On the Plains of Moab Blog
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November 30, 2015, 3:56 PM

A People Prepared



New Life Presbyterian Church
November 29, 2015
Advent Week #1
Love Came Down

By Cameron Smith

Luke 1:5-25

Introduction

My friends, over two thousand years ago, the Messiah was born in Bethlehem. The focus of the prophets of old, and the hope of the people of God. As the Advent video proclaimed at the top of our service, a “Small glimmer of hope for a world trapped in darkness.” The baby was promised to a young virgin, then conceived in her womb through the Holy Spirit. God the Son wrapped in human flesh. The divine mystery: In Jesus of Nazareth, a true human being in every aspect except sin; and yet the very face of God. In Bethlehem, Love Came Down.

This is what we celebrate.

This Advent season, we will be moving through the opening of the Gospel of Luke, as we trace the steps of this divine drama of salvation. Looking back at the manger while anticipating a greater advent when Messiah comes back, not in a manger, but in heavenly splendor when heaven and earth will become one, once again, this time forever more. No sin. No fall.

Into the Text

At the outset of his Gospel, Luke informs his reader, a man by the name of Theophilus, that he is writ[ing] an orderly account for you [In other words, meticulously, well-researched; a factual account of the historical events surrounding the coming of Jesus]…that you [and all of us!] may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. (Lk. 1:3-4 ESV).

And so, Luke begins his account in the Jerusalem temple with a godly priest named Zechariah. A good man. His wife, Elizabeth, is noted for her love of God, as well. Luke says they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. (1:6 ESV).

There was a problem right off, though. They had no child. Elizabeth was barren, unable to bear children. And they were advanced in years, with no prospect now of ever having children.

You’ll have to hold that thought for a few moments.

The story continues with Zechariah fulfilling his priestly responsibilities in the Jerusalem temple. (1:8-10). He was of the division of Abijah -- one of 24 priestly divisions in Israel. According to rabbinic records, there were 1000 priests in each division with 500 of them coming to serve at the temple and its services.

These priests were responsible for officiating at worship, burning incense, hearing confessions, accepting sacrificial offerings and the major labor of preparing the sacrificial animals. It is reported that during the festival of Passover, it “required the slaughter of no fewer than 100,000 lambs in the temple within the period of a few hours.” It’s hardly surprising that “the work of slaughtering, skinning, and processing animal sacrifices occasionally overwhelmed the priests[!]” cf. 2 Chron. 29:34. (From James Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke, Pillar, p.33).

Zechariah is chosen by lot to go in to the Most Holy Place to offer incense on the altar of Incense, which is right in front of the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy of Holies where the Ark of God and Cherubim are set apart. The incense represented not only the prayers of God’s people going up before the presence of God, but the smoke also acted as a natural shield from wandering human eyes.

As Zechariah walked in before the altar with his lidded ladle with approximately a gallon of incense when something extraordinary happened to him (1:11-12).

The angel Gabriel appeared at the right side of the altar, in the place of privilege; the place where one has God’s ear, so to speak. God speaks and Gabriel then speaks what God says.

Gabriel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will give birth to a son. His name will be John. His coming will be news of joy to many. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb – no need for alcohol for this prophet! “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (1:16-17 ESV).

This child will announce the coming Kingdom of God.

This child will stir complacency with his passion.

This child will ready the people of God with his baptism of repentance.

He will call out a new people for God. A godly remnant of Israel.

Zechariah is skeptical. He refuses to believe this unbelievable news. He repeats the words of Abraham and Sarah of old: “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gen. 17:17 ESV). Zechariah says, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” (1:18 ESV).

Zechariah is stricken with silence until the birth of John, what some theologians call a “severe mercy” in that he encountered God and left with a reminder of his encounter, much like Jacob had wrestled with God and walked away with a limp.

However, this parallel with the lives of Abraham and Sarah is significant here. With Abraham, God promised that through his “seed,” the nations would be blessed. A new world order would rise from the womb of his barren, past child-bearing age wife, Sarah.

The same is true of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Elizabeth, like Sarah, barren. Like Sarah, well past child-bearing age. Through these impossible circumstances, God brings in a new world order.

Luke begins his narrative hearkening back to the original story in Abraham’s miracle heir that would pave the lineage highway for the Messiah. This miracle birth of John the Baptist is the other end of the Messianic road.

It is evident that God is demonstrating his sovereignty over his creation.

Only God can initiate such a grand salvation plan.

Only God can make it happen.

Only God can make ready a new people for his glory.

Only God can take the humanly impossible and makes it possible.
(Because all things are possible with God.)

