Monday, March 29, 2010


LUKE 18:9-14

9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."


Most of Jesus' parables that he preaches are about managers, or people in a field, or something like that. They are parables about men and women on the streets or in the courts. Not so with this parable. When Jesus tells this story he puts us right in the middle of church. Right in the middle of a prayer meeting.

The story, if it was told in our day and age, would go something like this:

There were two men that walked into church that Sunday morning. One was on the deacon board. The other was a thieving drug addict. The deacon moved to the front of the sanctuary. The drug addict moved to the back of the sanctuary.

That deacon, he was hard to miss. His shirt was pressed just so. He had a Brooks Brothers suit and the best of silk ties. He had a Bible with him when he came into church, and it weighed about 20 pounds. It was a Thompson Chain Reference, Scofield, KJV Duck Hunters for Jesus Study Bible with red letters and gold trim that was autographed by Billy Graham. (Yes I do have friends that have autographed Bibles) It had a Strong's Concordance built in as well. He liked to sit in the place in the church that everyone could see him and everyone could admire him. He had half the Bible memorized, and he quoted verses to folks in about every situation he was in. He stood apart from everybody else.

Then the Bible said he started to pray. The prayer went something like this:

Thank you Jesus that you brought ME here. Thank you that you did not make ME like all of these other people. Thank you Lord that I am not like the other people that are around me. Thank you that I don't cheat on my wife. Thank you God that I don't cheat on my taxes. Thank you God that I have never set foot in that bar downtown. Thank you God that I am not HIM back there.

Furthermore Lord, I tithe 10 percent of everything I earn and everything I have on the gross. I fast every other day. I not only do not drink, smoke or chew, Lord, I don't even drink pop or coffee. Thank you Lord for making ME such a good man. Thank you Jesus for making ME so good and so holy.

Do you notice how impressed with himself the Pharisee is, both in the Scripture passage and in my contemporary retelling? It is almost like he is submitting a resume in prayer, expecting God to be impressed.

The druggie showed up fifteen minutes late to church and left five minutes early. He sat in the furthest back portion of the sanctuary, and he exited before anyone could shake his hand or get his name. Although everyone knew who he was, nobody acknowledged his presence.

The man smelled awful, and looked even worse. Gaunt, thin, strung out, unshaven and shaking he has just had an experience that has shook him to the core. There is not one person in town who would give him the time of day.

Something has changed him that day though. He has come to church. Something has touched him. The Holy Spirit has been working on his heart. And he sits with his head bowed down. He beats his chest. He quietly says under his breath, "God have mercy upon me, a sinner."

He doesn't have to say more. He has come to the end of himself and he is broken. He does not have a spiritual resume to present. He can't say anything anymore to impress himself, much less anyone else, or God.

He just says, "God have mercy upon me a sinner"

He just says God help me. I can't do it on my own. I am at the end of my rope. My life is out of control. Help me. Forgive me. He says all these things with one 7 word prayer.

"Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner".

You see there were two men who went to church that Sunday. And Jesus says that one went home justified. Who was that? It was the tax collector in his day. The druggie/thief in ours world. The one whose sin was obvious, who nobody would trust, and the one whose sin was obvious to everyone.

The Pharisee or the deacon did not go home justified. He forgot when he walked up those stairs into that church that he was a sinner. That he was dependent on God's grace. He forgot that God was not impressed with how much money he gave, or how good a reputation he had. He forgot that he was supposed to "do justice, love mercy, and WALK HUMBLY with his God." You see when the Pharisee and tax collector walked into church, there was not one sinner walking into church. There were two.

The question that we have when we read this is, "Who are you?" Are you the deacon or the drug dealer? Are you the tax collector or the Pharisee?

When I ask the question, my honest hope is that you are neither. I don't want you to be a self-righteous member of the God-squad thinking it is your job to be the morality police for everyone around you. And, a 20 pound Bible is entirely too heavy of a Bible to carry to church every Sunday.

Nor do I hope that you have to hit rock-bottom on some drug problem or three year bender before you come to the end of your rope and turn to Jesus in repentance. If it is where you are, there is hope for you. But I don't want that pain to be a part of your life.

Nevertheless, the question is, "Who are you? Are you the tax collector or the Pharisee?"

Jesus said that he told this story to folks who trusted in themselves and their righteousness, and that despised others.

Does sound like you? You shake your head "No".

Does that sound like me? I shrug my shoulders. As a matter of fact, sometimes it does. Maybe.

You see my friends, as people, and as Christians we always need to be on guard against self-righteousness and self-justification. We always need to be careful that in doing the good works that God has asked us to do that we do not mistake God's grace at work in our lives for our righteousesness.

