Great Expectations

My name is Mark Smith. I'm a guy who loves Jesus, His Word, and His Church. I am filled with Great Expectations for what the future will ultimately bring - Matthew 24:14.

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Location: Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

My favourite verse is Psalm 16:11, my other favourite verse is Acts 20:24, my other favourite verse is Habakkuk 3:17-19, and my other favourite verse is Matthew 24:14.

Friday, May 30, 2008

character flaws

A friend asked me the other day what I thought about about why so many people who have been Christians for years have very little evidence of having God's Spirit in their lives.

There are different ideas on a question like that - like perhaps some people say they are Christians but really are not. I certainly think that is possible, especially because of Matthew 7:21-23.

But he is my more full answer to that question (in which I will quote Timothy Keller's book lots without quotation marks!): A central message of the Bible is that we can only be saved/have a relationship with God by sheer grace. Growth in character is then a gradual process after someone receives God's gift of salvation through trusting in Jesus. This means that people do not have to "clean up their act" in order to become a Christian. So the church should naturally be filled with immature and broken people who still have a long way to go emotionally, morally, and spiritually.

Good character has a lot to do with a loving, safe, and stable family, upbringing, and social environment - and we cannot choose these conditions for ourselves. Many people have an unstable family background, poor role models, and a history of tragedy and disappointment. As a result, they are burdened with deep insecurities, hypersensitivity, and a lack of self-confidence. They may struggle with uncontrolled anger, shyness, addictions, and other difficulties as a result.

Now imagine someone with a very broken past becomes a Christian and over some time her character improves significantly over what it was. Nevertheless, she still may be less secure and self-disciplined than someone who has a very solid upbringing and family and past but who is not a Christian. Suppose you meet both people in the same week. Unless you know the starting point and journey of each person you might conclude that there is not enough evidence/fruit in the first person's life to show that they are really a Christian.

It is often the case (though certainly not always!) that people whose lives have been harder and who are "lower on the character scale" are more likely to recognize their need for God and turn to Christianity. So we should expect that many Christians' lives would not compare well with our own standards after coming from incredible families or with the standard of perfection which we can never attain which is why Jesus died to save us.

Safely Home

As well as reading The Reason For God again, I'm also reading Safely Home for the second time , but the first time I read it was a few years ago. It is incredible! What a book. And it is inspiring me to remember to keep on praying for the persecuted church and it is helping me to know better what things I should be praying for them.

You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

there can't be just one true religion

I'm really enjoying re-reading The Reason For God by Timothy Keller. I think I will go through it more slowly this time - partly because I'm reading it with a highlighter in hand and partly because I've started reading Safely Home at the same time. But the book is even better the second time and, of course, without going over it again I will probably forget almost all of it anyways.

A highlight from the Introduction was:

My thesis is that if you come to recognize the beliefs on which your doubts about Christianity are based, and if you seek as much proof for those beliefs as you seek from Christians for theirs - you will discover that your doubts are not as solid as they first appeared.

And from the first chapter called There Can't Be Just One True Religion:

If you infer from the social conditionedness of all belief that "no belief can be held as universally true for everyone," that itself is a comprehensive claim about everyone that is the product of social conditions - so it cannot be true on its own terms.

Skeptics believe that
any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of a spiritual reality cannot be true. But this objection is itself a religious belief. It assumes God is unknowable, or that God is loving but not wrathful, or that God is an impersonal force rather than a person who speaks in Scripture. All of these are unprovable faith assumptions. In addition, their proponents believe they have a superior way to view things. They believe the world would be a better place if everyone dropped the traditional religions' views of God and truth and adopted theirs. Therefore, their view is also an "exclusive" claim about the nature of spiritual reality. If all such views are to be discouraged, this one should be as well. If it is not narrow to hold this view, then there is nothing inherently narrow about holding to traditional religious beliefs.

I realized in typing out these quotes it probably makes the book seem like a hard book to read and understand. But, in fact, it is not. It's just hard to take out one or two quotes and have them make total sense. You all should read the book for yourself!!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Dos Games

Lately I've been getting into playing Dos Games at lunch and in the evenings. It started off with Pharaoh's Tomb - awesome game!!! (But it did not take nearly as long to beat as it did when I was a little kid.) Then I got some other games...Commander Keen, Crystal Caves, Jill of the Jungle, Tetris, etc. Now it is taking over my life. The other day I played one game for almost 15 minutes straight with no break!


I finished reading Timothy Keller's "The Reason For God" recently. Great book. I will read it again. I found his lengthy footnote on god-substitutes very interesting and read it to everyone last Tuesday Night as it connected to centering life around Jesus. This is what it said:

If we use Kierkegaard's definition we can categorize various "god-substitutes" and the particular kinds of brokenness and damage that each one brings into a life. So we could discern some of the following:
  • If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person's problems will be overwhelming to you.
  • If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.
  • If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career does poorly, develop deep depression.
  • If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you'll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You'll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.
  • If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the "escape strategies" by which you avoid the hardness of life.
  • If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.
  • If you center your life and identity on a "noble cause," you will divide the world into "good" and "bad" and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.
  • If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud self-righteous and cruel. If you don't live up to your standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.

How we need to center our lives and identities on Jesus Christ and His Gospel! The other options are disastrous.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Imagine Me by Kirk Franklin

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Part of My Sermon I Skipped

I preached on Sunday on Psalm 22 for the first sermon in our new series called Where Is God When Life Stinks? I could see that it was about 6 minutes to 12:00 and I wanted to be finished by 11:55 so that the worship team would have time to play a song as the children came upstairs and Communion would get started right at 12:00 as we recently agreed with Springboard to start doing. So I skipped a Timothy Keller quote.

I said:
Jesus is God’s ultimate answer to our suffering because He suffered so badly – and the physical pain was nothing compared to the spiritual pain of being separated from the Father.

And then I skipped this next part and just went right into my conclusion instead.

Timothy Keller has written the following profound insight:
There may be no greater inner agony than the loss of a relationship we desperately want. If a mild acquaintance turns on you, condemns and criticizes you, and says she never wants to see you again, it is painful. If someone you’re dating does the same thing, it is more painful. But if your spouse does this to you, or if one of your parents does this to you when you’re still a child, the psychological damage is infinitely worse. We cannot fathom, however, what it would be like to lose not just spousal love or parental love that has lasted several years, but the infinite love of the Father that Jesus had from all eternity. Jesus’ sufferings would have been eternally unbearable.

I thank Jesus for how he suffered and how that helps us to make sense of our own suffering and causes us to be assured that God cares so very much.