Top Ten of 2017


Well, 2017 is coming to a close, and it’s been another year where I’ve stumbled across some really great reads. I thought I’d share with you the top 10 books I’ve read this year. You’ll notice the list is very eclectic. From the leader of the Reformation, to a scandalous preacher; from a book about the history of race in America, to one entitled, “Hillbilly Elegy.” It’s obvious there’s not much rhyme or reason to my reading, outside of what interests me at the moment. Here you go:
#10- Becoming Ms. Burton, by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn.
I’m a sucker for urban rags to riches stories. If you liked, A Piece of Cake, you will love this one. Susan Burton is a modern-day hero, having risen from the ashes of drug addiction, prostitution and incarceration. Now she’s reaching back and helping others.

#9- Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi.
The most comprehensive history of race in America that I’ve read. He argues how we haven’t made as much progress as we’d like to believe. Tragic. Kendi also unearths how several Puritan pastors had slaves as part of their compensation packages for the churches they served.

#8- My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward, Mark Lukach.
This is one of those reads you take on vacation with you. And if you’re a man, you’ll find yourself saying, “I’m just a loser of a husband,” about a thousand times. What an indefatigable spirit he has as he cares for his mentally ill wife. 

#7- The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead.
Don’t be misled into thinking this is a non-fictional, historical piece on the actual underground railroad. It’s fiction, well-written fiction, where you’ll find yourself swept away by the current of Whitehead’s narrative. .

#6- Elmer Gantry.  Sinclair Lewis.
I had heard of this title for years, but it was a dinner with some Gordon-Conwell faculty from the homiletics department where I finally decided to read this tome.  This should be required reading for any aspiring preacher. Lewis gets to the perils of a professionalized ministry. 

#5- Grit, Angela Duckworth.
Little do my boys know this will be on 2018’s summer reading list. “Greatness,” she argues, “isn’t so much about giftedness or environment, as much as it is about perseverance, a sort of stick-to-it-ness. Grit.”

#4- Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance.
I knew nothing of the people who populate places like the hills of Kentucky and the Appalachian Trail. But since this was a significant part of Trump’s base, and I’ve been writing on the subject, I figured this would be a great place to start my research. Vance’s memoir is compelling. At the end, you’ll conclude the gap is not as wide between the poor whites of Vance’s upbringing, and people of color.

#3- The Social Animal, David Brooks.
Okay, you know already my bromance with Brooks. He’s one of my favorites. His intellectual and writing powers are on full display in this book. You won’t be disappointed.

#2- Martin Luther, Eric Metaxas.
Best biography I read all year. There’s not the usual one-hundred-page, build up that’s requisite in most biographies. He practically gets right to the point while providing adequate information. It feels a bit like a novel. Plus, Luther is just flat out interesting, and hilarious.

#1- Devil in the Grove, Gilbert King.
Stunning read. I knew little of Thurgood Marshall’s pre-SCOTUS days. Never knew the risks he took just to try cases in the deep south. He was almost lynched. This book looks at one of his cases, and just when you think there are no more twists and turns, there are!

The Fingerprints of Jesus Luke 4:16-30


It was an early September morning in 1910 when Clarence Hiller was murdered.  His wife immediately got in touch with the police, who within an hour found a man believed to be his killer by the name of Thomas Jennings.  He had blood on him, and his arm had been injured badly.  And yet, it was obvious the police had no clear proof that Jennings had committed the crime.  So they began poking around the Hiller home, and they discovered that whoever killed Clarence had come in through the kitchen window leaving four fresh fingerprints.  It’s here where they decided for the first time in U.S. history to submit fingerprints as evidence in a case, and they won the conviction sending Jennings to jail.

Creating the Need

All of us in this room have a unique set of ridges on our fingers called fingerprints.  These ridges are so unique that no two people have the same exact pattern.  Our fingerprints are key to our identity.  When it comes to Jesus Christ, I want you to see the four biographies written about him called the gospels, as his unique fingerprints.  They point to the unique identity of Jesus Christ.  What is that unique identity?  Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the anointed Son of God.  He’s not just a good man.  He’s not some prophet, nor was he a fictional character.  He was a real person, who made real valid claims of deity, died a read death and rose to a real life so that we could have a real future and a real hope.  This is who Jesus is!  And over the next several weeks of advent season I want to draw our attention to the fingerprints, the identity of Jesus.

