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Sunday, May 12, 2024
A Matter of the Heart

Years ago, Dr. Arnot Walker was a medical student in Philadelphia when he heard Dr. Clarence MacCartney, of First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, preach a sermon on II Timothy 4:21, “Do your best to come before winter…” The text continued to linger in his thoughts as he sat in his room studying. Paul’s request to his protégé Timothy has wide application and the Holy Spirit began to impress the message upon this budding doctor.

So, after some time Walker thought to himself, “I had better write that letter to my mother now. Perhaps, the winter of death is nearing for her, and I must tell her how grateful I am for her love and example of love for Christ. Before the week was out, while sitting in class, Walker received a telegram that his mother was gravely ill. “Come at once,” the telegram read.

Hurriedly, he took a train to his small-town home. Fortunately, his mother was still alive. A smile of recognition broke across her face as he walked into her room. Under her pillow lay a treasured possession – the loving letter he had written through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. In a soft voice she said to him, “Your words cheered and comforted me as I entered the valley of the shadow of death.”

This Mother’s Day Sunday, we will be in II Chronicles looking at some of the final words King David ever utters and, interestingly, they aren’t about his life and his accomplishments. They aren’t about his conquests and reputation. The fact is these words have almost nothing to do with him.

Instead, they are all about one of his many children. What we have in II Chronicles 29 is a perfect model of a parent’s heart that longs to see his or her child flourish. On this Mother’s day, in a message entitled, “A Matter of The Heart,” we will dig in deeply.

Sunday, May 5, 2024
Jesus and the F Word

Karl Menninger, the famous American psychiatrist, said that if he could convince the patients in his psychiatric hospitals that their sins are forgiven, 75% could walk out the next day. That’s what’s largely missing in the church today, the positive note of forgiven men and women who live forgiven lives.

Anywhere the Bible is preached, the case for sin and guilt is well established but that’s only half the story. The other half is the reason Jesus came and died, to free us from sin and guilt. Jesus never said, “I’ve come that you might have guilt and that more abundantly.” He said, “I’ve come that you might have life and that more abundantly. ”

Decades ago, a story was told of a wealthy English merchant who lived on the European Continent. He was the kind of chap who wasn’t satisfied with good, he wanted the best. This attitude extended to the car he drove. His pride and joy was his Rolls Royce coupe. He had owned it for years, and for years it gave him nothing but the best service.

Then, one day, he was driving down a bumpy country road and his car hit a deep pothole and instantly broke its rear axle. After getting it towed back to the city, he called the Rolls Royce plant in England and had the car shipped there for repair.

Amazingly, within a week of its arrival, they had replaced the axle and shipped it back to the man in Europe. But when he got his car there was no bill. Now, he had owned the car for years. He knew very well that the warranty had run out. So, he waited for the bill to follow, but it never came.

Finally, being as fastidious as he was, he called both the factory and the corporate office in London. From each place he heard the same message, “We have thoroughly scoured our files and find no record of a Rolls Royce ever breaking its axle.”

And that’s what Jesus says to everyone of those who take refuge in Him. He says, in effect, “I’ve thoroughly searched our files and I find no record of your sin or any payment that is due.”

And, of course, Jesus can say that with absolute confidence, for He is the one who’s paid the last cent of the cost of forgiveness. It’s the implication of God’s forgiveness of us in Christ that will be the focus of this Sunday’s sermon text and message. We will be in Matthew 18 and see again what Jesus says about forgiveness in a message entitled, “Jesus and the F word.” It’s a great follow-up to our series, “Full Disclosure. ”

Sunday, April 28, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Shepherd

Forty years ago, James Ingram, Quincy Jones, Michael McDonald collaborated on a song that took the music world by storm. The title, “Yah Mo B There.” It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R & B Performance by a Duo. Over time, the song has been covered and remixed multiple times, making it an iconic hit for generations.

Someone has written, “Yah Mo B There is a classic song that captures the essence of music collaboration, and the power of empathy and understanding, as well as the importance of showing up for someone when they need it the most…It is a song that will continue to inspire and spread love wherever it is played.”

