On the Plains of Moab Blog
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January 4, 2012, 12:07 PM

Yes, You Can!

Now, with that title, I am not planning on running for president!  I assure you.  This is the title that has been swimming in my mind as I prepare for the message that I will preach to the four newly elected officers (and which you will actively overhear!).  The text is that wonderful exhortation in Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things, through Christ, who gives me strength."

I heard this line from Paul quite a bit when I was a student, long ago, at Liberty University.  Dr. Falwell seemed to exhale this line at every opportune moment.  Usually he would preface the verse with something like this, "You need to get your scissors and cut out two words from your dictionary:  'quit' and 'cannot.'  The apostle Paul says, 'I can do ALLLLLLL things......'"  I can still hear him saying that from the pulpit.  I can see his smile.  I can remember the hand gestures.  Just like it was yesterday.

I don't think I appreciated, as a young college student, fully the powerful message that he was trying to impart!  The strength is there to live out the Faith.  The question is, do we want it?  It really is as simple as that.  There's nothing heretical about that thought.  That isn't the prosperity gospel in full or even the light version.  It is just about God providing for what he commands.  (God never tells you to sprout wings and fly or develop gills and breathe in water.)

This is what I want to communicate to our new elders-elect and deacon-elect.  God has made abundant provision for them to exercise their gifts and abilities for the building of this church and his Kingdom to the fullest extent.  They can do it!  Yes they can!  (And so can you!)

Are you seeing where this thing is going? 

December 28, 2011, 12:26 PM

Sermon Homework

I have an assignment for those of you who will be present in worship on Sunday.  The text will be from Psalm 90.  The only psalm explicitly identified with Moses.  I want you to read this psalm over several times and reflect on what it has to say to us in the upcoming new year.  What is the wisdom here?  What are the cautions?  What are the blessings of hearing with a willing heart?

Try breaking the psalm up into three parts (as I will do on Sunday):  90:1-6; 90:7-11; and 90:12-17.  Try to summarize the gist of each section.  How do they fit together?  There is a message here!  And we need this for the upcoming year.

Here are a few of the salient thoughts in this psalm:

  • Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (90:1-2 ESV).
  • ...A thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. (90:4 ESV).
  • You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. (90:8 ESV).
  • The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. (90:10 ESV).
  • ...Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (90:12 ESV).

And finally, for good measure, this:  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands! (90:17 ESV).


December 23, 2011, 4:41 PM

A Few Things

Christmas Eve is upon us!  And, long before we even think of New Years' resolutions, I want to make a Christmas one:  Preach the Gospel as the Gospel.  Period.  I have been thinking alot about the reason and purpose of sermons.  What are they supposed to do?  How are they supposed to be?

Seems to me that we preachers land in either one of two extremes.  There is the preacher who is always beating you down from the pulpit with your sins.  Bottom line: God is mad at you!  Whew!  Good thing Jesus came or you'd be toast!

Then there is the preacher who's never seen a rainy day.  Sin and death and wrath and cross are not ever used, because they are, well, unpleasant.  They preach H. Richard Niebuhr's "God without wrath [bringing] men [and women] without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross."

I don't want to veer too far in either of those directions.  Perhaps like the Psalmist, I want to ground us in the reality of our situation (sin and death) without ever forgetting that God always has the last word on my sin (and yours) through saving faith.  The goal of good preaching, I'm convinced, is to leave the hearer wooed by the love of God!

On another note, I do want to draw your attention to the banner on each page.  (See immediately above!)  Did you notice the new logo there?  That is our new church logo -- thanks to SignDesign and Heather Gearhart.

One day, I picked up the phone and called Heather.  I said -- to the effect --  Can you draw a logo for the church that includes our letters, our crosses out front, the unique shape of the sanctuary architecture, and throw in the Celtic cross for good measure?  I was tickled.  She said "Yes."  And, she did it well!

I sent the design on to SignDesign, and they shaped it into what you see now.  Note that all of the original features are there.  The point of our sanctuary at the top of the letters.  The Celtic cross in the middle -- meaning that, of course, naturally, that Jesus was a Presbyterian.  And the burst (or crown) thrown in for good measure.

Hope you like it!

December 17, 2011, 11:50 AM

Everybody Loves Jesus?

I was on the Trevin Wax's Kingdom People blog yesterday, and came across what he said was one of his favorite clips from Everybody Loves Raymond.  He spelled out the exchange that caught his fancy: 

Ray: “I practice being a good person every day. I’m a decent fellow. I do good things. I always leave a big tip. If a squirrel runs in front of the car, do I not swerve? I am considerate of people’s feelings. Remember the plumber who came over with the big eye? I treated him like a completely normal person. OK, so, why do I have to go to church every Sunday to prove my goodness? I’m living it!”

Debra: (sarcastically) “Well, you know, since you are so good during the week, maybe on Sundays we should have everybody come over here and sit around you!”

