The ‘modern problem we identified today is that “people have lost their KHAW-ZOWN’ … (their ‘vision’).   Proverbs 29:18 was the text we were studying.

Part way thru the message i shared a ‘personal vision’ God helped me dig up about 12 years ago:

“To live a strong and healthy life, fully devoted to Jesus Christ, intent on making life remarkably meaningful for others.”

The parallel and driving verse for this quotes Jesus in Mark 10:42-44 as saying…

“You know that among the nations of the world the great ones lord it over the little people and act like tyrants.  But that is not the way it will be among you. Whoever would be great among you must be a servant of all.”

Q: So?  How about you?  What is your personal vision?

i want to encourage you to dig deep and ask God for a vision.

Yours might be just an idea, a thought or a collection of concepts.  Or…it might be a well refined vision statement.  Either way, i would count it a privilege to hear yours!

Feel free to hit the ‘comment’ button and share your personal vision with me and the rest of your church family.


– Todd


Some Answers to a few Biblical Controversies

February 03, 2013 

As a follow up to the message:  “The Bible has all the answers!”

5th in the message series:  “Questions for all your Answers”


Opening up a can of worms

This morning we ‘opened up a real can of worms’…(another overused cliché that seems to have taken on a life of it’s own when someone noticed a fisherman’s dilemma.  After opening the literal can of worms, the worms began to crawl out, escape and became annoyingly unruly).  That’s a pretty good definition of what we opened up this morning!


More specifically, we acknowledged the existence of …


(1)  Apparent Errors and Contradictions in the Bible

(2)  Difficult Rules and Laws in the Bible

and (3) the BIG QUESTION of “How a good and loving God could seem to be so cruel and vindictive (even genocidal) in the Old Testament?”

Now, I’m not going to pretend to be smarter than i am, or that i have all the answers…but here are a few possible answers to the specific passages we opened up this morning.

(1)  Apparent Errors and Contradictions in the Bible

This morning we listed two specific errors or contradictions.

The first was in I Corinthians 10:8, where Paul list’s the number of those who died in one day as 23,000…while Numbers 25:9 says it was 24,000!

Some try to explain this apparent error and contradiction in the following ways:

–       “Paul had a divine secret whispered into his ear, namely, that 23,000 died in one day, while the total dead were 24,000”

–       or… “The true, more accurate number was 23,000 and some!  It’s very unlikely it was an exact round number of 24,000 or 23,00.   Paul simply rounded down and while Numbers rounded up!”

–       or… “Paul, reciting the O.T. by memory, got mixed up with Numbers 26:62, the number of the male Levites a month old or more!”

–       or… “It was unlikely that Paul had a written copy of Numbers with him…and if he did, it would have taken too long to cross reference the number (no iPhone apps or concordances you know).  He was writing from memory…and simply made a mistake.”

–       or… (some have suggested) “Paul may have been dictating the letter and the partner-scribe wrote it down wrong.”

–       or… “Paul isn’t actually referring to the Numbers 25 event at all…but rather, by the inspiration of God, referring to another event.  After all, Paul doesn’t say where this happened or when.”

If you believe that the Bible transmission to us needs to be in perfect, 5.1, surround-sound, HD clarity according to today’s 21st century standards…without any interference, you will have a hard time with the thought that any error could have occurred.  For you, if the Bible contains one lapse or error in it’s contemporary written form, the whole thing is suspect.  However, if you are more aligned with the ‘scratchy phonograph analogy’ put forward by Emil Brunner, (Our Faith, 1936)…you relax a bit as you realize that any one of these explanations is plausible…and the existence of some discrepancy doesn’t nullify Paul’s (and God’s) message, which was… “God doesn’t approve of sexual immorality!” After all, Paul wasn’t setting out to write a statistical book.  He was writing a personal, pastoral, heart-felt letter to the Corinthian church…that one day would be picked up and ‘canonized’ into Scripture as it was recognized to have the fingerprint of God on it.

The SECOND apparent error/contradiction we sited was II Samuel 24:1, which says that “the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census”…while I Chronicles 21:1 says it was “Satan” who provoked David to take the census.

So, which was it?

For starters, it might be helpful to consider ‘what the big deal was, anyway!’  Why was it wrong for David to take a census?

The ancient census could act as a ‘draft notice’ or a ‘mustering of troops for war’.  David’s sin could have been counting those under 20 years old or, doubting God’s promises, or that it was an act of presumptuous pride and arrogance.  It may be as simple as God knowing the motivations of David’s heart were not pure.

As for the contradiction, Sydney Dosh, Jr offers these possible explanation:

You can, on your own, develop questions which will having meaning to you in understanding this apparent problem in the text.  However, in developing your thoughts please bear in mind the following.  The verses in question are a part of the Hebrew Scriptures (Christianity calls them the Old Testament) and must be viewed in light of Hebraic concepts.  Thus the concept of Satan as presented in the New Testament cannot be carried backward and imposed upon the Hebrew Scriptures.

From a Hebrew perspective there is no independent supernatural power, co‑equal with God.  To the Hebrew, God is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.  Everything emanates from God, both good and evil.  There is nothing that is not in His power or subject to His control.  He dispenses both mercy and justice.

