Posted by: Tim | June 19, 2014

Blog Update – Long Time No See


It’s been a while – about two years – since I published my last blog post here at NotInVain. Amazingly I still get 100+ views on the site each week. Thank you all for continuing to visit despite my silence. I’m still alive and well and working hard in ministry here in Toronto.

I haven’t published for a variety of reasons, with lots going on between ministering at city church, working on my doctorate, and family life. Also, I’ve felt like I haven’t quite had the ‘voice’ for what I should say next. I’m thinking that will change soon.

I feel like I have some things to say, and I’m hoping to start saying them soon. I might say them here at NotInVain, or I may open up a new blog (possibly still leaving this one open).  Stay tuned!

Also, I’m taking a mini-sabbatical in July and August to reflect, pray, spend some time with my family, work on some personal disciplines, and basically get refocused and recharged for the second half of my life. I’d appreciate your prayers for my mini-sabbatical this summer, that the Lord will give me renewal and refreshment.

PS: For your viewing pleasure, I included in this post an Instagram-filtered pic I took earlier this year of the flatiron building in Toronto.




Posted by: Tim | May 21, 2012

Please Pray for Doug & Margaret Nichols

I received this note today from Doug Nichols, founder of ACTION International, and a great friend to the poor and needy of the world:

“Tomorrow, May 22, I have surgery for what they expect to be bladder cancer.  If it is serious, the doctors plan another surgery in 2 or 3 weeks and chemotherapy will follow. A passage of Scripture that has really encouraged me through this is Psalm 62:5-8 (nasb), “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.On God my salvation and my glory rest; the rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

Please join me in praying for Doug and Margaret.  To read more about their ministry you can visit Doug’s page at ACTION International.

Posted by: Tim | April 8, 2012

Easter Message 2012

Happy Easter!  Here is the manuscript for today’s Easter Message, “Seven Words for Easter”. Hope it is an encouragement to you! (Note that the words in bold are the headings and points from the sermon notes/outline.)


Today: Seven Words for Easter

• A closer look at seven words from Romans 5:6-11, that teach us about the meaning of Easter

It is good to be celebrating Easter together. While the world makes a bigger deal of Christmas, probably because there are more presents involved, we need to recognize that the biggest gifts of all are celebrated at Easter, the gift of Jesus Christ to die in your place on the cross, that you might be saved from your sin. The gift of Jesus Christ gives us the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus. Gifts under the tree at Christmas are nice, but the gift of Jesus and of eternal life take the cake.

Maybe you are here today and you don’t consider yourself to be a follower of Christ, and maybe you have wondered what Easter is really all about. Today’s message will explain what Easter means, and what Jesus work on the cross means. It is my prayer that you will understand clearly the message of Easter, and that you will be able to place your trust in Jesus today.

Many of you here today are believers, and it is my prayer that a deeper understanding of Easter will strengthen you in your love and knowledge of the Lord, and better equip you to share the good news of Jesus with others.

In this message we will be looking at seven words that explain the meaning of Easter, each word based on a theme from Romans 5:6-11. For each word, I will introduce the word, give an illustration from the Easter story of this word in action, and then further discuss what the word means for you today.

Now I would like to read the passage for our message today, Romans 5:6-11, as well as the story of Resurrection morning from Luke 24:1-9 (Note: All Scripture quotations are from the ESV, English Standard Version of the Holy Bible, published by Crossway).

Romans 5:6-11  6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Luke 24:1-9 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.

Let’s pray.

 1. Substitutionary Atonement (6-8)

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

a. “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas” – The substitute for Barabbas is a substitute for you.

                        • Matthew 27:15-26, Luke 23:18

b. Jesus made atonement for your sin by dying in your place as a substitute

                        • Jesus’ death satisfied God’s wrath for your sin

                        • Atonement = “God’s work on sinners behalf to reconcile them to himself” (New Dictionary of Biblical Theology)

The first word in our message today is really two words, “Substitutionary Atonement”. Now these may sound like big theological words, but stay with me, because these two words are central to understanding the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:6-8 reads,

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Substitutionary Atonement is all about Jesus dying in your place for your sins, to make it possible for you to be right with God.

