Empowerment for Service

Here’s a post I recently wrote for the Heritage Seminary Blog.

Do you long for a greater sense of God’s empowerment as you serve Christ?  Me too.  I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that, without the Lord’s empowerment, my best efforts have no eternal impact.
That’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to what happened in Northfield, Massachusetts back in 1880.  Northfield was the home of 19thcentury evangelist Dwight L. Moody.  He was born there in 1837 and buried there in 1899.

moodyIn 1880, Moody invited Christians across America and Canada to gather in Northfield to pray for the Lord’s empowerment in ministry.

He wrote, “Feeling deeply this great need and believing that it is in reserve for all who honestly seek it, a gathering is herby called to meet in Northfield, Massachusetts, from September 1 to 10 . . . for solemn self-consecration, and to plead God’s promises, and to wait upon Him for a fresh anointing of power from on high.”  (You can read the full announcement of the “Convocation for Prayer” here.)

Moody understood what Jesus told his first disciples.  Jesus instructed his followers to remain in Jerusalem and “wait for the promise of the Father”—the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus knew his followers needed supernatural power to carry out the global mission he was giving them.  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

As you read through the book of Acts, you see the Holy Spirit repeatedly empowering believers for their witness in the world.

 “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them. . . .” (4:8)

“And when they had prayed the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (4:31)

“But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said. . . .” (13:9)

So how can we be empowered by the Spirit for the ministry God has given us?  My study of the book of Acts has led me to this conclusion:  the Spirit empowers Christians after we prayand as we obey.  First, we cry out for the Spirit’s strengthening power; then we step out in obedience to serve Christ.

The Christians who gathered in Northfield in 1880 prayed with a sense of consecration and anticipation.  Then they returned to their places of service, trusting the Lord to work powerfully through them.


Northfield, MA

This past summer, Linda and I drove to Northfield Massachusetts and walked grounds where Christians gathered 138 years ago.  As I walked the hillsides near Moody’s homestead, I cried out to the Lord for a greater work of his Spirit in my life, in the lives of Heritage students and in the churches in Canada.

As we begin a new year at Heritage Seminary, I invite you to join me in praying for a powerful work of God’s Spirit in our lives and ministries.  Let’s ask him to empower us for the mission and ministry Christ has given to his Church.

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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 18)

18Chapter 18 contains the well-known message from the potter’s house about God’s sovereign power to shatter or spare nations (1-10).  Following this message of warning and hope, we see Israel’s tragic, fatalistic and disobedient response (11-12).  The Lord reacts to their stubborn rebellion by having Jeremiah deliver a message of shock and awe (13-17).  The people of Judah, who don’t like the message, make plans to kill the messenger (18). This triggers a prayer from Jeremiah asking God to take vengeance on those planning to kill him (19-23).  The Potter has power to shape or shatter both nations and individuals.

potterThe message God gave Jeremiah at the Potter’s house helps us understand God’s power, His plans and His ways.  God has both the power and the right to do what He wants with nations (and the people in them):  “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” (6). Nations are not only a drop from a bucket in His sight (Isaiah 40:15), they are also clay in His hand.  He can shape their future as He sees best (4).

We also learn that God’s announcements and pronouncements of coming judgment can be reshaped into national blessing:  “if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned” (8).  On the other hand, if a nation “does evil…and does not obey”, God will “reconsider” the good plans He intended for it (10).  The clay of a nation’s future is still wet and malleable–at least up to a certain point.  There does come a time when God’s patience reaches its limit and His plans become hardened (15:1-4).

plansThe word “plans” is an important word in this chapter, occurring in verses 8, 11, 12 and 18.  The Hebrew word used for plan (חָשַׁב) has the idea of thinking, devising and intending. Both humans and God make plans. For humans, plans can be frustrated and thwarted (as was the case for the plans to get rid of Jeremiah—18). In God’s case, as the sovereign potter, no one can resist His will (Romans 9:19-21). He has the right and power to carry out His plans as He sees fit.  But in this chapter, God reveals an amazing truth about Himself:  He will alter and reshape His plans based on our human choices. History is not fixed or fatalistic; it is shaped and reshaped by a sovereign God based, to some degree, on our responses to Him.  Yet it’s clear that God already knows what our responses will be (“But they will reply….”—12). This passage helps us understand God’s apparent “change of mind” in Exodus 32:11-14 and His relenting of judgment on the city of Nineveh (Jonah 1-4). It also helps us see that the plans God has for His people—“plans to give you hope and a future” (29:11)—become realities in conjunction with His people’s obedience (“you will call upon me. . . you will seek me with all your heart”—29:13).  God’s covenantal promises to His people are ultimately certain; however, they are only experienced by those who are seeking to obey.  God’s mercies do not fail (Lamentations 3:23) but we can fail to enjoy them if we “continue with our own plans” (18:12).

