On the Plains of Moab Blog
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April 17, 2012, 5:36 PM

Sermon Series Schedule

2012 Revelation Sermon Series:  Back to the Future!

  1. April 22       Rev. 1:1-8          Apocalypse Now
  2. April 29       Rev. 1:9-20        Love Letters
  3. May  06      Rev. 4:1-5:14     The Lion & The Lamb
  4. May  13      Rev. 6:1-17        The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
  5. May  20      Rev. 7:1-12        The Apple of God’s Eye
  6. May  27      Rev. 12:1-14:5    Stink, Stank, Stunk
  7. June 03      Rev. 18:1-24       The Way of the World
  8. June 10      Rev. 19:1-16       An Inconvenient Truth
  9. June 17      Rev. 20:1-14       The Millennial Kingdom
  10. June 24      Rev. 21:1-22:7    Paradise Restored!

April 16, 2012, 7:08 PM

Back to the Future

What a wonderful service on Sunday with our guest speaker.  Thanks to Mark Brungard, Jr. for taking some time out of his busy schedule to be with us and preach the Word.  Preaching is hard.  preaching before total strangers is even more difficult.  But, he is now pulling in his anchor and heading out to sea.  Our best to him as he considers where God will use his talents and faithfulness!

As for us, we will be beginning a new sermon series this upcoming Sunday.  The book is Revelation.  The sermon series title is "Back to the Future."  Strange title you may think.  But, when you think about it, that's exactly what the last book in the New Testament is doing for us.  Please let me explain.

For those of you who have not seen the movie, let me fill you in, and in the process, opening up how this jibes with the book of Revelation.  In the movie, the main character, Marty McFly hops into a time traveling Delorean with his friend, Dr. Emmit Brown.  They go back to the year 1955 -- exactly thirty years from their own time.  Long story short, the Delorean breaks down, and Marty is stuck in the 1950's.  He spends the rest of the movie trying to make sure he doesn't get erased from history by ensuring that his mom and dad do meet and kiss at the Enchantment Under the Sea prom.  But the goal is to get back to the future.  Back to good old 1985, with everything intact.  Well, he does, and everything works out.  (See the movie!  It is far better than my nickel quickie explanation!

Now.  Think about the Bible.  We began in a Garden of Paradise.  Walking and fellowshiping with God, face to face.  No sin.  No evil.  No death.  That did not last.  The Fall happened.  Sin and death came in and began to reign.  Ever since that time, God has promised that one day, all would be repaired.  Fixed.  Back to Eden-like purity.  The Garden of Eden...of Paradise is back there in Genesis -- but, God tells us, it is also our future.  Sooooo, we need to get back to the future.  We are stranded in 2012, waiting for our Delorean (Jesus) to take us back to our future, where we belong.

Revelation is a unique book in that it tells us about where we have been -- but also, where we are going.  History is on a non-stop trajectory towards the new heavens and new earth.  The catalyst for this trajectory is of course the promise of God -- but Revelation makes it clear that it is also because of the history-changing appearance of the Son of God within history.  Revelation affords us a behind the scenes look at what's going on in history:  The spiritual warfare; the scenes from the Throne Room of Heaven; the big picture of God's plans.  It is all here!

We really do need -- and we really do desire to get back to our future.  That is why we often-times use the phrase "Maranatha" (Lord come quickly!) to describe our inmost longings.

Tomorrow, I will be posting a listing of our sermons, along with the texts.  For now, I would encourage you to check out the Easter sermon over at the Sermon page.  The video of that sermon has replaced the audio only recording.  We had it up yesterday, but, had some technical difficulites.  All of that has now been fixed!

