On the Plains of Moab Blog
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March 3, 2019, 4:00 PM

Suffering? Opposition?

Today was the kind of message you would never want to preach as a candidating sermon. The key to "success" in the Christian life? Your "best life now"? According to Jesus and Peter and Paul and John and Luke and Matthew and Mark and whoever wrote Hebrews -- Suffering. Humility. Being the Underdog. Jesus said something like, "My strength is made perfect in your weakness." "My grace is sufficient." And Peter, off the charts, modern dud: If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (1 Pet. 2:20-21 ESV).

Today, I used a devotional blog entry entitled, "Seven Benefits to the Coming Opposition: The Power of God's Kingdom Flows Exclusively Through Yielded Human Weakness" by Jeff Christopeherson, to apply the text from today, 1 Peter 4:1-11. I summarized his points, and supplemented with my own thoughts. But, it's a good read, and I provide it for your Sunday night reading pleasure.

"Seven Benefits to the Coming Opposition"


January 29, 2018, 9:51 AM


The Memorial Service for Woody Woodlief on Friday, January 26, 2018 was not recorded. I wish it was. The singing was electric. The passion was felt in the room. A man who worked hard in life; came to Christ late in life; and who walked the valley of shadow of death in faith; and went to be with Jesus. The service was to honor him. But we worshiped the God who saved him. I think Woody would have wanted it that way. I post the text of the sermon. I wish I could share the spirit that was present that night.

Text: Matthew 19:30-20:16

It was Sunday, October 8th – barely over three months ago – Woody found himself in a hospital room at Lewis-Gale Hospital. I had just arrived as his prognosis was being discussed. It wasn’t good. Cancer. In the lung. Inoperable. Not long.

And in the din of several conversations going on in that hospital room in those hectic moments, Woody leaned over to me, smiled, and said, “I’ve had a great life.”

In the face of a crushing diagnosis, Woody was resolved to cash in on the Faith he had been growing into for many years. And, to the day he drew his final breath this side of Glory Tuesday, January 23rd at 8:56 AM, he walked through the valley of the shadow of death unwavering.

Woody made the words of Jesus his own: He heard his Master say, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34 ESV). He labored faithfully through pain and discouragement and frustrations and doctor appointments and tests and medication changes and good days and bad days – always with his eyes to the Lord. Woody wasn’t one to do anything half way, and he certainly wasn’t going to drop the ball down the homestretch.

Let me say here what I’ve been telling his family: I have never, in eighteen years of pastoral ministry, witnessed someone so strong in faith in the face of mortality. Oh, I’ve heard many talk it; but then fall into inconsolable despair when the crushing diagnosis came down. Woody was an encouragement to me. He was an encouragement to this congregation. And he really wanted, with all his heart and soul, to be an encouragement to his family, whom he loved dearly.

Joyce, bless you, you never left his side. To the family, thank you for your love demonstrated in such trying circumstances.

Well done. Well done.

Born near Henderson, North Carolina. Settled in the Roanoke Valley. Married at an early age. Worked his way up from the upholstery line at Rowe Furniture – spitting tacks – rising to Senior Vice-President of Manufacturing. 45 years distinguished service. Tennis, golf, hunting, tooling around his cabin in Floyd County. Remarried later in life to Joyce – these past thirty-eight years strong. Two families calling him affectionately, dad.

A church-goer, by habit, for most of his life. But as Woody liked to say, he didn’t really have the Gospel in his heart for most of his life. Professing, but not possessing. Going through the motions. Going through the motions until Joyce started attending Bible Study Fellowship – and he began helping her with her “homework.” Woody found himself being absorbed into the Bible. The Holy Spirit was chipping away at his heart. He was being wooed in. He spoke fondly of a dear friends who had the courage and boldness to share the Gospel with him point blank--Belle and Bobby Cooper and our own Judy Stanley -- who are all here tonight. He was never the same.

Which brings me back to the Scripture from Matthew I read a few minutes ago. “The parable of the laborers.” Returning to that hospital room on October 8th. Woody mentioned this parable that night. When he understood what Jesus was teaching in this parable, he immediately saw himself. He saw the grace of the Gospel personified. He felt the love of God in his heart.