One of Satan's best tricks to play on people who have their live going in the right direction is to make them believe that when they are doing the right thing that they are somehow impressing God, and are somehow better than everyone else around them.

It is easy to get impressed with our own efforts. To pat ourselves on the back. To tell ourselves we have come a long way. And that we may not be perfect, but we are better than most. So sad.

The more that we think our growth in faith is about our maturity, our goodness, our morals, and our goodness, the further we get away from God and his grace. It is not long before we are shaking our heads or our fingers at all our relatives and friends.

And then something worse happens. If you pay attention to the Pharisee, you will notice that his morals are impeccable. His behavior, above reproach. You will also notice that his worship is not really about God at all. He is worshipping himself.

The poor Pharisee. He believes he is to impress God with his right behavior. He forgets that righteousness is less about right behavior than it is about right relationship. And sin less about broken laws that the fact that we have a broken relationship with God and our neighbor.

If we must always be on guard against the Pharisee in all of us, we must always pursue the heart of the tax collector. The Apostle Paul said he believed himself to be the chief of sinners. Bonhoeffer says if we don't see ourselves as the worst of sinners that we don't really take our sin seriously at all.

You see if we are to believe in Jesus at all, we must throw ourselves completely upon his grace, and his love. We must completely believe that there is nothing that we can do to justify ourselves before God. We must come before him with empty hands and open hearts.

That is something most of us believe we should do when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves.

But the tax collector's attitude is not just an attitude we should have when we come to faith in Jesus. No. It should be the attitude we have in our hearts every day. Every day we should throw ourselves on God's mercy and grace. Every day we should ask for God's mercy and forgiveness, and admit that if we do not have God's help and God's guidance we ruin our lives. Every day we must trust in him to help us love. Every day we must depend on him to stand strong against evil. Everyday if we claim to be his followers, we must be humble enough to admit we are lost without him and are made true and whole only by him. That is what it means to believe in Jesus.

As we close, let us look at this passage in a way I have asked you to look at a few others before.

I want you imagine yourself in another place 2000 years back. I want you to imagine you are at Calvary and Jesus is dying on the cross. And as Jesus hangs there, his blood being shed for you, his breathing pained, his body suffering. As you look at Jesus there….I want you to think about what words you would say to Jesus there. What words would you pray?

Would you say, "Look at me Jesus. You are dying but I am going to continue going to church every Sunday. I am going to make sure I give at least 10 percent. I am going to read my Bible everyday. I am going to be a better person that this person and that person. I am going to fast twice a week. I will live a life that will impress everyone for you"?

Or would you look at Jesus, dying on the cross, his blood being shed for you, his body being beat beyond recognition for your sins, and realize that there is nothing you can do save yourself, and that only what Jesus is doing then and there can save you from eternal torment? Would you look at him in that moment and try and talk about all the things you have done or will do? Or would you cry out, "God, have mercy upon me, a sinner". "God, have mercy upon me a sinner". God, have mercy on me a sinner".

Yeah. That is what I thought.




  1. If you were to rate this book on a scale of one to five, what would you rate it? Why?

  2. What quotes or sections stood out to you as you read the book? Why?

  3. If you could summarize the goal of the book in one sentence, what would it be?


  1. Why does Francis begin his book by asking how we would feel if he said stop praying? Why does he ask us to do this? What is his point?

  2. Francis shares a number of ways we either ignore God or take him for granted. What particularly spoke to you? Why?

  1. Francis challenges us to see the urgency of our lives and how we live it? Do you think most people live their lives with the thought that each moment could be their last? How could that change how we see God? How we see our lives?


  1. In what ways in growing in faith like falling in love?

  2. How common is it to be lukewarm Christians?

  3. In what ways to people give God their leftovers instead of their best?

  4. How is falling in love with God a long term commitment? How do we treat it as less than that?


  1. Which example of living a Jesus obscessed-life spoke to you? What else spoke to you?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Fear of God

Lately I have been revisiting an age old question that I have had in my faith. That question is what the Scripture means when it commends the "fear of God" (Proverbs 1:7).

Some argue that the term "the fear of God" refers to a persons respect or reverence for God. They argue that the term really means something more like we need to have a healthy respect for God and his Word. At times I have been convinced of this opinion. After all, the New Testament seems to agree with this "reverence" interpretation when it says, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (I John 4: 18).

Nevertheless, part of me has always thought this was a dodge of the Old Testament call to fear the Lord. I believe in some sense, it is important to have a healthy fear of God. I think of my parents and their leadership in my life. I knew my mom loved me. But I still had a healthy fear of her discipline and of disappointing her. In some way, I think this is what the Bible is talking about.

