On the Plains of Moab Blog
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March 20, 2012, 6:04 AM

How To Listen To A Sermon

Interesting link that you may find helpful for your Sunday morning worship!

How To Listen To A Sermon

March 19, 2012, 7:58 AM

Just Be Nice?

As I think about what I commended to you yesterday in the sermon, I must tell you that I have somewhat mixed feelings about it.  You see, even though you needed to hear some of that, you were probably not shocked by what you heard.  Smile a little more?  Check.  Be a good employee? Check.  Stop gossiping?  Oooh, well, okay, I think... Check!  Perhaps you thought my main drift was "just be nice"?  Perhaps.  And if you did, well, that's okay by me.

You see, I think the "congregation" that needed to hear that message the most would probably be one that tended to take their collective selves a bit too seriously; who know their doctrine; and who only want "the meat" of the Word.  These folks don't want the watered down, nice, lite version of the Faith.  They are serious!

That, I suggest, would probably be the type of congregation that could have benefitted most from yesterday's message, even as it would have most likely made them wince!

My conviction is that  God has surely declared the end from the beginning.  God will see this project through.  Because Jesus has come the first time, we know that he will come again.  It is God's work, period.  However, and this is the part of the puzzle that I have been sorely neglecting for most of my Christian life -- WE have been invited into this project.  God is reclaiming the territory one soul at a time.  And, once captured, we have a role in this drama of redemption!

And so, I just sat there on Friday afternoon, trying to think of ways that we could be involved.  I wanted to think of ways that we could be salt and light in our world.  I wanted to think of ways that we could hasten the Day.  That Day.

I used to think that the only way that we could be a part of the project was "soul winning."  Sharing the Gospel.  Missions!  Getting "decisions for Christ."  Getting involved in politics, electing "evangelical" candidates for public office.  Fighting hard in the public square for Christian causes.  Preaching and teaching serious theology in the church. So on, and so forth.

Now, I must say, Many of those items are well and good.  We do surely want to share the Gospel.  We long to see souls "won for Christ."  We do want to be good stewards with our civic involvement -- by all means, vote!  And we do want to speak a word of truth to and about the culture we live in.  Lord knows, there is much dross out there in the public arena!

But, I think we need to get back to the basics.  How does it look when God has invaded your life?  What does it look like when God's people are living out the New Day that Jesus proclaimed in that Nazareth synagogue when he said "This is it!  Tikkun Olam, dude!"  (I paraphrase, of course!)

Thus the list from yesterday.  I reproduce it here for your re-digesting!

  • Live your life faithfully where you have been called -- Whatever vocation.  Use the abilities that God has given you for the common up-building and bettering of our world.
  • Be a dedicated, trusted employee.
  • Be a fair and understanding boss.
  • Be a good student.
  • Be a faithful friend.
  • Love your spouse and your children.
  • Practice forgiveness and kindness – loving your neighbor just as you love your own flesh.
  • Recognize every human being as a potential object of God’s mercy.  No matter what they look like.  No matter how they live.  No matter their social standing.
  • Share the hope and love of God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ when you have the opportunity.
  • Do things that you wouldn’t normally do because it would put you out or cost you a little more than you want to spend.
  • Stop gossiping and start saying graceful things about people – even people you don’t like.
  • Speak healing words.  Speak encouraging words.
  • Be someone who is dependable; not a selfish twit.
  • Speak when you have a voice to what you know that God would desire for your neighborhood; your town; your world.
  • Be a part of the solution; not the problem.
  • Recognize the oh-so-hard-to-accept-reality that true freedom isn’t about unrestricted, libertine free choice, but that freedom is tethered to the truth of God’s Word.
  • Be a student of the Word.  Pray without ceasing.  Grow in your love for Jesus a little more each day.
  • Train your mind and heart in holiness.  As Paul says, take every thought captive!
  • Smile a little more often.