To illustrate substitutionary atonement, let’s look in the Bible at the story of Barabbas. Jesus was captured and handed over to Pilate, the Roman ruler in Jerusalem.  Pilate couldn’t find anything wrong in Jesus, so he offered to release Him, as it was tradition to release a prisoner at Passover time. But the chief priests and the crowds demanded that Pilate instead release Barabbas, a known criminal who had led an insurrection and was a robber and a murderer. Pilate was afraid of the crowd rioting, and agreed to release Barabbas and crucify Jesus.

Now Barabbas’ name has an interesting meaning. It is the combination of two words: ‘Bar’ which means ‘son of’ and ‘abbas’ which many of you will recognize as meaning ‘father’.  So Barabbas’ name is literally, ‘son of father’.

And Jesus, the son of God the Father, who had never sinned and deserved no punishment, became the substitute for Barabbas, the “son of father”, who had committed many sins and deserved his punishment. Barabbas was allowed to go free, while Jesus paid the ultimate price – the Son of God substituting for the son of father.

And that is a vivid picture of the substitutionary atonement that happened through Jesus dying on the cross.

For it is not just Barabbas who was a sinner, but every single person who ever lived. Every one of us has sinned against God by breaking His laws in one way or another. And God’s penalty for sin is death. So it should be not only Barabbas, but it should be you and I and everyone else on the cross, paying the penalty for your sin.

But Jesus pays the penalty for you, as your substitute. So instead of you dying on the cross, He dies on the cross, and you receive the benefit, when you trust in Him for the forgiveness of your sins.

That is the heart of what happens on the cross – substitutionary atonement, and that is the first word of Easter from Romans 5:6-11.

 2. Love (8)

8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

a. “Mary” – Jesus lovingly speaks Mary Magdalene’s name, just as He lovingly speaks yours.

                        • John 20:11-18 (esp. v16)

b. God’s love for you is displayed in Jesus’ sacrificial death for you

                        • Jesus died for us when we were ‘weak’, ‘at the right time’, and ‘while we were still sinners’

The second word of Easter from our passage today is love. Romans 5:8 is one of my favourite verses in the Bible. It reads:

8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God is a God of love, and He lavishes His love on us by sacrificing His Son for us. And there is a story on Resurrection Sunday that captures the love of Jesus for His people. On the resurrection morning, some of the women who were followers of Jesus went to the tomb. They found angels in the tomb who asked them the question:

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen.

Then in John 20:11-18, we read the story of Mary Magdalene:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”–and that he had said these things to her.

There must have been something about the way Jesus said “Mary” that made her realize it was Him.  To me this is a powerful picture of Jesus’ love for one of His followers, lovingly speaking her name and calming her fears. And I believe Jesus does the same thing for you and I, lovingly speaking your name – “Bill”, “Jenny”, “Dave”, “Lisa”, or whatever your name might be, for our God is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him.

God showed His great love for you by giving His own Son to die for your sin. And remember, when He did this you were a sinner; an enemy of God in rebellion against Him. Yet He treated you not like an enemy but like a beloved friend. Our God is an amazing God of love, and we praise Him for loving sinners like me and like you.

3. Justification (9a)

9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

a. “I find no guilt in him” – Pilate declares Jesus to be righteous,  just as God declares us to be righteous in Jesus.

                        • John 18:38, 19:4, 19:6

            b. You are justified by the blood of Jesus that was shed for you

                        • Justification = righteous-ized – ‘declared righteous’

The third word of Easter is Justification. Romans 5:9 says,

9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

The word justification means to be ‘declared righteous’, and we see justification portrayed in the story of Pilate and his interaction with Jesus, before the crucifixion.