The parable is about a man going out early in the morning to find some workers for his vineyard. He finds some and hires them. He went out again at 9:00 and found some more workers. Again at noon. And again at 3:00. Each time, hiring additional workers. And it wasn’t enough, so he went out again at 5:00 to hire a few more stragglers.

At the close of the work day, when the workers received their wages – their paychecks were identical. The sense of fairness stretched beyond recognition, the 6:00 and 9:00 AM’ers were the first to say, “Hey, man, that ain’t right! We got here first. We have worked longer. We deserve more.”

The master’s response was “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (20:13-15 ESV).

Woody understood rightly that this parable had nothing to do with economics. This wasn’t a blueprint for personnel practices in the workplace. Woody understood this was about the incomprehensible way God calls men and women into His Kingdom at all ages and stages of life. It was about the generosity of God. Some He calls as children. Some He calls as twenty-somethings. Some He calls in mid-life. Some He calls late in life. In the metaphor of the laborers in the vineyard – some come in at 6:00. Some at 9:00. Some at Noon. Some at 3:00. And some, don’t get that call until 5:00 – just before closing.

And, when these “laborers” “hired” throughout the ages head finish their earthly callings and head into the Kingdom of God consummated on the Last Day as the New Heavens and New Earth, each one will hear the words of approbation from their Heavenly Master: “Well done, child. Well done, child.”

The parable opens with Many who are first will be last, and the last first. (19:30 ESV) and ends with So the last will be first, and the first last (20:16 ESV). This means there is no difference between the first and the last: Everybody enters the Kingdom “fields” by grace. The first and the last all stand before the glory of God knowing it had nothing to do with how well they did. How good they were. How hard they worked. How long they’d been there. Knowing they hadn’t earned it.

It was about faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

It was the wages of God’s kindness and generosity.

Woody was 70 years old when God called him out of his churchianity to labor in His vineyard. Woody was the straggler who came aboard at 5:00. Woody Woodlief, the five-o-clock kid!

On the Friday before his passing, Woody told me his favorite verse in Bible was Romans 10:9-10. And then he quoted it y memory: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (ESV).

Woody may have only been working in the vineyard from near closing time, but he surely made the most of the opportunity. I always tell people, it’s not how you start; but how you finish. It’s not about when you get there; but that you did get there. It’s never too late in life to find life in Jesus.

I want to say that over the last three months, Woody taught me; and taught this congregation so much about gratitude for the gracious call of the Lord. I knew Woody for nine years. He was my parishioner. He was my brother in Christ. He was my friend. He was my sparring partner.

Let me share one more story. Woody was a good tennis player. He was fiery competitor on the court. Joyce says that he was so passionate and into it that she had to refrain from going to watch him play. Woody earned a room full of trophies for his playing achievement. A number of years back, he and Joyce went out to dinner while painters were working on a job in their home. Due to the fumes from the paint thinner they were using, apparently there was a spark ignited from an open electric socket, and the house caught fire, destroying the kitchen and the living room. Woody’s trophies were all destroyed in the fire. But, let me tell you, for Woody, there are now eternal trophies in Christ that will never, ever be destroyed.

Woody Woodlief was originally from North Carolina. Lately, he was from the world. But, please understand, he may have been in the world; but he was not finally of it. Delivered in life by God’s gift of faith. Beholding now the glory of the Lord.

Glory be to the Father; and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.   Amen.

July 10, 2017, 3:46 PM

Partisan Spirit

It has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:11-12 ESV)

Writing of Thomas Jefferson’s hopes for political unity during his presidency, Jon Meacham writes in his biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (Random House, 2013), “Jefferson’s hopes of enduring political unity were never to be realized. In early 1801, even before Jefferson declared that Americans were all Federalists and all Republicans in his inaugural address, Albert Gallatin [TJ’s Secretary of the Treasury] reported the reality on the ground in the capital: ‘You may suppose that being thrown together in a few boarding houses, without any other society than ourselves, we are not likely to be either very moderate politicians or to think of anything but politics.’ Federalist Simeon Baldwin shared the sentiment, writing, ‘The men of the different parties do not associate intimately.’ Yet another observer said, ‘No tavern or boarding house contains two members of the opposite sentiments.’ Jefferson did try. ‘Nothing shall be spared on my part to obliterate the traces of party and consolidate the nation, if it can be done without abandonment of principle,’ he said in March 1801. Thirty-four months later, after the partisan wars of his first term, he struck more practical notes, accepting the world as it was.” (p.372)