Here are some of the lyrics:

“Heavenly Father watchin’ us fall

We take from each other and give nothing at all

Well, it’s a doggone shame but never too late for a change

So, if your luck runs low, just reach out and call His name

Yah Mo B There

Yah Mo B There

Yah Mo B There

Yah Mo B There

Whenever you call….”

Now, what I could find in researching the song made no mention of the profound biblical truth contained herein. When Ingram and McDonald sing of the Father watching us and hearing us when we call, they use the first three letters of the Hebrew name for God – YAHWEH. That name is so revered by the orthodox Jew he can’t even speak it. It’s used more than 6,800 times in the Scriptures. It literally means, “I am”. In other words, He is the self-existent, all sufficient One. Now, isn’t it amazing that James Ingram would refer to God that specifically in his classic hit. Whether he knew it or not, he’s seized upon an awesome truth that the preacher of Hebrews knows well.

For 17 weeks, we have been examining the Book of Hebrews and its profound relevance to today. In one long sermon, the writer answers perhaps the most commonly asked questions in human history, “If God loves me, why is my life so hard?” And in 13 chapters he answers plainly by saying, so that we might turn our eyes to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. And for 13 chapters the preacher gives us 17 different views of who Jesus is, the true Yahweh. In this, our final week, we come to our final view, Jesus as our Shepherd.

Why should we turn our eyes to Jesus? Because He is “The Final Word”, “Our Brother”, “Our Builder”, “Our Rest”, “Our Counselor”, “Our Priest”, “Our Promise”, “Our Advocate”, “Our Covenant”, “Our Sacrifice”, “Our Foundation”, “Our Runner”, “Our Shaker”, “Our Resurrection”, “Our Grace”, “Our City”, and “Our Shepherd”.

This week we end with one of the richest descriptions of Jesus in the entire Bible. In the midst of our pain and trouble, there is no one who can see us, hear us, and help us any more clearly than Him. He is the only One who can turn pain into purpose. He is the only one we need.

Sunday, April 14, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Grace

I preached a sermon years ago when Bill Clinton was meeting Boris Yeltsin in Helsinki. It was only a few years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the world press was all excited about this historic summit. In fact, it was difficult to find any new source that wasn’t wall- to-wall in their coverage. So, I used it as an illustration to underscore the importance of prioritization.

I said, “Let’s suppose I got word this morning that my seven-year-old daughter, Maggie, had just been diagnosed with cancer. I wouldn’t care one whit about Helsinki, Clinton, or Yeltsin. In fact, from that moment on, whatever happened in Helsinki would be the furthest thing from my mind.” And everyone would understand that.

Now, think of Jesus. If you were asked to identify His greatest priority, what would you say it is? The preacher of Hebrews and every other New Testament writer would agree – it’s the church. It’s the Body of Christ. For Jesus there’s no greater priority than the fellowship of all believers throughout the ages.

In John 17, He’s praying to His Father and He says, “I pray for those you have given me out of the world. They are yours and I have kept them.” In Matthew 16, He says to His disciples, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you did on earth will be bound in heaven…” In other words, He invested them with the same authority He has.

The simple fact of the matter is that to Jesus there’s no greater priority than the church. He left heaven to die on a cross to purchase His church, His bride. He has no greater purpose than to love and equip His church. That’s why at the beginning of chapter 13, the preacher identifies yet another dimension of Jesus that should strengthen the weakest, most wearied Christian. Remember the question, “If God loves me, why is my life so hard?” As we have seen throughout this letter, the answer is, “That we might fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” The greatest gift Jesus has given us to keep our eyes fixed on Him is His church.

The word Charis in Greek can be translated, “gift”, “joy”, and “grace”. And in a message entitled, “Our Grace”, we will see how the presence of other Jesus-loving people in our lives can be an indispensable gift of joy and grace to us. In fact, Paul speaks eloquently of this gift in II Corinthians 1: 3-7. In our difficult times, perhaps Jesus’ greatest gift to us is the company of other believers.