With these last thoughts in mind we can understand that although it is probably not possible for the Chronicler to consider Satan and God as one and the same, this does not mean that the writer would not have considered Satan to be an instrument of God to “provoke” David.  This view is supported by several commentators who insist that God allowed this as a test to prove David’s character.

The second possibility, substituting Satan for God was considered a valid option.  Ezra, the accepted writer of Chronicles, was a priest.  Although much of the prophetic literature contains notions of God manifesting Himself in the form of angelic beings, this concept was avoided in the priestly literature.  There was an attempt on the part of the priests to eliminate any concept of mediatory beings of a divine nature.  There was no provision for God to come to earth.  God was holy and He would not come to the profane, rather it was the profane that was in need of holiness in order to achieve union with God in His abode.

Thus it is possible that Ezra found the idea of God in the role of an evil adversary as repugnant.  Many commentators agree that this substitution of the word “satan” into the text of Chronicles is a clear example of the way in which Ezra felt comfortable in modifying a part of the source text which presented unacceptable ways of speaking of God and Israel’s past.

The third possibility deals with currents that were in operation during the time of the writing of Chronicles that would have influenced the use of the word “satan” to mean an individual evil entity.  In support of this idea we must realize that this period was the period of return from exile in Babylon.  For seventy years the people had labored under the control of the Persians.  Within the Persian religious system a fully developed system of worship was in place that recognized two gods, one evil and one good.  These gods were constantly interfering in the life of man, seeking to influence him toward their own purposes.

It is indeed possible that Ezra was influenced by these years of association with this culture and decided to “correct” the source text to coincide with his new system of belief.  Although this line of reasoning is possible, the record of the Hebrew Scriptures weighs heavily against it.  It takes several hundred years from the time of the writing of Chronicles for the concept of dualism to develop in Judaic thought.  This concept does not begin to appear until the Rabbinical writings of the 1st and 2nd Century (A.D.) expand upon the Biblical text.

i’m not sure that i gravitate to any one explanation as much as breathe a sigh of relief that there IS an explanation.  When first challenged with a biblical contradiction, it’s easy to feel intimidated.  However, once a person does some research and digs below the surface of the problem, many viable possibilities emerge.

(2)  Difficult Rules and Laws in the Bible

This morning I read a letter that was supposedly addressed to Dr Laura.  In the letter, the writer does a masterful (if not hilarious) job of calling into question the more bizarre and restrictive Biblical laws.

For the equally funny, 2004, tongue-in-cheek rebuttal and explanation, see Stephen Green’s reply at

Further to this, it might be helpful to consider what goes into a reflective study of Scripture.  You might want to ask these questions:

  1. Who wrote or spoke the words and to whom were they being written/spoken to?
  2. What does the passage say?
  3. Are the words or phrases that need more explanation?
  4. What is the context in which these words were being written or spoken?
  5. What is the broader context (in the chapter and book)?
  6. What is the historical and cultural context?
  7. Is the ‘truth’ in this passage a ‘temporary regulation/report’ or would I consider it a ‘timeless truth’ for all people and all generations?
  8. What do I conclude about this passage of the Bible?
  9. Do my conclusions seem to agree or disagree with other parts of the Bible?
  10. What are other’s saying this passage means?
  11. What have I leaned and is there a practical and personal application I need to make?

As Stephen Green notes, all of the seemingly weird and irrelevant commands posed to Dr Laura are easily and legitimately put to rest by a more thorough study of the passage.

(3) the BIG QUESTION: “How a good and loving God could seem to be so cruel and vindictive (even genocidal) in the Old Testament?”

Those who oppose the Bible are often just as judgmental, prejudice and short-sighted as many Christians!   They, too, seem to want to throw stones rather than have a real, honest dialogue.  So, God is judged, labeled and branded ‘genocidal’ without the accepted “innocent until proven guilty” due process.

Now, admittedly this is not my area of expertise…but here a few more possibilities or alternative ways to look at what we see in the Old Testament in terms of judgment, anger and the killing of innocent people.  (Just stuff to ‘throw in the hopper’ as we honestly look for some answers).

Consideration #1:  The definition of ‘genocide’ is…

…the mass murder of as many people as possible on the basis of born national, ethnic, racial or religious identity as such; with intent to eliminate the targeted group entirely and internationally; without allowing the victims any option to change views, beliefs or allegiances to save themselves

‘Genocide’ is a very loaded term that most of us understand to be motivated by hatred, racism and cruelty.  It’s too easy to say God is ‘genocidal’ or ‘homophobic’ or any other label that seems to fit.

I think what is call genocide is probably more likely divine, holy judgment

Consideration #2  There is a God of love in the Old Testament

Exodus 34:6-7 (NLT)

The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord!
    The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
    and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.  I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.
I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren;
the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.”

Jonah, in Jonah 4:2, reiterated his view of God, even to the point of being annoyed with God’s grace and love towards the ‘unbelievers’.

Jonah 4:2 (NLT)

So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.

The point here is, one certainly can’t paint the God of the Old Testament with just one, broad brush.

