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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Prelude to Profound Change

Returning to Canada from Dominica in November of 1978, we found a house to rent in Honeywood, Ontario and the nearest assembly of Christians that we knew of was in Collingwood, about a 30 minute drive to the north of us. We wanted to observe how this assembly functioned and were not in a hurry to be “received into fellowship”. We waited a few months before asking to be received into the assembly, but the Christians there immediately received us into their hearts and their homes! They wouldn’t hear of us driving home after the morning meeting and having to return again for the evening Gospel meeting! Instead, we were always invited to someone’s home for Sunday dinner, to spend the afternoon and for supper before the evening meeting! Never in our lives had we experienced such warm and generous hospitality as these dear saints showed to us from the start.

While still in Dominica, we learned that these assemblies would not receive any professed believer to break bread with them, but rather would only receive to the assembly those who would also receive the assembly and all it stood for. Thus there was a place in each hall for observers, not yet regarded as being in assembly fellowship, to observe but not to participate in the Lord’s Supper. So we sat in what was called “the seat of the unlearned” for some time as we observed how this assembly functioned.

Seeing that there seemed to be no clergyman leading and directing the meetings and that all the brothers in the assembly had liberty to participate we felt that we had finally found an assembly which functioned according to the scriptures. Thus we eventually asked to be received into the fellowship of this assembly. After we had been interviewed by the elders, the assembly received us and we began breaking bread with them and I began taking part in the meetings which included opportunities to teach and preach.

Here, I participated in an entirely new practice of ministry that was such a contrast to my former experience. Here I was free to minister along side of other brothers but none of us had any “office” or position over the other! I was simply one of the brothers who had opportunity to minister, as it were, “on a level playing field”. I had no idea at the time what a personal hindrance my assumed title “Reverend” or my esteemed position as “Pastor” had actually been to me. But the Lord was preparing me for the most radical challenge and change of my life!

He would use this entirely new experience of co-operative ministry and also a brave young lady in this same gathering to show me something in myself with which I’d never come to grips before.

Sorry! In order to keep this post to a reasonable length, this will have to suffice for today and be the prelude to the one to follow!.....(To be continued.)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Difficult Changes - Deep Peace

