On the Plains of Moab Blog
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June 23, 2011, 8:02 PM

About that Paul...

One of the things that drives me a little nuts as a pastor is hearing Christians say things like, "Well, I like the New Testament; but I have no use for the Old Testament."  Over Christmas, I had the audacity to suggest to my in-laws that I might preach a series from the book of Leviticus.  Oh, you could have heard the gasps of disbelief and the howls of derision at least two rooms away.  How could I even think of preaching from such an irrelevant book?  What an offensive book!  In the back of my mind, I kept thinking, do these well-churched, unapologetically Christian people realize that everything we cherish about the mission of Jesus is given meaning from what is described in Leviticus 16 -- the introduction of the Day of Atonement?  Apparently not. (By the way, I still hope to preach a 7-UP Series some time next year in Leviticus.  I'm thinking of calling it, "Leave It To Leviticus.")

More to the point, I also hear the same song, different tune in the form of this:  "I like the Gospels; it's that Paul I can't stomach."  "Paul was anti-woman."  "Paul was judgmental."  "Paul was a slick salesman."  And on and on it goes.  It distresses me that so many Christians really think it's okay to pick and choose what they will accept as Scripture from the Scriptures.  My friends, it is one story from Genesis to Revelation.  It has stuck together all these years, even with determined detractors from time to time.

Remember Martin Luther and the book of James?  "That right strawy epistle"?  Luther also had no use for the book of Revelation. (Shame on him!)  One half of the early Church hated the book of Hebrews while the other half of the world cherished it.  One early Christian heretic, Marcion (not "My Favorite Martian") despised the Jewish Old Testament and a good deal of the New Testament -- although he loved Paul! (Go figure.)  And yet, despite all of the attempts to edit the Scriptures, to make them more palatable and acceptable... we still have today a virtually intact Canon.

[Definition of Canon:  A collection of books accepted as holy scripture especially the books of the Bible recognized by any Christian church as genuine and inspired.]

As the Reformed Confessions like to wax poetic in correcting Rome:  The Church did not create the Canon; the Church merely recognized it!

Back to Paul.  No, he was most definitely NOT anti-woman.  He was NOT judgmental.  And he definitely wasn't the inventor or creator or salesman of a newly emerging Jesus sect from Judaism.  Paul was a very content Jew, and doing very well before he met Jesus, thank you very much!  Paul was called directly by the risen Jesus and entrusted with the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles.  We have been united to Christ largely through the efforts of Paul!  The reality is this: Jesus gave him a pretty thankless job -- of which he is still, to this day, held under a cloud of suspicion by far too many in the Church.

My challenge to you is to start with a healthy regard for the Scriptures.  They are the Word of God written.  Think about it, we wouldn't know Jesus apart from them.  We wouldn't have a clear understanding of God's will without them.  We wouldn't know what kind of God created us without its persistent witness.  We couldn't make sense of the world if it weren't for the Story.  And, so with that much import riding on it -- we need to wrestle with, and work at our understanding of the Word from beginning to end.

Sunday's sermon will be a step in the right direction as we look at the life of the apostle Paul and hopefully, give us all a greater appreciation for his mission and the Christ he so faithfully sought to introduce to the world.



June 20, 2011, 8:12 AM

Be Joyful! (I Mean It.)

What can you say about a sermon that proclaims "Rejoice in trials"?  "Embrace misfortune"?  Is James out of his mind?  Obviously, easier said than done!  These are the kinds of sermons that get us laughed at by the smarter folks who have better things to do on Sundays than listen to this kind of crutched-ted nonsense.  (By the way, I just made that word up.)

And yet, I don't find it to be nonsense.  Quite meaningful, in fact.  I must tell you that I am having to live out that sermon at this very moment in my own life.  During the pastoral prayer yesterday in worship, I was overcome by emotion as I prayed for the little girl who will soon join our family.  I had to stop because I was about ready to cry.  It just hit me like a ton of bricks.  My attitude has not always been the best during this adoption.  The process has not been a pleasant one.  We have been at this for what feels like a decade.  We have spent a boat load of money that I would have surely used in far better ways -- in my own sinful estimation.  We have jumped through so many bureaucratic hoops that it has given me far more sympathy towards libertarianism than I have ever experienced in my life.