Consideration #3 – There is a God of Judgment in the New Testament

Many oversimplify the argument to be… “the God of the Old Testament is an angry, vengeful killer while the God of the New Testament is lenient, full of grace and non-confrontational”.  This simply isn’t true.

Jesus says to the towns where he had performed many miracles, but they failed to respond to God…

Matthew 11:22 (NLT)

I tell you, Tyre and Sidon will be better off on judgment day than you.

Jesus also said…

John 3:18 (NLT)

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.

And it says in Romans…

Romans 14:10 (NLT)

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

There are over 70 uses of the word ‘judgment’ in the New Testament.

Consideration #4 – People were often given ample opportunity to repent and/or escape

In the case of the great flood, Genesis 6 tells of God’s frustration with the humans He had created and His plan to start over.    God declared His judgment and Noah began building the ark.

God gives mankind 120 years to respond…and during this time, Noah is called (in 2 Peter 2:5) “the preacher of righteousness”.  In other words, the people had plenty of time to consider their ways and change before judgment was unleashed.

Robin Schumacher, in an online article entitled… “Is the God of the Old Testament a Merciless Monster?” concludes…

…we see a distinct pattern emerging from the judgments brought by God upon various peoples:

  1. .    God declares an annihilation form of judgment to stamp out a cancer
  2. .    The judgments are for public recognition of extreme sin
  3. .    Judgment is preceded by warning and/or long periods of exposure to the truth and time to repent
  4. .    Any and all ‘innocent’ adults are given a way of escape with their families; sometimes all given a way to avoid judgment via repentance or leaving a particular region. It should also be noted that expulsion from a land was the most common judgment, not extermination. This pattern goes all the way back to the ejection of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen. 3:24)
  5. .    Someone is almost always saved (redeemed) from the evil culture
  6. .    The judgment of God falls…

It is true that the Bible contains graphic stories of sin, evil, and death. But it also includes the overarching grand story of love, redemption, and grace. It showcases a God who asks us to not criticize Him about His acts of justice, but instead One who kindly encourages us to come alongside Him and grieve over a world that has misused the gift of freedom given it to do wrong instead of right. When that happens, and God acts in His righteousness, the world discovers that consequences exist for evil behavior, which is something the prophet Isaiah speaks to: “At night my soul longs for You, Indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; for when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).

Consideration #5 – When caught in a moral dilemma…

It’s hard to create a scenario where we could put ourselves in God’s shoes…and put God into a ‘moral dilemma’ …but let’s try.

There is a runaway trolley car picking up speed and heading towards a crowded market.

There are only 2 people on the trolley car…but 15 people in the path of the trolley.

You have the power to reroute the trolley to a different track.  In this scenario, only the two occupants of the trolley die.

You can also do nothing with the track switch, in which case the 2 on the trolley will live, but 15 others will die.

If you pull the switch, you will be labeled as being a ‘heartless murderer’.

What do you do?

It turns out, in scientific studies, that 90% of us would pull the switch.

More specifically, a Michigan State University published these results:

Of the 147 participants, 133 (or 90.5 percent) pulled the switch to divert the boxcar, resulting in the death of the one hiker. Fourteen participants allowed the boxcar to kill the five hikers (11 participants did not pull the switch, while three pulled the switch but then returned it to its original position).

It was noted that the ‘rule of ‘Thou shalt not kill’ can be overcome by considerations of the greater good’.

So, how do we know that God wasn’t faced with similar choices?  Ie:  judge some cities or people groups based on their corrupt and damaging immorality (after giving them ample time to change or escape the consequences)…and be called a ‘genocidal’ God…OR do nothing, and being omniscient, know for a fact that the results would be far worse and destructive to mankind?

Do we at least need to leave room for a scenario where God is in command of facts and details that we don’t know…and that His decisions were tough one’s to make?

And, if we were in his shoes…might it be that we would have made similar decisions, knowing what He knew?

Consideration #6 – The Main Difference is the difference between ‘judgment within history’ and ‘judgment at the end of history’.

In the Old Testament, when the Israelites sin, they weren’t told they would be separated from God and ‘go to hell’…but rather, that they will be punished by an opposing army.  They were ‘judged’ by the Canaanites, Moabites, Midianites, Ammorites, Philistines and, later on, by the Arameans, Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians.

Kaiser, Davids, Bruce and Brauch state it this way in the book “Hard Sayings of the Bible”…

Because of this difference from the New Testament, Old Testament judgment generally does not talk about eschatological scenes like lakes of fire and the dissolving of the heavens and the earth or the falling of stars or eternal chains. Instead it gives vivid pictures of fearful events that the people living then knew all too well, such as famine, plague, marauding armies and the like. It is unpleasant for us to read the prophets spelling out the details of such events, but they were the realities of life then (and for much of the world, also today). Furthermore, God is spelling them out so that people can repent and avoid them, not because he enjoys them.

Related to these descriptions is the fact that in the Old Testament the idea of an afterlife was only partially revealed and even that revelation comes toward the end of the Old Testament period. Most of the time the people thought of death as going down to the shadow world of Sheol where there was no praise of God and at best only a semilife. What they hoped for was to die at a ripe old age with a good name, having seen their children and grandchildren, who would carry on their name. Therefore the judgments in the Old Testament are those which speak to such hopes: warning of whole families being wiped out or of people dying when they are still young.