Jefferson, as president, wanted to move past what he called “the extremist, apocalyptic rhetoric of …the ‘gloomy days of terrorism’ of the 1790s.” However, given the reality of human nature, John Quincy Adams was surely correct when he noted in his diary, “Political war was to be the rule, not the exception, in American life.” (pp.373).

On the face of it, it is as I mentioned in the sermon a couple of weeks ago, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” And we thought that politics got nasty in this last election cycle! Friends, politics has always been nasty. Potential power always brings out the worst in humanity. And it’s not hard to do.

As we see in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, it was a problem in a place where it was not supposed to be a problem. Party spirit in God’s church. Rancor. Division. And to this Paul exclaims, “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13 ESV). The answer is, “Absolutely not! Are you crazy?” The God of Jesus Christ. The God of grace and peace. This is the reference for every Christian action or thought. Paul says, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Cor. 1:10 ESV). This means, as he expounds further in his letter to the Philippians, being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility counting others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Having this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2:2-8 ESV).

That is the reality that believers in Jesus are to grow up into. Following the course of the world is not an option, though it seems to be our default –even in the church! Politics is way too often a pathetic way of life. The current course from the contemporary crop in DC doesn’t give me much reason to hope. Politicians, pundits, media and social media pontifications from all angles, are not putting humanity in the best light these days. Nevertheless, I pray (cf. 1 Tim. 2:1-4).

But when it comes to the Church. I have more than a vested interest. The world can be the world. But the Church doesn’t have that option.

Jesus Christ is not divided. The Body of Christ shouldn’t be, either. We are His Body. We are the Bride of Christ. We are the new Israel. We are the children of Abraham. We all share the same ambassadorial role in the Kingdom of God. What might this look like if we doubled down on that God-given reality within our own congregations?

You know, taking God’s Word seriously is dangerous and disruptive and uncomfortable to the way things are.

Coram Deo,

January 23, 2017, 4:27 PM

The Beauty of Scripture

“My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things:
That I am a great sinner
and that Christ is a great Savior.”
~John Newton (1725-1807)

I have been messing around with the text from our next sermon in 1 John. Cool stuff, really. When I am trying to get a grip on what God's Word is trying to say, I'll often throw it on paper, and then work with it to see what it looks like. And with 1:5-2:2, this is what it looks like broken out. (See below.) A beautiful chiastic structure!

A chisastic structure (which just means that it looks like the shape of the Greek letter chi) just unpacks what the author is trying to paint.

Note the center of the chiasm: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."

But! The big news is in the bookends.
"God is light[!]" and "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father,Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."

This is none other than an accent, a royally BIG one, that although the world (and we as well) is fallen and dead in sin, the Good News still overcomes it all. We are not to sin. We are to mortify sin, inthe words of Puirtan John Owen; and yet, we know that we will still sin because we still have indwelling sin. But, we do have an "Advocate" in Jesus at the right hand of God.

This passage is a sermon already. Really needs no further explication. It is laid out well! 

(1 Jn. 1:5-2:2 ESV)
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light,
and in him is no darkness at all.

 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness,
we lie and do not practice the truth.

7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

9 If we confess our sins,
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

 10 If we say we have not sinned,
we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only
but also for the sins of the whole world.


December 12, 2016, 1:00 PM

A God with Skin On

There is a small voice in the stillness of the night.  It comes from the bedroom across the hall.  “Daddy I’m scared!”  Out of a groggy, fuzzy state, the response is, “Honey, don’t be afraid, Daddy’s right across the hall.”  After a brief pause the little voice is heard again, “I’m still scared.”  But with quick insight came a second parental response, “You don’t need to be afraid.  God is with you.  God loves you.”  This time the pause is longer…but the little voice returns, “Daddy I don’t care about God, I want someone with skin on.”