I also have begun to wonder if when the Bible speaks of the "fear of the Lord" it is speaking of where we need to be at the beginning, and that it is not speaking about the end that God is aiming for. In other words the fear of the judgment of God, the consequences of sin, and the power of God leads us to begin to listen to him. Somewhere though, the love of God leads us to a deeper, more personal, more authentic and more powerful faith. Thus the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but the love of God is the end (meaning the goal) of faith. What do you think?

Divine Hours of Springtime: Morning Prayers

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to the new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fullfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen (286).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review for IMAGINARY JESUS by Matt Mikalatos

Imaginary Jesus is an excellent book with a power-packed message. The book begins with the main character, Matt, sitting with Jesus in a vegan restaurant. Matt is content with his life and his Jesus. Then a man named Pete comes into the restaurant. Pete speaks to Mike and to his Jesus, asks a few questions, and then promptly punches Jesus in the face.

As it turns out "Matt's Jesus" is actually an "Imaginary Jesus". Matt has a relationship with a Lord of his own creation, and not the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Pete is actually the apostle Peter. Pete leads Matt in his quest to both confront and reject his imaginary Jesus, as well as discover the true Jesus Christ. Along the way, Peter enlists the woman at the well (Sandy) and a donkey named Daisy to help guide Mike in his holy quest.

The story is crazy, imaginitative, improbable and irreverent. It moves from Portland to Vancouver, from Vancouver to the Holy Land at the time of Jesus, and then back to Vancouver and Portland again. Along the way, the crew meets up with ghettos and high rises full of imaginary Jesus'. Some of the imaginary Jesus' are amusing (Testosterone Jesus and King James Jesus), others are more serious threats (Political Jesus and Meticulous Jesus). Then, they also meet the mormon elders named Elder Laurel and Elder Hardy.

Clearly, the whole book is an excellent commentary on all the ways we create idols within Christendom through the medium of a novel. At one point, the reader is laughing at how other people misuse Jesus for their own agenda. Then, suddenly, it becomes obvious that the author is speaking about the reader's Imaginary Jesus, and it hurts a little bit.

I liked this book. I laughed a lot. I nodded a lot. Once in a while I wondered out loud.

There were parts of the book that were difficult to read. The third quarter of the book dragged a little bit, and by the end of the book I was eager to see the plot resolved. The author is witty and has lots of potential, but he does need to work at making his plot and his writing a little tighter.

Imaginary Jesus an easy book to get sucked into, and it moves along pretty well. I started the book in the late afternoon, and had it done that evening. I would recommend Imaginary Jesus both for people who like irreverant Christian literature, for those who like to see theology and fiction intersect, and for those who enjoy an entertaining caper for a short escape.

(Tyndale Publishers provided this book to me in exchange for my review of the book. It was not necessary for me to provide a positive or negative review)

Tyndale NLT Breakthrough to Clarity Bible Contest Announcement

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Apple iPad 16G and a Life Application Study BibleAwarded when the New Living Translation Fan Page hits the second milestoneRetail Value: $499.00

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Apple iPad 32G and a Life Application Study BibleAwarded when the NLT Fan Page hits the first milestoneRetail Value: $599.00

Prize Eligibility – Recently updated to include more countries
Sweepstakes participants and winner(s) can be U.S. residents of the 50 United States, or residents of any country that is NOT embargoed by the United States, but cannot be residents of Belgium, Norway, Sweden, or India. In addition, participants and winner(s) must be at least 18 years old, as determined by the Company.

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April 30, 2010 @ 10:24 am (PDT)

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Every day, one person will win the best-selling Life Application Study Bible!

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Monday, March 22, 2010

My new gig

I have a new hobby/job as a reviewer of books for Author's Choice Reviews. Check out the website, especially if you are looking for a new book or two !

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Today I was 13/16

The hardest loss to my bracket was Notre Dame, which I had sneaking into the Elite Eight.

The upsets I picked were:

St. Mary's beating Richmond

Wake Forest beating Texas

Northern Iowa beating UNLV

Washington beating Marquette

The three games I lost:

ODU beating Notre Dame

Murray State beating Vanderbilt

Ohio beating Georgetown

In two of those three games I had them losing in the next round.

I hope tomorrow is as sucessful as today was.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review: 66 Love Letters by Larry Crabb

Have you ever felt like you are reading through the Bible, but not really connecting with what it is saying? Have you ever felt like you read through a book in the Bible, and did not see how it fit into the big story of God's love and his grace? If you have, you need to know that you are not alone, and you need to know that Larry Crabb intends to help you have a whole new understanding of Scripture.