I am happy.  I have a beautiful wife.  Great kids.  Great job.  A mortgage and a wonderful community to live into.  Why do I need this hassle?  Why do I need to be adding to what is already, a perfect mix?  At this rate, I'll still be an on-the-job daddy when I should be a grandfather who gives the kids a date night when they need it.  You know, a few hours of spoil the grandkids thing?  I'm content.  (Unfortunately, the "godliness with contentment is great gain" line never worked with my wife throughout our ordeal.)

So, here we are, ready to go to China to expand our family.  Yesterday, and the days leading up to it, I am really wrestling with God's best for us personally and individually.  I know in the bottom of my heart that this is going to be such a tremendous blessing.  I know that this is going to be something that years from now, I won't even be able to come to grips with how selfish I was, and nearly missed out on an inestimable gift from God in this little girl.  And all because I thought I was content.

Yesterday's sermon was personal.  You need to know that I was preaching to myself.

What were the things on your mind?  What are the things/experiences/circumstances that you must really struggle to say, "I'm going to consider it all joy"?

Unless you just completely tuned me out yesterday, I know you have them.

Cheer up, God's in it one way or another.  May your joy come when you find out why.   

June 18, 2011, 6:43 AM

Do You Feel Sanctified?

Well, we've left Deuteronomy and the Old Testament (at least in the pulpit!) for the time being.  We move now to the book of James for a couple of weeks before we begin another 7-UP series in Hebrews.  The focus this Sunday will be on sanctification.  My first introduction to this word came in 1977 through the Commodores.  "I feel sanctified!"  Had no earthly idea what the word meant then -- but liked the song anyway.

The word means becoming holy.  In other words, becoming more Christ-like.  Theologically, it goes like this:  From the time we recieve Christ (justification), we are then in a life-long process of being made holy (sanctification) until the day we stand before the Lord in glory (glorification).  Even though God is the one doing the work on us, we still expend much sweat in the process.  This sweat is where James comes in.  Martin Luther really detested the book.  He called it famously "a right strawy epistle."  He didn't even recognize it as belonging in the Scriptures.  You see, he found it too heavy in the area of works-righteousness.  He just couldn't reconcile Paul's heavenly "saved by grace through face apart form works" with James sulfur-laced "if someone says he has faith but does not have works -- can that faith save him? (No way, Jose!)"

Unfortunately, Luther didn't make the connection that Paul starts at the beginning, while James picks up a little later (post-justification) and defines what that saving faith looks like.  Surely,we are not in any way, shape or form saved by our works; but neither are we saved from works.  James, I believe, was just following up on and applying his half-brother's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  There are multiple parallels in James' teaching with Jesus in his famous sermon.

When it comes down to it, we are called to growing pains right out of the starting gate.  It never gets easier -- just sweeter.  Which brings me to the last thing I want to say before tomorrow:  I am not going to be taking the easy way out tomorrow.  So many preachers, when they come to this text (James 1:1-8) like to water down the message.  To make it easier.  To make it more plausible.  I am not going to do that!

See you tomorrow.

June 13, 2011, 7:53 PM

The Night After

Yesterday, we considered that great passage in Deut. 18:15 concerning the rise of a prophet like Moses.  If there is one thing I like to point out concerning Old Testament prophecies, it is this:  A prophecy may at times have an unfolding fulfillment until it reaches its ultimate fulfillment.  In our case yesterday, there were many steps along the way to fulfillment.  Many worthy, faithful prophets rose up along the way in fulfilling this prophecy at various stages of Israel's rise and decline in the Land.  Even still, even still, as I pointed out yesterday, many of the faithful yet stored this prophecy in the back of their minds ever looking for the day of the great prophet.

 As for Jesus, he certainly did incredible things during his earthly ministry.  Just as Moses gave the new nation a constitution in the form of the Covenant at Sinai; so Jesus gave us the New Covenant written on the tablet of our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  Just as Moses laid the foundation of a new Kingdom in Israel; so Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God that will reach to the far ends of the globe, "world without end."  And yet, for all of the miracles and parables -- still the greatest example of prophecy from Jesus lay in the fact that he was in his person, God incarnate.  When you laid eyes on Jesus, you saw God.  With Jesus in the room, one was ushered into God's presence.  He was (and still is!) the definitive revelation of God.  That is why Moses said, "Listen to him."  That is why the voice on the Mount of Transfiguration said, "Listen to him."  That is why we continue to listen to him.