By the New Testament period God has revealed a lot more about the future life. Therefore the judgments spoken of there are the judgments related to the end of history and the resurrection of the dead: eternal life or being thrown into hell, seeing all that one worked for being burned up or receiving a crown of life. All of these take place beyond history, when Christ returns, and thus when history as we have known it has come to an end.


Obviously, this follow up piece to our message this morning is by no means comprehensive or exhaustive…but i do hope that it has eased some tension, painted a few pictures of some possibilities, got you thinking and reflecting a bit more, and served as an example of what a bit of digging and research can produce.

Being a reflective Christ-follower (…and not just a cliché-Christian), means we keep asking honest questions…and as we do, we’ll find there are more answers to those questions than we ever thought possible!




What is the Bible?

This past Sunday we began a study about the Bible.

We asked the question:  “What is the Bible?”…and began to answer it with a study in Psalm 19:7-11

We discovered four descriptors of what the Bible is:

#1  The Bible is Jumper-Cables for Your Soul  (Ps 19:7)

#2  The Bible is a Brain-Trust for Your Life (Ps 19:7b)

#3  The Bible is a Funnel Used to Fill You with Joy (Ps 19:8)

#4  The Bible is Light to Each Step I Take (19:8b / Ps 119:105)

Here are some other powerful descriptors of what the Bible is:

#5  The Bible is a Warning Beacon in a World of Foggy Morals (Ps 19:11)

 #6  The Bible is Essential Sustenance for Life (Matt 4:4 / Job 23:12)

#7  The Bible is True-North  (John 17:17)

#8  The Bible is God’s Voice in Print (II Peter 1:20-21)

 #9  The Bible is an Owner’s Manual for Life (II Timothy 3:16)

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

Here’s what i find interesting about this descriptor:  most of us only open an owner’s manual when things aren’t working, fitting together or are broken.

i know some disciplined people who always read the entire owner’s manual for the product they have just purchased because they know that this will lead to more effective use and understanding of that product.

We would do well to apply the same rationale and discipline to our handling of the Bible as the owner’s manual for our lives!

#10  The Bible is a Mirror for Our Life  (James 1:23-25)

#11  The Bible is the Power of God in Action (Romans 1:16)

#12  The Bible is a Pressure Washer for our Plans and Intentions (Ps 119:9-11)

 “How can a young person stay pure?
    By obeying your word.  I have tried hard to find you—
don’t let me wander from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.”

The Bible has the amazing ability to power-wash the crud and debris right out of our lives if we let it.

D.L. Moody said:  The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.”

#13  The Bible is a Sword of Truth.  (Eph 6:17)

“Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

What soldier in their right mind would go into battle without a weapon?  In ancient times swords were so incredibly important.  Versatile.  Personal and easily carried, a sword was indispensable for both protection and attack.  The Word of God in your hand and heart is like that sword, but the biggest question is not ‘do you know how to carry a sword’, but ‘do you know how to handle and use a sword’.  There is skills-training and lots of practice required!

#14  The Bible is a Witness-Box-Testimony about God (John 5:39)

#15  The Bible is a Stepping-Stone for Faith (John 20:31)

#16  The Bible is a Powerful Searchlight Aimed at Our Hearts (Heb 4:12)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what the Bible is…but it’s pretty remarkable.  It makes me think about all the other pursuits, pass-times and influencers i give my life to each day.  Which of them claims to be even a quarter as powerful as this Book?  No TV show, no hobby, no sport, no entertainment venue, no recreational activity and certainly no other book deserves our time, reverence, diligent study and attention like God’s Word does.

Reading it will take time.  Understanding it will take study.  Reading it many days in a row will take discipline.

Reading God’s Word and doing what it says is nothing short of hard work…but let’s not be afraid of a little hard work.

If you aren’t currently reading God’s Word regularly, we invite you to commit to the Route 33 or Route 66 reading plan.

Blessings on the journey…

– Pastor Todd

Tagged ,


ROUTE 33 – a chapter a day for 33 days
This route will take you through the Book of Esther in the Old Testament, and the New Testament books of Mark, Philippians and II Peter.

BACKGROUND:  The book of Esther was written somewhere between the 4-5th century BC.   The story takes place in the country of Persia, which changed it’s name in 1935 to Iran.  This is a story of a Jewish girl who would become queen of Persian and thwart a Jewish genocide.  As you read you will learn about the way God works in our circumstances, the power of God’s intervention, along with amazing lessons about courage, leadership and honour.

Monday, ESTHER 1     – Depose the Queen

Tuesday, ESTHER 2 – The Beauty Pageant

Wednesday, ESTHER 3 – Haman’s Edict

Thursday, ESTHER 4 –  A Risky Plan

Friday, ESTHER 5 – Covert Operation

Saturday, ESTHER 6 – Delayed Reward

Sunday, ESTHER 7 – The Truth Comes Out

ROUTE 66 – a chapter a day for 66 days
This route will help you read one chapter out of each of the 66 books of the Bible in 66 days

Route 66 will be a rare and unique opportunity to spend time in God’s Word.  The disadvantage to reading the Bible in this way will be that it will be hard for you to gain a context of what has just come before and what is going to come after the chapter you read.  The benefit to reading the Bible this way will be (1) you will be in God’s Word daily, (2) you’ll get a taste of each book and become more comfortable travelling around in the Bible and (3) God can speak through what you read, no matter the format.  As you read, listen for anything God might be wanting to say to you.