Sadly, the response of Jeremiah’s contemporaries to God’s warning was to stubbornly refuse to change their plans or their ways. They persist in looking to “worthless idols” and so continue to stumble “in bypaths and on roads not built up” (15). They have left the “ancient paths” and are now wandering in a wasteland of their own confusion.  They rejected God’s admonition to “ask for the ancient paths (6:16).  The ancient paths provide “rest for your souls” (6:16); the bypaths lead to a wasteland: “their land will be laid waste, an object of lasting scorn” (18:16).  There are only two roads for the journey through life: the ancient path or the bypath.  Or in the words of Jesus, there is the narrow way or the broad way (Matthew 7:13-14). One leads to “life” and the other to “destruction.”

The response of the people to Jeremiah’s message from the Potter’s house was retaliatory not repentant (18).  Jeremiah’s message must have been diametrically opposed to what was being said by other priests, counselors and prophets.  The people want to preserve and promote what they are hearing from others, so they “make plans” to silence and ignore Jeremiah.

Jeremiah is aware of their aggressive response and prays an extended imprecatory prayer against his attackers (19-23).  He’s had enough; he calls on God to violently judge them for “their plots to kill me” (23).  He entreats God to take vengeance on the entire families of his attackers: children (21), wives (21), young men (22), older men (22).  He doesn’t want God to “forgive their crimes or blot out their sins” (23).

jeremiadBased on what his enemies say (verse 18), it seems Jeremiah may be exaggerating their threats; they don’t speak of planning to kill him in this chapter.  However, we know from 11:21 that death threats were made against Jeremiah by his countrymen.  In either case, his words seem vindictive and vengeful.  What are we to make of Jeremiah’s jeremiad?

First, imprecatory prayers were part of the spiritual vocabulary of Jewish believers, even the pious, faithful ones (see Psalm 137). Second, imprecatory prayers are consistent with Psalm 62:8: “pour out your hearts” to God.  Anger, hurt and fury were boiling in Jeremiah’s soul; they get poured out in his prayer.  Third, Jeremiah was more emotionally expressive (or emotionally honest) than many of us dare to be.  We may have similar thoughts but don’t admit them to anyone—even God.  Fourth, these vengeful words were not the full picture of Jeremiah’s heart.  He has been pleading for God to withhold wrath from his countrymen (20).  He has wept over the promised destruction coming on the nation (9:1) and would later weep over the actual destruction of the city (Lamentations).  Jeremiah is being candid with God about his feelings and desires at this time, but this is not how feels or thinks all the time.

Can we pray imprecatory prayers against those who “repay evil for good” (20)?  It would seem so.  But like Jeremiah, we will later pull back from those words out of a God-given compassion that moves to us to “love your enemies . . . pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). God’s Spirit will work in our hearts so that we obey the command to leave vengeance to God and overcome evil with good (Romans 12:19-21).

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Prayer Update September 14, 2018

great startWe’ve just wrapped up the first full week of classes at Heritage.  It’s been a joy to see so many new and returning students back on campus.  The Lord has answered our prayers by sending us another strong incoming class of students to train.

As we close the week, here are several praise and prayer items to remember.

Praise: Wonderful, Spirit-filled start to the new term.  Students are eager to learn and professors are energized to teach!  Heritage is a great place to grow in grace and the knowledge of God’s Son!

hespelerPray: On Thursday, our incoming college students walked to the village of Hespeler (about 25 minutes from campus). Heritage partners with several local churches in an outreach initiative we call “Love Hespeler.”  Our desire is to bring the love and message of Christ to the people near the school.  On Thursday, students visited the village, learned about its history, and were given a few dollars to spend at local businesses (the coffee shop and ice cream shop were favourites).  Pray that we would love the people of Hespeler and point them towards the Lord Jesus.

Pray: Please continue to pray that the Lord would enable us to demolish our debt by October 1.  (Click here to see the video message Linda and I recently recorded)

Debt Demo

THANK YOU for praying with us and for us.