As John the Baptist grew up to prepare the way for the coming of the Kingdom of God in Jesus; so we here and now make the same call to our churches during the Advent. Jesus has come in Bethlehem. Jesus will come again in Glory. It is time to wake up. It is time to wrest ourselves from passivity. God has done great things. Indeed!

You have heard the Word of God. Please consider it well.   Amen.




September 29, 2015, 7:38 AM

Proverbs Breakdown


Proverbs: The Words of the Wise

Here is the sermon schedule for the remainder of this series. Below the schedule, you'll find the breakdown of the sayings. Might be helpful to mark them in your bibles, in pencil of course. It is a good exercise to work through them yourself to figure out how they go together. A great brain and heart exercise!

Sermon 1   Sept. 27   Saying #1        22:17-21          Introduction

Sermon 2   Oct. 4       Saying #8        23:4-5              Don’t Pursue Wealth

Sermon 3   Oct. 11     Saying #10      23:9                 Don’t Waste Words on a Fool

Sermon 4   Oct. 18     Saying#15       23:17-18          Don’t Envy Sinners

Sermon 5   Oct. 25     Saying #17      23:22-25          Don’t Squander Your Heritage

Sermon 6   Nov. 1      Saying #25      24:10-12          Don’t Neglect the Right

Sermon 7   Nov. 8      Saying #28      24:17-18          Don’t Rejoice in Fall of your Enemy

 

Saying #1

22:17-21

Saying #11

23:10-11

Saying #21

24:3-4

Saying #2

22:22-23

Saying #12

23:12

Saying #22

24:5-6

Saying #3

22:24-25

Saying #13

23:13-14

Saying #23

24:7

Saying #4

22:26-27

Saying #14

23:15-16

Saying #24

24:8-9

Saying #5

22:28

Saying #15

23:17-18

Saying #25

24:10-12

Saying #6

22:29

Saying #16

23:19-21

Saying #26

24:13-14

Saying #7

23:1-3

Saying #17

23:22-25

Saying #27

24:15-16

Saying #8

23:4-5

Saying #18

23:26-28

Saying #28

24:17-18

Saying #9

23:6-8

Saying #19

23:29-35

Saying #29

24:19-20

Saying #10

23:9

Saying #20

24:1-2

Saying #30

24:21-22

 




August 21, 2015, 6:04 AM

Which One Tempts You?


Interesting article. When I first saw the headline, "Toxic Christians in the Church Today," I was a bit skeptical. I grow weary of blog countdowns that are over-simplistic. Read one, read 'em all. (Sort of). However, this one made some sense; and cut close to home. I found a few that have described me somewhere along the way. I hope you find it as useful as I did.

http://www.faithit.com/10-toxic-christians-in-the-church-today/




August 18, 2015, 7:33 AM

A Sermon: Getting Personal



New Life Presbyterian Church
August 16, 2015.
Rooted in Christ: Study in Colossians
Colossians 3:18-4:1
Sermon #6 of 7

By Cameron Smith

As I read this passage, I bet many of you only heard three words: submit, obey and slaves! Wives, submit to your husbands! (3:18 ESV); Children, obey your parents in everything! (3:20 ESV) and Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters! (3:22 ESV).

Provocative stuff for modern ears. There are several ways passages like this in the Bible have been handled in the church. The first way, which happens in some conservative circles is to interpret these household codes like a blueprint with specific family role descriptions. This is the way the Biblical family is to be run – the man calls the shots and everyone else marches to his beat. The husband/father has the authority to say, “My way or the highway.”

The second way goes in the opposite direction. Some more liberal readers see this household code in the Bible as pre-modern, captive to a specific time gone by, even bigoted standard that does not apply to us. This thinking doesn’t reflect God, it reflects a patriarchal culture. They choose to ignore passages such as this.

A third way of reading this passage is clever and probably gets closer to the truth. This view believes Paul is attempting to accommodate Christianity to the Roman way of life. All religions outside the Imperial cult in Rome were viewed with suspicion. The Romans did not want anything subverting the Roman social structure. All people had their place, their roles to play, and it needed to stay that way. Wives submit, children and slaves obey in all things. This standard was codified in written ancient household codes going back to Aristotle and Greek society. Paul has clearly incorporated the Roman and Greek household codes here in Colossians.

In that ancient culture, slaves were considered to be less than human. Children had no legal standing and were to be seen; not heard and women were considered inferior to men morally, physically and spiritually. These perspectives were ingrained in the cultural DNA of the time. As a matter of fact, from a Jewish perspective, the assessment didn’t get any better. A Jewish benediction that was supposed to be prayed three times a day went like this: Praised be Thou, O Lord who did not make me a gentile, an ignoramus or a woman. (Craig Keener, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul, p.161).