Monday, GENESIS 22  – Exam Time

Tuesday, EXODUS 20 – The Big 10

Wednesday, LEVITICUS 25 – Jubilee

Thursday, NUMBERS 11 – Grumbling

Friday, DEUTERONOMY 4 – Obey

Saturday, JOSHUA 1 – Be Strong and Courageous

Sunday, JUDGES 7 – The Battle is the Lord’s


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Vision Sunday 2012

Further Study to last weekend’s message:  “Vision Sunday 2012”

The word ‘vision’ is often associated with strong leaders who are attempting to charge some mountain that lies in their path.

This past Sunday may have served to reinforce that notion as we laid out ‘7 Big Plays’ we’re going to be working on in the next six months.

Q1: Do you remember what those Big Plays were?a

Re-read Habakkuk 2:1-4 and review the five steps for moving from “The Land of Stuff Not Working” to “The Land of Stuff Working Better” that were taught out on Sunday.b

Step 1 – ________________________________________

Step 2 – ________________________________________

Step 3 – ________________________________________

Step 4 – ________________________________________

Step 5 – ________________________________________

Everyone has their own personal reaction to a vision that is cast.  Some might feel utterly overwhelmed.  Others might feel inspired and fired up in their spirit.  Although a vision is meant to bring clarity and definition, sometimes a vision-stated can leave a person feeling confused.

Q2: What was going on inside of you when during the 40 minutes of vision-casting last weekend?

Q3:  Which of the ‘7 Big Plays’ most resonated with your own heart?

Although ‘vision’ is often thought of as something a leader needs to capture, own and communicate, the fact is, vision is important for all of us!  Having a clear sense of vision and direction is essential to life, whether that life going well and especially when it’s not.

Consider our beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  They aren’t doing so well these days.  In fact, a couple of weekends ago they were on the receiving end of an incredible 52-0 whooping.  But there are teams that have suffered worse humiliation and hardship.

The date was October 7, 1916.  The Cumberland College Bulldogs were playing the Georgia Tech Engineers.  The score that day, the most lopsided in college ball ever, was a jaw dropping 222-0!

Late in the game the ball slipped out of the hands of one Cumberland player and rolled within reach of a teammate.  The player that fumbled the ball yelled to his fellow player, “Pick it up!”  But the morale on the team was so bad, the player within reach yelled back, ‘Pick it up yourself!  You dropped it!”

There are times in our own lives when the situation feels as hopeless and all we want to do is give up.

Read 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Q4: What do you hear Paul saying about the connection between ‘the troubles of today’ and ‘vision’?

Q5: In your own experience, when times are tough, does vision come easily?  What needs to happen for you to have a clear vision during tough times?

Read Romans 8:18

Q6: Have you ever had a moment of amazing clarity?  A time when, in the midst of difficulty, your perspective changed and hope came rushing in?  Can you describe it?

During the first year of Riverwood Church, we decided that we would run a summer day camp for children.  We recruited eight students to lead the camp and took them on a three day Boot-Camp to toughen them up a bit and spend some time training them for the summer ahead.

The plan was simple:  give the students and leaders a canoe, a paddle, a tarp, some duct tape and some rope.  Once we reached our camp spot, they would be required to create their own shelter and sleep in it.  But the plan began to fall apart the moment we put our paddles in the water.

For starters, we left the dock late.  This meant we wouldn’t get to an appropriate campsite until well after dark.  As the light of the sun set the sky began to be lit up by another source.  Lightning.

We made the impromptu decision to forget about making it to the campsite and set up our camp at the next portage.  With the thunder rolling in the distance each team began to create their lean-to.  However, instead of this being a fun, creative activity, it was quickly turning into a matter of survival.

Five minutes after sending the teams out to find their spot, they all returned with reports that the small strip of land we were on was a swamp without any spots for their tarp tents.

To make a harrowing experience a much shorter story, in the end we made one larger lean-to between two rocks.  All the girls were going to sleep on one side and the guys on the other.  As soon as we set up, the rain started pounding us, 13 million mosquitoes decided to seek shelter in our lean-to, the spot between the two rocks filled with water so our sleeping bags were soaked to the waste and one of our students began hyperventilating in a panic attack…as the most ferocious lightening storm crashed on top of us.

The only thing that kept us anywhere close to sane that night was the thought of home.  We knew that just a days paddle and a short 90 minute drive away was a hot shower, a fridge full of food, a sturdy roof over a decent house and a warm, cozy, mosquito-free bed!

What made the ‘momentary’ ‘present-suffering’ of that Boot-Camp experience bearable was knowing what awaited us at home.

Q7:  When you face difficulty, do you tend to have a clear vision of the ‘home’ that awaits you?  Please describe how that works in your life.

Read Revelation 21:1-7

Q8:  Read it again.  What phrases or concepts in this passage resonate with you?  Bring you hope?  Excite you most?