March 17, 2012, 7:04 AM

Naughty Preachers

This from Doug Wilson's blog, Blog & Mablog:

"I think good preachers shouild be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills, spirituality pills, and morality pills, and flush them down the drain . . . But preachers can't be that naughty or brave unless they're free of their own need for the dope of acceptance" (Robert Farrar Capon, The Foolishness of Preaching, p.14).

March 15, 2012, 9:20 AM

The Many Sides of Atonement

This past Sunday, I preached from a very rich text in Isaiah.  The Fourth Servant Song (52:13-53:12) is usually read in our pulpits during Holy Week, most especially during Good Friday services.  The words here in this Song reveal the depth and costliness of God's involvement in our salvation:  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his stripes (beatings) we are healed!

My aim to this on Sunday was to drive home this thought that the Servant died for YOU and he died for ME.  It is cool to see how Isaiah gets real personal in verses 2-6 with the 1st person plural pronoun : "we," "our" and "us."  I just changed the wording up during the sermon and read it a little bit more up close and personal, shifting the pronoun to the 1st person singular - "I," "me" and "my."  I did this to Christ!  His death was my fault.  It was my sin that did it, yes mine!

And so, even though I did not really dwell technically upon the topic of the atonement of Christ, my understanding I trust, came through loud and clear:  There is an inescapeable element of substitution and payment for sins in the death of the Jesus.  In the history of theology, this understanding of the work on the cross has been understood as "substitutionary atonement," or "vicarious atonement," or "penal substitution," with the overall work coming under the headings of "expiation" (i.e. canceling out of sins) and "propitiation" (i.e. the satisfaction of God's judgment/wrath).  (Gotta love theology!)

But the perennial rub is that far too many Christian teachers, preachers and scholars have been repulsed by this understanding of atonement, even in the face of a mountain of scriptural warrant for the thought.  A few years ago at a conference, that unfortunately had the financial support of our own denomination, a speaker noted in reference to substitutionary atonement, "I don't think we need a theory of atonement at all....Atonement has to do so much with death....I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and wierd stuff." (Q&A with Delores Williams at the Re-Imagining Conference in Minneapolis, MN, 11/05/1993).  All I can say is, "Grrrrrrrrr."

Moving along, other theories of atonement have been put forth throughout the history of the church.  There are several, but two seem to stand out and cover most of the theological bases.  The first is what has been called the "moral influence" theory.  This view says that the death of Christ on the cross was a demonstration of God's great empathy for humanity.  He so identified with us and our pain, that he came down and lived among us and suffered and died.  We should be moved by God's great love for us!  We can never be the same as we respond with gratefulness!

The second view has been called, among other things, Christus Victor (Christ the Victor!)  This view holds that Jesus came and conquered the forces of sin, death and the devil.  Ephesians 6 speaks of this spiritual warfare and victory.  Christ has emerged the winner, and we ride in those great coat-tails.

For many theologians, when it comes to theories of atonement, it is either my way or the highway!  Either it is this, or nothing!  However, I beg to differ here!  I do believe that substitutionary atonement is clearly taught in Scripture, and that to deny this would be in effect, a denial of the Gospel.  However, I will also contend that there is indeed a flavor of the other two understandings of the atonement present in the work of Christ on the cross.  Jesus giving up his life was indeed motivated by his great love for us!  AND...his death on the cross was indeed the death knell for the forces of evil in the spiritual realm -- The victory on the cross was the death of death and the expulsion of sin.

Both of those views go well with substitutionary atonement!  Together, they give us a fuller picture of Easter.  What glory!  As I mention in the title to this post, there are many sides of the atonement.  It is rich.  I pray that this powerful truth from God's Word would continue to take your heart captive!   


February 29, 2012, 12:21 PM

The Third Servant Song.

We are moving rather quickly to the 3rd Servant Song for Sunday's sermon, and you will notice that the theme of suffering and shame is coming into view now.  In the first two songs, this wasn't very prominent.  But, with Isaiah 50, and especially the 4th Servan Song in chapters 52-53, the atonement is clearly on display.