Prior to our departure, in November of 1978, from the island of Dominica, West Indies – there were two other men who made deep and lasting impressions on me. Peter Simms and Ken Taylor were both fellow Canadians who had been commended by their respective home assemblies to preach the Gospel in Dominica. The assemblies with which they worked preferred not to take any designation which would distinguish them from others but chose to simply designate themselves as “Christians”, “brethren”, “believers” or “disciples’, names which could be applied to all who belong to the Lord Jesus.
Two of the projects which I undertook in Dominica which I’d never tackled at home were raising chickens and doing my own auto repairs! As I had not been raised on a farm, I knew nothing about cleaning chickens! It was Pete who taught me how to butcher and clean the chickens we raised. And when the transmission in our Ford Cortina malfunctioned, it was Pete who loaned me tools and helped me to remove, dismantle and reassemble it. (We never did find out what was wrong with it, but it worked just fine after it was back in the car!) Also we often met Ken and Doris Taylor and Peter and Marlene Simms and their families at the beach on Saturday afternoons. In the early months of 1978, after my thinking about church practices had been radically challenged by my study of the Book of Acts…I had lots of questions for them about their understanding of the church and the practices of the Lord’s people as they gather together.
Judy and I had attended one of their Sunday morning meetings in the summer of 1977 and had been astounded at the differences between their meetings and our own in the church which I pastored. In our meetings, I chose the hymns, I did most of the praying, I lead the service and I did the preaching. But in their meetings there was no “clergyman” like myself, there was no “order of service”, there was no appointed preacher and no visible leader. Rather all the brothers in the meeting had liberty to lead in the singing of hymns, reading of scripture or praying. In our meetings all the people sat in pews so that they faced me, the man in the pulpit, and could only see the back of the heads of folks in front of them. But in that little gathering of saints, we saw brothers and sisters sitting around a table on which a loaf of bread and a cup of wine had been placed. Thus each one could see and look all the rest in the face. In our meetings, we had “communion”, a little ritual of 5 or 10 minutes which was tacked on at the end of the Sunday morning service once a month. But there, the entire meeting each Sunday morning was given over to remembering the Lord in “the breaking of bread”.
So, in the following months, as I questioned Pete and Ken about their understanding of the church and its practices, they challenged me to compare any practice (theirs or our own) to the scriptures and to allow the scriptures and not religious traditions to be the standard. In the early months of 1978, it became increasingly difficult for me to stand in the pulpit of our church to preach. I now knew that the scriptural pattern was for a plurality of scripturally qualified elders to lead each church rather than a lone pastor (Acts 14:23) and that when the church assembled together, God’s “order of service” called for believers to “provoke or stir up one another to love and good works” and to “exhort one another”. (Hebrews 10:24,25) I began to see myself as a positive hindrance to what the Lord wanted to do through all of His gathered people! When I was appointed to speak, the effect of that appointment was a virtual muzzling of all the other saints whom God intended should be involved in “one anothering” ministry!
In Pete and Ken and in the assemblies in which they ministered I could see a much closer following of the scriptures than I had ever practiced or witnessed in churches with which I had been associated. So a battle raged for some months in my heart! Would I continue with familiar traditions, a secure position and an honored office in the church, OR would I dare to obey the Word of God, break with those familiar traditions and relinquish my position and office as “pastor”? I had no peace in my heart.
But finally one night as I wrestled again with the issues involved, the Lord broke through my stubbornness and unwillingness to trust Him with all the unknowns. Tears rushed down my cheeks and my shoulders shook with sobs but my heart was finally at peace. A letter of resignation from the mission board would be written, my ordination certificate would be destroyed and my “Reverend” title assumed at my ordination would be set aside. I’d come to see that such a designation was reserved in scripture for God alone and I, a mere man, had no right to such a title! “Holy and reverend is His name.” Psalm 111:9
Thus in November of 1978 we left all that we had previously known of “the ministry” and returned to Canada to seek a gathering of saints who put into practice what we had just begun to see in principle in the scriptures. Pete and Ken kindly wrote a letter of introduction for us and as result, we were kindly and warmly welcomed by assemblies in Ontario which knew them. We returned with very little idea of what we would do or how we would make ends meet. But we were confident that God was faithful and would guide as we followed what He had shown us. (to be continued)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Learning basic life principles