Many of us in church circles have heard people refer to the Bible as "God's love letter to us". Larry Crabb's book is entitled 66 Love Letters comes to Scripture with that worldview, and then spends each chapter sharing how each book of the Bible fits into the cosmic, global story of God's love for each one of us as individuals. He does this by formatting the book in the form of a conversation by letter between God and an anonymous believer struggling to understand God's Word.

This book was difficult for me to read or enjoy. I found this to be true for several reasons. First, I thought Crabb often played to lose with the meaning and narrative of Scripture as a whole. More than once, instead of engaging the text directly, Crabb makes some sort of figurative use of Scripture that I found questionable. Also, much of the book felt like I was a voyeur on someone's prayer life and personal spirituality. All writing is a little like this; however, with 66 Love Letters I often thought I was reading someone's personal stuff that should have been left between God and them. Finally, this book was a little bit too "touchy/feely" for me. By "touchy/feely" I mean that it seemed oversentimental and about trying to get me as a reader to feel something sentimental and affectionate. I often felt like the author was trying to manipulate my feelings by force of will. It just made me roll my eyes.

Nevertheless, I think for someone who is trying to fit all the different books in Scripture together, this might be a good resource. 66 Love Letters is helpful for seeing how God is at work throughout the Bible, and that his character and intentions for creation are unchanging. For some folks that are babies in the faith, this book might be a comfort. Thus, it is not a total loss.

I do not recommend anyone spending their hard-earned money for this book. If anyone wants to have the book, they can take it off my hands for the cost of shipping.

(I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Thomas Nelson publishers in order to read and review it.)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On the Review Cue....

As you might have guessed from my sidebar, I have made agreements with publishers and soon a review site to review books. This means I get books for free, which feeds my book buying habit. It also allows me to sharpen my writing and reviewing skills until I find a way to make money writing while in ministry.

Here are the books in cue to be read by me in the near future for review:

From Bethany House

Hunter's Moon

The Rewards of Simplicity

From Thomas Nelson

66 Love Letters

From Judson

Got Style

From Tyndale

Imaginary Jesus

Best of.......

Becca's series on world-building in fiction writing, and the contest for the $20 Amazon gift certificate.

Mike D sounds the alarm on Glenn Beck

Kim tells us cleaning house with a baby is not all that easy

Stan watching the snowstorm in Anchor Point, and watching his wife shovel the porch

Mike is processing about group process

Eric is ready for spring and GOLF

Dennis and I have been chatting about bivocational ministry and small church ministry

Monday, March 08, 2010

Book Review: What Your Son Isn't Telling You by Michael Ross and Susie Shellenberger

For decades, parents have bemoaned that their adolescent children are a mystery that they either fear or completely do not understand. This is especially true of mothers with teenage boys and fathers with teenage girls. What You Son Isn't Telling You is a guide put together by two former employees at Focus on the Family that formerly edited that organizations to magazines to reach adolescent boys and girls.

The book, although helpful for both parents, has a special emphasis on reaching Christian mothers of teenage sons. It covers a number of areas that challenge parents in dealing with teen boys, and that I am sure would spur thoughts for parents of teens. I like that the book starts with developing empathy and support for teenage boys, something that is often missing in books like this. After giving a short primer on adolescent development, the book jumps into issues of sexual development and identity for at least half of the book. The book then ends with several other hot button issues with boys.

This is a book I would not hesitate to give to mothers, especially single mothers with teenage boys. I think that there are a lot of practical tips for dealing with teens, especially the "shared meaning" conversations discussed in Chapter 4. It is forthright, honest, and deals with real life issues for teenagers. Parenting teens can be scary. If I was overcome with worry as a parent of a teen boy, this book would be something that would offer me a lot of comfort and relational tools.

Although I would not hesitate to give this to mothers as a pastor and a former youth pastor, I would not hand it to them as something that they should read uncritically. At times the book tends to make statements that express a viewpoint that is a little heavy-handed and overly strict. For instance, the authors believe in teaching boys that if they kiss a girl that they are "giving a little bit of themself away" so a young man should be "incredibly selective" on who they kiss. Also, I thought the rather lengthy discussion on the hygiene of teenage boys was overdone. In other words, I thought at times the authors conflated their solid biblical viewpoints with somewhat victorian traditions and attitudes.

A good resource for a church library or a parent who needs to understand their child.

(This book was provided by Bethany House Publishing in exchange for a review. A favorable review was not required. Only thst I read and report to my reading constituency)

Glenn Beck says rails against justice and mercy ministries

Sometimes I try and listen to Glenn Beck. He makes sense once in a while, and I try to embrace my conservative heritage. I am a Republican after all, so I suppose I should watch FOX NEWS to express my continued membership to the GOP.