Sunday, April 7, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Shaker

A little over a week ago, shortly after 1:00 A.M., a container ship named Dali traveling to Sri Lanka suffered a total power failure and at 1:27 A.M. hit a pylon of the Francis Scott Key bridge of the Patapsco River. As you may know, less than a minute before impact a first responder answered the crew’s mayday call by sending police to stop traffic onto the bridge. The disaster was the worst U.S. bridge collapse since 2007, when a design error caused the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis to plunge into the Mississippi River.

Bridges such as the Francis Scott Key bridge in Baltimore are classified as “fracture critical”. In other words, if one part of the bridge collapses the rest of the structure falls. There are more than 16,000 such spans in the United States. The NTSB said that the bridge lacked structural engineering redundancies common in newer spans.

However you look at it, this collapse is catastrophic for the port of Baltimore, one of the largest commercial ports in the world. At present, the plan is to remove 4,000 tons of debris from the channel to make a passageway for smaller ships. Even by achieving this tall task, removal of the concrete, steel, and roadway from the river will take months. Rebuilding the bridge may take years.

If you are paying attention to the news, you probably have seen the bridge collapse a dozen times. I thought it was amazing when the Mayor of Baltimore pleaded with the media to stop showing the carnage. They didn’t and they won’t.

The reason the events of March 26th are relevant to this Sunday’s message is a word the preacher of Hebrews uses in Chapter 12 three times to describe Jesus. The word is salevo in Greek. It’s translated, “to shake”, and it means to agitate, rock, topple, stir up, destroy. It means to do to one’s life what the Dali did to the Key Bridge in Baltimore.

You say, “I’ve never thought of Jesus as a shaker!” Oh, the preacher has. In fact in a message entitled, “Our Shaker”, we will delve into the subject quite deeply this Sunday. And unlike, the Key Bridge, Jesus’ shaking leads to life and flourishing.

Sunday, March 31, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Resurrection 

A little over 100 years ago, Simon Greenleaf wrote a three-volume series entitled, A Treatise on the Law of Evidence. It’s still used today as the seminal work on evidence. At the time, Greenleaf was teaching law at Harvard. It was largely his work that put Harvard Law School on the map.

One day he was making a point that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was only legend; not that there is no credibility to the New Testament accounts. But as soon as he said it, three students raised their hands to challenge him. They all make the same point, “Sir, why don’t you apply your rules of evidence to the resurrection narratives? “ And after giving it some thought, he decided to accept their challenge.

His goal was to focus all of his scholarship on the biblical evidence to prove the claims to be false. But as soon as Greenleaf began to investigate the ancient records, he was stunned by the power of the evidence. He could not explain, for instance, the behavior of the disciples shortly after the cross. It wasn’t just that one or two disciples insisted that Jesus had risen, all of them did.

After months of applying his own rules of evidence to the details of the resurrection, Greenleaf arrived at a verdict. In a shocking reversal of his position, Greenleaf maintained that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the best explanation for the events that take place immediately after the cross. In fact, he was so persuaded by the evidence that he became a vocally committed Christian. He wrote, “Any unbiased person who honestly examines the evidence of the resurrection would conclude that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead.”

You say, “But that’s a 19th century Harvard professor. That’s a long time ago. Alan Dershawitz wasn’t even born yet.” That’s true, but Greenleaf isn’t the only scholar to make such claims.

For decades, Gary Habermas has been a professor of philosophy in Virginia. He’s written over 20 books on the resurrection. In fact, he’s dedicated his life to the study of it. And you know what he says? In the last 2000 years there have been no new arguments debunking resurrection. Any argument that’s trumpeted as new is old, repackaged, or re-circulated error. And he cites them. There’s the “swoon theory”, that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but just fainted. So, when He came to, He got up, rolled the 2-ton stone up the hill away from the opening of the tomb and walked out.