However, I think there is a better way to approach this passage, a fourth way. We must read Scripture as the Word of God. It’s not manipulative. It’s not propaganda. No human ulterior motives masquerading as God’s will. It’s not a detached, irrelevant literary work. The Bible demands hard work and serious study. Taking a cafeteria approach to Scripture isn’t an option for us.

We come to the Bible focusing first on what’s going on in the immediate context and then zooming out with a wide lens to see how it all comes together in the big picture of God’s work. This is what the Westminster Confession (1.9) means when it says, “the infallible standard for the interpretation of the Bible is the Bible itself. And so any question about the true and complete sense of a passage in the Bible (which is a unified whole) can be answered by referring to other passages which speak more plainly.” Doing this, we see Paul clearly using a well-known household code of the day and then bringing the entire Word of God, Old and New Testaments to bear on the code. We see how Jesus Christ rearranges and sets human relationships right as the Kingdom of God moves in ever so subtly as his will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Remember well what comes immediately before our passage. Colossians 3:9-14: …Put off the old self with its practices and…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian…slave, free; [no male and female (Gal. 3:28 ESV)] but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then…compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and…forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you….Above all…put on love…. (ESV).

And then, we have this subversive application of these ways of this new way of life, the Divine pattern, applied specifically to the family:

First, wives, submit to your husbands. You must put aside the temptation to be controlling. There is definitely a tip of the hat here to the curse on the woman in Genesis 3:16, You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” (NET).

But Paul doesn’t leave it there, he then adds something foreign to the old household code: Husbands, you must love your wives with a Christ-like love. This means that you must not be arrogant and self-assertive, but self-giving. You must put her interests above your own interests. I love how N.T. Wright describes the command to husbands: You “must scrupulously avoid the temptation to resent her being the person she is, to become bitter or angry when she turns out to be like him, a real human being, and not merely the projection of his own hopes or fantasies.” (N.T Wright, Colossians & Philemon, p.148).

In the parallel passage on the household code over in Ephesians 5, it is telling that before Paul ever says wives, submit to your own husbands (5:22 ESV), he says in v.21, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (ESV).

Paul does a radical thing with the ancient household codes – he makes it about mutual submission. He points to the way things are supposed to be. The way we were created to be before sin entered the equation.

It works this way with our children as well. The code says, “Kids, obey your parents in all things.” And it’s that’s it. Children are unimportant and need to learn their place! But Paul adds the Gospel perspective to the formula: Parents, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (3:21 ESV). This means putting away constant nagging, belittling and refusing to allow your kids to be people in their own right. Parents, as part of the new creation, are to live out the Gospel before their kids and assure them of their unconditional love and acceptance. To value them for who they are. Not for who they ought to be. Nor who they should have been. Nor who they might become. The Gospel explodes the old household codes!

Now, the issue of slavery is a thorny issue in the Bible. With our modern sensibilities, we have zero tolerance for the institution, even though, sadly, it is still exists under the radar around the world. We want God to say in the Bible: No slavery, period. Abolish it!

And yet, in Scripture, while God never commends it, for some reason only known in the Divine counsel of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he has allowed. He has made allowances for our sinfulness and evil.

Indeed, it was so ingrained in ancient culture, that Paul would have been commanding something that could never happen in that time. However, the entire trajectory of Scripture is from slavery to freedom. Think of Israel in Egypt. Think of Judah in Babylon. Think of our long bondage to sin and death!

That bondage is evil and that it will be ultimately banished from God’s good creation is telegraphed in the words of one of the first sermons Jesus ever preached: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me….He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor….Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk. 4:18-21 ESV). (We will have more to say about this subject when we study Philemon this coming February.)

Paul makes it clear that we are all subject to one another in Christ. We are all bondservants of our Master in heaven. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ….Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (Col. 3:23-24, 4:1 ESV).

I do not believe that God calls us to be revolutionaries. But, at the same time, I do believe that he has purposed that we be counter-cultural to be light to the culture. Submission, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and forgiving hearts doesn’t sound courageous or sexy to a modern ears, for the most part. (cf. 3:12-13 ESV). But, that is what God is doing for us and in us for the world. We have been called out of the world to go back into the world for the world. We are here to challenge the fallen status quo by the way we live our lives and the healing word we bring. We are a people who glory in the fruit of the Spirit that is being working into our hearts. We are the ones who point to the way of life in Jesus.

You have heard the Word of God. Please consider it so very well.   Amen.




August 4, 2015, 8:02 AM

Two Temptations for Christians



Sunday's sermon ended up a little long, so I had to edit it down to fit in the service. This is the sermon in its entirety.