To be honest, my favorite show on FOX was Special Report with Britt Hume. Now it is no more.

So...I try and watch Glenn. Then I hear reports like THIS ONE, and I throw my hands up in the air and go nuts. Was compassionate conservatism a commie plot? How can someone conflate socialism and fascism. Glenn makes sense for a little bit, and then he goes of the deep end.

When I hear him say stuff like his words...I fear for my country.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Parables and the Pina Colada Song (Escape)

One of my dreams is to teach a Bible as Literature class at a public high school or a junior college. I think it would be really fun, and a great opportunity to get people to appreciate God's Word that might not otherwise see its intelligence and beauty.

The other night I was working out, and listening to Escape (The Pina Colada Song) on my IPOD. I have always loved the story but felt guilty about liking it. For those of you who have not heard it, it is about two married persons seeking an affair through the personal ads. Both the woman and the man communicating anonymously want a romantic relationship with more adventure and excitment. In the end, they go to meet their potential partners, only to discover that the people they were meeting were in fact husband and wife to start with.

I don't necesarily like the adultery in the song. What I like in the song is how the story progresses and functions. The story goes along, and then it suprises you. It turns in on itself. It comes almost full circle, back close to where it started. Yet it does not take you back to where it started. The relationship you started hearing about has been renewed, but it has also been changed.

The story form of Escape, or the Pina Colada song, is a non-religious example of how a parable functions in the New Testament. We tend to think of Biblical parables as nice little stories that we have become comfortable with. As a matter of fact, the parables in the Bible often are full of surprises that bring us full circle, and yet not at the same place we were.

For example, the parable of the prodigal son. For the ancient reader, many things are shocking. The son's behavior is shocking. The fact that the son returns home even more so. The father's loving response and restoration of the son brings the story full circle, but yet not at the same place where we started. Just like the Pina Colada song.

I thought this was interesting.

Book Review of How to Build a Life-Changing Men's Ministry (Revised and Expanded) by Steve Sonderman

Ever look out on your congregation, see a bunch of women, and very few men? I have. And it is very common in churches throughout the country. Perhaps it is timely that one of the first books on ministry with men has been revised and expanded for a new release. Steve Sonderman is the author of this very thorough book and believes that effective ministy with and to men is essential for a healthy church. How to Build a Life-Changing Men's Ministry is everything you would expect from a men's ministry pioneer. This book is detailed, thorough, and filled with helpful hints discovered by a veteran in men's ministry.

The book begins with a careful explanation of why a men's ministry is important. Then, the author continues by helping the reader understand the world he is living in. The book continues by giving a detailed process and timeline of how to develop a ministry to men. One might expect this to be overly prescriptive. It is not. It clearly lays out several options that have worked at every step along the men's ministry journey, and shares the strengths of each of these approaches. Examples of administrative paperwork, checklists, and timelines fill the end of each chapter. Throughout the process of sharing how to develop a ministry to men, Sonderman uses the metaphor of developing a team like a football team for ministry.

Certainly I think Sonderman has a difficult job in trying to write THE DEFINITIVE BOOK ON MEN'S MINISTRY, but he makes a good attempt. I read through several parts of the book and thought that they were excellent. I read through other parts, and it was clear that the author lives and works in the suburban megachurch bubble. The cultural analysis of our culture, and its relationship to men and masculenity is right on, as are many of his goals.

The only part of the book that I thought was rather dated was the Campus Crusade philosophy of creating the big splash event, and then building off the big event to form a smaller more solid core group. In my opinion, observation, and experience, this is a method that worked better 20 years ago than it does for most minsitries today.

Overall, if you are interesting in developing a better outreach to men in your church, I recommend this book as a valuable resource.

(This book provided by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for reviewing the book on this blog and on Amazon's web site).
Arts and Faith has reviewed their top 100 movies for Christians of all time and there is an article about it here

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sermon on Luke 12:49-13:9

Scripture—Luke 12:49-13:9

49 “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished! 51 Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division. 52 For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three. 53 Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
54 Then He also said to the multitudes, “Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. 55 And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and there is. 56 Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time?
57 “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? 58 When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite.”

1 There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” 6 He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. 7 Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ 8 But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. 9 And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that[
a] you can cut it down.’”


Ever heard one of those old-fashioned hellfire and brimstone sermons? Those kinds of sermons where the preacher would pound the pulpit and get red in the face about the judgment of God that is soon to come? The preacher would focus in on those passages that had to do with the wrath of God coming quickly upon those who have not chosen to believe. Hell would be described vividly. Stubborn men would grab the pews in front of them, their hands brown from working in the sun, and their knuckles pale white from gripping the pew in front of them.