Now some of you are here and you would say, not buying itI just can’t accept that Jesus was God.  He was a good man, not God.  Listen to what the lead singer of U2, Bono, says to this, “I think it’s the defining question for a Christian: Who was Christ?  And I don’t think you’re let off easily by saying, ‘A great thinker,’ or ‘A great philosopher’.  Because actually, he went around saying he was the Messiah.  That’s why he was crucified.  He was crucified because he said he was the Son of God.  So, he either, in my view, was the Son of God, or he was nuts!  When people say, ‘Good teacher,’ ‘Prophet,’ ‘Really nice guy,’ this is not how Jesus thought of himself.  So you’re left with a challenge in that, either Jesus is who he said he was or a complete and utter nut case.  And I believe that Jesus was, you know, the Son of God”- Bono, Focus on the Family Interview, 2013

Do you get what Bono is saying?  The defining question of your life, that everyone must answer, is who was Jesus?  Now here’s where Bono nails it- If anyone says they are the Messiah you have one of two extremes.  Either they are completely nuts, or they are completely right, no middle ground.  And if Jesus is who he said he is, then this completely changes everything.  I must take him seriously.  I must see his words not as some tweets to contemplate, but inspiring directives to organize our life around.  This is Jesus. 

I want you to track with me over the next several weeks as we look at the fingerprints, the identity, of Jesus.  No this is not going to be a series of lectures in which I prove to you his identity, as much as it will be a series wrestling with what it really means to follow Jesus, this man who said he was the Messiah.  Because if he is right- and he is- then we need to know what it means to follow him.  So my hope is if you’re not a Christian you are convinced and inspired to follow him.  If you are a Christian that you will be inspired and emboldened to follow him even closer.  Let’s look at it.

The Identity of Jesus is Comprehensive- Luke 4:16-19

As we come to Luke 4 you should know this is right at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  In Bay area speak our passage represents Jesus’ IPO- his initial public offering.  This is a key moment in the life and ministry of Jesus.  So where do we find Jesus?  He’s in the synagogue, Luke notes, “as was his custom”.  I love this, and won’t park here for too long.  In other words, Jesus made a regular practice of going to church every week.  That’s interesting.  Jesus, who is God, who wrote the book, and was the focus of the worship songs that were sung, went to church every week.  It was his custom to be a part of corporate worship.  If Jesus prioritized this, then how much more so should we?  And while in church, Luke says Jesus goes up onto the stage, unfolds the Scriptures to what we know as Isaiah 58 and Isaiah 61, reads the verses, and says repeatedly that what you just heard has been fulfilled in me.  Drops the mic and sits down!  Do you see why we say you don’t have the option to say he was just a good man.  Like if I did what he did I’m either crazy or who I said I was, no middle ground.

Now Jesus has just created a real awkward moment, hasn’t he?  There’s a tension in the room.  And if you are in the room you’re left with a huge question of what am I going to do with this?  That’s what Jesus does now.  Jesus comes in and creates awkward moments in our lives when we least expect it.  He creates one in here every week when we give the altar call.  Let’s call it what it is- it’s awkward to walk down front and to say I don’t have it all together and I need Christ to fix me.  This is what Christ does, he creates awkward moments.  Or when you’re just driving along and Christ begins to speak to you about the way you just talked to your roommate on campus and he asks you to repent.  Awkward.  Or when Christ begins to speak to you about that sinful relationship you’re in and he asks you to end it.  Awkward.  Or when he asks you to give a generous gift you hadn’t financially planned for.  Awkward.  Oh yes, Jesus is still in the business of awkward, and the great question of our lives is how will we respond when Jesus drops the mic on us?

But look at what he says in the sermon.  Look back at verses 16-19 with me.  Now the question on the table is, who are the poor, the blind, the captives and the oppressed?  Is this literal or spiritual?  Scholars are agreed- it’s both, and this gels with the ministry of Jesus.  If you want to investigate the ministry of Jesus you know that he came to offer salvation to those who are spiritually poor, spiritually blind, spiritually held captive and spiritually oppressed.  He did this by calling people to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  So here we see the spiritual sense of it.  But we also see Jesus literally opening the eyes of the blind, literally feeding people, literally calling us to visit those in prison, and to reach out to the financial poor and marginalized.  So that we see the identity of Jesus, his fingerprints are comprehensive.  The gospel he proclaimed was both spiritual and social!  This is the way of Jesus.