August 2, 2015.
Rooted in Christ: Study in Colossians
"Rooted in Christ"
Colossians 2:6-23
Sermon #4
By Cameron Smith

The Japanese introduced a tree to the world that is called a Bonsai tree. It is measured in inches instead of feet as other trees are measured. It is not allowed to reach anywhere near its full growth potential but instead grows in a stunted miniature form.

The reason for it growing in stunted form is that when it first stuck its head out of the ground as a sapling, the owner pulled it out of the soil and tied off its main tap root and some of its branch feeder roots and then replanted it. By doing this, its grower deliberately stunted its growth by limiting the roots ability to spread out and grow deep and take in enough of the soils nutrients for a normal growth.

What was done to the Bonsai tree by its owner is what is done to Christians when they neglect prayer, neglect of time in God’s Word, embrace bad teaching masquerading as good teaching, get broadsided by circumstances, encounter hard times and allow personal superstitions to run wild. These, among other things tie off our faith tap root, preventing us from growing deep roots into our Savior.

This morning, our Scripture opens with an exhortation to guard our spiritual tap roots by reminding us of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ (2:6-7):

Paul says, 6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

The immediate context here is a young church of mostly Gentile converts in Colossae trying to make its way in an area where there are many synagogues competing with their newfound faith in Jesus. You can imagine these new, excited believers getting major pushback from their Jewish neighbors.

Now, truth in advertising here, no one knows exactly who the opponents were in Colossae. Some think they were Christian converts from Judaism who still insisted on the keeping of the Law of Moses. Whether they were still Jews or converts from Judaism or a Judaism run amok in mysticism, the flavor of the practices Paul warns against seem to boil down to this: If you want to be a true follower of the Messiah, you must do this; and this; and this!

The last half of our passage fleshes out the nature of the threat (Col. 2:16-23): …Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on…worship of angels, going on in detail about visions… 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations-- 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 …according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have…an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (ESV).

Whoever the opponents are, Paul wants his young church to stand firm and keep growing deep roots in Christ (2:8): 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

The circumstances here are somewhat similar to the situation during the period of the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, insisted that the Roman Catholic Church had veered from the Faith by majoring on extra-biblical requirements, like the selling of indulgences; the worship of Mary, the veneration and mediation of the Saints; prayers for the dead and the withholding of the Cup from the people in Communion. The Reformers were good Catholics who simply wanted to steer the people back to Jesus and his Word -- the true and only tap root of the Faith.

Now, when I began thinking about this sermon and where I could apply the teaching to your life here, I Providentially happened upon a sermon by a wild Presbyterian minister in Oregon exhorting his flock to dump our pre-modern, barbaric, product of dead Middle-Eastern, patriarchal men’s Bible and create our own loose leaf Bible with our favorite poems and articles and sacred texts that were meaningful to our own souls.

But, that’s low hanging fruit, and I know that there’s not a single soul in this sanctuary that would ever be taken captive by that vain deceit. Besides, this is my 300th sermon in this pulpit today, and if you were tempted by that kind of teaching, you would have long ago vacated this place!

No, we need to find where this sweet wisdom from Scripture speaks to you. Where it gets down to the foundation of your soul.

I think there are two areas/temptations where we find the necessary corrective provided here in this passage by Paul.

First, there is the temptation to add something else to the Gospel. Jesus plus something. Salvation can’t be as simple as just trusting in Christ. We need to be better people or maybe God won’t accept us. We need to volunteer for more things to get us over the heavenly threshold. We need to give more or maybe heaven’s door won’t open for us.

Sometimes, we get so busy measuring our own righteousness by other fallible people and forgetting that our righteousness is found only in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not Jesus plus. It is Jesus, period; and then life is freed up to a life of gratitude.

The second temptation is to bargain with God. Here you psych yourself out by thinking that God is mad at you with every little slip up. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone came up to me and said that they’d come to church or a Sunday school class or Bible study or some church event because they felt that God was mad at them and that if they did this, God wouldn’t be mad at them. They bargain with God. If He’ll call off the dogs, they’ll promise to be good from now on.

Man, that’s an awful way live life. Methinks that makes you more neurotic than holy.  After all, Paul says that these human ways of doing religion are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. That means, anything we add, or when we bargain with God for a good deal, it doesn’t answer for our sin. It doesn’t reconcile us to God. That’s because sin has already been answered for. In Christ we’ve already been brought back to God.

Let’s back up towards the beginning of our text where Paul provides pastoral advice to them and to us. Colossians 2:9-15. Here’s God’s answer for your temptation to cut off your spiritual tap root by adding to Jesus in salvation or thinking you need to cut a deal with an angry God so he’ll call off the cosmic dogs.