Read I Cor 13:12

Q9: What is one difficulty when it comes to ‘visions’?

Let’s take just a couple of minutes to apply all this to your own life:

Q10: Are you in a ‘good place’ (where you are feeling ready to charge the next mountain, or in a ‘troubled place’ (where you feel like you’re loosing 222-0 and are quickly losing hope)?

Q11: Are you living with a ‘vision’ for your own life right now?  What is it?  How would you describe it?

Q12: Do you tend to live with an awareness and anticipation of the ‘Home’ that awaits you?  Is that encouraging, frightening or other?

Read Ephesians 3:20

Q13:  What happens in your soul when you read these words?  Are they new to you?  Do you hold on to these words from day-to-day?  Do you think you could memorize them?  If you did, what practical difference would that make in your life?


Vision isn’t just for amped-up leaders.  Vision is essential for all of us.  Vision is what helps us move from the “Land of Stuff Not Working” to “The Land of Stuff Working Better”.  Vision is what keeps us focused and hopeful.  Vision is what God uses to energize us for the next moment, day and step He wants us to take.

Take a few minutes to either personally write down or verbally share with your group some of the visions you have had or hold onto right now.


a           Big Play #1    Challenge Post-Biblical Christianity Head-on

Big Play #2    Throw and Elmwood Block Party

Big Play #3    Help Every Riverwooder ‘Join the Story’

Big Play #4    Add Serious Horsepower to Our Staff Team

Big Play #5    Invest Heavily in Our Jr Hi’s

Big Play #6    Develop 25,000 Sq Ft of New Ministry Space

Big Play #7    Help Swazi Kids by Helping Swazi Leaders Lead Better

b           Step #1           Climb Above the ‘Stuff Not Working’

Step #2           Ask God for Answers…and Wait!

Step #3           Get the Vision and Direction from God

Step #4           Write it out Plainly / in Big Block Letters

Step #5           Be Patient on your way to “Stuff Work

Is Consumerism All Bad?

This past weekend, as part of our Respectable Sins series, i spoke on Revelation 2:8-11 (The Letter to the Church of Smyrna) as it relates to worship and consumerism.  ( ) In that message i concluded that ‘consumerism is the ultimate religion of our day and shopping centres are the new temples of the consumer religion’!

We also took some time to acknowledge that woven into the modern day consumeristic-obsession is a toxic mix of counterfeit hope, greed, gluttony, pride, waste, envy, lust, self-centeredness and slavery.  These were concepts and perspectives many of us had never considered and they were a bit of an electrical shock to our souls…but while i was greeting people at the door, two questions kept coming up:

  1. Is consumerism all bad?  Is there anything good about consumerism?
  2. If consumerism is a respectable sin, how do we resist or counter it?

Great questions!

Let’s take a moment to consider these.

First, is consumerism all bad?

Actually, there are some positive contributions consumerism brings to our society.  For instance…

  • consumerism forces products and services to stay new and fresh
  • the modern consumeristic movement helps protect consumers against useless, inferior and misleading products and services.
  • consumerism pushes for an increase in the quality of goods and services
  • consumerism drives the free-world…and free is good.

Some of the positive aspects of consumerism even spill over to the church.  People are more discerning and picky.  They know they can go to (shop around for) any church…so they are less apt to settle for a faith-community or experience that is low-impact, has low-quality teaching, is ineffective and isn’t making much of a difference.  That might be a harsh reality…but it’s not all bad.  It forces pastors and leaders to strive for excellence and greater effectiveness.

So, last weekend, although i taught from only one perspective (ie: consumerism is a respectable sin), there is no doubt that there are some positive aspects to the consumeristic ethos in which we live.

The second question is a little more difficult:  If consumerism is a respectable sin, how do we resist or counter it?

Philosophically this question forces us to ask… what are the alternatives and what would happen if North America wasn’t consumeristic?  Is there a way to live in a progressive, technologically advanced, capitalistic, free-world…without being consumeristic?

That’s a tough question.  If everyone stopped buying things they didn’t need, the markets would collapse, the economy would crumble, you’d probably be out of a job and we would end up in an even worse chaos.

On Monday, the day after i taught on this respectable sin i was walking thru Home Depot with a flyer in my hand.  Who should i bump into than Jon, our Community Ministries pastor.  We chuckled and joked about me not practicing what i preached.  Moments later, we bumped into Ben, our Worship and Jr Hi director and his family.  i walked out of H.D. wondering, “Did i just contradict what i was teaching?”

My conclusion was ‘i don’t think so’.  It’s not so much about whether we shop or buy stuff…it’s about what’s happening inside of us when we do and what is our stance before God.

i feel like Carolyn and i have wrestled through who get’s the first and the best of our resources, love, adoration and attention.  If we can truly stand before God and say, “Lord, we’re not holding anything back from you!  We’ve purposefully and strategically ordered our lives so that Your altar, rather than the altar of consumerism, is getting our first and my best.  We’ve consciously ordered our affections and tuned our ears to Your voice rather than the voice of advertisers and culture!”…then i feel like we’re on the right track to countering the subtle and respectable sin of consumerism.

So, how about you?  Who get’s the first and the best of your resources, love, adoration and attention?  Stuff or God?