To go the way of Jesus is to model and proclaim a comprehensive gospel that touches both the spiritual and social needs of people.  This is the legacy of Christianity we come from.  It was the early Christians who not just met on Sunday mornings to pray, but were the first to care for the hurting in Rome.  In fact, one Roman emperor complained that Christians were taking better care of their hurting than Rome!  It was Christians who held church councils defending the deity of Jesus and started hospitals for the sick.  It was the father of the reformation, a Jesus loving man named Martin Luther, who defended salvation by grace alone through faith alone, but who also put himself in harms way by caring for the sick in a town that was ravaged by a plague.  It was a Jesus loving group of “evangelical” Christians in the 18th century called the Clapham Sect who took on and brought down slavery.  And it was Christians who marched in the streets of Selma, Birmingham and other places singing the songs of Zion while standing up for voters rights.  See, the Bible has no category for a Christianity that is content with Bible studies, church attendance and prayer meetings while doing nothing to address the needs of the hurting.

This is why our commitment at ALCF through our justice and compassion ministry lead by Cheryl Degree is to provide you with opportunities to get your hands dirty by walking with those who are in prison, supporting those who have gotten pregnant out of wedlock and feeding the homeless.  In fact, one of the best things you can do today is to go sign up for our angel tree project where you can get gifts for children of the incarcerated.  This is the identity of Jesus, and the way of the Christian!  This is what it means to follow him!

The Identity of Jesus is Connected to the Needy- Luke 4:23-27

So Jesus ends his sermon, says he is the fulfillment which is him saying he is God, and then Luke notes the crowd began to say to each other, Hey, ain’t that Joe’s boy.  We know him.  Jesus cuts in and says that doubtless they will quote the proverb saying, Physician heal yourself. What does this mean?  This was a proverb that pretty much says it’s one thing for a physician to heal others, but if he can’t heal himself then that’s a problem.  Now, Jesus is in Nazareth which is his hometown.  They have heard that he’s done some things in other towns and areas.  So when they say, Physician heal yourself, they’re saying, if you are really who you say you are prove it to us by doing some kind of a special act right here in your home.  In other words, they want Jesus to be like an actor and audition for them, and if he passes the audition then they’ll sign on and follow him. 

This still goes on today, and it’s some of you sitting here.  In some way you’re saying your own version of this proverb to Jesus.  I’ll follow Jesus when he cures me of cancer.  I’ll follow Jesus if he fixes my finances.  I’ll follow Jesus if he brings my child back to a healthy place.  I’ll follow Jesus if he ends the suffering.  This is what a young Steve Jobs did.  As a little boy he walked into his church one day and demanded to speak to the pastor.  He said to the pastor, Can God fix anything?  The pastor said yes. Jobs then took out a magazine with a picture of children starving and said then why won’t God fix this?  Unsatisfied with the answer Jobs stormed out and never went back to church.  Jesus had unfortunately “failed” his audition for Jobs.  Now you do see the problem here, don’t you?  When we demand that Jesus audition for us, we are putting ourselves in the seat of authority, and making Jesus subservient to our demands, and he will have none of that.

So how does Jesus respond to this proverb?  He tells them two quick stories.  Notice the similarities.  Both have people of great need.  Both are Gentiles.  Both go to powerful spiritual leaders who happen to be Jewish men.  One happens to be financially rich, and the other financially poor, but it is their need that drives them to get help.  And this is the point Jesus is making.  Jesus likens himself to Elijah and Elisha and says in so many words, I am only here for those who see their need, to those who have found themselves in dire straits.  In fact, just one chapter later, Jesus will say I haven’t come  for the healthy, but for the sick

Some years ago a friend of mine went to the doctor for his annual physical.  They did their usual poking and prodding, asked questions and ran some blood work.  A few days later he got a call to come in because his blood work was off.  They ran some more tests and discovered he had cancer.  They operated, and got it, and today he’s fine.  But I’ll never forget what he said.  He said he felt completely fine, and the scary part was if he would have allowed how he felt to keep him from the doctors, things could have been far worse.

