Thursday, November 28, 2013


Today is Thanksgiving and Facebook has been abuzz with Thanksgiving greetings.  I put a 'like' on every one I saw and posted one of my own.  I apologize if I missed your greeting.  I rate my Facebook savvy as 'moderate,' knowing that it is better than some and will never be as good as others. 

Our family has much to be thankful for this year.  New home.  New job.  New friends.  Not that there was anything wrong with any of the old ones, but relocating 1200 miles this year was accompanied by changes that were not a part of last year's move of 2 miles. 

Our Thanksgiving tradition over the past few years was to host dinner at our home.  Robin's parents came.  Our children and grandchildren who lived in town came.  A friend I worked with whose family lived a ways away came and last year we also invited several others who were temporarily living in Rochester and unable to join their families.

This year things are different.  Very different!  There have been three Thanksgiving dinners for us to attend!  Fortunately they have all been on different days.  First was a meal hosted by the Jicarilla Apache Nation and open to the community.  The community center was packed and I understand that they served 600 meals.

This past Monday we were invited to the home of someone we have gotten to know and we spent the evening with his family.  At the beginning of the evening we only knew our host and it was a delight to make a few new friends and to sit and listen as an elder told a few stories of life in Dulce many years ago. 

And today we had one more Thanksgiving dinner, hosted by an extended family with a several members in our congregation.  Just before we sat down to eat I counted a bit more than 40 people present and a few more came in while we were eating.  Everyone brought something for the meal and as best I could tell everyone took some leftovers home. 

Since the dinner was at the church gym I went over a few hours later to lock up the building and found a large pan of sweet potatoes sitting at the edge of the parking lot.  There are a fair number of loose dogs on the reservation and after talking with Robin I decided to leave them where they were.  Tomorrow I can check to see if the dogs and the ravens, who are also quite common here, found the abundance of sweet potatoes to their liking.

Life is good, as they say, and I seem to have the full range of good things to be thankful for.  There are also things that trouble me and things that trouble the congregation I serve.  I'm not going to delve into those things here.  The fact is that at the root of my thankful heart there is something that doesn't change, no matter what the circumstances of my life may be at the moment.  And that is the unfailing and eternal hold of Jesus Christ on my life.

May the presence of His love be the cause of your thankfulness, today and every day.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Two parts of a whole

I was reading a blog post today where the writer discussed the difficulty we can have in living as Christians and balancing the Law on one side and Grace on the other.  Her dilemma brought me back to my sermon from yesterday.

I preached from John 1:14-18, which says this in verse 17:

"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." 

We could make an analogy using a scale and imagine that the scale only had the Law at first and that then God introduced Grace, in the person of Jesus, which brought the scale into a balanced position.  Or we could even make a case that Grace tipped the scale permanently to one side.   I haven't conducted a study but I think many people would agree with this analogy.

Or we could look at that verse and say that God created the Law as Plan A.  Try as they might people couldn't fully keep the Law so he brought along Jesus as Plan B.  Again, I think this portrayal would find pretty wide acceptance.

But I drew from somewhere else to clarify the relationship of Law and Grace.  During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says this in Matthew 5:17:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." 

Jesus didn't eliminate the Law.  Jesus didn't replace the Law.  Jesus fulfilled the Law.  The Law on the one hand and Grace on the other are two pieces of a whole.  God's plan of redemption is built on both pieces. 

The place where we can see a crystal clear view of the fulfillment of the Law and a true vision of Grace and Truth is on the cross and at the empty tomb.

The cross and the empty tomb are two parts of a glorious whole; one that redeems sinners like me, to God's eternal glory. 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Just answers please!

"Sermon transcription - Transcripts reach 3 times more people online because many just want answers, not sermons."

That blurb above appeared as an ad on my Facebook page.  Facebook knows I'm a pastor and they load their advertising accordingly, or so they think.  This ad strikes me as being absurd on a number of different levels.