April 13, 2012, 7:35 PM

Down Memory Lane

This Sunday marks a very special day for me.  My good friends from my twenty-something days are going to be joining us for worship.  In fact, one particular couple - Mark & Sherri Brungard - will also have a special day, because their son, Mark, Jr. will be preaching for the very first time.  More on Jr. a little later.  The other couple coming on down for the service is Michael & Wende Parker.  All of them live in Lynchburg now, and we don't get together very much because life has just gotten so hectic, and we all have families of our own to look after.  The Brungards have four grown children - Becca, Mark, Jr., Isaac and Sarah.  The Parkers have two little girls about the age of my own kids, Kara and Kalah.

God certainly has been good to all of us!  Back in the day, it was Michael, Sherri and I who were young, single believers at Grace Church.  We were involved in a young adult Bible Study with believers from other area churches, and we were serious about unpacking God's Word for our lives.  Wondering what he had in store for us.  We had fun.  We talked alot.  We shared insights.  We sat in church together.  We went to movies together.  I still remember going to one of the Police Squad movies and laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes - and Sherri giving me the evil eye of righteous indignation for enjoying it so much.  I digress!

Mark and I went to Liberty University together.  He came to Roanoke after graduation, looking for work, and found another Work.  That was Sherri's maiden name!  I remember the day they announced that they had eloped and gotten married.  Michael and I traded places by being the best man in each other's wedding.  He married a childhood friend of Shannon's.  Wende grew up in Delaware, as did Shannon.  Small world!  Michael and Wende met while they were students at Liberty University.

These are special people who will be with us on Sunday.  Now, for Mark, Jr., he is a student at Liberty University.  He is sorting through what he wants to do.  He thinks he may be sensing a call into ministry.  Since we are "friends" on Facebook, I observed that many of his posts sounded an aweful lot like me at that age.  I could see that he had that same preacher wiring that only preachers have.  Can't explain it, but I know it when I see it.  When I had lunch with his dad, I threw out the offer to preach for Mark, Jr.  Next things next, Jr. accepted the offer.

I hope this will be a great time for him as he opens the Word for us.  I pray that the wind would catch him and give him a deep sense of joy as he speaks.  I hope that he will leave Salem on Sunday with some solidified plans for preparing further for ministry in the local church.  I pray that God will speak to us in a mighty way through him.

April 12, 2012, 3:12 PM

Boogers & Baptism

Boogers and such coming at the end of this entry.  I promise.  But, first things first.  I want to take a late look back in the mirror at this past Sunday's Easter message, How God Became King.  I was thinking about the message this morning as I was getting ready to come into work.  Often I will try to imagine what some past colleagues and mentors would make of my handling of the Word.  This morning, I was fondly recalling the man who gave me my first preaching opportunity.  Elder Dave Kenyon at Blackburg Christian Fellowship was that man.  He used to always chide me about my Sunday School style and eventually, my preaching philosophy.  Dave would say, "You need to be practical."  "You are too academic."  "Look at Jesus, he was very practical.  Look at his parables.  Down to earth."

Dave thought that I should be trying to help people understand how to navigate the concerns of living in the modern world -- just like Jesus did for his hearers, in his day.  Things like, how to be a good dad; how to have a good Christian home; how to deal with depression and anxiety; how to win friends and influence people, (Well, okay, I exaggerate with the last one there!  Sorry Mr. Carnegie!).

Nothing wrong with practicality.  However, as I have spent years reading the Gospels and the rest of the Scriptures, I have reached the conclusion that the Bible is not an "Owner's Manual" with instructions of how to handle every conceivable circumstance in life.  Certainly, we can draw encouragement from Scripture in life.  When we are sad, anxious, angry, questinong, etc. etc.  The Psalms are a great resource for all sorts of spiritual therapy.

However, the Scriptures, Old and New together, tell a wonderful story of God's engagement and purpose in the world.  By the time we get to the New Testament, we find that this Testament is completing what came before.  The story has come to a climax with the advent of King Jesus.  Far from a mere wisdom dispensing, wonder working, itinerant preacher, Jesus made it his life's mission to proclaim that God had come back, just as promised.  Just take a look at the way Matthew opens and closes his Gospel:  "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us) (Matt. 1:23 ESV) and "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matt. 28:19-20 ESV).