The problem with many people here in the Bay is they feel fine.  Life is great.  But they don’t realize that lying under the hood of their life is a devastating disease with eternal consequences called sin.  And until you really see and embrace this, you will never go to the Great Physician, Jesus Christ. This is why one of the greatest gifts Jesus can ever give to someone is pain, because it alerts us to our need with the hopes of sending us running to him!

Now what does all this mean for us as Christ-followers?  Several things, but let me give you one.  If Jesus came for the needy, then the way of Jesus is for us to immerse ourselves with people who are just needy- both spiritual and literal.  We need to be around non-believers and the poor.  Some years ago I began to be alarmed by the nauseating level of materialism that was in my heart.  So I quietly signed up to serve at a local treatment center for addicts.  I would go once a week, not to preach, but just pick up trash and clean toilets and talk to the men.  This lead to Korie and I throwing a party for them at our home where the whole program came.  They ate me out of house and home, but that was one of the best seasons of my life.  For the good of our own souls, we need to be with broken needy people not to fix them, but because it reminds us of our own brokenness and neediness, driving us to the Savior.

The Identity of Jesus is Confrontational- Luke 4:28-30

When Jesus gets finished with the story the crowd is not pleased.  They’re angry.  So angry they form what one scholar calls a lynch mob and they try to kill him.  But why?  These stories seem really benign?  Why are they so ticked?  Well, because Jesus likens himself to two great prophets and says that while there was great need in Israel, the only one’s who got helped were these two Gentiles.  These words insult their Jewish sensibilities, because the Jews thought they had a monopoly on the favor of God.  After all they had kept the law.  They had gone to temple.  They had memorized the law.  They were the keepers of the Sabbath.  So because of all their good deeds they thought they deserved to have the Messiah to themselves.  Jesus’ words cut against the grain of their moralism.   

What is moralism?  Moralism is basing my identity, esteem and self worth on my own good deeds and performance and not on what Christ has done for me on the cross.  Moralism says that because I go to church, give money, serve in ministry, lead or attend a growth group that I deserve certain things.  Moralism produces a spiritual entitlement of sorts where I think I’m exempt from hard times.  Listen to what Tim Keller says, If I obey, if I follow everything the Bible says, if I never miss worship, if I’m very, very good in every way, if I follow every one of the rules, then I have God where I want him. He owes me. He has to give me a good life. He has to answer my prayers. The way you can tell you have that same hostility, the way you can tell that through your obedience you’re rebelling against God, is when he does anything in your life that shows he doesn’t feel like he owes you anything, you go through the roof- TIM KELLER. This is the Jews- they go through the roof.  You?

I had a great friend growing up in Atlanta.  This man loved the Lord and had a deep love for the Word of God.  We would do bible studies together, and serve in ministry together.  He even went off to seminary.  He also had a passion for music, and did quite well, so well that he was promised a contract by a top executive in California.  We were roommates when I lived in LA and we talked about his dreams of making it big.  But then the bottom fell out and he never got that contract.  When this reality settled in, he renounced his faith, ended up divorcing his wife and years later is far from Christ.  He murdered his relationship with God, because God didn’t do what he wanted him to do.  Do you act like the Jews when Jesus fails to meet your expectations for life?  Have you gone down the path of moralism seeking to put God in your debt?  Or do you do good things because you simply love him? 

Prayer of blessing over the people…YOU ARE SENT!

Helping Your Haters - Joshua 10

It’s been the longest, most agonizing day of her life. She watched her young son being kidnapped and forced into a car. With no time to think, she doesn’t call 911 and, instead, chooses to pursue her son’s kidnappers at high speed for the next several hundred miles. Along the way, she ends up killing them, getting into a car accident that almost costs her life and finally rescuing her child. If you saw this movie, Kidnap starring Halle Berry, you leave absolutely assured of this mothers love for her child. She is relentless and unflinching in her love for him.

Creating the Need

Hard times and duress has a way of serving as a sort of MRI revealing the true nature of our hearts and what we really love. Suffering has never wrecked a person’s faith, but it has always revealed a person’s faith. And one of the clearest ways to know what’s in your heart, is how do you respond to your haters, to those who have betrayed, wronged and hurt you?