The chief priests had dragged Jesus before Pilate, demanding that He be killed for breaking their religious laws. Pilate then questioned Jesus to determine if He had done anything warranting the death penalty.

But Jesus had not done anything wrong, and Pilate quickly realized it. Three times in John’s gospel, in John 18:38, 19:4, 19:6, Pilate makes the declaration as follows:

“I find no guilt in Him”

In making this statement, Pilate was declaring Jesus to be righteous, and it was absolutely true. He was justifying Jesus. Now despite his declaration, Pilate would bow to the power of the mob and crucify Jesus anyways, but that does not change the fact that he justified Jesus, declaring Him righteous.

And that is what God does for you when you put your faith in Jesus, except that God will never bow to the mob or to anyone else and act against His declaration of your justification.

Now when Pilate justified Jesus, he did so because Jesus was truly righteous.

But when God justifies you and I, He does it not because we are truly righteous in ourselves, but because He identifies us with Jesus, who is truly righteous in Himself. When you trust in Jesus by faith to save you from your sins, God looks on you and instead of seeing sinful-you, He sees perfect-Jesus’ blood covering you, so He can legitimately declare you righteous through Jesus. Christ’s righteousness becomes your righteousness. That is justification, and that is another amazing word of Easter!

4. Salvation (9b)

9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

a. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Jesus saves the criminal on the cross, just as He saves you from your sin through faith in Him

                        • Luke 23:39-43

            b. Jesus’ work on the cross saves us from God’s wrath for our sins

                        • Jesus is our propitiation – He took God’s wrath on Himself

                                    ▪ Romans 3:24-25

The fourth word of Easter is Salvation. Romans 5:9, again says,

9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

Salvation builds on justification. Because you have been justified by Jesus blood, you shall be saved by Him from God’s wrath. For because of your sin, you face God’s wrath, unless you can somehow be saved from it. And that is what Jesus did. He made a way for you to be saved from God’s wrath.

The Easter story that describes God’s salvation clearly is the story of the thief who hung on the cross beside Jesus. Listen to the story from Luke 23:39-43.

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The criminals on the cross were being justly punished for their crimes.  The one criminal mocked Jesus, but the other criminal recognized his own sins, and recognized that Jesus had done nothing wrong.

And then he made a humble, last ditch request of Jesus. He asked,

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

From a purely human standpoint, Jesus was in no position to help anyone. But this criminal was asking in faith for Jesus to save Him, believing that Jesus’ kingdom would come, despite the fact that Jesus was dying there beside him on a Roman cross.

And this criminal’s humble plea is the same thing that you and I must do. Admit that you are guilty of sin, and recognize that Jesus is without sin. Then cast yourself on His mercy, ask for His grace towards you.

Jesus responded with more than the man could have imagined.

He said, ““Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Not in some distant future, not next month, not next week, but “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus saved that man, and that man died and was with Jesus in Paradise, which is a picture of heaven.

That man no longer faced the wrath of God for His sins, for that is what salvation is, being saved from the coming wrath of God, and receiving eternal life with Jesus forever.

Let me ask you, have you ever cast yourself at Jesus’ mercy, trusting Him to save you? He saved the criminal that day, and He will save you too if you admit your sin and put your faith in Him today.

5. Reconciliation (10-11)

10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

a. Peter, do you love me?”  – Peter is reconciled to Jesus just as you can be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus.
                        • John 21:15-19

            b. Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins allows you to be reconciled to God

                        • Your relationship with God is restored

The fifth word for Easter is Reconciliation. Romans 5:10-11 says,

10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a powerful word, for it involves things being made right between two parties who were previously unsettled in their relationship.

In your situation and in mine, you were God’s enemy, though He had done nothing wrong to you. In fact, He was lovingly seeking for you to be reconciled to Him. And if you place your faith in Jesus, you can be reconciled to God. Because of Jesus’ death for you, because God loved you, because you have been declared righteous, and because you are saved from God’s wrath, you can receive reconciliation. You can be in right relationship with God.