All of the parables, teachings, sayings, and symbolic actions went into driving this point home.  The Gospels are all about the Kingdom of God come, and in the process of coming.  (Again, thanks to Tom Wright for his lucid and compelling scholarship.  If you haven't read his stuff -- you need to!)

That is the narrative that gripped me back in 1995, though I did not quite understand how to articulate it then; and the narrative that still holds me tight today.  I want people to understand that the world is not just a mass of chance and chaos.  That life is not one dang thing after another.  That God is actively involved, every minute of the day.  History is moving from a beginning to an end, and God is the only mover.  We come to church week after week to be reminded of who we are.  To give God praise for what he is doing in the world.  For being strengthened for the task of being God's people in and for the world as we look for and hasten The Day.

Okay, now it is time for some boogers!  Enjoy this blog entry.  In light of the two baptism events we have had in the past three weeks, this is a timely piece.

Boogers & Baptism

April 6, 2012, 6:26 PM

Sermon Pre-Game

This Sunday, I will be preaching from the lectionary.  I chose Acts 10:34-43.  The broader context here is Peter's trip to the household of Cornelius.  Cornelius is a "God-Fearing" gentile.  This expression, "God-Fearing" referred to non-Jews who embraced Israel's God, but stopped short of being circumcised.

We are not going to be dealing with all of the events leading up to Peter's speech, which we will use.  Unfortunately, there is just not enough time to preach a sermon that long.  What I will be doing on Sunday will already be a little on the long side.  Be forewarned!

Here's the back story.  Cornelius sends for Peter to come and preach for him and show him the way to God.  At the same time, Peter is having this culinary nightmare: A sheet coming down out of heaven with all kinds of unclean animals -- pork BB-Q city baby, chasing it down with a little shrimp cocktail.  The voice then tells him to go and have at it.  Eat it up!  Long and short, God has to remind Peter that he is to call nothing unclean.  No person is unclean.  So, he can even have table fellowship with dirty, smelly, unclean gentiles!

Peter, when he puts it all together, realizes that God is working something on a grand scale.  God is intent on redeeming the whole world.  The Gospel is for the world, not just Israel.  Funny thing, this was nothing new.  This thought didn't come out of left field.  The Old Testament planted those seeds long ago (cf. Gen 12).  As I like to say, there's nothing new in the New Testament.  Israel just got greedy and turned in on themselves.  They forgot who they were called to be.  They were to be the mediator between God and the world.  To bring the light to the world.  They were supposed to be the ambassadors calling the world back to God.  Didn't happen -- that's why Jesus had to come.

Please understand, many groups are using this same Cornelius text to suggest all manner of fantasy.  That God changed his mind about certain sexual behaviors and now says, "Oh, it's okay now -- don't call anything unclean!"  All behaviors are permissable so get over your little social hang-ups.  I can't address this issue in the pulpit on Sunday, but, take my word for it, it is a creative attempt to read into the Scriptures something that isn't even remotely there.

On Sunday, we will be using this text to help us understand the meaning of the resurrection and on a grander scale, what the Gospel is really all about.

That's the set up for Sunday.  One other thing that I need to do is put a plug in for two books that I am greatly indebted to in my understanding of the Gospel.  N.T. Wright's How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels and Scot McKnight's The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited.  Those of you who know me know that the former Bishop of Durham (Wright) is my man!  Who'd have thought that a Presbyterian minister would be going to Canterbury for his theological fare?  I even borrowed Wright's title for the title to the sermon.

April 5, 2012, 11:12 PM

The Passion of the Christ

While other churches were hosting the traditional Maundy Thursday services and Seder Meals -- we tried something a little different tonight.  We got together for dinner and a movie.  We just recently installed a new 60 inch flat panel HD TV in the Fellowship Hall.  It is hooked up to our PA system there making it a pretty nifty place to watch a flick!

