk and His revelation to Jeremiah was that He sees the guilt of the Babylonians (Sheshach—26) and, in His time, will judge them with justice and righteousness (Habakkuk 2:2-20; Jeremiah 25:12, 26).

The Lord reveals through Jeremiah that the coming “tumult” among the nations is His righteous judgment on sinful nations (31). He promises to “completely destroy” a host of countries: the Hebrew verb translated “complete destroy” (חָרַם) speaks of devoting or consecrating something to God, often for destruction (Joshua 2:10; 7:11; 8:26).  Five times in the chapter the Lord speaks of calling down a “sword” on the nations (16, 27, 29, 31, 38). This is why verse 33 refers to “those slain by the Lord” and verse 38 links together the “sword of the oppressor” and the “Lord’s fierce anger.”  The Lord brings “charges against the nations” (31) and judgment upon them for their guilt.

wine cupThe list of nations that will be forced to drink the “cup filled with the wine of my wrath” (15) begins with “Jerusalem and the towns of Judah” (18).  God holds His people to a righteous standard and judges them for their persistent idolatry (6-7) and disobedience (“evil ways and evil practices”—5).  Then comes Egypt (19), Uz (20), the Philistines (20), Edom, Moab, Ammon (21), Tyre, Sidon (22), Dedan, Tema, Buz (23), Arabia (24), Zimri, Elam, Media (25—east of Babylon), all the kings of the north (25) and finally Babylon (26—“Sheshach”, a cryptogram for Babylon).  The final chapters (46-51) give extended prophetic judgments on many nations mentioned in chapter 25, starting with Egypt and ending with Babylon.

The final, poetic verses of the chapter (34-38) call the leaders (“shepherds”) of the various nations to “weep, wail” and “roll in the dust”(35).  There is nothing they can do to avert the coming destruction.  When God says it’s time for judgment to come, come it will!

God’s coming judgment is described in global terms; it reaches to “all the kingdoms on the face of the earth” (26).  He “roars”, “thunders” and “shouts” against “all who live on the earth” (30).  The result of the sword He sends will be catastrophic:  “those slain by the Lord will be everywhere—from one end of the earth to the other” (33).  The near context for this judgment is the next “seventy years” (12).  However the language of this chapter, including the climactic judgment on Babylon, is picked up in Revelation to describe the final global judgment at the return of Christ to establish His kingdom (Revelation 18).

It’s clear that while the Lord is the “God of Israel” (15), He is no tribal deity but the “LORD Almighty” (8).  He raises up and brings down (Daniel 2:21).  He determines the duration a nation will be subjugated or be supreme (70 years—25:12).  No one can resist His will or refuse to drink the cup of judgment He gives them: “make all the nations to whom I send you drink it” (15).  He is the King of kings and sovereign ruler of all nations.

The Lord works His will through the events of history. On one level, history can be explained in purely human terms: political developments and military might. However, this viewpoint is only part of the story.  God moves kings, nations and armies to accomplish His plans.  He is the One who will “summon” Nebuchadnezzar (“my servant”) and his allies and “will bring them against this land . . . and against all the surrounding nations” (9).  He gives Babylon seventy years of supremacy as the world power (11).  He is also the One who, after seventy years, will “punish the king of Babylon and his nation . . . for their guilt”; He will make Babylon “desolate forever” (12).

In spite of His unsurpassed greatness and global power, God’s own people would not listen to His words or align with His will. Jeremiah preached to an unresponsive people:  “the word of the Lord has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again but you have not listened” (3). We learn in chapter 36 that the Lord had Jeremiah record “all the words I have spoken to you concern Israel, Judah and all the other nations from the time I began speaking to you” (36:2).  God was giving them one more chance to turn from their wickedness and be forgiven (36:3).  Sadly, the nation stubbornly refuse to respond; by their indifference (“you have not . . . paid any attention”—4) and insolence, they “brought harm” to themselves (7) from the hand of the One who promised not to “harm” them if they would obey (6).

communion cupIn this chapter we see the themes of God’s sovereign, global Kingship, His justice and judgment on nations (and the people in them) and His offer of grace and goodness to those who listen and follow His words.  He works through the events of history to bring devastation to the disobedient.  He makes the world drink the “cup” of His wrath (15).  In the New Testament, we see Jesus drinking that “cup” of God’s wrath for us (Matthew 26:39, 42), taking the harm we deserved for our sins.  At the cross God’s justice and mercy meet to bring the offer of salvation to those from every nations who listen and believe the gospel.

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Tuesday with Jeremiah (Chapter 24)

24Verse 1 sets the historical back story for this short chapter:  this vision and message are given to Jeremiah after Jehoiachin (Jeconiah), court officials (like Daniel and his three Hebrew friends), and craftsmen/artisans are captured and exiled to Babylon.  Jehoiachin’s reign was brief (3 months) and the rest of his life would be lived in captivity. So this message comes sometime during the reign of Zedekiah (8)—the final Judean king.