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Part of A Miracle

Last summer Linda and I recorded a brief video asking friends of Heritage to be part of a demolishing the debt at Heritage College and Seminary.  The Lord moved in wonderful ways and the debt was reduced from $2.7 million to just under $700,000.

Over the past year, donations have continued to come in to eradicate the debt.  We are now down to just over $300,000.

This October 1st, we can make a balloon payment (without penalty) on the mortgage.  Our prayer is that that Lord would allow us to see the debt completely demolished.

This whole adventure in faith has let us see God work in miraculous ways.  Linda and I recently filmed this short video inviting people to be part of a miracle–seeing Heritage College and Seminary become completely debt free for the first time in our history.

You can watch the video by clicking here.

Debt Demo

Click Here to view the Video

God is working in amazing ways at the school.  Demolishing the debt would enable us to put more resources into training men and women to serve Christ in Canada and around the world!  Thank you for partnering with Heritage through prayer and giving.

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Prayer Update (September 7)

fiveIt’s been an exciting week at Heritage as classes began on Thursday.  I had the privilege of addressing the incoming college students on Thursday morning.  I spoke to them about the 5 Big Themes that we emphasize at Heritage College:

1. Learn to Know God
2. Lead Yourself First
3. Love Others Well
4. Lift Up the Church
5. Live on Mission

On Thursday afternoon I taught the first homiletics course for the new term.  Training young preachers is one of the deep passions of my life.  Later this month, Linda and I will team up to lead the “Women Teaching God’s Word” course (part of Heritage’s Graduate Certificate for Women in Ministry).

As we launch into this new semester, here are some praise and petitions to rejoice in and remember in prayer:

Praise:  Enrollment has been very strong at both the seminary and the college.  At this point, it looks to be our highest enrollment in years.  Praise the Lord for entrusting us with many men and women to equip for life and ministry.

retreatPrayer:  Today and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday) we have our all-school retreat. This is an important time for students to develop new friendships and to feel more at home at Heritage.  Please pray the retreat will be a great launch to life at Heritage.

Prayer:  Next Tuesday (September 11), we have our Convocation Chapel.  This is a Convocation 3special service of consecration for the coming year.  Ask the Lord to give students a deep desire to make the most of their training at Heritage.

Thank you for being part of our prayer team!


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Tuesdays with Jeremiah (Chapter 17)

John Piper writes that sin is what we do when we are not satisfied with God.  Jeremiah writes that sin is also what we do when we are not confident in God.

17This chapter contrasts a person who is “trusting in man, who depends on flesh for his strength” (5) with the one “who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence (Hebrew:  mibtah) is in him” (7).  The application of this principle is seen positively in Jeremiah, who relies on the LORD to protect and vindicate him before his detractors (14-18).  It’s seen negatively in the people of Judah who resort to unjust business practices (11) and a seven-day work week (carrying a load on the Sabbath) to get ahead financially (19-27).

The truth that underlies this chapter is that God knows, searches and examines our hearts (10).  He can discern whether or not our confidence is in Him (7-8), in other gods (1-2), in other humans (5-6) or in ourselves (19-27).  While the heart is deceitful (Hebrew:  zaqob–uneven, bumpy) and hidden (9), the Lord still knows the inward “turnings” of the heart (“whose heart turns away from the Lord”—5 ).

The central theme of the chapter deals with well-placed or misplaced trust.  Everyone trusts; everyone lives by faith.  The question is whether our faith will be well placed or misplaced.

Well-placed trust is God-directed.  Verse 7 makes this unmistakably clear:  “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord.”  He is to be the object or focus of our trust/faith.  Practically speaking, trusting in the Lord involves complete fidelity to Him (no other gods—1-2), desperate dependence on His care (14-18) and faithful obedience to His Word, even when it seems counter-intuitive or culturally outdated (ceasing from work on the Sabbath when others are getting ahead by working).

treeWell-placed trust results in God’s blessing even in the midst of barren times.  The Lord uses the image of a “tree planted by the water. . . in a year of drought” (8). There is a continual life-giving supply even when times are difficult.  There is protection and provision that exceed what we could have garnered for ourselves by trusting in our own wisdom and strength (i.e. the promised blessing on Jerusalem if the people trust in God and keep His Sabbath command—25).