Romans 5:1 puts it this way,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

What an amazing thought – you can have peace with God through Jesus Christ!

A dramatic picture of reconciliation is seen in the story of Peter who had denied Jesus three times, soon after saying he would never fall away from Jesus. In John 21, after the resurrection, Jesus met with Peter and spoke to him. Three times He asked Peter, “Do you love me?”, and then calling Peter to “Follow me”, He reconciled Peter to Himself. Peter’s relationship with Jesus was restored, despite His previous failure, and he followed Jesus the rest of his days, to eventual martyrdom.

It is wonderful that you and I can have our sins forgiven and that you no longer need to fear God’s wrath, but it is even more wonderful that Jesus desires for you to be in relationship with God. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, you can be in meaningful, personal relationship with the God of the universe. That’s reconciliation!

6. Life (10b)

10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

a. “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”  – God raised Jesus to new life, just as He gives all who trust in Jesus new life

                        • Luke 24:5-6

b. God raised Jesus from the dead and you can share in Jesus’ resurrection life

                        • Jesus came to give us life – John 10:10b, Romans 6:4-5


The sixth word for Easter is ‘life’. Romans 5:10 says,

10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.       Romans 5:10

On Easter Sunday, we remember not only Jesus’ death for our sins, but His resurrection from the dead by His Father. For Jesus did not stay dead after the crucifixion, for God the Father raised Him back to life, and He was seen alive by hundreds of witnesses, some who are the authors of the New Testament and testify to seeing Him alive.

Jesus is indeed alive today, living in Heaven at the right hand of God the Father, and the resurrection life that He received from His Father is also available to you when you believe in Jesus.

Jesus came to give you a better life than you now have – He called it the abundant life and He wants for you to walk in this newness of life, just as He did when He was resurrected. You were created to live with the life of God in you – what an amazing thought! When you believe in Jesus, you not only receive eternal life, you receive new life starting right away, as Jesus begins to work in you to transform you to be more and more like Himself.

The invitation to believe in Jesus is not only for the forgiveness of sins, as great as that is. The invitation to believe in Jesus is an invitation to new life in Jesus.

7. Joy (11)

11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

a. “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy  – The disciples’ joy in seeing Jesus is our joy in walking with Jesus by faith.

                        • John 16:20-22, John 20:20

            b. Easter is a day of joy

                        • We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Let’s now review the words we have looked at today:

  1. Substitutionary Atonement – Jesus died for your sins as your substitute
  2. Love – God loved you when you were a sinner against Him
  3. Justification – God declares you righteous if you have faith in Jesus
  4. Salvation – Jesus saves you from God’s wrath for your sins
  5. Reconciliation – You are reconciled to God through faith in Jesus
  6. Life – You receive the resurrection life of Christ inside of you
  7. Joy

And it is no wonder that the seventh and final word for Easter is Joy. Romans 5:11 states,

11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.                                                 Romans 5:11

Before He was crucified, Jesus promised the disciples in John 16:20:

You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy

And when the disciples saw Jesus alive they were filled with joy. We now have the whole New Testament that explains all of these things in ways the disciples must have only been beginning to understand. Their joy was rooted in seeing Jesus alive and realizing that everything He had said was true, and that they were standing with God in the flesh.

But we now understand these seven words of Easter through all that God teaches us through the Bible, and we can rejoice in all that He has done for us.

You can experience the reality contained in these Seven Words for Easter by putting your faith in Jesus Christ today.

The message of Easter is that you can receive all these benefits through faith in Jesus:

  1. Jesus dying as your substitute
  2. God loving for you
  3. God declaring you righteous
  4. Jesus saving you from God’s wrath
  5. God reconciling you to Himself through Jesus
  6. God giving you resurrection life inside of you
  7. Living with joy in all that God has done for you

Please understand that you do not receive all these benefits by being a good person, or by going to the right church, or by just passively sitting around and hoping that God will somehow give them to you.