Some of us hated those sermons. Others of us loved those sermons. Those of us that hated them hated them because they seemed so self-righteous and angry. Those of that loved them loved them for several reasons. For many of us, we walked that sawdust trail at a revival meeting and accepted Jesus after hearing one of those sermons. For others of us, we find comfort knowing that we are on the right side of God as he comes to judge the living and the dead. For nearly all of us that have enjoyed those hellfire and brimstone sermons, and pine away for them now, I think we liked one thing about them more than anything else. We liked those old-fashioned sermons because they were delivered with passion and gusto. With a sense of urgency even. When you heard those old fashioned hellfire and brimstone sermons you may love it, or you may hate it, but one thing that did happen was that you HEARD IT and YOU FELT IT.

Perhaps the most famous sermon in the English language about the judgment of God is a sermon written soon after the American Revolution by a man named Jonathan Edwards. The sermon was called “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” Edwards preached this sermon in the heat of summer, without air-conditioning, in a town named Enfield, Conneticut. As he preached it is said that people began to have a sinking sensation, as if in that moment they felt themselves sinking into the flames of hell itself. It is said that as the sermon was preached, in many ways like a college lecture, that men and women grabbed hold of the pillars of the church and cried out for mercy. “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God” was an memorable, effective sermon in the middle of a revival called the Great Awakening.

The thing I remember about the sermon, for some strange reason, is the spider web. Edwards describes us as like insects held over a great abyss by the strand of a spider’s web. And all that is holding us from falling into the fires of hell and judgment. We are dangling in a precarious position, and if we do not repent our “feet will slide in due time” and we will fall under the wrath of God. It is a very well written sermon. I think you should all find a way to read it at some point.

When I became a sophomore in college, I decided to go on a search for churches. The first church I went to in town was an independent Baptist church, much like Pitkin Avenue Baptist Church. The Sunday School class the first Sunday was on the judgment in the book of Revelation, and the sermon was on God’s wrath. The next week the Sunday School class was studying the book of Revelation, and the sermon was again on the wrath of God. The third Sunday, the Sunday school lesson was on God’s judgment, and the wrath of God was the topic of the sermon. The fourth Sunday…well…the fourth Sunday I found a new church to visit.

You see, I believe that Christ is returning as Judge. I believe that there is a heaven, and I believe that there is a hell. I believe that God does posses that characteristic that very few people mention today….wrath. I believe this because the Bible teaches it. But I believe all of this is a function of God’s justice. And that justice is a function of God’s love. I believe much of God’s wrath is honoring our choice to push his love and grace away.

What I don’t agree with in regard to this preacher Jonathan Edwards, or in relationship to the “hellfire and brimstone” preachers of days past, is that God is best described as an angry God. God can be angry. But his justified anger is a function of his love as well. God’s grace and God’s love is what defines him. Not his wrath and anger

Friends, we are in the hands of a loving God. We are in the hands of a God who withholds his anger from us, and when we were sinners he died for us. While we rejected him, he loved and continues to love us. He waits for us like the father of a rebellious child waits for that son to come home. He reaches out to us even now, if we will only grab his rescuing hand.

But God’s patience with us will not last forever. It may only last for another day. Another year. Another month. We don’t have endless chances to do the right thing. We have one more chance to repent. One more chance to love him. One more chance to do the right thing.

This is what the passage on the judgment of God that we read today teaches us. We have one more chance, and we better seize the opportunity to trust God while we still can. We have one more chance as a church to be fruitful. We have one more chance as people to accept the opportunity as believer’s to be fruitful. We have one more opportunity to accept the new life that Christ offers. We are not promised anything more than TODAY.

Following Christ is never the easy thing to do. It is always the right thing to do. So we choose to go to the cross with Christ, and he warns us the way will not be easy. It will not be easy, just true.
Jesus speaks of God’s judgment, and then warns people to get their lives right. He tells them that their time is limited and they need to repent. He puts it in economic terms. Jesus says in chapter 12, starting in verse 57:

57 “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? 58 When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite.”

This is another way of saying that the longer you marinate in your sin, your running from God, the longer you sit and soak up all that self-centeredness and lovelessness and unforgiveness into your heart, the harder it will be for you to escape the consequences of those attitudes in the long-run.

Then we get to chapter 13. And what do the people start talking about? Those other folks. Those Galileeans who got killed. This, they figured, must be a sign of God’s judgment that he is talking about. Jesus got frustrated with them when they said this. They just were not getting it.