And speaking of prophets, let me use that as a natural segue to the Pastor's Bible Study on Sunday mornings at 9:45.  We will be talking about this kind of stuff all summer long as we explore the book of Ezekiel.  There are so many things that I don't have time for in the pulpit.  Preaching and teaching are two different, distinct activities.  They do different dances.  The Bible study is an opportunity to grow in your understanding of God's Word -- to see how it all fits together.

Case in point on the necessity of getting to church a little earlier (9:45!) on Sundays, I was reading an article off CNN's website this morning where the author was describing the first year of the site's religious blog.  You may read the article in its entirety here:  10 Things the Belief Blog learned in its first year.  But two items on the list I found a bit ironic and illustrative at the same time....

The first thing, lesson #3:

People are still intensely curious about the Bible, its meaning and its origins.  It's an ancient tome, but more than any other book in the Western tradition (with the Quran being the lone exception), the Bible still fascinates us.  And it still feeds our most heated debates.

Okay, now lesson #4:

Most Americans are religiously illiterate. Despite the appetite for stories and commentary about the Bible, most Americans know little about it.[!]

How can that be?!

See you Sunday morning at 9:45, class.

BONUS  If you would like to test your Bible knowledge (in the prophets and everything else), go here to take the Bible knowledge exam that wannabe Presbyterian ministers have to pass to be ordained.  If you score 70 and above, you may consider yourself clepped out of the Bible Study.  Have fun.  Oh yeah, see you Sunday morning, early.


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June 11, 2011, 11:33 AM


Navi (pronounced Nah-VEE) is the Hebrew word for prophet.  This is what we will be talking about tomorrow.  Kind of neat that we also begin a Sunday School Bible Study with Ezekiel tomorrow as well.  I didn't overtly plan it out that way.  Perhaps a God thing, I suppose.

Here's my opening tomorrow:  There really is so much crazy stuff out there when it comes to prophets and prophecy.  Shoot, we just had a crazy, nationwide prophecy episode.  Read this article here in the overflow, for an example:  Former Student on Harold Camping's Change From Solid Bible Teacher to False Doomsday Prophet.

Tomorrow, I want to you to understand what a prophet is all about as we consider one of the most spectacular passages of the entire Old Testament.  It is, as we shall see, a divine advertisement declaring what God will do [has done!] in Jesus Christ.  Ultimately.  When it gets down to brass tacks, we have to realize that the stuff we read in the Bible is not there to tantalize our curiosity fancies -- much less, tickle our ears!

I've said it once (maybe more):  This Bible stuff is pastoral.  Okay, I won't keep harping on that.  I'll just have to figure out how to say it more creatively.  You know, variety.

I hope you come away tomorrow with a greater understanding of how a specific prophecy evolved over time and was finally fleshed out by Jesus.  Maybe you'll have a greater appreciation for what God has done in Christ.  Maybe you'll come away loving Christ more!

See you tomorrow. 

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June 9, 2011, 7:50 AM

A Little Extra on Brainwashing & a Teaser

Okay, I know we are past this topic, at least officially -- we will always be working on this one way or another -- but when I got up this morning and saw this article in my daily morning read, I couldn't help but feel a little heat in the gut.  The article comes from the Appomattox weekly news disseminator, The Times-Virginian.  The high school's (Appomattox County High School) annual baccalaureate service did not happen this year.  It was canceled at the last moment because, according to the school's principal, there was a lack of preparation from the seniors who are responsible for making it happen.  Teachers can't help here because that would be an egregious church-state no-no.  Actually, the real reason that this service did not happen?  There was no interest in the service from this graduating class.  Period.  One kid shows up at the planning meeting the week before.  What gives?  That's loaded!

Now, when I lived in Appomattox, I used to sometimes tell people jokingly, "There's one Presbyterian church, one Methodist, one Episcopalian, one Anglican, one Catholic...and 14,000 Baptist churches in Appomattox."  (14,000, incidentally, was the population of the entire county at the time, in case you're wondering.)  How is it that a town with that many churches -- that much Gospel-saturation -- can raise kids on the cusp of official adultdom, who seem so apathetic about this significant, singular, rite-of-passage-worship service?  If ever there was a time when these soon-to-be official adults ought to be seeking the smile of Providence -  baccalaureate is the ideal time and the place!  Apparently, many of these graduating seniors don't see it that way.  Why?!