No, God is very clear that there is only one way to receive the benefits of these seven words of Easter in your life.

The way is through faith in Jesus Christ. That means trusting Him to save you from your sins through His work on the cross. Instead of striving to be good enough, you accept that you never can be good enough, and you trust in Jesus who was good enough and who died as a perfect sacrifice for you. It means surrendering to Him as Lord of your life, trusting him by faith to save you.

You can become a follower of Christ by praying and asking Jesus to save you, calling out to Him for mercy and grace like the criminal on the cross did, and Jesus will forgive you and receive you, no matter what you may have done.

Jesus will save you and give you eternal life, starting right now.

And for many who have already put their faith in Jesus today, look at these seven words and ask God to rekindle the joy and praise in your heart for the great salvation that you have in Jesus. Pray for opportunities to share it with others you know, especially at this Easter season.


Posted by: Tim | November 12, 2011

Where Your Treasure Is – Sermons about God and Money

Back in 2008 I preached a multi-part series called “Where Your Treasure Is”, about God and Money. Now this week I am preaching one sermon about Wisdom and Money from the book of Proverbs. I can’t possibly cover all the ground that was covered in the multi-part series, so here are the mp3 audio and pdf notes from 2008, for all who are interested.  As always, your comments are welcome!

To listen or view, click “mp3 audio” or “pdf notes” after each message.

#1 “Where Your Treasure Is” mp3 audio     pdf notes

#2 “Treasure is from the Lord” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#3 “True Treasures” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#4 “Righteousness and Treasure” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#5 “Integrity and Treasure” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#6 “Giving to God” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#7 “To Tithe or not to Tithe, that is the Question” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#8 “Giving to the Poor” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#9 “Generosity” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#10 “The Sluggard and the Diligent” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#11 “Debt” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#12 “How Much is Enough?” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#13 “Engage in Business Until I Come” mp3 audio    pdf notes

#14 “Do Not be Anxious About Your Life” mp3 audio    pdf notes

In a 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs said:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life”

“Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.

You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

(Source: National Post/Financial Post)

Steve Jobs’ business accomplishments show that he meant it. Think of all he achieved as CEO of Apple during the past six  years while he fought cancer, changing the way we live and communicate with an amazing drive and creative flair! I’m no Mac/Apple fan, but I admire what Steve Jobs did, and feel his impact in the technology I use everyday (which are not Apple products, but are highly influenced by Apple).  I also appreciate, as a preacher, that Steve Jobs released his new products by delivering a sermon at events that can only be described as having religious fervor.

What strikes me about Jobs’ quote is that few people live like they believe they are going to die.  How often do we meander through day after day, with no thought of the future!? Yet the Bible is constantly pointing us towards the future, reminding us that we should make the most of our lives in the name of Jesus, reminding us that billions will face a fearful judgment and eternity apart from God.

I have an old plaque that was in our house when I was growing up, which read, “Just one life t’will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last” (John Piper writes about the same plaque in his book “Don’t Waste Your Life”). Thinking about the future should motivate us in the present. I think that is why God talks so much about it in the Bible.

Steve Jobs lived with the future in mind – the thought of his imminent death motivated his life. I don’t know what he believed about God and life after death, and I don’t know if he believed in Jesus, though I have never heard that he did.  His time on earth is done and he now faces eternity. Like every other human being, famous and obscure alike, the nature of his eternity is dependent on whether he placed his trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.

Are you living in light of eternity? What you believe about the future impacts how you live here and now. Trust in Jesus today. Live for Jesus all your days. Don’t waste your life. Watch for His return. Make your life count for eternity.

Posted by: Tim | September 3, 2011

Book Review: To Be Perfectly Honest by Phil Callaway

I picked up a copy of To Be Perfectly Honest at Three Hills Books as one of three books for my summer reading (the other two were The Destruction of the Bismarck and Gallipoli, but that’s for another post). Phil lives in Three Hills so I see him around, most often at Subway, and sometimes when he is doing some stand-up comedy/MCing at Prairie events, but I’ve never read one of his books until now. He is one of the funniest people I know, and when I saw this book and the idea behind it, I had to pick it up.