That's good stuff!  I know that the actress who plays Debra (Patria Heaton) is (I think) a self-described, unashamed Christian in Hollywood -- a rarity these days --but I never realized how much pull she had in the scripts.  (At least I'm guessing that she contributed a little understanding there.)  However, after this initial exchange, things start to get back to normal -- church and Jesus getting relegated to obscure, boring, why do people do this anyway? stuff.

Check out the clip below and see what I mean:

Go here: Everybody Loves Raymond Clip

Apparently everybody loves Raymond; but not everybody thinks Jesus is all that.

December 14, 2011, 10:44 AM

Mark's Birth Narrative

Well, actually, Mark doesn't contain a birth narrative!  Only Matthew and Luke have an account of that happening.

So, you may ask yourself, why am I preaching from Mark 1:1-3 this Sunday?  Shoot, I'm not even going to be saying anything about John the Baptist -- and when you preach on this text during Advent, that's usually the reason you do it!

Well, I am going to preach from this text because I want to explore the essential meaning of Advent.  Often, we turn sentimental at this time of year.  We talk about the little, cuddly baby in the manger.  Baby Jesus being born into our hearts.  We sometimes seem to speak of Advent as a time to look for yet another humble birth in Bethlehem.

Well.  No.  That's not what Advent is primarily about, though Incarnation packs a ton of meaning.

Advent is more about the Second Coming than the first coming two thousand years ago.  Jesus did in fact come as a little, human baby.  But, that is the reason, the fuel, the basis (Incarnation again) -- if you will -- that we can have Advent hope and assurance that he will come again as risen Savior, King and Lord!

I am going to look at three words (concepts, really) this Sunday that help us unpack this meaning:  Gospel, Christ and Son of God.

December 7, 2011, 3:33 PM

Another Take on Christmas

I came across yet another article on the Christmas vs. Dandy December match-up.  I wanted to link to this because I find that I do not agree with this author's ultimate discomfort with the way Christmas is celebrated here in the West but it is something to chew on and wrestle with.  This is, I want to point out, a Christian perspective on the issue.  Go here:  Let's put "Christ"-mas in its place

 Now first of all -- X-mas is nothing more than taking the Greek letter chi (X -- the first letter in the word Christ), and shortening the word Christmas with Christian shorthand.  When I am scribbling notes in prep for a sermon or class, I will abbreviate Christ or Jesus with an "X."  When I abbreviate God, it is the Greek letter theta.  The Holy Spirit, the Greek letter pi.  X-mas is neither a desecration of the word Christmas nor a secular substitute!

Second of all, I have made my peace with Christmas.  The core of the holiday is about giving.  It is about peace.  It is about hope.  If you choose to see giving gifts and celebrating at endless Winter Solstice office or class parties as senseless consumption, then call me spiritually incorrect.  I don't mind.  All people, and I really do mean all people, even those who don't name the Name Jesus, know deep down in their hearts that there is something special about this time of year.  It does take a special person (the Son of God) to inspire such a universal outburst of Christmas cheer all over the world, in every setting.

Third, I am finding one big thing that I find as irritating as all of the radio stations in the Valley en masse turning to 24/7 Christmas music before Halloween -- and that is the cosmic kill-joy spiritual gas-bags who find the evil of commercialism behind every Christmas celebration.  Get a Light, man!

N.B.  I DO like Christmas season music -- just not before Thanksgiving!

 On a sermon note, I will not be preaching this Sunday.  This will be the Sunday that we have our Christmas Cantata and Drama.  I look forward to getting back with this Advent series in the Gospels.  On the 18th, we will be looking at the first three verses of the Gospel of Mark.  There is no birth narrative in that Gospel.  But, Mark does have alot to say about Christmas!  More on Friday.

December 5, 2011, 4:38 PM

Still on the Virgin Birth of Christ

The sermon that I preached yesterday on Matthew 1:18-25 was one that I initially used back in 2004.  I used the same title -- A New Creation.  However, the focus then was heavily weighted to the thought that we get so upset over trivial things like the world refusing to say "Merry Christmas" or giving us their blessing so that we can say it in public.  Why not rather, I preached earnestly, give more thought to the reality of the new creation we've become in Christ?  All of the mechanics from Genesis and the Spirit were there orginally, but, I just wasn't getting real excited about the new reality that God was up to in the coming of his son in Bethlehem.

Yesterday, I made an unplanned, unscripted statement that I hope made sense.  I said something like the first coming of Jesus doesn't really mean all that much apart from his virgin birth.  In other words, take away the virgin birth and you deface the Gospel!  Now really, that was a bit of provocative sensationalism there.  But what I meant by it was that God -- in the incarnation -- was demonstrating that with this birth, he was really and truly re-creating creation.  It was Genesis 1:1 all over again -- but this time, for keeps.  The creative juices were flowing through the brooding Spirit of God in the womb of the Virgin.