This is exactly what’s in view in Simon Wiesenthal’s classic, The Sunflower, in which he tells the true story of the time in which he was serving as a Jew in a Nazi camp when a dying Nazi soldier, who had been responsible for killing hundreds of Jews, asks Simon to forgive him for all of his atrocities. The last part of the book is a round table discussion of sorts where various dignitaries and faith leaders chime in on how Simon should have responded. One of them said, It always seemed to me inhuman and a travesty of justice if the executioner asked the victim to forgive. One cannot, and should not, go around happily killing and torturing and then, when the moment has come, simply ask, and receive, forgiveness. In my view, this perpetuates the crime.”—Herbert Marcuse. There it is. When in the face of such injustice and inhumanity, what a person really believes comes out. How about you?

Historical Context

This is exactly what’s in view when we come to our text this morning. Just one chapter earlier, Gibeon had wronged and hurt the people of God deeply through an intense act of betrayal. Now in our story, Gibeon—the very one’s who had betrayed them—is in need. It’s here where we see God and Israel’s incredibly gracious heart as in an insane act of grace as they rush to their betrayer’s side and rescue them. What grace! 

This ancient story still holds modern relevance. You want to really know what’s in your heart? How do you respond to your Gibeonites—those who have deceived, wronged, betrayed and hurt you? Of course I want to be careful here. This text is not about reconciling with that abusive ex (please hear me on this), but there are some broader applications to be made. If we really want to know where we are with God…if we really want to discern the intensity of our Christianity, how do we respond to the Gibeonites in our lives? How do you handle that dad who walked out on you? How do you respond to that ex who cheated on you, causing you to file for bankruptcy and abandon the life you once enjoyed? How do you respond to the former pastor who split the church and took away your friends? How do you react to that so-called friend who broke their promise? What do you do with the person who perpetrated the act of racial injustice towards you? How do you handle Gibeon? If you haven’t figured it out now, this story is all about grace.

Grace is Hard | Joshua 10:5

This is the last battle described in detail in the book of Joshua. What we see in verse 5 is that a large coalition forms to fight against Gibeon because they are ticked off they would have the nerve to make a peace treaty with the very nation who threatened their existence. Gibeon catches wind of this and see how they respond in verse 6. What’s interesting here is if you study Gibeon’s words in Hebrew they are all imperatives, which is an emotionally intense mood. It is as if Gibeon is hollering, “HELP!” to Israel.

Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m Israel, and the one’s who just betrayed me hollered help, I’m going to be like, “Look at God! Ain’t God good? Won’t he do it? Won’t he will?” I mean this is like that ex who has refused to make child support payments and is now asking me for a loan. Won’t he will? But it’s here where God flips the script and ends whatever thoughts of jubilation Israel may have had. Because God says go help them, and I will be with you. Yep. God is like, “That’s right, the very one’s who wronged you, go help.” See friends, grace is not passive. It is not just the refusal to exact vengeance. Grace is active, it’s rushing to the battlefield to help your enemy. And this is the first of three things we are going to learn about grace this morning, and that is…grace is hard.

In one of his books, Ravi Zacharias tells the story of a husband and wife who were in a heated argument.  The husband got so angry he threw acid in his wife’s face, severely deforming her for life. He then left her and his family for another woman. Years later, this man fell on hard times. He was completely destitute. In a Gibeonite act of desperation, he reached out to his ex wife—the one he poured acid on—and asked if she could care for him. To the shock of her children, she did. When asked by them how could she do such a thing, she simply said, “She’s Christian, and to be a Christian is to show grace.” Grace…even to Gibeon.

Do Not Be Afraid

Grace is hard. Easier said than done, I know. Here is Israel, not only is she asked to show grace to Gibeon—the one’s who wronged them—but to help them against a coalition much larger than they. Talk about hard! Israel doesn’t have the resources or the manpower to defeat them on their own. It’s impossibly hard. I want you to think right now of the person who has hurt and wronged you the most. Got it? What if God told you to help them? You may be like, “That’s too much to ask. That is a hill too big for me to climb!” Maybe you even have some fear in you. Fear if they’ll accept your offer of help. Fear of being rejected. The same kind of fear Israel had. Hear what God says to Israel. He says it to you, in verse 8: “Do not be afraid.