The idea that hooked me is that Phil commits to not lying for a whole  year and then writing about it. The results are hilarious! What made it even more enjoyable for me is that I know many of the people he talks about and local places he describes so I can often vividly imagine what is happening. And as a bonus it helped me to verify that Phil was indeed telling the truth. In fact the very same day I read a part about one local person who will remain nameless who was telling Phil cat jokes, I happened to be out for a bike ride with Carol and we found this person contributing to making a cat’s life a little more challenging out on the street by Phil’s house! It was a little bit too honest! And early on in the book he mentions that the church he attended growing up had some peculiarities that did not always encourage honesty ( producing conversations such as how you doing Phil? Well I’m really struggling with memorizing the gospel of John…). I’ve been trying to figure out what church he might have attended growing up – maybe someone around here will know…

But let me be clear, you don’t have to live in Three Hills to enjoy this book. Phil writes in a daily diary format and there is a great rhythm to it as he goes to church each Sunday and always has funny thoughts during the service and amusing conversations with people. There is one man in his church who always tells him a joke every time he sees him (I often have the unfortunate urge to do that when I see Phil, so I could relate), and another person who always finds a way to throw a spiritual guilt trip on him. And he doesn’t seem to hear much of Pastor Rod’s sermons as his mind wanders to other funny thoughts. I loved it because it so real!  Phil and his wife Ramona have some great honest interactions as well and there is a serious part as Phil deals with his elderly mother’s decaying health and mind through the course of the year.

While the book is officially about honesty, it’s also a book about God’s grace, as Phil is brutally honest about his efforts to be holy, to witness, to be nice, and also to get rich, to get even, and to win at golf.  I appreciated how Phil kept pointing to God’s grace in his life and found it moving and uplifting.

As I was reading it I was constantly turning to Carol and reading parts to her that made me laugh out loud. It got to the point where I would be laughing and she would say stop it and I would try to tell her and she would say that’s enough and I’d say just one more…and I would tell her yet another laugh in Phil’s honesty adventure.

This is a great book to read for yourself, and a great book to give to a friend who needs a laugh as they learn more about honesty and God’s grace. There probably isn’t near enough laughter in church, but I think there is going to be a lot of laughter in heaven, and a lot of praise and joy for God’s grace in saving sinners like me, and Phil points our hearts in the right direction.

You can find To Be Perfectly Honest on Amazon, or at Three Hills Books like I did (where the price is better too)!

Posted by: Tim | June 22, 2011

The Top Five Posts on NotInVain

Last weekend the NotInVain blog passed 30,000 views, and today I want to review the top five postings during its three years online. These five posts drew over 7800 views, or 26% of all blog views. And I have published 106 posts during that time, meaning that about 5% of the posts have drawn 26% of the views. Interesting (if you’re a stats geek like me)! Anyways, here are the top five posts:

#5 – 758 views –  More Together for the Gospel Pictures – This post is a collection of pictures from the 2008 Together for the Gospel conference that I attended in Louisville, Kentucky. I would guess that at least half the views of this post came through one picture at the bottom of the post – the Louisville Slugger Museum with the giant baseball bat out front. I think this because so many of the google searches on my stats page show people looking for “Louisville slugger”!

#4 – 1169 viewsBook Review: The Shack by William P. Young – I didn’t want to read The Shack, and plenty of other people wrote reviews of it before I did, but it just kept coming up and I felt that our church needed their pastor to read it and give a first hand review, so I did. 5000 words later, this post appeared!

#3 – 1235 viewsJourney Through Judges Sermon Series – In 2007 I preached through the Biblical book of Judges in 20 sermons. Then a little over a year ago I posted the sermon notes and mp3 audio files on my blog. The response on the blog has been strong ever since.