I had intended to continue the saga of my journey and people the Lord used in my life after we left Dominica in 1978, but the last few days I’ve been reminded of some others who influenced my life even earlier than this. So as these accounts are intended to be roughly chronological, let me back track a bit for the next couple of posts!
While I was still at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in the early 70’s, I heard the name Bill Gothard and learned of the seminars which he was teaching. Those early seminars were called “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts”. But more recently are known as “Institute in Basic Life Principles”.
The first of these week-long seminars that I attended impressed me deeply with the realization that the teachings of the Word of God were intensely practical and that obedience to God’s Word would bring great blessing and that failure to obey would result in a wide variety of sad consequences which would be the direct result of violating teachings of the Bible.
Of the many subjects covered in that seminar, the following stood out particularly in my mind and have guided the course of my life since then:
-Scriptural principles of finances: I had never before realized that the Bible gave such practical guidance that ran counter to much “conventional wisdom” that is widely embraced by Christians and non-Christians alike! Some of those that deeply affected my thinking at this time were (1) The importance of “firstfruits giving” to the Lord. Proverbs 3:9, I Cor.16:1,2 , II Cor.8:6-15 and many other passages taught me the importance of giving to the Lord, not of what was left after my own needs were met, but as the very first priority whenever I received financial increase. I had never made such giving a priority before but was now challenged to make this a consistent practice. (2) Avoiding debt. Romans 13:8 was brought to my attention, “Owe no man anything but to love one another.” I had never been taught this before either and thus I had applied for and received a student loan for a portion of my Bible School expenses. That $1000 loan was quite modest by today’s standards but seemed like an enormous sum to me then! But as a result of the teaching I received, I purposed that eliminating that debt would be my number one priority upon graduation and that I would never again borrow money for any reason but would look to the Lord to provide for whatever He knew that I needed. The Lord richly blessed my desire and purpose of heart… just prior to my graduation, I received a card from a great Aunt with a graduation gift enclosed. It was a cheque for “1,000!!! Thank you Lord! Sending that money off to pay off the student loan, I purposed never again to intentionally get into debt. So a few years later, before Judy and I got married, we purposed together never to buy anything for which we did not have all the money in hand.
-Scriptural principles for relationships: (1) Honouring parents: Prior to attending this seminar, I’d not thought much about purposing to allow the Lord to guide me through the counsel of my parents, even in the matter of finding a prospective mate. But as a result of teaching I received, I purposed I would not marry apart from the counsel and blessing of my own parents and of that of the parents of one who would become my wife. So when I met and then proposed to Judy, I told her that, while I wanted to marry her, we would not marry until we had the blessing of my parents and her mother (her Dad had died while she was young.) We have taught the same to our own children and have seen the rich blessing of such purpose of heart in the marriages of the four of our five children who are married. (2) Gaining a clear conscience: One of the teachings in the seminar that had the greatest effect on me was the importance of gaining a clear conscience. From scriptures such as Acts 24:16 and I Timothy 1:19 I realized how important it was to gain a clear conscience. Putting this teaching into practice has meant “eating humble pie” many times since as I have had to go to my parents, siblings, wife, our children, friends, fellow workers, and employers to ask forgiveness for actions of mine toward them which were wrong. But the joy and liberty of gaining a clear conscience has always been well worth the difficulty of acknowledging my wrongs which the Lord has brought to mind and asking forgiveness of those whom I have wronged.
I have thanked the Lord many times for the wise teaching I received early in life on vital subjects such as these. Thus, although Bill Gothard would not know me from Adam, his ministry has had profound effects upon my life, our marriage and many decisions we have made as a family.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Life: A Tapestry in the Making!

Last week I shared how, in the early 70's, Ralph H. Mount introduced me to the study of the Tabernacle. But today I'd like to share how that interest was used by the Lord over 25 years later to lead our family in a new direction which has brought great blessings our way!
But here, let me introduce a little of the story of another man, named Robert Bland.
During the 1950's when Ralph Mount was building his first models of the Tabernacle, Bob Bland was in Bible school and was given an assignment to research the subject of the Tabernacle. As a result of his study and realization that the Tabernacle was a very detailed parable or picture of Christ in the Old testament, Bob began dreaming of a day when he would build a life sized or full scale model of the Tabernacle!

Bob and his wife, Bernie, eventually founded and still direct the ministry of Teen Missions International (TMI) in Merritt Island Florida. TMI sends scores of teams of teenagers to countries around the globe every summer to assist missionaries and missions organizations in a wide variety of projects. It was through TMI that Bob Bland's dream finally became a reality in 1997. After a number of years of hard work and gathering materials from all over the world, the life sized replica of the Tabernacle was finally completed. In the summer of 1998 that replica was brought to Canada and erected in Burlington, Ontario - about an hour from our home!
When I heard the news, I knew we just had to see it! So with a group of home school families we went one afternoon for a tour of the Tabernacle, and in the process we were introduced to the ministry of TMI! Andrew, our youngest son, came home with a handul of pamphlets about TMI and began praying about going on one of their teams in '99. But the door did not open until 2000 when Andrew went on his first trip with TMI to the Phillipines. TMI has been a very big part of Andrew's life since then and he has been on numerous trips as a team leader with them to Poland (twice), New Mexico, Ethiopia, Uganda, and also served for 16 months on their multinational team called "Missionaries to America". Three of his siblings have also been members on TMI teams. Mark was a leader of a team to Guatemala, Rob was on a team to Poland, and Joia was an assistant leader on a team to Dominica, West Indies. Her second summer she was the head female leader of a TMI team to Ecuador, South America. The head male leader of that same team was a young man named Philip Dooley. It didn't take those two very long to conclude that God had lead them together and they were eventually married and now live in Florida where Philip is a doctor with the U.S. Airforce. They have one little boy, Keenan, and are expecting their second child early in 2009.
Thus, an interest in the subject of the Tabernacle, which was expressed in two different ways in the lives of two different men (Ralph Mount and Robert Bland), was used by God to minister to me and thus, through a progression of events over many years, to also minister to our children -giving them a keen interest in missions and even being the means of introducing our daughter to the man who is now her husband!
Our initial visit to see TMI's life sized Tabernacle opened the door for me to have the thrilling opportunity to be a tour guide through that same replica for most of the rest of the summer of 1998. Then we were invited by Bob Bland to spend the summer of 2005 in Howe, Indiana doing the same thing. What awesome opportunities we enjoyed sharing the Word of God with thousands and making friendships with many other brothers and sisters in the Lord which we treasure to this day!
Thank you, Lord, for the ways that you weave the tapestries of our lives and use such a variety of people to touch our lives, challenge our thinking, give us vision for things that close to your heart and introduce us to other people who will become so near and dear to us!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Tabernacle a Shadow of Eternal Realities