You know these four words, “do not be afraid,” are constantly rolling off of God’s words to His people in the Scriptures. In Exodus, God tells Israel, “do not be afraid.” God tells Moses, “do not be afraid.” God tells Joshua several times, “do not be afraid.” God tells Gideon, “do not be afraid.” God tells Elijah, “do not be afraid.” God tells Hezekiah, “do not be afraid.” God tells Jehoshaphat, “do not be afraid.” God tells Isaiah, “do not be afraid.” God tells Mary, “do not be afraid.” God tells Joseph, “do not be afraid.” Jesus tells his disciples many times, “do not be afraid.” God tells Paul, “do not be afraid.” God tells wives, “do not be afraid.” Jesus tells the church in Revelation 2, “do not be afraid.” Did you know God only says this to people who are facing impossible challenges, and are contemplating huge risks? He doesn’t say this to people playing it safe. And to you and me, He says to us—when faced with a huge challenge of showing grace to those who have wronged us—“do not be afraid.” Grace is hard, but God is with us! “Do not be afraid!”

Grace is Hereditary | Joshua 10:8–9

God says, “Israel, I want you to go out there and show grace to them, and you can do this because I am with you.” This is His point in verses 8–9. Look at it with me. Now the fact that God would say, “I am with you,” blows my mind, because Israel had blown God off in chapter 9 by ignoring Him. Now, one chapter later, God says, “I am with you,” What grace! If you haven’t picked up on it by now, grace is not just a NT doctrine, it’s laced all throughout the Scriptures. We see it in the book of Joshua. Chapter 7 Israel sins by taking the devoted things and loses the battle to Ai. One chapter later, God graciously gives them a do-over and they win. Chapter 9 Israel ignores God. One chapter later, God graciously gives them a do-over.  Anyone grateful for the gracious do-over’s God has given them? But don’t miss the point. God is saying, “You can give grace to Gibeon, because I’m giving you grace by being with you.” To give grace, you must get grace. And this is the second thing we learn about grace—it’s hereditary.

To be a Christian means you have been given grace. Ephesians 2:8–9 says that we have been saved by grace through faith, and not of works. Romans 2:4 says that it was God’s kindness (hear grace) that leads to repentance. Our sins were forgiven because of God’s grace. We have been raised to new life by an astounding act of God’s grace. To be in the family of God means the very fabric of our spiritual DNA is grace. Grace is hereditary.

In the 1954 Cotton Bowl between Rice University and the University of Alabama, the game was a tight knit one with the score being 7-6. Dicky Moegle—the running back for Rice University—took the ball and stormed up the sideline late in the game destined for a sure touchdown. It was here when a player sitting on the University of Alabama’s bench named Tommy Lewis, rose up off the bench and illegally ran on to the field, tackling Dicky Moegle before he could score a touchdown. After the game, when Tommy Lewis was asked by dumb-founded reporters why he came off the bench to tackle Moegle, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know. I guess I had too much Bama in me.” This should be the exact response of the believer when the world is shocked we could show grace to others, even our enemies. We should merely shrug our shoulders and say, I don’t know, I guess I have too much Jesus in me! Grace is hereditary.

Grace is Historical | Joshua 10:12–14

So Israel goes out onto the battlefield and they fight, but what’s clear is they don’t fight alone. The text says that God threw their enemies into a panic and, then in verse 11, that while their enemies were fleeing, God threw large stones at them from heaven. Really God? Come on. You throw hailstones at them while they’re fleeing. That’s awesome. I mean that’s like one of those fights in HS when a kid is getting beat, falls to the ground and someone comes out the crowd and gets a kick in, that’s what God is doing here. 

Let me just come by your house and say this. God gets in on the fight. Yeah we do our part, but God is doing His part. Listen, you never know what God is up to in the hearts of your haters. While you’re debating, praying and even hurting, God could probably be at work softening their hearts with “hailstones.” So trust God. 

It’s here where Joshua makes a crazy request in verses 12­­–14. Look at it with me. He says, “God, will you make the sun stand still?” Joshua prays the impossible. I mean, His prayer reminds me of what Jesus said we should pray in Matthew 17:20. Can I ask you a question? When was the last time you prayed what felt like an impossible prayer regarding the haters in your life? Prayers like: God can you give me the courage to reach out to my estranged father? God can you give me the boldness to bless my mother-in-law who is always negative? God can you strengthen me to tell that old friend who wronged me that I forgive them, because I’ve been carrying around this hurt too long? Have you prayed the impossible?