The irony of this little story is that God does have skin on!  That’s one of the points made yesterday in Matthew 1.  A genealogy places events squarely within time and space. Jesus was born; to Mary and Joseph - begotten of the Father; by the Holy Spirit - but to Mary and Joseph. He had skin on!


November 25, 2016, 12:00 AM

Truth Deprived

This Sunday, I've got the Ninth Commandment. Let me say that when you hear any sermon on any text from the Bible, remember these helpful listening guidelines:

  1. Sermons can never, ever exhaust a text. There will always be something that wasn't said that could have been said.
  2. (All) Sermons are short and time bound. (Surprise!) No time to cover everything, even if one could; which one can't.
  3. (Good) Sermons must narrow the scope of a sermon or else the sermon turns into a laundry-listed, encyclopedic recitation. (Boring!)

Sunday, there are so many ways I could go to unpack the commandment.

I could have explained the judicial basis of the commandment.

I could have made much of the parallel between the Third Commandment and the Ninth:
The Third is protective of God’s Name; the Ninth is protective of our neighbor’s name.

I could have explored the instances in Scripture where God seems to condone lying, e.g. Rahab at Jericho; or the Egyptian midwives who saved the Israelite male infants from a murderous Pharaoh.

I could have explored some of the philosophical ramifications of the commandment.

However, I can’t do it all!

So, I thought I’d share a portion of the sermon on the Ninth Commandment that I preached many years ago.
A little different track than what I will do on Sunday.

Here it is:

Back in 1992, “[t]he book The Day American Told the Truth [reported] that 91 percent of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, and 36 percent lie about important matters; 86 percent lie regularly to parents, 75 percent to friends, 73 percent to siblings, and 69 percent to spouses.”

Obviously, truthfulness is something that gets sacrificed quite easily.  Mark Twain, that cynic’s cynic said that for journalists, truth was their most valuable resource, and that was why they were so “economical” or frugal in its use!  Some reporters simply don’t allow the truth to get in the way of a good political or personal cause.  It seems that in mainstream journalism, the ends truly justify the means.

We’re now in the midst of yet another presidential campaign.  Democrats are accusing Republicans of lying to us and Republicans reply by saying, “No way!  It’s the Democrats who are the liars!”  Truth can be such a pragmatic, self-serving exercise in the world of politics!

When I watch television commercials and hear astonishing claims for a certain product, I’m always amused to see a disclaimer in extremely small print being flashed at the bottom of the screen for a nanosecond.  Why can’t advertisers just tell the truth?

And then, there’s our justice system.  Who doesn’t get caught up in the sensational trials of our day?  It’s simply amazing to me that our legal system has degenerated into a big game between competing lawyers.  Winning the case is everything; the truth is not so important.

I heard an old lawyer once say that when you have the facts on your side, pound the facts; if you had the law on your side, pound the law; if you have neither the facts or the law on your side, pound the table!

However, the whole tenor of Scripture is truth loving, eschewing all falsehood.  Indeed, our faith is built upon the solid rock of truth.  Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6).  We confess Jesus as God incarnate; we understand our plight without that understanding of God’s initiative and work on our behalf; we understand the testimony of the 66 books of the Bible to be authoritative in matters of faith and in all of life; we understand that somehow, God is working all things together for the good of those that love Him; indeed, working all things together for His holy purposes.  We don’t stake our entire lives on a lie!  (Paul in 1 Cor. 15!)

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the evil one.  “[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44).

But, I certainly don’t want to oversimplify the issue.  Biblical ethicists have been debating since the days of the early Church over just how far one can apply the ninth commandment.  Lying has been divided into categories over time (per Augustine):

Malicious lie – We have been discussing that already this morning.

Joking lie – Where you use humor to convey truth.  It can be a bad thing too!

Polite lie – “I’m doing fine today.”  No I’m not offended.”  Your children are well behaved.” Etc.

SOS lie – A lie to bail yourself out of trouble; to cover yourself.

Lie of necessity or pious lie – Much more complex!

