What a Refuge!

I can barely stand it that I don’t get to preach anywhere tomorrow, on Easter Sunday. So instead I’m going to blog today and attend church tomorrow to hear someone else preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The church I plan to take my family to tomorrow is Crossway Community Church in Langley, BC (www.crossway.ca). They are a Sovereign Grace Ministries church (www.sovereigngraceministries.org). Their pastors preach the Gospel. And I need to hear the Gospel because of what is going on in my heart in light of what next week represents to me. One week from now will mark the anniversary of our departure from Hague, Saskatchewan, where I had been serving as pastor for a small church there for a few years. Though the story of why we left Hague is best left for another time, suffice it to say that we did not leave of our own accord, primarily. My family and myself were hurt by friends who turned on us, having believed untrue things spoken by people who did not have the best interest of the Gospel at heart. This past year has seen my wife, myself and our three children all struggle to learn forgiveness and trust in the God we know is somehow working sovereignly for our good. During the past few months we have found a refuge at Crossway. Every service we have attended there, when obligations did not take us elsewhere, has been a true time of nourishment and worship.

Last night, for Good Friday, my mom joined us at Crossway. It was another time of refuge—this kind of refuge though was in a person, as Jesus Christ was held up gloriously as the divine object of our faith in His great atoning sacrifice.

The music last night at Crossway was wonderful. The movement of the Spirit was palpable. The fellowship of worshipping surrounded by brothers and sisters also reveling in the cross of Christ was sweet indeed. There was no sermon per se. But several readings of Isaiah 53 were interspersed throughout the hour-long service. I found myself longing to preach through that marvelous chapter of Scripture. I can’t wait to see what ministry the Lord has in store for me—maybe I’ll get to preach Isaiah 53 yet? But regardless, as I found last night, the Gospel according to this chapter of Isaiah is good food for my sin-weary soul. This morning, my daughter Bethany (12) posted the entirety of Isaiah 53 on her Facebook status. (How cool is that?) And I thought to myself, “Good idea!”


"Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 

2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 

3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 

4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. 

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 

8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?

9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 

10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 

11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 

12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors."  (Isa 53:1-12 ESV)


What refuge believers have in Christ! Have we sinned? Yes.

“…We esteemed him not… we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.”

Is there any excuse for our sin? No.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…”

What is the penalty for sin? Death.

“…He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement… the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Who died for our sin? Jesus.

“…Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth… It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring…”

Are believers still guilty? No.

“Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

 

I don’t think my experience is uncommon. Believers suffer criticism, sometimes unjustly, sometimes well-deserved. I have suffered both kinds. And there’s the thing: all of the unjust criticism I have received, and for which my family and I have suffered, pales in comparison to my actual sin-guilt before God. So when I feel the urge to defend myself, I need to hear the Gospel: Christ already did. And when I feel the weight of my guilt, I need to hear the Gospel: Christ already died. And when I feel hopeless, I need to hear the Gospel: Christ already rose.

What a Refuge! The pastor who planted Crossway 13 years ago, Pat Sczebel, is a gifted hymn writer and musician. Last night we sang one of the hymns he has reworked and adapted from the original. Tears welled-up in my eyes as I sang one verse in particular.

Jesus, friend of sinners
I love to tell the story
Redeeming love has been my theme
And will be when in glory
– Pat Sczebel [source]

I can’t preach tomorrow, but I can pray for all the other men preparing to preach tomorrow in pulpits around the globe, that they will preach the Gospel, the very Word of God, as the grace of God for which there is no other response than obedient faith.

8 Comments

  1. You might find the following blogs of interest about C.J. Mahaney and the group he leads, Sovereign Grace Ministries:
    www.*********************.com
    www.*********************.com

    They tell another side. Hope this helps.

    1. “Steve”,

      Sorry for the delay in approving your comment. I wanted to thoroughly check out the links you gave before responding. I have decided to censor your links for the reason that the sites you suggest are of no benefit to anyone and are actually detrimental to the cause of Christ.

      Some of the stories I read, particularly of abuse and the handling of abuse in SGM churches are tragic, if true. However, I have heard similar stories, during my time as a pastor, from former members of at least 3 other major evangelical denominations. These stories on the sites you listed are not unique to SGM. What is unique is that the poisoned atmosphere “K.” has created promotes bitter complaining and slanderous targetting of SGM churches.

      Most of the blog posts I read through share similar weaknesses. Citations of sources are lacking. Maligning comments are thrown around on the basis of nothing more than inferences or vague objections to an SGM “leadership attitude”, “system of thought”, or “organizational culture”. “K.” is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He claims to have no desire to do harm to Sovereign Grace Ministries, yet that is what his work evidentially exists to do. If he was really interested in the Gospel, he would spend his time teaching the Gospel and witnessing to the Gospel using his blogging skills for that purpose instead of to maintain a breeding ground for bitterness, gossip and slander. He seems to me very similar to other bitter people I have known who tried to gain recognition as leaders in churches but were rejected for one reason or another and then turned against those who rejected them. “K.” has turned his bitter attacks on the leadership of SGM not to “air the truth” as he so often claims, but in an attempt to vindicate himself and hold accountable church leaders who are not in fact accountable to “K.”.