Scholars are baffled by our story, and they try to explain it away. So they say things like, well the sun didn’t really stand still, it was a solar eclipse. Or, the sun didn’t really stand still, God just lessened the heat.  I’m not here to get into any of these debates. Here’s what you should know: Whatever happened here, it was a historical day. And it’s always a historical day when you trust God to do the impossible, and you extend grace to those who have wronged you! This becomes an historical mile marker in your journey with Jesus!

I have a friend of mine who says that growing up his father remarried after his biological mother died and his step mother, while not treating him mean, never really embraced him. He says he felt the pain of this as a little boy and it created a devastating distance between them, causing him to harbor bitterness towards her for years. Finally, well into adulthood, he gets saved. And as Jesus always does, some time later, he points out the bitterness in my friend’s life, and begins to challenge him to make it right. So my friend gets on a plane and flies thousands of miles away. His heart is racing as he sits down with her, does the gracious thing and says, I want you to know I forgive you, and we are okay. A few short years later, she’s now terminally ill, she reaches out to him and asks if he would care for her. He drops everything and does. She is still amazed by his grace and begs him to share with her where it came from. He shares Christ with her, she becomes a Christian, dies and slips off into eternity with Jesus. The point is clear: His act of grace became an historical moment both in his journey and in hers. She’s now in heaven because of grace.

Gospel Conclusion

Now you maybe saying, why in the world should I do that? Well friend, don’t you see? We were all Gibeon—sinful people whose sin put us in a helpless state, destining us for an eternity in hell. But God, in an act of crazy grace, sent His Joshua, Jesus Christ, to save and rescue and deliver us. And it was the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ that became the greatest historical moment ever, even greater than the day in our text. Because it was this moment where Satan was defeated and new life was given. Won’t you say yes to Jesus?

12 …remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” So God, give us the strength, to show grace to those who have hurt us, for our good, and your glory! Amen!



Why We No Longer Say “Members”

Several weeks ago we instituted a change at Abundant Life where we are no longer using the word member, or membership, and in its place we have decided to use the term covenant partner.  This change is not to be cool, hip or up to date (as if the phrase represents any of that), instead it reflects the heart of our church to be the kind of people God envisions.  As we think about this change in language, I want to give you three reasons as to why:

1.       A culture at war with consumerism.  We want to be a church that goes to war with consumerism.  Membership instigates a what’s-in-it-for-me mindset.  For example, I’m a member of the Delta Skymiles program, where I am afforded a lot of perks.  Every year I’m given a free pass to their Sky Club, offered complimentary upgrades to first class, and because of my membership in their program and the status I’ve accrued, my bags typically come out in the first wave.  Talk about membership having its privileges!  I didn’t become a member of their program to give to Delta, I joined to get.  If you’re a member of a country club, travel program or any other entity, you probably asked the question, “What’s in it for me?”.  Language is huge in creating culture, so we feel this tweak in language will instigate a spirit of contribution and service, not a one way street of receiving.

2.       Rootedness.  The word covenant conveys a sense of rootedness.  We often refer to marriages as covenants, not contracts.  Contracts are performance oriented and transactional.  Covenants are more permanent in nature.  When we are in covenant with someone, what we are saying is “I am in this for the long haul”.  We don’t want to attract a body of “sermon-tasters,” who come for a season, and then move on to the next hottest thing.  We want people who feel a sense of call and rootedness to our body.

3.       Ownership.  A covenant-partner is one who feels a sense of ownership in the church, and when you are that invested you care about what happens and are more prone to participate in the life of our body.  Of course we want to be a church that blesses and equips you.  My hope is whenever God calls you on you will leave our church thinking you became a much better follower of Jesus because of the things you received from us.  But this is a two way street, isn’t it?  Our hope is we can say we’re a better church because you used your gifts and passions in a way that blessed and edified our body and the Bay.  This is what covenant-partners do.