The classic example of a lie of necessity dates back to World War II when the Nazis were hunting down the Jews for their extermination.  Some non-Jews refused to go along with this evil and hid Jews in their houses to spare their lives.  The example of Corrie Tin Boom’s family, fascinatingly documented in her book, The Hiding Place, is an example of a pious lie.  When the Nazis came to her house, they would always deny that they were hiding any Jews, when in fact they were hidden in basement compartment.

In fact, the Bible itself seems to justify this lie of necessity:

  1. The midwives Shiphrah and Puah in Exodus 1:15-21.  God blessed them and honored their lie.
  2. Rahab the harlot hiding the spies in Jericho from Joshua 2 (cf. Heb. 11.31; Jas 2.25)
  3.  In 2 Samuel 17:19-20, the lesser known account of the woman from Bahurim hiding two of King David’s messengers in a manner like Rahab during Absalom’s rebellion against his father.

The question is, why, when the Bible places so much stress on truth telling, how could it sanction any lie, even a pious one?  This troubled the early Church Fathers.  In fact, I am told that if you look at early commentaries, especially ones from St. Augustine, you find them roundly condemning any lying.  In the case of saving someone else from death by a lie, Augustine would argue that it is worse to lose your soul by a lie than save another by a righteous lie.  If the other person was a believer, then they would go to a better place!

But, I believe that Augustine had it wrong! The Bible does lead us to believe that there is a lie of necessity – and I think that the reason is that life is precious!  Life is to be affirmed.  A lie is unfortunate, but sometimes required in the face of a greater evil.

Having said that, let me add, this is NOT a license to go out and lie freely!  The preacher hasn’t just given you a pass.  The lie of necessity is a rare necessity.  Lying to your parents to cover breaking a family rule does not qualify as a lie of necessity!  Lying to your employer to lay out of work for the day is not a lie of necessity!  Lying about your golf score may be a lie of necessity.

The issue is love for your neighbor.  The issue is also about life.  Truthfulness is the way in which God wants us to walk.  Sometimes, telling the truth hurts.  It’s not the easy way – it’s the narrow way that leads to life.

My counsel to you this morning is to recognize that you serve a God who loves the truth.

November 14, 2016, 11:22 AM

Screwtape on the Seventh Commandment

In Sunday school yesterday, we came to letter nine in The Screwtape Letters. I did not intentionally synch up the letter lessons with my preaching schedule. The sermon was on the Seventh Commandment. The Screwtape letter was on “pleasure.” I found this passage from Lewis prescient considering what I was about to preach.

Here’s the passage: Says Screwtape to his junior devil, Wormwood: “I have always found that the Trough periods of the human undulation provide excellent opportunity for all sensual temptations, particularly those of sex.” Later, he explains that pleasures, such as human sex, are gifts and inventions of the “Enemy” (God). The only way the devil can use pleasure is to exploit it. Distort it. Go beyond it. Hence, he says, “All we can do is to encourage the humans to take pleasures which our enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.”

God did give us the gift of sex. It is one of the principal ways we reflect our Creator as we are able to usher life into creation through procreation. And yet, as Screwtape suggests, this good gift has been marred in all sorts of “beyond.” Unfaithfulness in marriage is a blemish to that gift. Although I did not spend any time yesterday on it, divorce is a blemish to that gift. And, all the ways we see sex commodified and glorified and modified in our present culture, are blemishes on that good gift.

I know that the sermon yesterday probably struck more like a thud, rather than an “aha!” moment. The Church of Jesus has been struggling for the last 25 years, or so, with sexual politics. Same-sex marriage (fixed!); gender fluidity (not fixed!); and cohabitation, being major elephants in the sanctuary that no one wants to deal with. Perhaps the deafening and cowardly silence from pulpits and lecterns is a significant reason, among a plethora more, that these issues have transformed what was once black & white to the present large gray mass in our collective, ethical thinking.

Uncle Screwtape must be pleased.

November 11, 2016, 11:29 AM

The Aftermath

After the election on Tuesday, I determined that I would not post anything on social media for a couple of days. First, we didn’t need to hear anyone gloating; or anyone whining; or, most especially, Christian pastors lecturing from the moral high ground of “nanny-nanny-poo, don’t you trust Jesus True?”