What I want to contemplate this Sunday is the unbelievable concept that God would suffer shame and reproach to redeem and reclaim us!  How could this be?  This is why, I suspect, that so many in other religions look at Christianity as strange and far-fetched.  Certainly, if there was a God, he wouldn't do it -- save the world -- THAT way!

Perhaps I will get to blog a couple of more times before Sunday to give you a heads up on what's coming.  We shall see.  In the meantime, consider the text for this upcoming sermon:   

Isaiah 50:4-9 (NIV) 4 The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.  5The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.  6I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.  7Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.  8He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against me? Let us face each other! Who is my accuser? Let him confront me!  9It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.


February 29, 2012, 12:01 PM

The World's Most Interesting Man

Now, of course, we realize -- or should realize -- that we do not need the world's most interesting man for our most basic need.  We need the most faithful man!  Yet still, here is a listing of all (at least, most of them) the great one-liners from that Dos Aquis commercial:

  • If he were to pat you on the back, you would list it on your resume.
  • Both sides of his pillow are cool.
  • When in Rome, they do as he does.
  • His words carry weight that would break a less interesting mans jaw.
  • He’s won trophies for his game face alone.
  • He bowls… Overhand.
  • He is the life of parties he has never attended.
  • If he were to punch you in the face, you’d have to fight off the urge to thank him.
  • Sharks Have a week dedicated to him.
  • Police often question him, just because they find him interesting.
  • His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser mans body.
  • His blood smells like cologne.
  • He has amassed an amazingly large DVD collection, and has never once alphabetised it.
  • If he were to mail a letter without postage, it would still get there.
  • The pheromones he secretes effect people miles away… in a slight, but measurable way.
  • He once punched a magician. That’s right, you heard me.
  • His hands feel like rich, brown swede.
  • He lived in the hills of the Serengeti for a summer after being gifted a wife by a local tribes men.
  • He owns 4 sports cars, and rents 5.
  • He taught a horse to read his email for him.
  • He almost broke the land speed record in 1977, popular opinion among his team was that his beard caused to much wind resistance. He would have shaved it… No, no he wouldn’t have.
  • He was the featured man at a bachelorette auction he brought in over 13 million euro, under the table.
  • His personality is so magnetic, he is unable to carry credit cards.
  • Even his enemy’s list him as there emergency contact.
  • He never say’s anything taste like chicken… Not even chicken.
  • He speaks fluent French, in Russian.
  • His charm is so contagious, vaccines we’re created for it.
  • Years ago, he created a city out of blocks. Today over 600,000 people live and work there.
  • He is the only person to ever ace a Rorschach Test.
  • Every time he goes for a swim. Dolphins appear.
  • Alien abductors have asked him, to probe them.
  • If he we’re to give you directions… You would never get lost. And you’d arive at least 5 minutes early.
  • His legend precedes him, the way lightning precedes thunder.
  • His reputation is expanding, faster then the universe.
  • He once had an akward moment, just to see how it feels.
  • He lives vicariously throug himself.
  • He’s been known to cure narcolepsy just by walking into a room.
  • He’s a lover… Not a fighter, but he’s also a fighter, so Don’t get any ideas.
  • He once visited a Psychic…to warn her.
  • Bear hugs are what he gives bears
  • He once taught a German Shepard how to bark in Russian.
  • His organ donor card also includes his beard.
  • People hang on his every word, even the prepositions.
  • He’s against cruelty to animals, but isn’t afraid to give a stern warning.
  • Chihuahuas have never barked at him, he is just that intimidating.
  • When he goes for a swim he doesn’t get wet, the water gets him.
  • The last time he shaved, he donated a double-king sized comforter to an orphanage.

Stay Thirsty My Friends!


February 20, 2012, 12:03 PM

A Post-Script

What wonderful timing yesterday!  We were able to get in all the activities that we had scheduled before the snow really hit hard.  Sunday School, worship, the 2nd annual Chili-Cook-Off, the field trip to Dixie Caverns and the wedding shower for Mike and Lindsay Noto.  Better yet, the weather did not impact our numbers yesterday.  Thank you New Hope for a wonderful day!

