Dear Christian Friends: Remember you are not Home

This is a strange time for patriotic American Christians. On the one hand, we will observe the 4th of July this weekend. Most of our neighborhoods are ringing with fireworks and are adorned with symbols of American pride. Many will celebrate the 4th with family, friends, and an open grill. At the same time, our stomaches are still turning by the fresh reminder that we and our Christianity are increasingly not welcome here. This is truly a strange confluence of emotions.

Feeling Unwelcome Here

In talking with a number of Christians last week I was struck by how the Supreme Court decision to legalize same sex marriage brought such an unsettling clarity to their perspective. Any morning fog that lingered in our minds that this was a nation that was at least neutral towards biblical Christianity was quickly eradicated last Friday. With the court’s affirmation, the chorus of celebrations on the news and in our neighborhoods, and then the White House being lit up in rainbow colors to celebrate the decision, it seemed to bring clarity. Most Christians knew this deep down but for some it did not home until last week. At some point they looked up and said, “I’m not welcome here.”

What Not To Do

What do you do about this?

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The “Just-as-if-I’d” definition of Justification

How would you define justification? I’ve heard some say that justification means that God treats me “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned.

Is this a helpful way to explain it?

In one sense there is truth here. God does treat those who are justified as if they have never sinned. We have peace with God (Rom. 5:1-2) rather than judgment from God. However, this just doesn’t go far enough. It leaves us short of what the Bible teaches and conveys an insufficient understanding of justification.

Justification is the instantaneous and irreversible divine declaration of the unrighteous as positionally righteous, based upon the merit of Christ’s obedience, applied by grace and received through faith (Rom. 3.24-28; 4.1-5; 5.1-2). God declares the unjust to be just based upon Christ’s work for them.

To simply say that justification is “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned is to stop far short of what the Bible says. It does not take us far enough.

Justification by faith alone is the declarative act by God the judge that we are forever wrapped in the everlasting righteousness of Christ! His record is now your record. His merit is yours. God treats you as righteous because he treated Christ as unrighteous—for our sake (2 Cor. 5:21).

If, however, God merely treats us ‘just-as-if-I’d” never sinned then we’d be morally neutral. We would be back in the garden with untested holiness like Adam before he sinned. This is a far cry from being clothed in the everlasting righteousness of the last Adam. Not only has God taken away the debt of our …

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How Do I Apply This Passage in Leviticus?

A couple of weeks ago I came to one of those times in sermon prep where I was just staring at the Bible and wondering what I was going to do with the passage.  Specifically it was in Leviticus 24.  This chapter deals with the regulations for the lamp stand and the bread.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we have a case of blasphemy.  The offender is the son of an Egyptian man and an Israelite woman.

(Lev 24.10-11) Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp,11 and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed.

The commentators debate about the specifics of the offense, but suffice it to say, this man spoke in an insulting, irreverent, and unholy manner concerning the Lord God of Israel.  He was not impressed by him and felt no obligation to fear him.  So like Goliath, he mocked him.

The penalty for this divine hate crime was quick and efficient community execution by way of stoning.

(Lev 24.15-16) 15 And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death.

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Memorial Day Meditation

Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Today is Memorial Day here in the US and it serves a great day to remember those who have served both their generation and the generations to come through their heroic defense of freedom.

I think it is fitting and good to honor those who have sacrificed for others. As a veteran myself,  I am especially inclined to be passionately patriotic. However, as a Christian I see this day as a gigantic arrow pointing to a more Memorial Day.

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Called Out of and Into Something

When we read the New Testament we are reminded that a remarkable transformation has happened. When we become a Christian we are transferred from one kingdom to another. Notice how the Apostle Paul puts it in Colossians 1:13.

“He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” (Colossians 1:13)

Notice the two words, delivered and transferred.

The first word has to do with a rescue from a dangerous captivity. Believers are rescued from the tyrannical oppression of sin and Satan. Formerly opposed to God and his kingdom rule, we have been rescued, or delivered from it.