Before telling of yet others whom the Lord used to impact my life after we returned to Canada from Dominica in November of 1978, I want to go back to recount how the Lord used another man to make lasting impressions on me while I was still a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
I think it was during my freshman year at Moody (1970-71) that a man I’d never heard of came to a church in Chicago with a model of the Tabernacle which Moses and the children of Israel constructed in the wilderness according to detailed plans given them by God. A fellow student had been to this particular church one Sunday night and came back to the dorm telling me about this man who had a 1/18th scale model of the Tabernacle and would be speaking on it every night for the next two weeks. He invited me to go with him the next night and I have been grateful ever since for that invitation!
Ralph H. Mount was the speaker that night and I was enthralled with his ministry and especially with the model he had constructed. While I had read the Book of Exodus before, I had never been able to picture in my mind just what the Tabernacle would have looked like. So, for the first time in my life, this subject became intensely interesting to me. But more intriguing to me was the realization that this building, which was first erected about 1500 years before Christ came into the world, was in fact a detailed portrait of the Lord Jesus! As I listened to Mr. Mount speak and open the scriptures relative to Christ in the Tabernacle, I began to see more clearly how all the scriptures speak of Christ and that He is the theme of all the scriptures! (Luke 24:27) Now, not only Exodus but the Book of Hebrews seemed to be illuminated much more clearly for me.
I went to those meetings as often as I could for the two weeks that Mr. Mount was speaking and I will never forget the night that he spoke on the garments of the high priest! That night he wore a life-sized set of the high priest’s garments and spent the whole evening demonstrating from scripture how every detail in the design of those clothes provided a portrait of Christ as our High Priest!
I had never before heard any ministry on the Tabernacle but now, having heard Ralph Mount, I began to appreciate how God had placed so much emphasis on this “parable portrait” of Christ in the scriptures! No other parable in all the Bible has nearly as much space devoted to it as the Tabernacle! The latter half of the Book of Exodus and Hebrews chapters 8,9 and 10 are entirely devoted to the subject. I bought Mr. Mount’s book entitled, “The Law Prophesied” and for the next few weeks I read it and the scriptures which dealt with the Tabernacle. This was the beginning of my own study of the Tabernacle and among many other subjects, it has become my favourite! It was not long before I started dreaming and planning for the day when I would build my own Tabernacle model.
About ten years later (after we’d returned to Canada from Dominica) and were meeting with “brethren” assemblies or “Christians gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus” I heard ministry on the Tabernacle again. Brother Edward Doherty spoke on the Tabernacle using a large wall chart. It was a good visual aid but, remembering Ralph Mount’s model and how it had been so helpful to me, I now had a deep desire to actually begin to build a model to make available to anyone who wished to minister on the subject. So with the help of my wife and my mother who did an incredible amount of sewing, I was able to finish my model after spending about two winters on the project.
Since that time, that model has been to New Brunswick, Florida and has been used in numerous places here in Ontario.
But in just the last few years, I have also come to appreciate how the Old Testament Tabernacle is not only a portrait of Christ but also a shadow of the true Tabernacle, the House of God today which is the people of God (those saved by faith in Christ). As I’ve come to appreciate these New Covenant truths relative to our relationship to Christ, I’ve become even more excited about this tremendous subject in the Word of God. I must stop here for today, but in my next post, I’d like to share how this God-given interest in the Tabernacle has brought about circumstances which have shaped and even changed the course of the lives of some of our own children as well!
(If you have an interest in learning more about the Tabernacle, how it pictures Christ and the church, the ekklesia of God’s people today, I’d be glad to send you free of charge and postage paid, a DVD of a presentation on this vital subject. Just send me an email at with your postal address and I’ll be happy to send a copy to you.
Or if you want to give teaching on the Tabernacle and would like the use of a model for that purpose, that is the reason my model was built! By all means get in touch with me! I'd be delighted if it could be used continually in this way.)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