First of all, I am skeptical that the average person with a functional working knowledge of the internet would read a sermon transcript.  I would still consider myself to be a novice preacher and on a typical sermon my word count is about 3,000 words. 

Is the average person actually going to look for a written transcript of a sermon and then read it?  What criteria would they use to find a sermon?  Search by preacher?  By topic?  By scripture text?  I admit that I do all three, however I am searching for sermons as a part of preparing my own. 

Realistically I think that if someone wanted to find a sermon for some sort of reason besides their own writing project they would locate an audio file. Then they could listen to it while also being engaged in some other activity, like posting on Facebook or playing Candy Crush.

Second, the above ad appeals to my sense of vanity.  Not a good trait for a preacher to nurture.  My role as a preacher is to feed those people God brings to my church on any given Sunday.  That doesn't mean I don't do anything to bring people to my church, or conversely to bring God's Good News in Jesus to the people out in the community in which I live.  But ultimately the number reached is in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and not me.

And third, the task of preaching is not to provide "answers" but to open the Bible and to bring out the message within its pages that God has for His people.  This takes some work on the part of both the preacher and the listener.  And it happens over time.  Sunday by Sunday, month by month, year by year. 

Many people can think back to a particular moment from a particular sermon that touched them but I believe that a more common experience is people who see that they have been shaped over time through a steady diet of biblical preaching.

According to the ad people may not want sermons, but it is my belief that they need them.  I don't believe this because I am a preacher, but because I believe in that which should permeate all good preaching: the living breathing word of God found in the Bible. 

This week I'll be preaching from John 1:14-18:

"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.(John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known."

My intention in preaching from this text will be to bring something to my congregation that is more than simply "answers."  I intend to bring the congregation a glimpse of the glory of God, the glory made known most profoundly in Christ Jesus.

Notes: The picture above is the pulpit of St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, the church where John Calvin preached.  Here is a link to Calvin's commentaries, searchable by scripture text.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Who is he?

I'm a pastor and as a part of my job I prepare and preach a sermon each week.  I've only been a pastor since the end of August so I will be the first to admit that I am fairly new at preaching week in and week out.  I spend a good portion of my time each week in prayer, study and the writing of my sermon. 

This morning I walked over to the church and went through the draft of the sermon I finished yesterday.  Then I came home to edit it and make an outline to use on Sunday morning.  I was in the midst of this when the phone rang.  It was a woman who identified herself as  a Jehovah's Witness from the town 27 miles east of ours.  She asked if she could read me a Bible verse. 

"Sure," I said, reaching for my Bible, which was sitting on my desk and open to the passage I was working on. "Which one?" 

"Revelation 21:4" she replied.  "Do you have a Bible?"

"In my hand right now" I said.  And I began to read the passage aloud.  It says:

"He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."

"Isn't that nice?" she asked.

"Who is 'he'?" I replied.  "This verse doesn't mean anything unless we know who 'he' is."

In all honesty I can't accurately recall the conversation past this point.  It was fairly brief and included my mentioning that I was the pastor of the local Reformed church; that I was working on my sermon when she called me; that the identity of 'he' as Jesus was, in my opinion, of supreme importance for this verse to make any sense; and at the heart of any sermon I preach are two things: Who Christ is and what he did.  This is what Paul meant when he said to the church at Corinth:

"For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."

I would have liked to talk with her more, because I don't know much about what Jehovah Witnesses believe, but she wanted to move on. 

We can read verses like the one my caller had from Revelation and come away thinking that they are 'nice.'  Our culture is full of things that sound nice, that claim to be inspirational, but that in the end do little except help us feel better for a brief period of time.  They promote a vague spirituality which is often centered in our selves and our feelings.

The Bible offers us something radically different from soft spirituality.  It brings us the living, breathing, Lord of Heaven and Earth, who gave his only Son in order to repair the rift that separates each and every sinful human from a holy God.  This Son, Christ Jesus, is the 'he' of the verse from Revelation. 