You know how we all are. We hear “thou shalt not steal” and quote it at the druggie that stole some of our tools from the shed. We justify ourselves when we steal by cheating on our taxes.

We quote thou shalt not judge to the person who tries to hold us accountable, but then we get among our friends and talk about every reason we don’t approve of this person or that one and laugh. Or we run around judging people harshly who we perceive to be judgmental.

God confronts us. In his love he warns us that there are consequences for our choices, and our loyalties, our sins and our me first attitudes. And we say, “Yes there are consequences, and those awful people down the road are going to burn in hell for what they did.”

Jesus says, “Do you suppose these Galileeans are worse sinners than all the other Galilleans…..but unless you repent you will likewise perish”. In other words, Jesus says, “God’s people…I am not talking about them out there….I am talking to you. “

Have you been pointing fingers at others, Christian, or have you been looking into your own heart? Are you right with God, churchgoer, or do you think your moralism and faithful church attendance will save you? I have to warn you as a friend and as a brother, not one of us saved by being good enough. All of us are saved by grace through faith when we come to Jesus and say I have made a mess of my life and I realize that I can’t do it on my own, and I need you Jesus. None of us are good enough. That is why Jesus said if “you do not repent you will ALL likewise perish”

After this Jesus tells a parable. He tells a parable of an owner of a vineyard, a gardener, and a tree. The tree is a fig tree, and the fig tree is in the middle of a vineyard because the people of that time believed it helped the grapes to grow better. But, the fig tree is producing no fruit. So the owner wants to chop it down. But the gardener pleads for one more year to make it fruitful. He says he is going to take manure and mix it in with the soil and see if he can make it grow. Just give me a little more time the gardner says. And he gets that extra year.

The Bible does not make clear who the owner is. But it is clear we as human beings are the tree, and Jesus is the gardener. And we are being given a second chance. We must repent. We must have new life. And our time is limited.

Judgment is coming. We can be sure of that. But Jesus has not left us alone to our own devices. God has not stood at a distance, lightning bolts in hand, ready to cast them on us at any moment. Oh no.

God sent Jesus because he loves us. And Jesus loves us enough that he is going to get knee deep in all that fertilizer (as the NKJV puts it) or more literally that pile of manure around us. He is willing to enter into all of our mess in all its stinkiness with us in order to help us come alive. As a matter of fact, it is only through letting him get in the smelly dirty mess that our life is with us and heal us that we are going to be made whole.

God is not waiting to show us how much he hates those people who are not like us. No….he looks at each one of us, and asks for a little more time for us, and then he gets in the middle of the steaming filthy manure pile of our world and works to save us from our own devices.

But if you are going to do God’s will you must respond today. If you are going to repent now is the time. You are not promised tomorrow. No sister, no brother, you are promised this very moment. God’s Holy Spirit is working in you this very moment. You have no promises for later. You just have now.

Church, you have this day to repent. You have this day to start bearing fruit. You have this day to care as much about the folks outside these four walls of this church that are lonely, hurting, alone and lost as you do about the color of the carpet or the decorations in the sanctuary or what song we do or done sing. Church, you are not promised forever on this corner of Main and Eugene. I can drive you a few blocks and show you a church building that is now no church at all, and just a funeral parlor. You have this day to allow you to make this church a hospital for sinners needing triage instead of a mosoleum for the saints. You have this day to care more about how many lives your love has an eternal impact on than how many people are going to show up for your memorial service when you pass, and who will preach the funeral message. And if you don’t start bearing fruit as a church, it won’t be long before this church ceases to exist. So repent, church, of your blindness and your hypocrisy, your self-centeredness and malice, your eagerness to be good in a way that you are unwillingness to do any good for others because you might be tainted by them. Stop being casual fans of Jesus that meet once in a while for a pep rally and get in the game. Follow him. Trust him. Grow. Bear Fruit.

Christian, you have this day to repent. For too long you have been pointing the finger at everybody around you, and have not listened to Jesus call for you to make a change and be the change in the world that it needs. For too long you have made excuses to hide from God. For too long you have called yourself Christian but your life has been prayerless and faithless, your heart has been selfish and bitter, you have been sitting on your hands instead of reaching out to your neighbor in love. Your ears have been filled with the strife and the rancor of the world instead of the still small voice of God. Too often you have used your words to wound instead of to heal and encourage. Look in your heart, and I will look in mine. We will see the words of Jesus speak to us today. We need to repent. We don’t have long. We are not promised tomorrow.