  • Parenthetical Remark Time:  (I do understand that these services can be incredibly rote and plastic (like many Sunday worship services) -- but I'm aiming at the principle of the thing here!)

This is not a knock on Appomattox.  And I surely don't think this means that there are no good Christian kids in Appo -- there are many!  But this, unfortunately, is symptomatic of far too many kids being raised in the church.  This is the problem in a nutshell:  It is simply not their Faith.  It is their parents' Faith.  And the parents' Faith doesn't seem all that compelling because maybe the Faith isn't all that compelling to mom and dad to begin with.  I don't know.  That's the view from the cheap seats.

Alright, I'll move on in my next entry to what's up on Sunday.  As a preview, we are going to be looking at Deuteronomy 18:15-19.  This text is one of the most Christocentric passages in all of the New Testament.  I'm calling this sermon Up Close & Personal.  And man, is it ever!  See you Saturday here in these pages.

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June 6, 2011, 8:40 AM

Another Day After

Having just listened to the sermon from yesterday, it gives me a little different perspective than when I am standing in front of you delivering it.  One thing that occurs to me:  I am sometimes not aware of how hard I'm pounding a particular point.  In this case, my hope was that I could say, "Hey, all of the good stuff we read in the Bible about God's sovereignty is there to encourage us in God's love.  Not make us mean, cold twits."  I wanted to make sure that we know the point of God's prerogative in salvation is pastoral:  God takes care of us; he provides for us; we can't blow it when we belong savingly to God through Christ (i.e. Allstate policy #1 Eternal Security).  However, in the rear-view mirror, I heard myself going overboard trying to caricature God's sovereignty to set things up.  Too much precious pulpit time was spent beating that dead horse!

In spite of all that, there really was something that we needed to hear yesterday.  I am thankful that New Hope is not a Red Meat congregation (you're really not...yeah!)  However, having said that, we could all benefit from taking the pastoral point of God's sovereignty.  Are we the kind of people that others want to be around?  Does kindness and humility define us?  Does the graciousness of God compel us to be gracious people in all things?  This is the kind of stuff that the so-called "doctrines of grace" are supposed to work out in us.

Please do let me know what you heard yesterday.  I hope you heard grace!  

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June 4, 2011, 12:42 PM

Red-Meat Reformed! A Prequel

Red Meat Reformed is my way of describing someone who is TR.  TR stands for being Truly Reformed.  People who are TR are gung ho on "the doctrines of grace".   That phrase means, above all things, the sovereignty of God in salvation.  Salvation is God's gift.  It is not our own doing in any way.  The most stinging accusation that can penetrate the heart of the TR is to hear the words "Works Righteousness" describe any part of their teaching or preaching.  Being TR or Red-Meat Reformed means taking no prisoners.  Wiping out all opposition at the altar of truth.  A common joke line reserved for TRs is this:  "Sometimes right; sometimes wrong; never in doubt!"

We all know someone of that persuasion.  The text in Deuteronomy tomorrow that I will be preaching from, is one that I think, gave rise to many seemingly Red Meat texts in the New Testament, pressing the point, fleshing it out:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…. (Eph. 1:3-4 ESV).

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world….But God, being rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ….For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:1-2, 4-5, 8-9 ESV).

…All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….Then what becomes of our boasting?  It is excluded.  (Rom. 3:23-24, 27 ESV).

God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…. (2 Tim. 1:9 ESV).

This is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins….We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:10, 19 ESV).

What I hope to drive home tomorrow is that these texts shouldn't make us more rigid in our doctrine.  These Bible truths shouldn't make us meaner.  These words were never intended to turn us into avid heretic hunters.  Rather, I suggest that if God was so gracious and good to us when we were so undeserving, how then could we go forward and mangle these beautiful truths that encourage us to overflow with a spirit of graciousness?   We were loved when we were unloveable.  How could we do any less?  We simply shouldn't and can't!  That's my point.

Even though New Hope is not a Red Meat church -- and that's probably a good thing -- I think we can all do well to think through what our Faith should look like on the outside because Christ is on the inside.  How does God's provision and protection impact the way we look at life; live life and treat others?  This text has a lot to say to us.  See you tomorrow!