After the leading citizens of the city are gone, the Lord shows Jeremiah a vision of two baskets of figs placed in front of the Temple. One basket is filled with beautifully ripe fruit; the other with inedible figs.  Jeremiah is asked by the Lord, “What do you see?” –a reminder why prophets were often called “seers.”  After he answers correctly (3), the Lord provides the interpretation of the vision:  the good figs are the exiles, the poor figs represent the current king (Zedekiah) and the Jews remaining in the land.  God will watch over the exiles “for their good” and bring them back to the land (6); God will bring “the sword, famine and plague” against those left in Judea (10).

figsThe meaning of the vision of the two baskets of figs is surprising to me.  Exile from the land is normally associated with God’s judgment and curse (Deuteronomy 28:64ff).  Staying in the land is linked to blessing.  But here it’s the reverse.  Those taken away from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar are being watched over for good by the Lord; those remaining in the land will be destroyed.  So in this case, a temporary exile (70 years) is God’s protection from the destruction He will bring on Jerusalem and Judea.  While exile is not a good thing, it’s a better thing than devastation and death. Some times God removes His people from a bad situation for their own good.  Sometimes exile is a severe mercy, a painful protection and forced escape.

I would imagine that exile didn’t feel like the better option to those uprooted and forced out.  It must have felt like a tearing and a torment (Psalm 137), a painful separation from loved ones and familiar places.  And staying behind would have felt like dodging a bullet and being one of the “lucky ones.”  But from God’s perspective and plan, it was the opposite.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so God’s thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:9).

But God says he will “regard as good the exiles from Judah” (5)—they are the good figs. The Hebrew word translated “regard” (נָכַר) can carry the idea of observe with a view to recognition,  to acknowledge, or to investigate.  The inference I draw from the text is that God regards the exiles as good after He gives them a new heart and they return to Him “with all their heart” (7). When God says “I will give them a heart to know me”, the implication is that they don’t yet have that kind of a heart.  When He says “they will return to me with all their heart” (7), the implication is that this spiritual turning is still a future response rather than a present reality.  It’s true that Jehoiachin did surrender to Babylon rather than resist (like Zedekiah), something Jeremiah called kings and people to do.  It’s true the exiles had some stellar spiritual leaders—Daniel and his three friends.  But not all the exiles were of this spiritual caliber:  Pashhur and his lying friends were in the group (20:6). Also, Jeremiah 29:19 indicates the exiles had not listened to the Lord’s word “either.”

With the bad figs, God does not need to give them a rebellious, stubborn heart; they already had one.  All God does is leave them in their natural state as “poor figs” (8; but see 29:17).  In fact, unless God had given the exiles a change of heart, they would have been no different than those left behind in Jerusalem and Judea.

It would seem that the difference between the two groups of Jews was the result of God’s gracious work in the hearts of the exiles.  God makes a choice to “watch over” the exiles “for their good” (6) and to give them a heart to know Him as the Lord (7).   The reasons for His choice are not overtly disclosed.  As Paul would later write:  “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Romans 9:18).  Or, using a metaphor that comes from Jeremiah, “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21).

graceHere is an Old Testament case study that lines up with the New Testament truth of God’s prevenient grace in salvation:  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The prophecy of the two baskets of figs plays out exactly as the Lord said it would.  He did preserve a group of the exiles to Babylon. Even though they had been “uprooted” from their homeland, God’s plan for them was ultimately to “plant them and not uproot them” (6).  God gave many of the exiles a heart to know Him (7): leaders like Daniel, Nehemiah, Ezra, Zerubbabel, Mordecai would stay true to Him; many of the exiles would brave the dangerous journey back to their homeland after the 70 years in Babylon were completed.  God watched over His exiled people and ensured a remnant that would both return to Him “ all their heart” (7) and return to the land in His good time.

On the other hand, God’s dire words about those remaining in Jerusalem also played out as predicted.  These Jews did not evidence a heart to know God; in fact, they continued to arrogantly reject His word (43:2-3) and brazenly worship false gods (44:15-19).  Zedekiah, his officials and the people in Jerusalem did become “abhorrent and an offense to all the kingdoms of the earth” (9).  Zedekiah watched his sons slaughtered, had his eyes put, and then was taken to die in Babylon.  The people who survived the “sword, famine and plague” at the fall of Jerusalem were completely “destroyed from the land” (10). At first they remained in the Judah but were attacked by the king of Ammon (Jeremiah 41).  Next, they fled to Egypt (8, see also Jeremiah 42-44) where they were further decimated; only a few would ever return to their homeland (44:28).

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 23)

23This chapter follows thematically the previous two: after denouncing the final four kings of David’s line (see chapter 22), Jeremiah speaks of a coming Davidic King who will be a “righteous Branch” (5), called by the name “The Lord Our Righteousness” (6).  Where the previous shepherds scattered the Lord’s flock (1), God will gather them to their homeland (3, 8) and install a righteous king to save and protect them (6).

So while chapter 22 ends with the cessation of Solomon’s line (through Jehoiachin—22:30), chapter 23 promises the continuation of David’s line through the “righteous Branch (5-6).  This would seem to indicate that this future king comes from another branch of David’s family tree.  Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3) seems to trace Jesus’ lineage from Mary back through Nathan—another of David’s sons.  In this way, both the prophecies of Jeremiah 22 and 23 stand literally fulfilled.