Another providential note:  We rolled into our long, steep and merely wet driveway at about 4:15 yesterday.  As soon as the car was safely in the garage, the snow started to stick as the temperature finally fell below 32 degrees for the first time dugin the day.  Oh, my.

But, to the matter at hand.  I said that I wanted to apply the message yesterday in this blog since I didn't anticipate being able to do it on Sunday.  Well, things were just so poisitive and upbeat during the service, that I just couldn't leave the task undone in the pulpit.  I did talk about what the basic points of Christian truth mean in practice.  perhaps I can just re-iterate what I said yesterday.

The points, as you see in the previous blog entry, are, 1) You can't earn salvation; 2) You are a natural sinner; and 3) The Faith is frought with difficulties (many times).

Now, if we leave it there with those three points, then we become the frozen chosen!  Cold, stern Presbyterians who think having fun is a sin!  That being joyful is un-Christian!  It's all about groveling in our sin and unworthiness.

Well, no.  The point of the three points is to free us up to be joyful.  To free us up from the hang-up of maintaining our good standing before God.  To truly rejoice in the mercy and love of God.  To empower us as we serve the Kingdom of God, knowing that we cannot and will not fail.  There are so many great things ahead of us in the plan of God!  This doesn't mean it's going to be easy.  But, it is there for the taking!

I can't wait to unpack the remaining messages in this series! 


February 18, 2012, 7:13 PM

Preview of Tomorrow

Sitting here wondering if we are going to be having church tomorrow as we are under a winter storm warning with up to 7 inches of snow expected by sundown tomorrow night.  We shall see.  As of now -- we are on!

I wanted to drop my three points on the sermon tomorrow.  The text is Isaiah 48:1-11.  That's the focus.  Here are my points:


I describe these observations as basic Christian truth.  You must grasp these points to really understand the Gospel.  In fact, getting these points makes you appreciate jesus even more.  I started to describe these as Reformed, Presbyterian truths -- but, shux, it's bigger than that!

The context of Isaiah 48 is God finishing up describing how he's going to judge Babylon for all the nasty things they've done.  Taking Judah captive being chief among them!  But, Isaiah now has to remind Judah that it's not because of anything they've done to deserve it.  In fact, he unloads some pretty stiff charges against them -- all so that they will better appreciate and live into what God has called them to do and be.

Now one thing that I will warn you about:  This sermon has no application section!  Once again, I ran out of time.  Just too much to put in one little sermon!  For the application, you will have to check back here on Monday........Or, if we get scrubbed tomorrow, NEXT Monday! 

February 15, 2012, 5:50 PM

Not Quite Exactly

I will have to say that Sunday did not turn out exactly as I had hoped.  My worst fears as a pastor center around the very real possibility of being too opaque in the pulpit.  As Mark Futato at RTS Orlando used to always say in Comm. Labs:  "Fuzzy in the pulpit; foggy in the pews!"  In my defense, I will say that this stuff in Isaiah is so extremely rich, that it's hard to unpack everything in little preaching portions.  Yes, I know, you most likely think 20 minutes is forever -- but, it's really not!  As a preacher, I agonize over keeping sermon manuscripts under a certain word count.  I just don't have the luxury of going into a lot of detail to set up a passage; consider each verse; and then have some extended time for application.

In our mainline Presbyterian tradition, the expectation is that we will craft a nice little paper with a story or two, a joke, perhaps a meaningful poem, and then a brief mention of the passage under consideration towards the end of the sermon to demonstrate that we really did read it!  The important aspect is that you read every word -- word for word so that you won't go on too long.  Nice, short, sweet.

I digress!

The stuff we are talking about in Isaiah forms the basis of all that we cherish in the New Testament.  The Gospel is really all there in Isaiah.  Let me try to do here what I do not think I did very well on Sunday:

Isaiah 1-39 covers the period of Isaiah's ministry.  His dealings with kings.  His preaching to the people that they were heading for disaster -- exile.  Assyria would be the rod that God would use.  The southern kingdom of Judah watched as their northern brothers and sisters went off under judgment -- but they didn't take the message to heart!  The little exchange between Hezekiah and Isaiah in Isa. 39 is the icing on the cake!