#2 – 1661 viewsBible Software Part 2: Logos vs Bibleworks  – The two most popular, and most serious PC Bible packages are Bibleworks and Logos. This post comparing the two has had a steady stream of views. For the record, I use Bibleworks, because it is lightning fast and excellent for gleaning from multiple translations, including the Greek and Hebrew!

#1  – 3018 views –  Book Review – Epicenter by Joel C. Rosenberg : This book review was one of the first posts I wrote, and I had no idea how popular it would be, receiving almost double the 2nd most popular post, and 10% of all views on my blog. Rosenberg’s book is an intriguing look at the prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39 regarding the future war of Gog and Magog. He readily concedes that at many points he is writing predictions about what could happen based on conjecture from the Bible, not what absolutely will happen. One of the interesting predictions is that significant oil deposits will be found in Israel, based on a verse in Deuteronomy, I think (sorry too lazy to look it up right now!). Just recently I was reading an article in Canada’s National Post that referred to the huge oil shale deposits in Israel. The technology is not yet there to obtain them, but if anyone can develop it, Israel can, and they will become an oil rich nation overnight. The number of views on my blog indicates that a lot of people are interested in Rosenberg and his writings. I read his Flashtraffic blog from time to time and heard him speak last summer in Denver in a jam packed event. I appreciate his love and support for Israel along with his insights on the Middle East.

So there you have it! If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is this: it is not easy to predict which blog post will be the most popular, which is an encouragement to write about whatever I think will honour God and be a blessing to people, and see what happens.

I find these stats really interesting – maybe you do too, or maybe not! As always, your comments are welcome.

Posted by: Tim | June 21, 2011


Over the weekend, registered its 30,000th view since I started blogging about three years ago. I’m a bit of a junkie for numbers and stats, so 30,000 is an interesting milestone for me.

In the big scheme of things 30,000 views on my blog is barely a drop in the bucket, as other blogs see hundreds or even thousands of hits in a day. But I have enjoyed blogging and occasionally have written some posts that have actually driven a fair amount of traffic. I set out to write things that would be God honouring, useful to people, and to simply improve my writing skills in a public setting. I hope that those things have been and continue to be accomplished.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read NotInVain, whether I know you well or you have simply found the blog through a google search. I am thinking about buying the wordpress upgrade so I can post more media (ie audio and video) files directly to the blog. Stay tuned!


PS: My next post will highlight the top few posts in the past three years.

Posted by: Tim | June 12, 2011

Pentecost Sunday – A Day Worth Celebrating!

Today is Pentecost Sunday. I’m not much for the church calendar (except for the pancake day – wish I could remember what day that one is!), but I’ve been thinking for a while that we (we=many of us evangelicals) need to do a better job celebrating Pentecost. We do well at Christmas, celebrating Jesus’ birth, and we never forget Easter, remembering Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, and the many witnesses who saw Him. But at Pentecost, we are lucky if we remember and if we do, we don’t do much.

But Pentecost is the day the Holy Spirit was given to believers, and the day the church was born as described in Acts 2. Those are big events, and we should celebrate them!

This morning at church we tried to make it a special day. We had a baptism, a sermon about Pentecost, songs about the Holy Spirit, and a barbecue/pot luck – Pentecost was a feast after all.  It was a great morning!

What are some other ideas for celebrating Pentecost? I would appreciate your comments below. Thanks!

Drive, by Daniel Pink, is a book about personal motivation.

Pink takes aim at a belief that is often assumed to be true, that people are motivated primarily by external rewards. Most workplaces are built around this belief, and employees receive rewards (and punishments) for their accomplishments at work. The assumption is that these rewards will motivate employees in their work. Describing the results of psychological experiments for the past few decades, Pink makes a strong case that external rewards (such as a financial bonus) are not the best way to motivate people and can even be detrimental to future motivation.