A Provocative Freedom

We are a nation divided, and those divisions are not new, they’ve just been put on full display through some very recent acts, namely with a group of athletes choosing to take a different posture when it comes to the flag and the playing of our national anthem. A recent ESPN poll revealed what we already know - one’s position on the flag and whether or not to kneel runs along racial lines. The bulk of minorities surveyed are for the protests, while our white brothers and sisters hold a different view.
As Christians we should have a vested interest in this. I believe we have a unique opportunity to display the fragrant aroma of Christ not in our uniformity around this issue, but in how we navigate those differences with one another in all too public forums like Twitter, Facebook and the comments section on someone’s blog post (to name a few). I am going to guess if you’re a Christ-follower that you are a person of the Book, so how should the Scriptures inform our posture with one another. I’ve found the following to be helpful:

1. America is not God’s country. Nowhere in the Bible will you find that America is God’s country. I do believe that God has blessed America with unusual favor in large part because of how we treated the Jews during WWII. God promised in the Abrahamic covenant that he would bless those that blessed the Jews (Genesis 12:1-3), and we are still feeling the aftershocks of that promise. However, there’s no way one can read the Bible and come away with we are God’s country.

2. God doesn’t pledge allegiance to the American flag. Joshua 5 is one of the strangest encounters in the Bible. Here Joshua sees a mysterious man holding a sword and he asks this man whose side is he on- Israel’s or Canaan’s? The man- who is a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ- says neither, but that he is the captain of the LORD’s army. In other words, Jesus isn’t waving an Israeli flag or a Canaanite one. As Jesus would say centuries later, “My kingdom is not of this world”. Let’s not forget that when the national anthem is played God does not remove his hat, stand up and place his hand over his heart. Sure we should be patriotic, but when our patriotism rises to the level of our allegiance to God we are now guilty of the sin of nationalism.

3. We should show honor and respect to our country and its leaders. Jesus encouraged paying taxes, in fact we find him paying taxes himself. This was an act of honor. The Scriptures instruct us to honor our leaders, even the ungodly ones. Keep in mind when Peter told his audience to
“Honor the emperor,” many scholars believe one of Rome’s most vicious rulers was in power - Nero. It’s a good thing to remove one’ hat, place one’s hand over their heart and show respect to the flag. It is also a good thing to kneel while protesting. Let’s not forget that is why the protests went from sitting to kneeling- to show respect even while protesting.

4. The very historical tradition of Christianity is filled with protests. One need not look any further than the martyrs to see this. The very definition of a martyr is protest. I’m especially interested in Wilberforce, though, who was so incensed over the injustice and inhumanity of the slave trade that he carried on his own protests, one of which was the refusal to eat sugar for what amounted to years. He sparked ire among most in parliament, and many more in England. It is not a stretch to say had he lived today you would find him kneeling when our anthem is played. This, by the way, is not a suggestion to say we should or should not kneel, but to point out the inconsistency of adoring Wilberforce without fully contemplating the present implications of that adoration.

5. Both the Bible and the constitution give us the freedom to kneel or not to kneel when it
comes to the flag.
Because the Bible does not speak clearly into this issue, and because our constitution gives us leeway, we have freedom in how we express our convictions.

6. God is okay with offending. Many would appeal to Paul’s discourse on the believer’s stewardship of freedom found in Romans 14 as the guide for our actions regarding the flag. While his principles are mostly helpful to our discussion in whether or not to kneel, we must remember that contextually Romans 14 is worlds a part from the present topic. What Paul is after has to do with how Christians within the local church exercise their freedoms over disputable matters like food. What we are discussing has to do with using freedom as a provocative instrument to address systemic injustice. Wielded irresponsibly, Romans 14 would have found Rosa Parks guilty of sin when she refused to give up her seat thus causing the whites “to stumble”. Obviously this is a misappropriation of the text. What’s more is we see God, at times, instructing people to do provocative and offensive things to bring out a broader point. Was not Ezekiel offensive to the culture when he stripped down to his loin cloth and laid practically naked on his side for three hundred and ninety days? Did not the sight of the preacher (Hosea) with the prostitute (Gomer) offend so many of God’s people? Was not Jesus’ intentional healings on the Sabbath a protest against legalism, and offensive to the religious rulers of his time? The very emblem of the cross is offensive, Paul writes, to Jews and to Greeks. God is fine with offending, as long as it is committed to a greater good.

7. Whatever you do, love. No matter where one’s convictions on this matter leads them, we are bound by love. We have the right to protest. We have the right to protest the protest. We don’t have the right to be mean. An unloving Christian is an oxymoron.