However, a couple of days have past, and I do want to add some thoughtfulness to the aftermath. Mark Galli, one of the editors over at Christianity Today, had some, as usual, trenchant remarks in his column today. He speaks to the seeming divide that now exists between those Evangelicals who voted for Mr. Trump and those who voted for Secretary Clinton. His words here are much needed. Here’s a sample:

We are Christians, for example, who believe that the evangel—the good news of the gospel—triumphs over any news the media might lament or celebrate.

We believe the most important political statement we make each week is not announcing to whom we’ve given our support but proclaiming the King who has given us his very life.

We are a people who love Jesus first, whose Bible is their ultimate rule of faith and practice, who believe spreading the good news of Jesus’ lordship and salvation in word and deed is our most important contribution to the common good.

We are Christians who treasure both our British-American heritage and our current global diversity, who are grateful recipients of a tradition shaped by the likes of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley, William Wilberforce and William Booth, Lottie Moon and Amy Carmichael, Richard Allen and Sojourner Truth, Billy Graham and Bob Pierce, Watchman Nee and Kwame Bediako—who believe that the evangelical tradition is, despite its many flaws, a gift of God to the world precisely because it gives priority to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Read the rest of the article here.  After Trump, Should Evangelical Christians Part Ways?

Breakpoint also printed a number of Evangelical responses to the election, many of which are very thoughtful. Please understand that linking here is not an unconditional endorsement of every point of view represented in these opinion pieces.

The Election and the Church

And then, how could I not post something from Tim Keller?

Turning Good Political Causes Into Counterfeit Gods

Finally, another good reminder of who we are, as the church of Jesus Christ.

The Election Is Over. Let’s Get Political.

Now, for the record, and in the interest of self-disclosure, I did not vote in this election. I knew last summer that I would not be voting. I am not, by nature, a fence-sitter. I would be totally boring if a pollster ever came to my door. I do not usually change my mind when the wind blows in a different direction. It was painful not voting. You don’t know how tempting it was to drive by my usual polling location, and keep driving. This was my first time abstaining in a national election, ever. EVER. But, I was not going to violate my conscience to vote for a candidate that I just cannot vote for. Understand, I do not expect moral perfection in political candidates; or even that they be a professor of Faith in Jesus. I'll leave it there.

But, this is me. You’re you. You must do what your own conscience, hopefully captive to the lens of God's Word, dictates. I respect you, and however the Lord led you to vote.

The thoughts contained in the links shared above seem cathartic to me. I hope they will for you, as well.

One last thought. And I'll say this again first thing Sunday morning. We come to worship on the Lord's Day not as Republicans; or Democrats; or Libertarians; or even Americans. We come as Christians. Citizens of the Kingdom of God who happen to live in America.


November 7, 2016, 9:55 AM

Here Comes the Seventh!

This coming Sunday, we come to the Seventh Commandment. “You shall not commit adultery.” On the face of it, referring to one behavior, in one relationship: marriage. However, the commandment is expanded and applied in all aspects of our sexuality in the pages of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. This is why Reformed catechisms Paint a broad brushstroke when it comes to the Seventh Commandment. Check out both the Westminster Larger Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism below:

Westminster Larger Catechism
Q. 138. What does the seventh commandment require?
A. The seventh commandment requires us to be sexually pure in body, mind, inclinations, words, and actions, and to maintain that purity in ourselves and others. We are to monitor what we look at as well as what we experience with our other senses; and we are to live temperately, keeping pure company and dressing modestly. Those who cannot control their sexual desires should marry, loving and living together with their spouses. We should also work hard at whatever we are called to do, avoiding all opportunities for indecency, and resisting any temptation to say, think, or do anything indecent or obscene.

Q. 139. What particular sins does the seventh commandment forbid?
A. In addition to failing to do what is required, the seventh commandment forbids: adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural desires; all impure imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and inclinations; all corrupt and nasty talk or listening to such, lewd looks, shameless or frivolous behavior, and immodest dress;8 prohibiting lawful marriages and allowing unlawful ones; condoning, tolerating, or organizing prostitution and visiting prostitutes; restrictive vows of celibacy, unnecessary delays in marrying, having more than one wife or husband at the same time; unjust divorce or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, and keeping impure company; obscene or pornographic songs, books, pictures, dancing, or theatrical presentations; and all other encouragement to or indulgence in impure activities by us or others.