About 20 of us viewed Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.  Many of us had already seen the film.  There were a couple that had not.  I must admit that I was a little nervous during the movie.  Was this the right thing to do?  My ten year old son is watching this with me.  This is a really bloody and violent movie!  If I had taken that beating, I would have been dead before getting to Caiaphas!  Gibson really had them beat the day lights out of Jesus!  Is this movie appropriate in church?

But, hey, it is Passion Week.  I think that we tend to skip over the crucifixion in a perfunctory way.  The reasoning goes like this:  Jesus was God right?  And he knew he was going to come back to life, right?  So, no big deal.  Other Christians, particularly on the left, just despise the idea of penal substitution, so they embrace other more upbeat theories of atonement and fast forward to the resurrection!  Besides, on all accounts, the trip to the cross is depressing.  Most people don't want to be brought down.  I think this is the reason that Good Friday services are so poorly attended by Christians.  Our own gathering tonight was rather sparse.  Hey, I understand!  It takes quite a bit of endurance to make it through Gibson's presentation.  As the credits roll at the end, you feel like you've just gone fifteen rounds with Mike Tyson.

However, I do have a few thoughts about what I witnessed tonight:

  • When Jesus was really bloodied, I leaned over my son's shoulder and wispered, "See how much Jesus loves you?"
  • I was close to tears many times.  I had to hold it together as we closed in prayer at the end of the evening.
  •  I was repulsed by the pure callousness of the religious establishment.  I was even more disgusted by the portrayal of the Roman soldiers -- what a drunken, stupid, evil bunch of clods!
  • But then, you realize that you've been played:  We are looking into a mirror and seeing our own sin that brought the Son of God to this point!
  • I don't think this film was anti-semitic.  That's a crock.  The Romans come off much worse, and yet, I didn't hear any Italian lobby crying bloody murder and discrimination when the movie came out!  In fact, many Jews are protrayed sympathetically -- even Caiaphas seems to come to his senses at the end.
  • I think this was more powerful and vivid than any worship exercise that we could have presented.  Let's face it -- film is a powerful medium.  It is our language.

Will we do this again?  Maybe.  Perhaps we will kick off Holy Week next year with the film and then try to follow up with the more traditional forms of observance with this graphic imagery close to heart.

April 3, 2012, 4:37 AM

The Ten Commandments of Chick-fil-A

Okay.  This has nothing to do with a sermon, either past, present or future.  Just totally out-of-the-blue, non-sequitur, tangential fluff.  However, since Salem is about to open one of these "5 Star" dining experiences of the Christian culinary world, perhaps this is relelvant, in a practical way.  Enjoy!

The Ten Commandments of Chick-fil-A

Best response to this article?  It is this:  "Thou shalt learn to say polynesian sauce or just ask for bbq. My daughter used to be one of those happy, polite workers for CFA and she has great stories of requests for presbyterian sauce...!"

March 31, 2012, 8:38 PM

Some Second Thoughts?

A friend of mine once said that he was having doubts about whether or not to publish a certain article on his Facebook page.  He said, when in doubt, don't!  But he did anyway.  I have been having the same thoughts about the platform for my sermon tomorrow.  The sermon is using Homer Simpson's famous cry of despair, "D'oh!" to drive home a point about the Christian walk.  My subject tomorrow is Peter and his fearless proclamation that Jesus is the Christ!  However, he follows that pinnacle moment with some pretty regret-able "D'oh!"s.

Here's the rub.  Is using an expression from popular culture to illustrate a point in a sermon acceptable?  Is it making a mockery of the pulpit and God's Word?  I'm even using a video clip -- which I will refer to from now on as a video "blip" -- to drive home the point.  Peter and Homer?

No need to tell you, there are many times that I feel like Homer!  Just as thick skulled.  Making the same stupid mistakes.  Feeling like I'm never going to arrive as a mature Christian.  Do you ever feel like that?  Do you ever want to cry out in despair, "D'oh!"?  Does it encourage you that Peter did the same kind of things?