His Book Challenges My Behaviour

The week immediately after New Years ’78 we spent in Grenada for the conference of our mission’s Caribbean missionaries. When the day arrived for the presentation of papers and the panel discussion on the subject of Church Planting, I was filled with fear! I was the youngest missionary in the group. Board members and executives of the mission were present from the States and I was about to present a paper that suggested a radically different perspective on church planting than we were currently practicing!
With knocking knees I read my paper which advocated:
- teams of missionaries working together so their gifts could complement each others’,
- church leadership trained in the local church rather than being sent away to school,
- a plurality of elders who are known by and appointed from among the flock,
- no distinctions between “clergy” and laity”. For both terms in scripture refer to the
very same group of people, and
- church meetings being gatherings of believers for edification and Gospel outreach
being times of scattering of the saints into the community for evangelism of
unbelievers in places where they normally gather of their own accord
When I finished, I expected “fire” from all directions, for if I had understood the New Testament scriptures incorrectly, I wanted to be corrected. But there was almost no response at all! One brother commented that I’d done “some good research” and had expressed “an interesting point of view”, but no one explained to me why our 20th century church practice was so different from that of the first century church. In fact, there was absolutely no discussion on the subject of church planting at all. Rather we immediately moved on to the next topic and panel discussion!!
So when the conference was over, I returned to Dominica with a bigger problem than I’d had when I left…I had hoped that there would be a good explanation given me why we did things the way we did, and why my radical ideas were all wrong. But when no such correction was forthcoming, I knew I needed further counsel from others. So I wrote letters home to pastors of three of our main supporting churches. I enclosed a copy of my paper on “Church Planting Principles”. I explained to each of these pastors that I was in no way criticizing their ministries, but had simply been observing NT ways and asked for their evaluation of what I had written. Only two of those men wrote to acknowledge receipt of my letter and paper but neither of them even attempted to defend our modern day church practices from scripture.
I began to realize that you could not argue with the scriptures and thus it was time to seek to practice what I had been observing in the Book of Acts. I’d also observed that the early Christians broke bread in remembrance of the Lord Jesus much more frequently than our own traditional monthly “communion service”. So I suggested to the believers that we do it every week and that I no longer “administer” it as I had in the past but rather that the other men in the congregation should participate. The Dominican brothers were eager to do so but such changes seemed too radical to the other missionaries with whom we worked. So in the next monthly meeting of the “field council” of our missionaries in Dominica, a motion was presented and passed that stated, “There shall be no new teaching or practice unless it is first approved by the field council.”
I knew exactly what was behind this motion! I, as the youngest missionary, had certainly not come to Dominica to cause problems so I agreed to return to “business as usual”. But as a result, I spent two of the most miserable months of my life! I knew I was not being honest with myself, the Lord, the Dominican believers or those back home who were supporting us. At last I realized that in order to be obedient to what I’d seen in the scriptures relative to insurance and church practices, I’d have to resign from the mission, leave Dominica and return home to Canada to seek other believers who practiced what I had simply seen in principle.
Thus, it was that in November of ’78, just a little over a year after I’d been asked to chair a discussion on “church planting”, the course of my life and ministry was radically altered. We embarked on a new chapter of our lives and returned to Canada seeking the Lord’s direction for us now that we were no longer associated with the mission or the church in which I’d been raised all my life! (To be continued…)