I. Col. 2:9-10 You were given all you need in Jesus

9 In him [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

Jesus is not just another good rabbi. He is God. He is not half-god. He came from the Father’s side for a purpose. And that purpose was to fulfill God’s purpose for humanity. He is Prophet, Priest and King. And as Jesus has called you to himself, he has made you worthy in his Father’s eyes. You have been filled in him, that is, you are in Christ. Nothing in all creation can ever take that away from you.

II. Col. 2:11-12 You were embraced in baptism

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

I love how Paul uses the practice of circumcision to show how in baptism identifies us with Christ as cuts away the sin in our hearts and makes us his very own. In Christ, we have died to sin and have been raised in his power to walk worthy in his sight. This is a work that was done in the past, and carries us through life. It can’t be improved upon!

III. Col. 2:13-15 You were accepted even with your sin

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

I love the great one-liner from Jonathan Edwards: “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” The testimony is this, we were all dead in our sins, the uncircumcision of our flesh. We weren’t just ignorant. We weren’t just misguided. We weren’t just bad. We were dead. Dead people don’t come back to life unless God works a miracle and resurrects the dead person.

That is what God has done for us! He has raised us from death. He has given us life. He has forgiven our sins, and to make that point even more vibrant, he says that our sins were nailed to the Cross of Christ. All the powers of hell were defeated on Calvary two thousand years ago.

My friends, the work of salvation has been done. If you have Jesus by faith, you have him for life and after death and life after life after death. He is yours and you are his. Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

You have heard the Word of God. Please consider it so very well.   Amen.




July 6, 2015, 9:27 AM

A New Sermon Series in Colossians



This Sunday, the 12th, we'll begin a series of messages from the book of Colossians. A few years ago, I embraced an approach to preaching that sought to summarize the message of an entire biblical book in seven to ten sermons. You may remember the first series in this approach. It started in the summer of 2010 with the 7-UP & CLOSER 2 CHRIST SERIES. I started with seven sermons in the book of Romans. And I have continued that practice, with a few topical and seasonal side trails, to this day.

However, after the series I did on Ruth a few months ago, I began to realize how much I had shortchanged that book by pre-framing the series to four messages (conveniently dividing the sermons by the number of chapters in the book). I found that there was just so much there that I wanted to communicate, but it pushed each of the sermons a little longer than I had planned. Of course, it all culminated in the Mother Day's massacre when our service crossed the finish line at 12:35 after the fourth and final installment of that series!

And so, as we begin a new series in Colossians, I want to tweak the preaching model a little bit. Instead of preframing the series ahead of time, I want to slow down and pause where I need to pause. Speed up where we need to shift into fourth gear. And most of all, savor the flavor of the Gospel.

In Colossians, I can't see going past seven messages, but, you never know. We will work through the letter, and concentrate on the overall theme of the book, being rooted in Christ. As we begin this coming Sunday, the title will be "Happy Dependence Day!"  Paul declares in Col. 1:13 that God has delivered us (freed us!) from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of Christ. We have not been declared independent, but dependent in the sense that we have been grafted into the body of Christ so that we might truly live!

It all begins Sunday.




June 27, 2015, 7:12 PM

Wrap Up of the Week at the 35th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church



I must admit, my intentions to blog nightly were good when I came down here to Orlando. However, each day was coast to coast activity. Our very comfortable, outstanding accommodations were down in the Disney area (Thanks, Toby and Mary Loritsch!); but the Assembly met at First Presbyterian Orlando in the downtown area. Seventeen traffic snarled miles each way up and down I-4. As we soon learned, rush hour in Orlando is 24/7!

So, this will have to be a summary of some of the significant highlights and actions of the Assembly.

We opened up on Wednesday with the election of a new Moderator. This year, Teaching Elder (i.e. pastor) Mike Moses from Lake Forest Church in Charlotte, NC was elected. Mike is kind of connected with us at New Life now that one of our former members belongs to his church. Brooke, Ryan, Belle and Lane Whalen joined Lake Forest recently along with Lane’s baptism.

Before committee and Assembly business got in full swing, Most of Wednesday and Thursday morning were devoted to continuing education of sorts. The EPC calls it their Leadership Institute. This year, the speaker was Thom Rainer of Lifeway. Thom, if you’ve ever read any of his stuff online, is an observer of sociological and leadership trends in the life of the church. He reminded all of us that we are living in an age of what he called “post-Christendom.” Christianity is no longer the dominant voice in culture. The church must find its footing within a new context. The Gospel doesn’t change, and it is not going to go away. One of the things he said that stuck with me was his observation that we are now in the same situation as the early church: a minority report; weird; and on the margins of society with out of step beliefs on morality. Rainer suggested this is not a bad place to be. After all, the early Christians turned the world upside down!