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May 30, 2011, 9:01 AM

The Day After

It occurs to me while I'm preaching that there are certain things you just do not have time to say in the pulpit.  When you say something, you realize that there are always things that you need to qualify.  For example:  There's no such thing as a bad sermon.  I did qualify a little bit there by saying that a sermon needed to proclaim Christ in a sincere way.  But, the reality is, there are badly delivered sermons, even when the preacher is sincere and Christ is the focus, that don't connect with the pew and thus, are really bad sermons!

Having said that, I come back to yesterday.  Brainwashing your kids.  My intent in the sermon was to say, "Hey, look at the message that we preach.  What do you see there that you object to?  Loving your neighbor as yourself?  Being a peacemaker?  Praying for the good of your neighbor?  Being the kind of person, who like Jesus, will love you, warts and all?  I don't think anyone would, in principle, disagree or object to those things.  However, I understand that the application of Christianity gets warped.  Kids going to school and telling their non-practicing-Christian friends or otherwise -- "My God can beat up your god."  Or, "You're going to the place where the sun don't shine unless you accept Jesus!"  Or, we get quite militant in "sharing the Gospel" with strangers who find the potential of being a notch on our belt to be anything but Good News.  Truth is, we don't always live out well the message we accept as true.  Sometimes we make it really rather odious.

I come back to my sermon:  Perhaps this is why we need to double down on the admonition we get in Deut 6:4-9!  Maybe we have been fleeting hearers of the Word?  Maybe the message is just too surface?  Anyway, I stand by the admonition to mold, shape and nurture the Gospel in increasing measure and fervency in our children and grandchildren and church kids.  But, we also need to do the same thing for ourselves and among ourselves  -- "little children".

What do you think?


06-06-2011 at 10:27 AM
Artice M. Ledbetter
Good points! I pray that when I'm 'preaching' a message to my kids, my life is reflecting that message. It's usually what they see that they learn from more than what they hear! However, before I convey any message/lesson, the prayer is that God makes it first 'real' in me and evident in me! Thanks for the thoughts!!
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May 28, 2011, 7:21 AM

"Brainwashing" Cuts Both Ways!

Let me introduce the Sermon Overflow to you.  The purpose of this blog will be to add things that didn't make it into the sermon due to time and space considerations.  So much that I want to say I simply can't because we would run on too long.  This is a place for me to deposit those cutting room floor items.  But this is also a place for you, and your thoughts, your questions, and such and so on. 

From Sunday, May 29th:  Speaking of brainwashing your kids...  The sermon on Sunday included an example from a self-identified "atheist."  Here then is an example of a young lady who was raised in a strict Christian household.

Holly DeSouza (From The Wakefield Patch.com [MA] “Mom Talk” [May 2011])
 Someone recently asked me if Easter was only about the Easter bunny and a big meal.  As far as I am concerned for my daughter, for the time being it is. 

I grew up in a very religious home.  I had a believer baptism when I was seven, went to Sunday School, stayed for the Sunday Morning service, went to the Sunday evening church service, went to Wednesday night bible study and participated in Youth Group.  I was only allowed to date boys of the same faith.  It was a “fire and brimstone” mentality where you either believed in all the same beliefs or you agreed you would burn in hell for an eternity.  I was scared into submission and never actually took a step back and tried to figure out what, exactly, I believed and felt was the truth.  And because of that, as an adult with a family of my own, I have no idea what to believe.  I have utmost respect for those who have extreme faith and believe in whichever version of religion they believe in.  I am just not one of them. 

It’s because of my religious history I am adamant my daughter will not be swayed in any one direction.  There is no shortage of churches in Wakefield.  No matter which bucket you put yourself into, Christian or not, you can find a place to worship and have your questions answered by someone educated in that faith to do so.   When my daughter starts asking questions, I will make certain to find her the appropriate person qualified to answer her question and get her the answer she needs.    My hope for my daughter is she will discover her own religious path in her own time and follow what she believes as true.  And, unless Jim Jones’ followers are making a comeback, I will support her decision. 

So, for the time being, Easter will be about the family getting together to take a moment and enjoy a great meal, relax, find some plastic eggs filled with junk and eat a lot of chocolate.  Chocolate, that is, which is shaped like a bunny. 

So there it is.  What do you think?  Will Holly's daughter "discover her own religious path"?   Will mom have more of an influence than she presently imagines?

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