While the beginning of the chapter deals with Israel’s kings (1-8), and while there is a mention of Israel’s ungodly priests (11, 33), the bulk of the chapter is a denunciation of Israel’s false prophets (9-40). The kings (shepherds) did “evil” (2) and the prophets and priests were “godless” (11).  The result is that the people suffer.  They are scattered as a result of the kings and ungodly as a result of following the prophets and priests (15). Leadership matters greatly. As go the leaders, so go the people. God is looking for shepherds who will tend and protect His flock (4).  He is looking for prophets who speak His word faithfully (28).  Unless this happens, His people flounder and fail.

Jeremiah begins the message to the false prophets by expressing his own inner agitation:  his heart is broken, his bones tremble, he staggers like a drunken man as he hears the Lord’s pronouncement about the false prophets (9). The message he has to deliver is stern because the sin of the prophets is serious.

falseThe false prophets have substituted their own words (dreams) for God’s words.  Their visions come “from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (16).  God did not send them, but they have run to speak in his name (21).  They “wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares’” (30).

These visions are invariably ear-tickling words (2 Timothy 4:3)—words that promise peace (shalom) to those who “despise” the Lord, who “follow the stubbornness of their hearts” (17).  Their words “distort (overturn, change) the words of the living God, the Lord Almighty, our God” (36).  Instead of standing in the Lord’s council to “see or to hear his word” (18), they speak their own dreams (“I had a dream!  I had a dream” – 25).  Rather than echoing God’s words, these false prophets “steal from one another words supposedly from me” (30); they all start to sound alike.

Their dreams fail to correct the “adulterers” in the land (10) and do not turn them “from their evil ways” (22). “They do not benefit these people in the least” (32).  They cause people to “forget” God’s name (27).  On top of that, their false messages of hope and their failure to confront sin cause “ungodliness” to “spread throughout the land” (15).

So the false teaching the Lord condemns and promises to punish is a message that gives people “false hopes” (16).  The message sounds good:  “God is on your side and will give you peace/shalom (17) so that no harm will come to you” (17).  The false prophet’s messages even contains some truth—truth about His goodness and faithfulness to His covenant promises.  However, their messages fail to confront sin or call for obedience: “They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord says:  You will have peace’”(17).

The Lord equates the impact of false teaching with the impact of idolatry: both “make my people forget my name” (27).  False teaching, like false worship, moves people further from truth and further into the darkness.  The effect of the prophets of Baal (13) is the same as the prophets who preach their own visions (16):  they promote “ungodliness” (15).  Both kinds of prophets cause God’s people to “forget” His name (27).

The words of the false prophets are different in kind and caliber than God’s word:  “what has straw to do with grain?” (28).  Only God’s Word will nourish and feed his people.  The chatter of false teachers is useless chaff.  God’s Word also comes like a “fire” and a “hammer” (29). Unlike the innocuous messages of peace without piety, God’s Word comes to burn and refine away evil (6:29-30), it comes to “break a rock in pieces” (29).  It shatters our delusions and smelts away the dross of disobedience.

preachHere is a clarion call for preachers to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2).  We are not to give people what we dream up but what God declares.  We are to stand “in the council of the Lord” until we “see and hear his word” through a careful study of Scripture.  Then we are to courageously declare it in a way that feeds, purifies and breaks His people.  Only this kind of proclamation will “benefit” God’s people (32).  A man who fails to do this brings God’s punishment on himself “and his household” (34).  False teachers put their lives, families and flocks at risk.  For, as the Lord says in three successive verses to false prophets, “I am against you” (30, 31, 32).

The Lord says that those who claim to speak for Him must stand “in my council” (18, 22) in order to “see or to hear his word” (18). Only then will our message be from Him: “But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words  to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds” (22).  Preachers today must spend time in the Lord’s council—looking at and listening to His Word until we see and hear it clearly.  Then will we not be preaching our own dreams, visions and ideas but will be able to declare His word in a way that benefits His people—turning them from evil and establishing them in truth.  Then we will be able to preach high-fiber (grain), high-intensity (fire) and hard-hitting (hammer) messages.

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Prayer Update October 12

While Thanksgiving weekend has come and gone, those of us who belong to the Lord have continued reason to give thanks.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning!” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

One of my ongoing reasons for thanksgiving is your partnership with us in prayer.  It’s a great encouragement to me to know friends are praying.

Here are several prayer requests for the coming days:

womens reteratThis morning Linda and I head off to Muskoka Bible Centre in Huntsville where she will be speaking at the Women of Grace fall retreat on the subject of a biblical, beautiful marriage.  Please pray that the Lord empowers her to serve the women by speaking God’s Word in a clear, compelling way.

bibleI am currently preparing to speak at several upcoming conferences in November:  the Word of Truth conference, the Missions Conference at the Metropolitan Bible Church and Promise Keepers Toronto Conference.  I’d ask you to pray that the Lord would enable me to prepare messages that will be glorifying to Him and useful to His people.  Pray that my words would proclaim His Word in a faithful and fruitful way.

Thank you again for your prayers for us!



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