The Assembly was punctuated by seven worship services. One of the highlights was the Thursday night service where our missionaries were commissioned to go out into areas of the world where it is dangerous to name the Name of Christ. 37 new missionaries, if my memory serves me well. The exclamation point of that service is when these new missionaries take a vow of faithfulness even in the face of suffering and martyrdom. The take away is that the EPC takes the Great Commission very seriously. This world is not as good as it gets and the Gospel is so imperative that it is worth risking life and limb.

The Assembly adopted a recommendation from the Committee on Theology, directing the Moderator to appoint a Special Committee to review the EPC Position Papers on Homosexuality and the Sanctity of Marriage with the aim of drafting an expansion of the Position Paper on the Sanctity of Marriage to include revisions of the Position Paper on Homosexuality, along with a section on biblical singleness and other appropriate topics, and then report back to the 36th General Assembly in 2016.

The driver of this recommendation is that the EPC wants to speak a pastoral word of the grace and transformative power of the Gospel while maintaining the biblical position of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. With the recent ruling on marriage by the Supreme Court, this will be a difficult calling.

In the wake of the action of the Court, the EPC did offer a statement on the ruling:

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church grieves today’s ruling of the Supreme Court, which illustrates the continued disregard for the biblical, traditional, Judeo-Christian values upon which the foundation of our nation was established. As a church, we continue to rest our faith in the sovereign God and the authority of His Holy Word. We pray faithfully for our nation and our leaders as so commanded by Scripture.

We bear no malice toward those with a same-sex attraction; in fact, we love them with the love of Christ. However, as a church we must adhere to the biblical definition of marriage, rather than a cultural one.

We recognize that civil governments adopt policies that do not align with biblical values. However, those policies must never require that people of faith abandon the clear teaching of Scripture, forfeit the right to proclaim those truths, or change their beliefs or practices.

In other actions, the Assembly enthusiastically endorsed the recommendation from the Standing Committee on Church Planting and Revitalization that “the boundaries of the Presbytery of Florida be extended to include Puerto Rico.” The Assembly also adopted a recommendation from the World Outreach Committee that the Bahamas be developed into a presbytery of its own. That would be the 14th EPC presbytery!

In the big news, as far as I’m concerned, the Committee on Fraternal Relations did not have to weigh in on making a recommendation on whether the EPC ought to sever ties with the World Communion of Reformed Churches. The recommendation was withdrawn due to sensitivity to churches that are still in the pipeline. Severing ties could have seriously jeopardized the prospects of discerning congregations to be dismissed from PCUSA. That, as far as I’m concerned, was a good, wise move!

And, some final tidbits: Jeff Jeremiah, the Stated Clerk of the EPC was re-elected to an unprecedented fourth term as Clerk. The Assembly voted to move the Assembly offices from Livonia, Michigan to here in Orlando.

Oh, and there is a new logo for the EPC.

My thanks to George and Sherry Seib for their faithful service here at the Assembly. They both served together on the World Outreach Committee. They represented New Life well! And, Matthew had a great time making new friends here. The EPC makes it a family affair. Matthew went to A Cleaner World to observe how that ministry takes throwaway soap and shampoo from local hotels and recycles them for third world countries. He was given a tour of the headquarters for both Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) and Wycliffe Bible Translators. And yesterday, they all went to Universal Orlando for the day.

Mike and Margie Robison have been with us all week, and tomorrow, we will all worship at Woodbury Presbyterian Church in east Orlando. That was the church that I served during seminary as an Intern. For the evening worship, we will head over to Northland Community Church.

Finally, Monday, we will return to Salem. I’m tired! Goodnight!




June 24, 2015, 8:37 PM

Report from the 35th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church



Here some thoughts from another commissioner at this year's Assembly. His name is Don Hurray. I will share some of my thoughts tomorrow night.

He writes: 

               Here I am, sitting in the huge sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Florida.  We just elected a new moderator, Mike Moses.  I have attended seminars on leading our church to be prolife.  This seminar pointed out all the things the abortion industry has hidden from our culture about the harmful effects of abortion and how abortion is destroying the soul of our nation.   I also attended a seminar that our pastors need coaching, mentoring and help in being accountable so we can shine and progress in service to the church and community.

               We are hearing about moving the denomination headquarters to Orlando.  This is because it is more convenient to come here than in Livonia, Mich.  The EPC is also going to be having a big turnover in leadership as more leaders retire.  Orlando is more attractive in attracting new staff and also ease of travel.