What’s happening inside of you when your shop or make a purchase?  Do you fall into the toxic mix of subtle sin (counterfeit hope, greed, gluttony, pride, waste, envy, lust, self-centeredness and slavery) or is your spirit free and unencumbered?

Just a few more things to think about as you journey through your week.

– Pastor Todd


I Get to Work with Extraordinary People!

Hey Church!

Lots of leaders are looking for extraordinary people.  Well, i think i found them!
As i wake up on this Good Friday morning, i feel truly blessed.  i’m blown away, all over again, by the depth of Christ’s love for me and how far He went to make sure i knew about that love.  i’m also feeling so blessed by the people i get to work with.
This has been an incredibly intense ministry season and it’s not over.   Some of our staff and volunteers will have 8 worship services to run this weekend.  Others are just entering into their last week on the ground before leading the team to SwaziLand.  Some are working so hard on facility purchases, upkeep and development…and there are, of course, the regular challenges of leading a growing and dynamic faith-family like ours…but this morning, rather than feeling overwhelmed…i feel gratitude.
The team of people i get to work with everyday is nothing short of amazing!
Our team has pulled out all the stops!
They’ve gone to the well for that last drop.
The creative, dig-deep, believe-big, strive for excellence and inspiration muscles have been stretched and pushed and i am so proud of each of them.
Our Elders have been working and volunteering ‘over-time’…meeting late, squeezing extra meetings in and working so hard to lead us well!
Our Staff have just served and lead thru a pile of ‘extras’ in this season:  the 366 Prayer Initiative, the Deep Roots series, the Capital Campaign, the Fire Hall purchase, the Allmar Purchase, Shamattawa, SwaziNite and Team, the development of the “YES! Packet”, Annual Report and Meeting prep along with 4 Good Friday and 4 Easter Sunday services…while staying moderately sane but always upbeat and full of faith.
If you haven’t taken time to hug, high-5, write a note of encouragement to or celebrate one of our staff or elders lately, this would be a great season to do that. By name, they are:
Diana Barnowich – Office Manager / Assistant to the Lead Pastor
Karen Braddock – Assistant Director of Kidzone
LeeAnn Cheadle – Assistant to the Spiritual Formations/Small Groups Director
Jon Courtney – Extension Ministries Director
Sue Courtney – Service Development Director
Camren Friesen – Video Ministry Leader / Producer
Tanya Gerbrandt – Accountant
Mandy Jaques – Sr Hi Epic / Y.A. Fusion Director
Steph Martens – Graphic Designer
Ben Neufeld – Jr Hi Epic / Worship Ministry Director
Carol Niquist – Custodian
Brendan Peters – Assistant to the Extension Ministries Director
Carolyn Petkau – Kidzone Director
Pam Richert – Recovery Ministry Director
Duane Skjervem – Spiritual Formations/Small Groups Director
Mary Snyder – Finances
Heidi Truong – Internal Communications Director
Jim Wachal – Executive Assistant
Scott Walker – Facilities Director / Food Bank Coordinator
(**we also remember and pray for two of our staff who are on sick leave…Trevor Hutchins and Sherry Kay Dyck)
John Courtney Sr – Lead Elder
Cheryl McMillan – Elder / Secretary
Max Lozynyc – Elder / Treasurer
Jerry Wake – Elder
Each of us, of course, celebrates and thanks the 100’s of volunteers we get to work with…but this morning, i’m specifically thanking God for these people that i get to work with everyday!
Have an awesome Good Friday and Easter Sunday weekend church!
– Pastor Todd

Looking Good!

Hey Church!   We have some developments to report!

First of all, the launch of our 21 month long Capital Campaign was awesome!  There are so many people who genuinely love their church and are willing to sacrifice and invest in the Cause!

Here are the opening numbers (representing only ‘new money’ and not including the $150,000 donation back from one of the property vendors):

21 Month Capital Campaign Summary

Number of Giving Units to Date                             259

Pledge Sunday Giving (April 1, 2012)           $180,797

Giving after Pledge Sunday                               $5,900

Pledged over next 21 months                       $589,252

        Total Given or Pledged to Date:          $775,949

FIRE HALL: i’m pleased to report that i’ve met with the architect and seen the preliminary drawings on the Fire Hall.  i’ve been told that we should have drawings ready for a building permit application in 2 weeks!

The current plan is to do as little alterations to the Fire Hall as necessary.  We’re looking at removing a couple of partition walls on the third floor to make room for 4 more offices.  After that, we’re hoping all that is required is ascetic and decor related.  At this point we don’t have any major development plans for the main floor.

Volunteer work crews should start on the Fire Hall in about 2 weeks.

ALLMAR PROPERTY:  We’re still working with the lawyers on the final sales agreement for the Allmar property.  i can report to you that i met with the elders last night for our first discussion about development plans since the Capital Campaign totals-to-date were calculated.   Here is our plan:

1. Assemble a Building Committee

2. Assign the architect to do a feasibility study on the Butler/#8 building development potential vs. the WoodShed building development potential.