There’s the stolen body theory. It says that the disciples bribed the Roman guards, stole the body, and only claimed that Jesus rose again. Then there’s the Muslim Theory that says that God would never have allowed His prophet to be crucified so He orchestrated a substitute, who many think was Judas. Habermas says, “Peel back the layers and you will find that underlying every objection is a deep-seated offense at what the cross says about the human condition – that we all need saving.”

That’s what kept Abhu Murray, a lawyer, and former Shiite Muslim, from believing in the reality of the resurrection. He spent nine years at the University of Michigan studying the evidence of the resurrection to refute it. But, in the process, he discovered 21 historical facts that supported the resurrection, and they changed his life. He renounced Islam and became a Christian. And he writes about it. “When the disciples saw Jesus that first Easter, they saw eternal life walking and talking.” And that’s why the preacher of the Hebrews refers to Jesus in chapter 12 as “Our Resurrection”. For the preacher’s not just interested in the fact of the resurrection. He is most interested in the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for every believer. 

Sunday, March 24, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Runner

54 years ago, a young unknown runner named Rosie Ruiz was initially declared the winner of the women’s division of the Boston Marathon. An investigation followed, and it was discovered that this was only the second marathon in which Rosie had ever run. What’s more, she had no coach, she trained on an exercise bike (others did 120 miles of road work a week), and she had not been seen by any of the other women runners in the race.

After hours of investigation, it was speculated that she probably rode the subway for 16 of the 26 miles to get to the finish line as quickly as she did. Rosie was disqualified and lost the reward – not just the prize for first place, but the more lasting satisfaction of attaining the difficult goal of winning the Boston Marathon.

One of the metaphors used throughout the New Testament epistles is running. In fact, no one speaks of the Christian life as a race more than the apostle Paul. But here, in the heart of the letter of Hebrews, the preacher uses the running metaphor when he says in 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin, which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Now, the common focus of most commentators to this exhortation is moral challenge. Most speak of being diligent in disciplining ourselves to run regardless of fatigue. It’s an exhortation that is analogous to what marine recruits might hear at Paris Island. “Suck it up marine and keep going! It all depends on you!!” And while there is a place for spiritual discipline in the Christian life, and girding ourselves for spiritual warfare, consider the whole tenor of this letter, this sermon, to this point. Would it make much more sense for the preacher to shift his attention from the finished work of Christ and place our eyes on ourselves and our own efforts. As Paul might say, “By no means!”

Indeed, that is the opposite of what the preacher does here in chapter 12. For 11 chapters, his focus has been on the full disclosure of God in Jesus Christ, and chapter 12 is no different. By this point, he has already given us a profile of Jesus, as The Final Word, Our Brother, Our Builder, Our Rest, Our Counselor, Our Priest, Our Promise, Our Advocate, Our Covenant, Our Sacrifice, and Our Foundation. These are 11 different aspects of Jesus’s character and works.

And here, in chapter 12, he does it again by focusing our attention on Jesus as our runner. Jesus is the one to whom we must focus our attention, for he has run the race and gained the prize! For weary, born, despondent Christians, what better image could the preacher select than Jesus as our champion? He is the one who has run the race He has called us to run. He is the one who, in fact, runs it right alongside us.

Sunday, March 17, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Foundation

Prior to 1970, the tallest building in Pittsburgh was the Gulf Building at 44 stories. But, in 1970, the U.S. Steel Tower (now known as USX Tower) supplanted it as Pittsburgh’s tallest.

Originally, the U.S. Steel executives considered building the world’s tallest building, but settled on an 840 foot one making it, at that time, the tallest building between Chicago and New York City.

It contains over 44,000 tons of structural steel and almost an acre of office space. It was the first building in history to use liquid filled fireproofed columns. It utilized a new product called core-ten steel that forms a dark brown coating of oxidation over the steel which inhibits the corrosive effects of rain, snow, ice, and fog and doesn’t need painting or rust-prevention maintenance over the years.