The Heidelberg Catechism
Q. 108. What does the seventh commandment teach us?
A. That all unchastity is condemned by God, and that we should therefore detest it from the heart, and live chaste and disciplined lives, whether in holy wedlock or in single life.

Q. 109. Does God forbid nothing more than adultery and such gross sins in this commandment?
A. Since both our body and soul are a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is his will that we keep both pure and holy. Therefore he forbids all unchaste actions, gestures, words, thoughts, desires and whatever may excite another person to them.

Got to love Heidelberg's pastorally warm language as compared to the icily academic laundry list of Westminster!

I forget who uttered these words, but it is both a cautionary note and a rebuke to the church at the same time: “The Church will either shape the world; or the Church will be shaped by the world.” In matters of sexuality, the world has proved very adept in defining morality down. Biblically void, specious reasoning abounds.

In the run-up to the sermon on Sunday, I want to share a couple of links. The first is the Preliminary Paper on Human Sexuality that was approved last summer in Detroit at the EPC’s General Assembly (GA). It will be voted upon formally next summer at the Sacramento GA for inclusion in our Constitution. I think you’ll find it quite pastorally sensitive.


The second article is a response from Rosario Butterfield to the news that popular Christian author, Jen Hatmaker, has changed her mind on same-sex marriage. Rosario comes from a unique perspective and background.  One that makes Hatmaker’s flip very personal. Again, I link to this to give you something to chew on before Sunday.


Please understand that the sermon on this particular commandment isn’t just going to be about this hot button issue. However, you cannot deny that this issue has overwhelmed God’s people, leaving many confused. Many afraid to speak up for fear of being called bigots or haters. We do need pastoral clarity.

However, there is more to this commandment, and I pray that I can be winsome and loving speaking in very turbulent waters.

The journey begins. Books (and The Book!) and blank paper in hand. A week of prayer and reflection and writing ahead.

October 28, 2016, 9:44 AM

What's the Big Deal about Jesus?

The geatest danger to the Church of Jesus Christ doesn't come from without its walls; but from within.

On July 29, 2000, a mainline minister delivered an address at a Peacemaking Conference, held that year on the grounds of Chapman University in Orange, California. The title of his paper was, Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a Diverse World. In that paper, I think the Reverend merely gave voice to what far too many Christians had long believed, but were afraid to say publicly: The Jesus of Christianity is but one of many valid ways to come to God. Jesus is a way to God; Buddha is a way to God; Mohammed is a way to God; Karma of Hinduism is a way to God; and Judaism is still a sufficient way to come to God apart from Christ.

According to our Reverend, when Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me in John 14:6, he didn’t intend it to be taken as a divine roadmap to heaven: Only that Christian believers know a way to God by knowing of that divine love found in relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. It doesn’t rule out that sincere followers of other religions have a genuine relationship with God.

Here’s the analogy the Reverend used in his presentation illustrate his point:

“Imagine a holy place ringed with windows, and light is shining from outside this holy place through stained-glass windows into the holy place... In this analogy, the light is the truth, the windows are religions, and the holy place is the world. Light shines from outside through the windows into the holy place in the same way religions are a vehicle by which truth comes into the world. If you take anything of what I say today, take this next thing. The window is not the light. And religions need to be distinguished from the truth that they let into the world. Unfortunately, we spend a lot of time mistaking the window for the light and 99.9% of all religious conflict comes from that. So…we have to realize that nobody has a corner on the truth -- that the light is larger.”

Elaborating, he says, “‘After you became a Christian, after you converted to Christianity, did you not look back in your life and see that God had already been at work in your life?’ A hundred percent of the time, you will say ‘Yes.’ And for the rest of you who have always considered yourselves to be a Christian and were raised in a Christian family or Christian church, at some point you realized that's who you were.  ‘Well, I'm a Christian.’  And after that realization, did you not look back in your life and see that God was at work in your life?....What it says is that God's ability to work in our lives is not determined by being a Christian….Well, if God is at work in our lives whether we're Christian or not, what's the big deal about Jesus?”