Secondly, we have been transferred. This is a change of status. The emphasis is upon the change that comes. The word is used for the sun being changed to darkness (Acts 2:20) or laughter being changed to crying (James 4:9). The transfer is a dramatic change of status from the dominion of darkness to the loving rule of Christ Jesus.

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A Preacher’s Job is to Produce Explosions

I love this quote. I will totally be picturing barrels and praying for explosions tomorrow morning.

One of my predecessors at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Donald Grey Barn-house, used to say that when he preached to an audience, he used to think of them as barrels sitting on the pews. Most of them were empty. But some of them had gunpowder inside, and his job was to produce explosions. He did it by striking the matches of the Word and throwing them into the barrels. When he hit one that had gunpowder, there would be an explosion. God put the gunpowder there. Then, as the Word was preached, there was a spiritual ignition or rebirth. This is one of the reasons we should value preaching so highly. –James Montgomery Boice, Feed my Sheep

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Actually, Counting Sheep Will Keep You Awake

I can still remember my mom encouraging me to count sheep as a viable option to cure my adolesent insomnia. Even though it seemed strange to me to count sheep I was compliant. I can’t remember if it worked or not. At any rate, the saying endures through another generation.

I can tell you first hand, from a pastoral perspective, that counting sheep will not put you to sleep. In fact, it will do the opposite. If I wake up in the night and something comes to my mind concerning members of Emmaus or other believers that I love, then I am toast. I will toss and turn, restlessly praying for them.

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In the Mansion of God’s Character, Every Room is Bright Light!

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

As finite creatures we have trouble getting our arms around absolute knowledge. Even with the places or subjects that we are most familiar with, we often kick over another rock to discover something new.

This is not the case with God. He knows everything and everyone perfectly. He is the infinite God. His knowledge is complete. He is never learning or growing. Instead, he is utterly sufficient in his absolute and infinite perfection.

This is why such statements as John’s above are so astounding. God’s declares that he is light. This metaphor in the Scriptures refers to God’s purity or holiness as well as his knowledge. The assertion is that God is perfectly pure without any defect or blemish.

What makes this all the more astounding is that God himself is infinite. In other words, the infinite God has plumbed the depths of his infinite character, surveyed it, and concluded with credibility of his divine character: I am perfectly light! In the mansion of God’s character there is not a single room, closet, or hallway of iniquity—every room is bright light and a fragrance, a boquet of holiness!

As a result, believers are to walk in the light (1 John 1.5, 7). We are to press into his character and reflect it into the world around us. As we are doing this we are reminded that it …

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How Big Is Your Gospel?

Imagine for a moment that you are part of the 1st Century Philippian church. You are a first generation gospel work that was founded through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. This famously included the “earthquake prison break” followed by the conversion of many people—not the least of which the jailer! The church is young, afflicted, generous, advancing, and still plagued with imperfection. And, here we sit awaiting the reading of a letter from our beloved Apostle Paul. After some prayer and a hymn, one of our elders stands up to read the letter in our gathering. Our ears are glued to his every word as we find ourselves transfixed by this content. Then we are surprised.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2)

Paul just called out two ladies—by name—and told them to basically “work it out”. I can almost see the pastor who was reading the letter pausing and looking at the women referenced as he read it. Doubtless all the other people did the same. This was intended to turn up the heat of urgency on an issue that was doubtless becoming increasingly divisive in the church.

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Difficulty Does Not Mean Desertion

The 35th Psalm is a puzzling and then encouraging.

The Psalmist is describing the present narrative of his life. It is difficult. People make it difficult to be him. They contend with him and fight with him (v.1), devise evil for him (v.4) and dig a pit for his life (v.7). The opposition persistently opposes him.

If you read through the Psalm and begin interrogating it, you will find one of your key questions left unanswered. Why? Why are they opposing him like this? What did he do to them? He seems to have been quite nice and considerate to them actually (v.13-14). So why all of this scornful opposition?

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