               I am the clerk of the Fraternal Relations Committee.  This is an important job especially this year because we will be voting on whether to exit the liberal World Alliance of Reformed Churches, especially because the PCUSA has abandoned its biblical principles.  However this may mean trouble to some churches who, when they left the PCUSA, promised to join a denomination that had ties to this body.  The PCUSA may even try to reclaim these churches.

               It is very crowded but this is a heavenly crowd of new friends in the making.  I have met people from all over the world.   I had a great talk with a mission team from Beirut, Lebanon and the Congo. 

               Churches looking for pastors got up and asked for candidates to apply. There were a great many churches who pleaded for pastoral candidates from Washington, to California, to the Bahamas to Vermont.   We had many times of prayer and singing so loud they said the paint almost peeled off the walls.

All thru the assembly there was a firm emphasis on whom we are and who we are not.

Emphasis – we must start new churches, we must stop losing members, we must be free from protection of church walls and be filled with the Holy Spirit to see what God is doing new among us and pray for vision, to step out and shine for God’s light has come and the glory of the Lord is around us.  An emphasis stated is that we are not called to be successful but to be faithful.

Emphasis – We are a global church and seeing important things happen all around the world.  We heard about more and more Moslems coming to Jesus Christ.  We are in communion with the Presbyterian Church of Argentina, Puerto Rico and other nations wanting to be a part of our church.  We are breaking down geographical walls to incorporate all believers as who we are as the EPC. 

Emphasis – Providing leadership to help each of our churches move together in concert helping pastors with mentoring and coaching, starting new churches, forming new missions dedicated to leading our churches to serve

We exist to carry out the Great Commission To the glory of God, the EPC family aspires to be a global movement of congregations engaged together in God’s mission through transformation, multiplication, and effective biblical leadership, embodying Jesus’ love to our neighbors near and far.

            I am very, very tired, possibly because last night I ate a big, rich piece of chocolate molten lava cake that all the other people at my table couldn’t eat about half.  They wondered how I did it.  I didn’t dare tell them I am both Gluten free and diabetic.   I will try to behave myself better the rest of the week.




June 21, 2015, 1:53 PM

Commissioning our Haiti Team



New Life Presbyterian Church
June 21, 2015.
“The Power of the Gospel”
Romans 1:16
By Cameron Smith

This morning, we commission our Haiti team (Shannon & Rachel Smith; Heather & Taylen Gearhart; Hope & Seth Thompson) before they head out of the country next Saturday. Thinking about the mission ahead of them, I wanted to share what I trust a reminder and a charge for them. It is also something that we all need to hear. It’s from Romans 1:16.

Paul says, I am not ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God for salvation
to everyone who believes…. (ESV)

When the Paul wrote these words, he had never set foot in Rome, nor had he met many of the people who first heard his letter. In spite of his unfamiliarity with people and place, he still had an unshakeable confidence in the truth of what he was commending to them. Paul believed the Gospel was a life changing promise from God, and that this promise was for all people, Jew and Gentile alike.

Let’s walk a little slower through this pregnant thought in Romans 1:16.

Paul says, I am not ashamed of the gospel. These are convicting words. In the early Church this spoke to the embarrassing reality that as the new kid on the block, Christianity was small and insignificant compared to the sophistication and power of the mighty Roman Empire. Paul wanted them to know that even though they felt inferior to the glory of Rome, the truth was that in Jesus Christ, they served an even bigger God.

However, I think that this admonition scratches another itch for us modern believers. For us, it’s not so much our insignificance relative to our culture, but mostly our dis-ease with the exclusiveness of Jesus. We forget one of Charles Spurgeon’s great lines, “Be not ashamed of your faith, remember it is the ancient gospel of the martyrs, confessors, and reformers.” Instead, we think, who are we to say such things when there are seemingly many other competing truth claims in the world? How can we maintain that Jesus is the only way to be right with God?

I think this is one of the reasons that many short-term mission trips gravitate towards ministries that resemble social work apart from any concern for the soul. Evangelism is either downplayed or ignored entirely. The rationale is: Sharing the Gospel divides; but service unites. Someone might take offense to what we say, but they’ll never be offended by a good work. Besides this, doing evangelism opens up the possibility of rejection. The reality is, both Old and New Testaments agree that God’s way of saving the world, and all who proclaim that message will be a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense (cf. Isa. 8:14; Rom. 9:33 ESV).

I think the truth is that subconsciously, we think, who are we to make such claims? It seems arrogant. I’m sure we’ve all heard about, and in some cases, have been on the receiving end of high pressure Gospel sales jobs; and we want no part of that!