I believe the virgin birth declares the reality of what God would be doing in Jesus Christ:  Brewing a new creation.  Doing something new in the words of Isaiah.  Something that would blow our socks off!  New creation.  The end of the ages drawing closer.  The Day of the Lord peeking in.  The Kingdom of God dawning.  The incarnational downpayment on the promises of the Old Testament prophets.  God would do this new thing just like he did in the beginning.  This is just how radical the coming of Jesus was -- in theological terms.  (And BTW, just because a biblical story is heavily loaded for theological bear does not mean that it can't actually have happened in time and history!)  [Sorry for the double negative.]

For most of my ministry, and indeed, as a student at Liberty University, I was always taught that the virgin birth was a necessity because Jesus could not come into the world the way everybody else did because he had to remain free from the taint of human sin.  He had to come this way because he was after all, God in the flesh.  [That sounds so silly as I write these words.]  [See what an unreflective, unexamined Christian thought life can do to a person?!]  But, the more I have reflected on this over time, not only is it unpersuasive; it's not even biblically sound reasoning!

Don't miss the big picture here.  Don't forget what God's doing in the world.  Don't overlook the role of the Holy Spirit in creation and new creation.  Now, read Matthew's account of the birth of Christ with new eyes!

Let's turn our attention away from silly agnosticism over the plausibility of the miraculous and bask in the the truth of the nativity.  God really did an incredible thing back then.  And it still rocks our world today!

December 2, 2011, 11:33 AM

A Few Cautionary Words for this Sunday

This Sunday, we will be looking at Matthew's acount of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Specifically, we will be focusing on the virgin birth of Christ.  Usually, when this topic is presented in the pulpit, the typical minister gets fired up at those who would cast aspersion on the Bible's account of what happened in Bethlehem that night.  (Read:  You sorry liberal!)  My sympathies are certainly closer to this righteous indignation -- more so than the other side of the coin.  On that other side, some ministers, sadly far too many Presbyterian ministers, condescendingly write this (and all other miracles in the Bible) off as a pre-modern myth never meant to be taken literally.  (Read:  You stupid fundamentalist!)

The problem with the thundering, believing minister is that he (or she) never gets beyond the bumper sticker slogan, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it."  The problem with the disbelieving minister is his (or her) reluctance to ask the pertinent question of why a virgin birth in the first place?  Really now, a virgin birth was just as impossible thousands of years ago as it is today.  It was just as much a stretch for Mathew and Luke's first hearers as it is for us.  Virgin births don't happen as a matter of course in any era of time.  So, why did Matthew (and Luke) put something so outlandish and unbelieveable in their Gospels?  There has to be some reason for the inclusion of this miracle.

This is where we want to begin on Sunday.  The question to ask is not, "Could this happen?" but ""Why did this happen?"  What does the virgin birth of Christ communicate to us?  My working assumption (as it should be for any minister worth his or her weight in salt) is that God can do anything he wants.  Period.  Our job is to figure out what God is trying to teach with this unique birth.

So, with all of that said, I tell you, Sunday will be about a new creation.  Sunday will be about the work of the Holy Spirit.  Sunday will be about the wonder of what God did in Jesus the Christ.  Can't wait to unpack the virgin birth of Christ for you on Sunday!


November 30, 2011, 5:05 PM

The Final Word

I wanted to throw these Michael Card lyrics up before the sermon this Sunday.  The song is called The Final Word.  No other Word was needed!  Emphasis in bold mine!

You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father’s Wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Father’s fondest thought took on flesh and bone.
He spoke the living luminous Word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard
Took place in God the Father as He spoke that final Word.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.

Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

And so the Light became alive
And manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time
So we could understand.

He spoke the Incarnation and then so was born the Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.

Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born the baby who would die to make it mine.

November 7, 2011, 7:31 AM

You Have Got To Be Kidding Me?

Okay, here on this Monday morning, I am going to give you the game plan for the week.  So, prepare yourself.  Are you ready for this mind-load?  The sermon for this upcoming Sunday will be on stewardship.  Oh, I can hear the groans already.  Now, get ready for the second punch.  The sermon text will come from the book of Leviticus.  Stewardship and Leviticus?  On the same day?  At the same time?  You've got to be kidding!

Well, no.  I'm not.

Not to give away any fire at this point, the book of Leviticus has quite a bit to say about giving.  And, it is not all one-sided as you might imagine.  Leviticus tells us a whole lot about how much God gives of himself.  How much he comes to us where we are.  How he makes it possible for everyone, no matter where they are, to have a relationship with him.

As I have been working through the book of Leviticus with the Connections Bibles Study, I've been amazed at just how well the book speaks to stewardship.  I promise you that Sunday will be a message that you have not likely heard from the pulpit before.  Certainly not a stewardshiip message!

I can't wait!

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