Of all its claims to fame, there’s one feature of the building that’s made a lasting impression on me. When I was a boy, growing up in Pittsburgh, on frequent occasions I’d go down to the building site with my father. We’d peer through the fences that surrounded the site and look at the progress. What I couldn’t understand as a young man, was how long they worked before any building could be seen. It took them three full years to build it and at least 15% of that time there was nothing to be seen but a hole in the ground. I asked my dad why it took so long to see any progress, and he said, “To build a mammoth building, it’s necessary to dig down deep and build a strong foundation.”

That’s exactly what the preacher of Hebrews is saying about the Christian life. Here in Chapter 10, he uses a word that is translated, “assurance.” He says, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…” It’s a word he uses in Chapter one. The word is masked in English. We’re going to talk about this word quite a bit on Sunday, because it means “foundation” and what the preacher is saying is that Jesus is not just our Final Word, our Brother, our Builder, our Rest, our Counselor, our Priest, our Promise, our Advocate, our Covenant, and our Sacrifice, He’s our Foundation. He’s the one upon whom every successful Christian life is built. There is so much here! I’m looking forward to digging into it all with you.

Sunday, February 25, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Advocate

400 years after the Ascension, there was a widow living in Rome whose name was Juvenalis. As a result of some misdeed, she brought a suit against her adversary three years earlier. When the suit languished in court, she finally made an appeal to the emperor of Rome, Theodore the Great. She observed that her suit could’ve been settled in a matter of days, but instead, it had been three years of inactivity.

The King, being informed of the identity of her judges (i.e. lawyers), gave strict orders that they settle her case as soon as possible. In two days, the case was settled, and the widow was fully restored.

The next day, Theodore summoned each of the judges responsible for the case to his throne room. When they arrived, he inquired why they had allowed the case to sit for three years when it could have been settled in two days. The lawyers exclaimed, “It was the recommendation of your majesty that moved this along.” The king replied, “How? When I put you in the office, did I not consign all pleas and proceedings to you? You deserve death for having delayed that justice for three years, which two days could accomplish.” And at that instant, he commanded their heads to be removed.

Now imagine having a king as your advocate! And yet, that’s exactly what the New Testament writers tell us we have in Jesus Christ. Listen to how John puts it in 1 John 2: “My little children, I am writing these things to you, so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

But John isn’t the only New Testament writer to refer to Jesus as every Christians advocate. In Hebrews seven, the preacher of Hebrews says that Jesus holds his priesthood permanently. “Consequently, he is able to save the uttermost… Since he always lives to make intercession for his own.”

Now the words, “advocate” and “intercessor” are synonyms. And advocating or interceding is a clear and precise function in the legal system of Rome. And what the preacher is telling us is that this title is a perfect representation of what Jesus has done and is doing for every believer.

To those suffering for their faith, to those asking, “If God loves me, why is my life so hard?” The preacher gives us another glorious picture of the One on whom we must fix our eyes. By calling Jesus our advocate, the preacher is saying a mouthful.

Sunday, February 18, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Promise

During the Civil War, a company of irregulars known as “bushwhackers” was arrested by Union soldiers. Because they were guerrilla fighters and not in uniform, they were sentenced to be shot.

A courageous young boy in the Union Army touched his commanding officer on the arm and pleaded, “Won’t you allow me to take the place of one of the men you have just condemned? I know him well. He has a large family who needs him badly. My parents are dead, and I have few friends. No one will miss me. Please let me take his punishment!”

The officer hesitated, but finally gave his consent. Pulling the husband and father to one side, the young man filled his position in the firing line. On the stone that marks his grave in a little southern town, are these words, “Sacred to the memory of Willy Lear. He took my place.”

From the beginning of the Bible, substitution is a prominent theme. Think of Cain and Abel. Why was Abel’s offering acceptable to God and Cain’s wasn’t? Abel’s offering was substitutionary death of an animal, rather than death of himself.

Think of Abraham and Isaac. Why did God one minute tell Abraham to go up on the mountain and sacrifice his son, and the next minute, stop him, as the knife is in the air? Because God was providing a substitute sacrifice of a ram for his son.