To be sure, ministries of compassion and mercy are absolutely good and essential and necessary.  However, ministries of mercy and compassion can never be divorced from Gospel proclamation. The Gospel is the reason that we do what we do. How much sense does it make to remain silent about what motivates us in the first place? Besides, financial assistance, food and provision of medical services are good and necessary; but they are not enough. Jesus did say, what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? (Matt. 16:26 ESV).

Our Haiti team is being sponsored by Global Partners in Peace and Development. I have immense respect Jonathan and Heidi Grooms who head up this organization.  They seem to do well in balancing concern for both body and soul in the countries where they serve. They never forget why they do what they do and who compels them to do what they do. They literally give the thirsty a drink of water, but they don’t neglect sharing the Living Water either. It is all about Jesus, and we should never be ashamed of that.

Indeed, we cannot be ashamed of the Gospel, for as we find in Paul’s next claim in Romans 1:16, it is the power of God for salvation. The word we preach and share isn’t just a passive, academic concept. It isn’t one truth among many. The Bible isn’t just great literature, though it is certainly that too!

The Gospel is about the living God who created the universe and still works in our midst, and isn’t done yet. The Gospel reveals God’s purpose to lift up a fallen world, and this is done through the work of Jesus by his perfect life, his atoning death on the Cross and his resurrection that sealed the deal. And now, the Holy Spirit has been unleashed to apply salvation in individual hearts: To convict of sin. To woo us back to God. To point to Christ. To reorient our hearts. To remake our lives so that we might reflect God’s glory in ever increasing measure.

Taking in the power of the God in salvation, Welsh preacher D. Martin Lloyd-Jones put it bluntly when he said that “a Christian is the result of the operation of God, nothing less, nothing else. No man can make himself a Christian; God alone makes Christians.... A Christian is one who has been created anew; and there is only One who can create, namely, God. It takes the power of God to make a Christian.” If you prefer a lighter touch, there was a great meme I came across yesterday: “How many Calvinists does it take to change a lightbulb? I know not, but one thing is certain: The light bulb will not change itself.”

And yet, God still chooses to use us to share the life-giving, powerful words of the Gospel. He uses our often inadequate, mostly clumsy and weak words to spark the first steps towards a new life. That is what Paul was getting at when he talked about the “foolishness of what we preach.” Rudy Tomjanovich, the former coach of the Houston Rockets, famously commented after his basketball team made one of their improbable championship runs, “Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion.” I would say, don’t ever underestimate what God will do with your weak, clumsy and inadequate words! They are your words; but it is God’s power.

And as I move to the close of this message today, the really beautiful, mind-blowing thing about the Gospel is that it is for all people, or as Paul says in the last line of Romans 1:16, I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. This is the scandal of the New Testament: Salvation possible for the world! However, it was always meant to be a package deal. The Old Testament promise made to Abraham that through his family, all the nations would be blessed. Now in Jesus, fulfilled. From one man, through one family, to one nation; now and yet to come, a great multitude that no one [can] number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev. 7:9 ESV). That’s beautiful. That’s why we do missions. We were not meant to keep this to ourselves!

I want to encourage our Haiti team today to keep Romans 1:16 close to heart as you go; for you are going as ambassadors for the Kingdom of Christ:

[Do] not [be] ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God for salvation
to everyone who believes…. (ESV)

You have all heard the Word of God. Please consider it well.   Amen.




June 17, 2015, 12:00 AM

General Assembly Time!


Next week in Orlando, Florida, the 35th General Assembly will be convening at First Presbyterian Church (June 24-27). Last year's Assembly in Knoxville, Tennessee was a fantastic experience, and I expect no less of a blessing this year. I will be blogging through the Assembly this year, I fully expect, faithfully! Check out our FaceBook page for pictures and updates to this blog.

In my estimation, there is one key issue that will be before this Assembly, coming from the Committee on Fraternal Relations.  It is Recommendation #18 [FRC-1] “that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church exit the World Communion of Reformed Churches [WCRC] on December 31, 2015.”

This is a big move by the EPC, should it pass. The WCRC is an ecumenical organization that brings together numerous Reformed denominations across the world. This is the only way we are in relationship with our former denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). What this relationship means is that churches in each denomination can be dismissed to each other becuase we are formally "in relationship" with one another. If this recommendation passes, that would in effect, sever the ties with PC(USA), and that would mean that after December 31st, no church in the PC(USA) would be able to transfer into the EPC.

I am not inclined to support this recommendation. I understand the rationale. The PC(USA) has been moving in a so-called "progressive" direction for quite some time, with the pace picking up in recent years. The EPC is making a bold statement. I appreciate the integrity of this church! However, I know what it is like on the other side. I feel for my brothers and sisters who are still PC(USA) and who know they need to move.

Stay tuned. It is going to be an amazing week! 


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