He, and He alone, is one who will truly wipe away every tear.  He is my Savior.  He is my Lord.  And I pray that He is your Savior and Lord too.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Darkness seemed to win

This morning I preached from John 1:1-5.  Verse 5 says:

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

It is believed that John wrote these words about 85 years after Jesus had lived.  John spent several years with Jesus as his disciple, and many years later he remains convinced of what he saw, writing powerfully the Good News of Jesus from his own particular place as an eyewitness.  John watched as Jesus made his final journey to Jerusalem and the cross.  Darkness seemed to win.

Darkness seemed to win as Jesus was arrested and scourged before Pontius Pilate.

Darkness seemed to win as Jesus hung on the cross.

Darkness seemed to win as Jesus breathed his last and gave up his spirit.

Darkness seemed to win as Jesus' body was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb; a tomb sealed with a stone.

Darkness seemed to win.

But the sinless life that Jesus lived was found acceptable by God, who raised Jesus to eternal life.  Darkness only seemed to win.

John was witness to the pivotal battle between darkness and light. The battle between spiritual darkness and the light of Christ.  The battle not decided on the cross but in the empty tomb. 

We live in a world where darkness still throws its shadows about, but the truth of John's Gospel is absolute:

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."

The light of Christ has overcome the darkness, and has overcome it forever.  We will still have times of struggle but that doesn't change the fact of Jesus' victory over sin and death, a victory that is eternal.  Whether you are in a place of shadow or light may you know his presence and his peace in every moment of your life.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 1, 2013


I spent three days this week in Denver at a seminar on Christian discipleship.  We drove back to Dulce on Wednesday afternoon, a trip of about 330 miles.  The first half was straight south on the interstate, then we headed west for a bit before going south-and-west over the mountains to northwest New Mexico and home.

It was a windy trip. most noticeably so on the last half of the segment south of Denver.   Wind speeds were over 30 MPH and gusting.  There were many times where the winds were blowing tumbleweed across the highway. 

As I drove I would see them move from the west side of the road to the east.  Sometimes rolling.  Sometimes bouncing.  Sometimes getting hung up in a fence, or the bumper of a car. 

According to Wikipedia tumbleweed is not one particular plant but a number of plants with a similar habit, which is that they dry out and the part above ground breaks off from its root structure.  Once that happens they are completely at the mercy of their environment, usually going wherever the wind blows them.

One of the things discussed at the seminar is that our culture (generic American culture, broadly speaking) is, at best, post-Christian, and how that for an ever-increasing portion of the American population the Christian perspective is one of ever-decreasing relevance and influence.  That is if it carried significant relevance and influence in the first place, which is also a matter of debate.

It could be said that from the Christian perspective, where at its most "common denominator" a person believes in Jesus for salvation in the pattern of Romans 10:9, that many people in our culture are as rootless as the tumbleweed, being carried about aimlessly, towards  a destiny of eternal oblivion.

One of the things I did take from the seminar is the idea that Christians, the kind who open their Bibles and read from them anticipating to encounter God amidst the pages, the kind who seek God in prayer and who then seek to do His will in the world as they live their lives, may find that there are people in their lives who have a latent hunger to learn from them.  There may be people in their lives who understand that there is something going on in the lives of these Christians that isn't going on in their own lives, and that these people will want what the Christians have.

In the seminar we were asked to consider if there were people like this in the places we regularly inhabit.  People that might be ready to hear the Good News of Jesus.  People that we might begin to invest in and to disciple, i.e., to teach them what it means to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. 

The tumbleweed has no root and wanders off into eventual non-existence.  In John 15:4-5  Jesus invites us to be joined to him, saying:

"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."

Jesus invites us to be joined to Him, a Vine whose roots never run dry.  A Vine who will eternally sustain those joined people joined to him. 

Who is God inviting you to learn from?  And who is God inviting you to teach?   

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.