The examples of substitution are myriad in the Bible, and they all lead up to Jesus. In fact, each one is a shadow of what God will do for us at Calvary. Jesus is the ultimate substitute. What Jesus did at the cross is so far beyond any biblical example of substitute, even beyond the selfless act of Willy Lear.

It is this aspect of Jesus that the preacher of Hebrews pinpoints in chapter 6. Here the preacher goes way beyond any previous disclosure of God in Jesus Christ. For here in chapter 6, he begins by saying, “Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ, and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God…” And where does he want to take us? He’s determined to take us to a Full Disclosure of God in His promise – Jesus Christ.

In previous weeks, we’ve seen Jesus as “The Final Word”, as “Our Brother”, as” Our Builder”, as “Our Rest”’ as “Our Counselor”, as ‘Our Priest”, and this Sunday, we see him as “Our Promise”. The text this week is Hebrews 6:13–20 and the companion text is Genesis 22:9–14.

Sunday, February 11, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Priest

Years ago, Edward Sweeney, of New York City, was awakened from a deep sleep when his bed caught fire. Startled and groggy, he jumped out of bed, ran to the door, opened it, went through it, and slammed it behind him, only to discover that he was in his clothes closet and couldn’t get out.

Meanwhile, other tenants smelled smoke and sounded the alarm. The firemen extinguished the blaze and released Mr. Sweeney from the closet when they heard him pounding on the door.

We smile at that, and yet that’s the way we all were prior to Christ. In fact, that’s the way most of us continue to live. We’re caught in the sleep of death. We race to any door and go through it only to discover that we are trapped inside in a place of false security. Is it any wonder that the Lord cries through the profit Zechariah (9:12), “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope: today I declare that I will restore you double.”

Think of it. 500 years before he was born, God told Zachariah to tell his people to return to their stronghold. And who is that? None other than Jesus Christ. Christ is the strong hold and the only door. Anyone attempting to find safety and security by another door will find himself/herself trapped forever. And no one knows that any better than the preacher of the Book of Hebrews. To a group of Christians who are bewildered with the temptations and trials of life, who are asking, “If God is good, and he loves us, why are our lives so hard?” The preacher has a definitive answer – “fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith.”

Over the last six weeks, as we have examined the book of Hebrews, we have seen the preacher delineate, six clear descriptions of Jesus Christ as God himself. We have seen him describe Jesus as The Final Word, Our Brother, Our Builder, Our Rest, and Our Counselor. This week we turn to chapter 5, where we see him elucidating Jesus as OUR PRIEST.

No, think about all the things, you know about priests, biblical and contemporary. What’s the role of a priest? Why would the priesthood of Jesus be great news to the despondent Christian, who is asking, “Why is my life so hard?” And, “What difference does it make to apprehend the truth of Jesus’s priesthood in your life?” The answer is: All the difference in the world! We’ll dig into all of this on Sunday.

Sunday, February 4, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Counselor

The protestant reformation had started. The militaries of France and Rome were engaged. John Calvin had made a detour from Paris on his way to Strasburg and found himself in Geneva. He was planning to spend one night.

But hours after he arrived in Geneva, William Farel, another reformer, found him there and urged him to stay. An argument ensued, and finally, Farel jumped from his chair and shouted at this brilliant young scholar, “You are simply following your own wishes, and I declare in the name of Almighty God, that if you refuse to take part in the Lord’s work in this city, God will curse the quiet life you want for your study!”

Immediately, Calvin was stopped dead in his tracks. He was puzzled and shaken. Later he wrote. “I felt as if God in heaven had laid his mighty hand on me to stop me from my course. I did not continue my journey.” Calvin spent the remaining 28 years of his life there.

I have a friend who has a PhD in psychology and had a counseling practice in Pittsburgh for nearly 40 years. One time, I remember him saying that a person will tell you in the first 10 minutes of your time with him/her the heart of the issue that’s troubling them. I have never forgotten that. That’s why I try to listen as intently as possible to the first 10 minutes of a person’s description of their problem.