He makes a few qualifications to this claim. First, it applies to non-routine workers (ie knowledge workers not assembly line workers, who can be motivated by reward to get more done faster). Second, it assumes that an employee is receiving a basic base reward that is appropriate for the market, since a person who is not fairly and/or adequately compensated is not likely to be well motivated.

According to Pink, for knowledge workers, external rewards beyond a fair base pay do not motivate, and actually demotivate as the rewards come to be expected and turn off other, more powerful internal motivators.

Pink identifies three major internal motivators: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Autonomy refers to the ability to choose one’s own Tasks, manage one’s own Time, select one’s own Team, and choose one’s own Technique (how you get your work done). The higher the autonomy, the more motivated a person is likely to be.

Mastery refers to doing work that is hard to master, and thus challenges and motivates a person to try to achieve it. Pink describes a person being in ‘flow’, when they are doing a task that they love to do and time goes by quickly when they are doing it. They are internally motivated by the challenge of mastering the task. A significant reason why external rewards are ineffective is because it shuts down the mastery motivator. When a person is trying to master something, the work becomes almost like play because of the challenge, but when an external reward is introduced, it makes the task feel less like play and more like work.

Purpose refers to the reason why a person does their work. A person who works for a higher cause is motivated to work because they are driven to further that cause.

That’s basically it. Pink even wrote the Twitter version of the book at the back (less than 140 characters): “Carrots & sticks are so last century. Drive says for 21st century work, we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery, and purpose.” (p203)

Drive is simple, but powerful.

I have been thinking about the implications of Drive for Christian ministry. That internal motivations are more powerful than external motivations seems pretty obvious to me. Few people go into ministry for the money, except for maybe the odd crook. But there are internal rewards in ministry that far outweigh external rewards.

Let’s apply Pink’s three internal motivators,  purpose, mastery and autonomy, to Christian ministry.

Purpose: A pastor is motivated by a higher cause, the cause of Jesus Christ in His church. This is normally why a person becomes a pastor, to serve the Lord and to serve people. For example, check out name and the subtitle of my blog – “Not in Vain – knowing that in the Lord, your labour is not in vain.” (from 1 Cor 15:58) It’s all about being motivated by a higher cause.

Mastery: You have never arrived in ministry and there is always a new challenge – preaching a better sermon, doing a better job of managing conflict, training people better, having better small groups and leaders, etc… There is always something to try to master that you never will fully master!

Autonomy: The level of a pastor’s autonomy in task, time, team, and technique varies from church to church, depending on both the governance structure and the personalities of individuals, boards, and committees. Some are wired towards controlling the pastor while others are geared towards granting autonomy to the pastor. Some are somewhere in between. An important implication of Drive is that pastors and ministry workers should be granted significant autonomy, to maximize their motivation and thus increase their productivity. To some it may seem counter-intuitive that less control will result in more productivity, and they are also worried about what disaster the pastor might unleash without stronger controls. But responding to these types of concerns is at the core of Drive. Old and current rewards models assumed that people don’t want to work and thus need to be controlled (carrot and stick) in order to be motivated. These models assumed that people did not care that much about their work and thus needed significant controls to keep them from messing things up. But Drive assumes that people do want work hard and do a good job, and thus seeks to maximize their productivity by granting freedom to get the job done in the best way they see fit. I’ve seen this play out over and over again in ministry. Some of the best things happen when I get out of the way and unleash people to creatively accomplish a ministry project.  It is amazing what people will come up with if you give them freedom to operate. There is the occasional disaster (someone comes up with a creative but unsuccessful idea, someone overspends, etc…), but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Conversely, a lot less happens when I try to control a ministry worker or team. Fewer disasters (maybe!), but fewer success stories (for sure!).

I recommend Drive to pastors, boards and ministry leaders, as well as to the business audience for whom I assume it was primarily written. A lot of it is intuitive to ministry people, as it describes the reality in which they work and live.

Click here to buy Drive (No, I don’t get a cut for linking you to Amazon. Knowing I’ve helped you buy a worthwhile book is reward enough for me!)

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