Now, you should know me well enough by now to know that I got a lot of problems with this interpretation of the faith. John 14:6 means exactly what you think it means.

Jesus is a big deal!

In the book of Acts, the apostle Peter says the same thing before the religious establishment of his day: There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

The first five verses of the Gospel of John lay the foundation for understanding these bold, exclusive claims made about Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through him,
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it. (ESV)

Let’s look now at how these words ground the exclusive claims that we affirm about Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word. (1:1a)

John calls Jesus the Word. This seems to be a favorite expression for John; no other NT writer utilizes the title.

In John 1:14 he says the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

In 1 John 1:1, he says, What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life.

In Revelation 19:13, Jesus is described in glorious terms: He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.

John seems to have picked up on the expression the word of the Lord, which occurs 250 times in the Scriptures. When he calls Jesus the Word, I believe he’s giving us a mental picture of the fact that the Lord in his humanity reveals the living God, the Word became flesh and lived among us!

In Jesus, God has spoken.
In Jesus, the mind of God is opened.
In Jesus, the love of God is manifest in human form.

That’s the big deal about Jesus.

And the Word was with God. (1:1b)

In Trinitarian language, Jesus is portrayed in intimate relationship with God the Father – literally, he is “face to face with God.”

This relationship has existed from all eternity.
Jesus wasn’t just a good man.
He wasn’t just a great teacher.
He didn’t present himself as just one of many valid ways to God.
Jesus is the creator and sustainer of all that is. Just like God the Father.

That’s the big deal about Jesus.

And the Word was God. (1:1c)

The Scriptures testify that no human eyes have ever beheld God –
not even Abraham, the “friend of God”;
nor Moses, the “man of God”;
nor David, the “man after God’s own heart.”
No man can see God and live.

And yet, God in His incredible mercy and love, came to us in Christ.
Jesus says that if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the invisible God!
If you know me, you know the God of heaven!
If you receive me, you receive the One who sent me!

That’s the big deal about Jesus.

In him was life, and the life was the [window pane] of men.

No! In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (1:4 ESV)

Jesus IS the Light of all people, and he bestows eternal life to those who believe.
There is not one word in all Scripture to suggest that there is any other ways to find eternal life.
In fact, historically it’s always been some form of pluralism that got God’s people in trouble!

The sobering reality is that way too many people don’t want to hear the Good News of Jesus.
The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Or, some Bible translations have comprehended, or perceived, or received it here.

Even though my ESV translation takes the Greek word katalambano (katalamba,nw) and translates it like: the darkness has not overcome or overpowered it. But it seems comprehend fits the context just as well as overpower or overcome:

Listen to John 1:10-11. It says [Jesus] was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him (1:10).  He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him (1:11).

Let me tell you a story that I think captures how Christians sometimes treat the Good News of Jesus:

The Pierponts were proud of their family tradition.  Their ancestors had come to America on the Mayflower.  Their line had included Senators, Pastors, & Wall Street wizards. Now they decided to compile a family history, a legacy for the children. They hired a well known author. Only one problem arose: how to handle the fact that great-uncle Harry was executed in the electric chair.  But the author said not to worry; he could handle that section of history tactfully. When the book appeared, the family turned to the section on Uncle Harry. It read “Harry Pierpont occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution and was attached to his position by the strongest of ties. His death came as a real shock.”

Sometimes, we’re embarrassed to apply the exclusive claims made by Jesus to our world. There are just so many different respectable religions. So many good and nice people out there who don’t claim Jesus as their Savior. How could we be so narrow minded to insist that our Jesus is the end all-be all? We need to re-interpret this thing to make it acceptable and inoffensive – perhaps a little more respectable, like the Pierpont family tree!

Perhaps God’s people ought to spend less time trying to make the Gospel more palatable for its “cultured despisers” and pour more energy into making disciples of all the nations because Jesus is a big deal. He IS the deal!   Amen

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