3. Have the Building Committee and architect begin to dream up a Phase 1, 2, 3 development plan that would get us out of Jubilee quickly and into our own space…even if that space needs to change, morph and grow over the years as money becomes available.  (Jubilee costs us about $3000 a month, so we’d like to invest that money in development rather than use it on rent).

So, thanks for checking in and stay tuned for the next Volunteer Crew date to be announced soon!

– Todd

Church-Wide Day of Prayer & Fasting

Church!  As we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks, we set aside yesterday, March 27th as a Day of Prayer and Fasting…particularly for the Deep Roots initiative and the future-shaping Capital Campaign/Pledge Sunday this weekend.


Our staff had a great day off-site together praying for our church and learning more about prayer.  At one point, i sent each of them off with a book on prayer from my library.  Their job was to learn more about prayer and then come back and teach us.  It was so incredibly rich!  Here are just some of the concepts that they shared:

  • When we hold on too tightly to the good, it means we can’t embrace the even-better that God has for us.
  • Prayerless people cut themselves off from God’s prevailing power.
  • Prayer is the key to unlocking God’s prevailing power.
  • If we are living close to God, it is easy for us to hear the whisper of His voice.  If we are living further away from God, it takes much louder and more drastic sensations to get our attention.
  • Most of us pray ‘achievement oriented’ prayers and need to learn to just linger in His presence more.
  • Many of us have created a life that doesn’t need miracles!
  • May we be the kind of people that God can trust with a miracle.
  • Rev. 1:18, 3:7 and Matt 16 speak of Jesus holding the keys.  What we allow…He will allow.  What we loose…He will loose.  What we bind…He will bind.  We have an incredible responsibility to pray and activate Heaven’s power!
  • Matt 7:7 (ask/seek/knock)…but what about when it doesn’t work.  Richard Foster provided a powerful illustration.  He said, when our TV doesn’t work, we don’t assume there is no such thing as television ‘sound-picture’ transmission.  We simply search, try, push buttons, wiggle wires, adjust and fix the TV.  We know it’s supposed to work…and so we are determined to figure out why it’s not.  However, when it comes to prayer, many people ask, seek and knock…and when it doesn’t work, they assume there is no validity to prayer or that God doesn’t exist.  Foster challenges us to approach prayer like we would approach a TV that isn’t working.  Assume it’s supposed to work and then figure out why it’s not.  Search, try, push buttons, wiggle wires, adjust and fix the prayer transmission and reception.

It was amazing how quickly the day went as we knocked on Heaven’s door.  We prayed for our church, our community and the future of Riverwood.  We prayed for the Pledge Sunday this week…and for the 100’s and 100’s of personal decisions that will be made.  We prayed for greater effectiveness and impact…and for a remarkable weekend of outreach and worship on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

i hope you too had a great appointment with God yesterday.  If you missed it or weren’t able to squeeze it in…hey, there’s always today!

Have an awesome rest of your week…

Pastor Todd

Big Enough for You?

So, after a couple of weeks of waiting, Riverwood was introduced to the ‘big idea’ this past weekend.  If you missed the reveal, you can access the video or audio of the service on our website:  (go to ‘messages’ after Tuesday)

In a nut-shell, here is the three-part plan:

#1 Everyone Adopts-a-Block & Prays

Imagine a sponsor-kid fridge card that many of us have.  We’ve simply borrowed the strategy.  We have captured 1200 pictures …with 3 Elmwood homes in each one!  3600 homes in total!

Next Sunday, you will have the opportuntiy to begin ‘ADOPTING-A-BLOCK’ of 3 homes.

Your job is simple and two-fold:

PRAY everyday for the next 366 days for the people who live in those homes!

You will probably never meet them.  You won’t know their names or their specific situation, but everyday for a year…we can pour God’s blessing into the homes in our community.  We’ll pray for health.  For finances and jobs.  We’ll pray for the relationships in those homes.  For strength, courage, joy, hope, healing and freedom.  We’ll pray for prosperity and success.  Favour and blessing.

The second part is as challenging…

#2  Let Them Know We are Praying!

Next weekend when you pick up your ADOPT-A-BLOCK card…you will actually be picking up a PACKET.

In the packet will be:

  • Your 366-Prayer Fridge Card
  • A Registration Card (so we know exactly who has which homes)
  • Three blank envelopes
  • Three blank pieces of paper
  • and one ‘Template Letter’

What we are going to do is send a message to all 3600 homes in our community.

You and I may never know who we are praying for, but they will know we are praying!

Now, it will be the same message with no deviations.  What we are asking you to do is simply copy, word for word, a letter in your own handwritting.  Then we are going to go out, each of us walking up to the homes we’ve adopted and hand deliver the letter to their mailbox.

Now, there is a third part to the DEEP ROOTS, ADOPT-A-BLOCK plan.

We’ll simply call it…

#3 Offer Personal Prayer

We’ve ordered 3600 fridge magnets that simply say …  By next week, this will be a Riverwood/Elmwood exclusive website that will be an opportunity for people to request prayer.

Church, if we can actually pull this off, there will be over 1.3 million concentrated, expectant, focused prayers pouring over and into our community.

What kind of difference could that make?  Well, we’re about to find out!

So…what do you think?  Silly?  Impossible?  Big enough?  A God-thing?

– Todd