      In order to accomplish his goals, “K.” invites gossip and slander from people who have been hurt and deceives them into imagining that the cause of their hurt and mistreatment is something inherent to and systemic through Sovereign Grace Ministries. “K.” seems to me to be what Paul was warning the Ephesian elders of:

      ” I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Act 20:29-30 ESV)

      ALL of the complaints I read which appeared to have any legitimacy are all too common to other non-SGM churches as well. What you and “K.” should do is go to SGM leaders, apologize, repent and ask their forgiveness. Then, if you both cannot fully agree with the policies and doctrines of SGM, go find a local church with whom you can fellowship and ask the elders to shepherd you, committing to them that you will submit to their authority and imitate them as they imitate Christ.

      ” 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Heb 12:14-15 ESV)

      “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb 13:17 ESV)

    2. Two additional comments:
      1. I was blogging about the blessing we as a family have received through attending Crossway Community Church on and off for the past several months. None of the complaints about SGM in general seem to be valid when considered strictly in the light of our experience at Crossway.
      2. I did not solicit your link suggestions. You somehow stumbled across my blog, read something positive about SGM and Crossway in particular, and took it on yourself to defame that which has been a blessing from God to me and my family. Shame on you.

      When the “scribes from Jerusalem” similarly defamed Jesus’ ministry, in Mark 3, Jesus warned them that by so doing they were blaspheming the Holy Spirit in whose power all that Jesus did was accomplished. Be very careful, “Steve.”

  2. I second Steve240 comments.  As a former member of the church I experience first hand the negative effects of the authoritarian leadership. It is part of a group of churches called SGM.  I would highly recommend that you find another church in the area. See the following sites for testimony of other people who have left or been forced out of the organization. Please try to avoid censoring this information.  

    [link removed]

    1. Wally,
      I can appreciate that your experiences in a Sovereign Grace Ministries church were negative, perhaps even painful for you. I don’t intend to minimize that.

      The links you suggested in your comment, and which you asked me not to censor, were the same as recommended by Steve240 previously. I removed the links from your comment for the same reasons I gave to Steve240 in my two replies to his comment (see http://historicism.com/blog/?p=449&cpage=1#comment-132 ).

      I find it shocking that someone who claims to be a Christian would say, “I would highly recommend that you find another church in the area”, when I have already shared that the SGM church in question, Crossway Community Church in Langley, BC, is a Gospel-centred, Bible-preaching, Jesus-worshipping, Spirit-led, people-loving, welcoming, warm church. That was our experience. It’s scandalous that you would steer people away from such a church. It’s also shameful that you commit the same error as Steve240: painting all Sovereign Grace Ministries churches with the same brush based on your personal experience at one particular local church within the network.

      Here’s what I recommend you do, just as I advised to Steve240:

      “…go to your former SGM leaders, apologize, repent and ask their forgiveness. Then, if you cannot fully agree with the policies and doctrines of SGM, go find a local church with whom you can fellowship and ask the elders to shepherd you, committing to them that you will submit to their authority and imitate them as they imitate Christ.”

      ” 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Heb 12:14-15 ESV)

      “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb 13:17 ESV)

    2. Heb 13:17 – One of the most over used (often misunderstood) passage in the bible. 

      As for the websites… it is important that people understand the organization that a church is apart of before they get involved.  It would seem that like many of the churches of SGM, you are either in denial of would SGM is about or you haven’t research the information yourself.  I am not steering people away from any church, I would only recommend that they research it first before getting involved, whether it be Crossway or any other church.  There are a lot of cults out there that are Gospel-centred, Bible preaching, warm and welcoming. 

    3. Hi again Wally.

      With all respect, merely implying that I have misunderstood or misapplied Hebrews 13:17 without giving any argument showing in what way I have misunderstood the passage is extremely poor form. You appear to be trying to discredit my use of that passage by casting doubts. If you wish to try and demonstrate how I have misused the verse, please feel free.

      “As for the websites…” What? Is it appropriate for people to check out a church by visiting the local, bitter gossips to hear what they have to say about a church? I think not. Nor are those websites appropriate resources to learn about Sovereign Grace Ministries or any of their churches.

      “…You are either in denial of would SGM is about or you haven’t research the information yourself” [sic]. Again a bad tactic to try and discredit without giving any substantive argument. You seem to imply that because I do not agree with you I MUST be either a) in denial or b) uninformed. What arrogance.

      “I am not steering people away from any church…” Yes you did in fact try to steer away from Crossway: you wrote, “I would highly recommend that you find another church in the area.” It seems like you are not being honest, since your very own words contradict your claim of not steering people away from any church. If it is not a matter of dishonesty then it could be a matter of simply being very careless with words.

      I did not merely say Crossway was “Gospel-centred, Bible preaching, warm and welcoming.” I said that Crossway was “a Gospel-centred, Bible-preaching, Jesus-worshipping, Spirit-led, people-loving, welcoming, warm church.” If that is true, by definition, then, it can not be a cult. If you wish to demonstrate that Crossway is not these things, that it is in fact a cult, I will allow you to post your argument here after you have talked to Tony, Fred, Pat or one of the elders at Crossway.

      Judging from the things you say and the way you say them, I am beginning to see why you are no longer in a Sovereign Grace Church, and why you are bitter toward them.

    4. Again:
      ” 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Heb 12:14-15 ESV)

      “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb 13:17 ESV)

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