Trusting in the Lord (both in this context and throughout Scripture) practically means we trust in the Lord’s word.  And trust in the Lord’s word is revealed through our obedience. That’s why the Lord searches the heart (where faith resides) by examining a person’s “conduct” and “deeds” (10).

Jeremiah is told to stand at the gates of Jerusalem and call the kings and people to “Hear the word of the Lord” (19).  The Hebrew word “hear” (shemah) carries the double nuance of listening and obeying (see verse 27:  “if you do not obey me”).  This same emphasis (trust evidenced by obedience) is shown in Jeremiah’s private counsel to King Zedekiah (chapter 38).  Jeremiah tells him the only way to spare his life and the city is to surrender to the Babylonians.  Zedekiah is afraid to do this, fearing the Babylonians will hand him over to the Jews to be mistreated.  Jeremiah assures him, by the word of the Lord, that this will not happen. Zedekiah’s actions will reveal whether he chooses to trust in the Lord or trust in man (himself and his counselors—38:22).

The link between trusting in the Lord and trusting (and obeying) His word is further seen in the word picture of a “tree planted by the water” (8).  This same picture is famously used in Psalm 1 to describe the one who roots himself in the word of the Lord.  The same benefits are described in Psalm1 as in Jeremiah 17:  constant supply, internal stability and ongoing productivity even in the driest of times.

Misplaced trust is man-centered.  Ultimate confidence is placed in the smarts or strength of humans. When this happens, the inevitable spiritual result is a turning away from the Lord:  “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord” (5).  A heart that turns from the Lord (one that is “deceitful . . . and beyond cure”—10) turns to substitute gods (1-2) and disobeys the word of the Lord.  In chapter 17, the test case for trust is the Sabbath.  Those who trust in the Lord will obey the command to stop carrying a load on the Sabbath day; those who don’t trust in the Lord will ignore the command and treat the Sabbath as a “business as usual” day.  Trust (or a lack of trust) is seen in a person’s actions.

bushA failure to trust in the Lord (and obey His word) results in a life that is barren and blown away.  The Lord uses the image of a “bush in the wastelands” (6).  The bush is stunted compared to a tree (5). Wastelands are dry and dusty compared to a riverbank (13).  The bush survives (not flourishes) “in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives” (6).  Isolation, desolation and privation are the result of trusting in humans rather than relying on the Lord.

Sadly, this would be the choice the kings and people make. Zedekiah chose to rely on his wits and his friends (38:22) rather than trusting the word of the Lord enough to obey it.  His eyes would be put out and he would never “see prosperity when it comes” (6).  The same would be true for the Jewish remnant that chose to rely on their own judgment rather than God’s instruction (42:13-18); they disobediently headed for Egypt and ended up never seeing prosperity again.

So the question comes to us:  will we trust in the Lord or in something/someone else?

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Prayer Update (August 31, 2018)

move inLabour Day is “move in day” at Heritage Bible College.  Our team of student leaders will be up early Monday morning, ready to welcome new students as they arrive on campus to move into their dorm rooms.  Throughout the day, we’ll host tours of the campus and hold special orientation sessions for new students (and for their parents too!).  After a few days of settling in, college and seminary classes begin on Thursday, September 6th.

Our faculty and staff have been praying and preparing for this new school year all summer long.  The renovation projects (new showers in the residence halls, new prayer room, remodelled Student Services offices) are finishing up just in time!  I praise God for the dedicated team who did the work!  The campus looks fantastic.

Here are some prayer requests I would ask you to remember for the coming week:

1. Pray our new students would adjust well to life at Heritage.  Ask the Lord to help them settle in, make new friends and get off to a good start in their courses.  Pray for parents who are feeling a mix of joy and sadness in having their son/daughter move away from home to begin their training at Heritage.

2. Pray for our students leaders who will be working hard to help new students acclimate to Heritage.  Linda and I are hosting all the student leaders for a meal at our home this Sunday evening (Sept 2).  Pray that we can encourage and challenge them to be true servant leaders.

tat3. Continue to pray for Matt Collins whose fiancee, Tatiana Blackburn, was recently killed in an automobile accident.  Many of our faculty, staff and students attended Tatiana’s memorial service this past Tuesday.  It was one of the most powerful, impactful memorials I can remember.  The Lord is being honoured through Tatiana’s life and legacy.  Please pray for deep comfort and healing grace for all who are grieving.

Thank you for partnering with us through your prayers.

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