Seeker….Runner…you know who you are. You know that you have refused to submit to Jesus. You may be stalling. You may have been running away from him. Come to him today. He is giving you another opportunity to trust him today. He has given you another day to seize the opportunity of new life he offers. It won’t be any easier to repent tomorrow than it is today. It will only be more difficult. It will just mean that you will have less and less of your life to truly live. Jesus is compassionate. God is patient and longsuffering. But at one point there will not be another opportunity to trust him. At one point you will be like the tree that bears no fruit. And the ax will be coming for him. Repent now, while you have the chance.

As you come to the Lord’s table remember that it is a table of the blood and body of Christ. A table that calls you to repent. A table that calls you to new life. A table that proclaims he has come to rescue us from mess of our lives and make us whole

Friday, March 05, 2010

Cash: American VI: Ain't No Grave

I am listening to the new release of the Johnny Cash album. It is hard to believe it is almost 7 years since we lost Johnny Cash in 2003.
This album, from the Rick Rubin recordings, is typical of the American Records releases. Stipped down of everything but the guitar and the his voice, the music is again hauntingly beautiful and wonderful.
The album really is old school acoustical gospel. Much of the music thinks about and looks toward heaven and death. Some of the songs are recordings of classics, like "Ain't No Grave" or "Cool Water". Others are original to Cash.
"Ain't No Grave" is haunting and beautiful. It is the first release and the title track of the album. The whole album almost allows Cash to speak back to us from death with the hope of eternal life. Good gospel music. Good music. The album ends with with Cash bidding us goodbye by singing "Aloha Oe"
Here is an article about Johnny that was written when upon release of the album.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Book Review of "What Difference Do It Make?" by Ron Hall, Denver Moore, and Lynn Vincent

What Difference Do It Make? is a continuation of the message and story begun with the book Same Kind of Different As Me. In Same Kind of Different As Me we were introduced to two men, Ron Hall and Denver Moore, and their unlikely friendship. In this sequel, we are treated to Ron and Denver's ongoing stories. We are also treated to several other interludes in the book where people from around the country share how the story of Mr. Hall and Mr. Moore influenced them and changed their lives.

Denver's part of the new book involves filling in some of the blanks in his personal history, and sharing some of his thoughts and experiences since the last book was written. It becomes obvious as you read along that Denver is finding his voice. He is stating his opinions more forcefully, challenging his hearers and readers more, and growing in his faith.

For me, Ron's story in this book was more compelling. Most of Ron's section of the book describes his conflict with his father throughout his life, and slowly moves toward telling the story of reconciliation with his father. It also spends some time telling about how Ron grieved the loss of his wife. In the first book, we hear about how God breaks down the walls between two men of very different backgrounds. In this book, we see how the Spirit breaks down the walls between Ron's alcoholic father and himself. When Ron is willing to treat his father with the same kind of love as he has Denver and the other homeless men he works with, his relationship with his father improves. For the most conservative of evangelicals, Ron's methods of reconciling with his father may be difficult to stomach. However you view his behavior, Ron clearly chose to accept his father the way he was instead of the way he wanted him to be, and that made all the difference in their relationship.

I recommend this story heartily for anyone who loved Same Kind of Different As Me. Otherwise, it will be hard to understand this book, and the foundation on which it was written.

(Although I was not required to write any review for this book, a copy was provided to me by Thomas Nelson publishers after reviewing the first book in the series)

Monday, March 01, 2010

Discussion Questions for Nooma 24: Whirlwind

NOOMA 24: WHIRLWIND by Nooma and Rob Bell: Discussion Questions

Getting Started:

How familiar are you with the book of Job?

What are your feelings about the book of Job? Do you like it? Avoid it?

What are your impressions of Job the person?


Write notes below

(Much of the video quotes Job 38-40:5)

Discussion Questions

Job's story:

What was the first response of Job's friends? (Job 2: 12-13)

How would you feel about this if you were Job?

Job asks God the "Why" question at some point. Is this wrong of him?

Is there a difference between questioning/asking and accusing God?

Does God give Job a clear answer to the question of his suffering?

Does God's answer work for Job? For you?

When you are the person who is suffering:

When it all falls apart, who are the people who would sit w/you?

What sorts of perspectives would they offer?

What do you think would be helpful? Why?

What do you think would not be helpful? Why?

When you are the friend of someone like Job (someone who is suffering):

Do you know someone "sitting in the ashes" right now?

What do you think your response should be?

How would you discern when it is time to speak?

How would you discern when it is time to be silent?

An interesting Book Review

Scot McKnight's review of Brian McLaren's latest book


Saying What Needs to be Said, But Should Go Without Saying           Racism is wrong. Violence based on racial prejudice is wrong. Christi...