Alright.  Forgive me in advance for using the illustration and bringing Homer into our worship service tomorrow. 

March 30, 2012, 3:23 PM

A Post-Script from the Prophets

We are finished with the major prophets for a while.  Last summer, we took a tour through Ezekiel.  And for the last ten weeks, the pulpit has been consumed with the last half of the book of Isaiah.  If I were to throw in the other major prophet Jeremiah and ask what all three prophets have in common, what would you say?

Well, the short answer is that they all have a fairly common vision for the future expressed a little differently.  The short and sweet, down and dirty is that they all proclaim a time when God will complete his kingdom plans.  They all three have a vision of what it will be like when God is all in all.

As we saw in Isaiah, there is a slow burn right up to the new heavens and new earth.  Starts with the humble servant and ends with the glorious vision of the result of his work.  There is no doubt that we end on the note of heaven in Isaiah.  It is a grand plan.  It is full of hope in a not too certain world.

Going to Ezekiel, you begin with the sad story of exile for God's people.  The glory of God departing the temple in Jerusalem.  Ichabod!  The visions of the desecrations left in his place.  But God has left the building, along with Elvis.  But, as you draw to the close of Ezekiel, you are a witness to the rebuilding of the temple, only on a much grander scale.  It becomes clear in hindsight that this temple is not meant o be taken as a literal brick and mortar fulfillment, but speaks of the time when God will once again be present among his people.  Right there in their midst.  You get this as you look to the book of Revelation and realize that the imagery there in Ezekeil is carried over in style in the last book of the Bible.

The prophet Jeremiah goes a different route.  Jeremiah makes much of the new covenant in which God will write the law on the hearts of his people.  The book ends with the release of King Jehoichin, meaning that the hope of the Davidic king and the Davidic covenant being fulfilled yet.  God's not done yet.  He will bring about his kingdom just the way he has advertised from the beginning.

As we move on in our pulpit studies, please do keep in mind that the prophetic books in the Old Testament are not hopelessly beyond your reach.  Please remember to grasp the basic story of God's promises and his fulfilling of those promises in Jesus Christ and you will be half-way there already!

Looking forward, we come to Palm Sunday with a message from Mark 8:22-33.  Two pericopes here back to back that fit purposely together.  The blind man at Bethsaida and Peter's confession and screw-up.  In thinking of Peter's mess ups and in honor of the fact that Sunday will be April Fool's Day, I am calling the sermon "D'oh!"  Simpson's fans will have no problem understanding the title.

March 23, 2012, 8:57 AM

Applied Christianity

Perhaps as a way of justifying this post, I must say that the article that I am linking up to is an application of everything I have ever tried to teach you in my pulpit time.  The reality is, if you walk out of here week after week and have no change of heart in any shape or degree...well, perhaps you could find better things to do with precious R&R time on the weekend!  Oh, that is a hard thing to say!

The bottom line, I think, is that we don't do church for the sake of entertainment or even as a task to be checked off dutifully.  No, we come to worship to be changed.  We want God to work in our hearts.  We want to be firmly reminded of who we are week after week.  It IS a weekly memory post-it note:  "You are a child of God!  This is who you are supposed to be!"  (Of course, this in no way exhausts the reasons we do weekly worship, you understand.)

With that said, I now submit this article to you for your enjoyment!  The response of these Christians to the village "atheist" is what it is all about!  Note well in this article that the man does not claim that he has changed his mind about Christ as a result of these kindnesses-- just his surprising reappraisal of some of his followers!  For all we know, he is still a prosoner to his "atheism."

Nevertheless, we are to do good to all people irregardless of whether we ever get a "decision for Christ."  We don't even do nice things as a means to an end.  We do these things because that is who we are!  We do them because this is what God is like -- and we are created in His image!

Oh man, that stuff will preach!

Here it is:  Atheist Gets a Taste of God's Goodness.

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