In chapters 40-66, Isaiah sees down the corridor of time as God unpacks the future.

Isaiah 40 -- Now, nearly 200 years later and in the context of Babylonian exile for the southern kingdom of Judah (for all the bone-headedness in chapters 1-39), Isaiah's word is that God knows of their circumstances. He WILL remember his promise to his people (you know, the word of God will stand forever stuff).  Salvation will come.

Isaiah 42 -- Israel was supposed to be God's servant.  To be the light.  To show the way.  They didn't.  Soooo...God would provide another servant who would fulfill all righteousness.  ...Sometime in the future.

Isaiah 44-45 -- Just so Israel would know that God means business, Isaiah foretells them about the delieverance that they will experience by the hand of the pagan king, Cyrus of the Persians.  (I do believe this is a real honest-to-goodness prophecy from the only Isaiah, as I made clear with red meat on Sunday!)  This will be a down payment on the even greater salvation that will be known through the coming servant of the Lord.

Isaiah 46-48 -- Babylon is judged, really judged.  Spanked.  God's people reminded that God is God and he delivers!

Isaiah 49-66 -- The servant of the Lord further unpacked.  The New heavens and the New Earth will follow.

Cool how this stuff unloads!

I will be blogging on this Sunday's message as I narrow down the scope.  Pray for me.

(The picture, by the way, is of the Sun breaking through the fog!)


February 10, 2012, 8:10 PM


For those of you who check out this blog, you're in for something different here!  As I just put the finishing touches on Sunday's sermon, I realized that I had too much material for Sunday!  And so, for the first time ever, I am placing the introductory section of the sermon right here on this blog.  Read this and you'll be a leg up for Sunday!

The Gospel According to Isaiah - The Meaning of Easter: The Down Payment (Part #4 of 10)  Isa. 44:23-45:8

Let’s review just a little bit.

In the beginning (of this series), we learned that in order to get to the good news of the Gospel, we must deal with some bad news about our situation.

The good news is this:  God is a gracious God to his people.  He chose Israel from all the people in the world.  He called them to a special mission that would in turn bring grace and peace to the rest of the world.  He called Israel to be his ambassadors to the world and to make his ways known.  He wanted Israel to be the mediators of a better way; in other words, to model holiness and by so doing would to show them the world the way of life.

The bad news is that they failed in this mission.  They rebelled against the call.  They went after other gods, copying the culture around them.  They became indistinguishable from the nations they were supposed to redeem.

However, the good news part two following close on the heels of the bad news is that God would still be true to his promise to bless the nations through his people.  Nothing can thwart these plans:  Neither the disobedience of his own people nor the unbelief of foreign nations can stop God from accomplishing his design for the world.

Several weeks ago, we saw the plan introduced in Isaiah 40.  Comfort, comfort my people, says your God….In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isa 40:1, 3 NIV).  Last week we saw the plan begin to unfold in the first servant song in Isaiah 42:  “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice [righteousness; my ways; my light] to the nations.” (42:1 NIV).

THIS my friends was a calling card for Jesus Christ.  We know this is true because Jesus claims them for himself and other New Testament writers come back to this section of Isaiah over and over as confirmation of Jesus as the embodiment and fulfillment of the Servant of the Lord prophecies.

Of course, you must remember as well that even in the glory of Jesus being the fulfillment of those prophecies, the end of the servant song from Isa. 42 calls for a holy patience in this news.  The servant himself, we are told, will not grow faint or discouraged or stop until he has accomplished his mission; nevertheless, we must still wait for it, maintaining a fervent, persistent hope for the consummation of all things.  Our calling until then is to be patient in faith, working out in our own local neighborhood/expression of the Kingdom where God has planted us.

You are now up to date, whether or not you have been here through three sermons!  Now we come to [Sunday]!

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