I don’t know how long it took Farel to ascertain Calvin’s deepest desires, but I’m sure it was within the 10-minute mark. As Calvin would later attest, God put Farel in exactly the place he needed him to be to arrest Calvin in his tracks.

So it is with effective counseling, in Hebrews 3, near the end of the chapter, the preacher fingers another powerful role Jesus plays in our lives. We find the first hint of it in verse 13 where he says, “but exhort one another every day, as long as it is called, ‘today’, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Now the word translated, “exhort” is parakaleo in Greek. It literally means “to come along side of”… and that’s what counseling is. Counseling means to come alongside someone, listen to what they are saying, and redirect their attention. That’s what Jesus used Farel to do for Calvin in 1536.

So, listen to Hebrews 3:13 again, “but counsel one another, every day…” This is the 4th role Jesus plays in the life of every true believer. It is counseling that every one of us needs, and he alone is able to provide it.

This Sunday in a message entitled “Our Counselor”, we will be digging into Hebrews 3:12-13, along with 4:14-5:10 as we continue to observe the Full Disclosure of God in Jesus Christ.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

This Sunday, we will read one of the great texts found in the Book of Hebrews. In fact, it is a text from which millions of Christians have derived colossal Comfort over the centuries. Listen to what the preacher says, “Since then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Now these three verses are only part of our text for Sunday. Actually, they are the last three verses of a 13-verse text, beginning in Hebrew 4:1. In these 13 verses, the preacher uses a word 8 times – “Rest.”

We hear a lot today about our need for rest and yet finding rest is always a challenge. This Sunday, we are going to talk about 3 kinds of rest the preacher discusses in chapter 4 but the culmination is the one we find in Jesus Himself.

Over 100 years ago, the famous British preacher G. Campbell Morgan observed that the last sentence of the words cited here contain a colloquialism that is a common place expression that has a particular meaning that many may miss. The phrase he is referring to is at the end of verse 13.

The preacher says, “…that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” The words, “In time of need,” literally mean, “In the nick of time.” In other words, “Let us then (because of Jesus) draw near to the throne of grace, so that we can receive mercy and grace in the nick of time.” What the preacher is saying is that because of who Jesus is and what He’s done we fix our eyes on Jesus; we can receive from Him exactly what we need at that very moment. And, of all the things we need, there is one that is paramount, and that’s rest. He is our Rest. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Builder 

There are some good reasons we do not hear a lot about the Book of Hebrews. Dr. Fred B. Craddock once said of the Book of Hebrews, “Sometimes there is quite a distance between what a document has to say and the church’s willingness or ability to hear it. The Letter to the Hebrews is a case in point.”

Dr. Craddock goes on, “No New Testament writer presents a more human Jesus than does the author of Hebrews. In fact, among all the titles used to refer to the Christ, the writer’s preference seems to be ‘Jesus’ just Jesus”. And this too is a problem. The truth be told, people tend to want a Jesus who is all divine and maybe just a little bit human, not a Savior who, as human, could be broken and destroyed, crucified and buried.

On Sunday, January 21, 2024, we will consider what the writer of Hebrews means when he says Jesus is our Apostle and High Priest. What is the responsibility and power of an Apostle? What did Jesus do that makes him our High Priest? What is an “oikos” and what does oikos have to do with you and me? And how does Jesus build us?

Sunday, January 14, 2024
Full Disclosure: Our Brother

If you watched the College Football Championship game on Monday night, you may have seen something happen during the second quarter that rivaled the action on the field. As one reporter noted, “Jim Harbaugh (coach of Michigan) was locked in as his Michigan Wolverines looked to add their lead over the Washington Huskies… so much so that he didn’t see a special visitor make his way toward him along the sideline…”

While Harbaugh was entrenched in his coaching battle with Washington’s Kalen De Boer, standing with his hands on his knees, and wearing a headset, his brother, John Harbaugh (coach of the Baltimore Ravens) approached from behind and gave him a pat on the back.”

What followed was a fascinating study in human behavior. As soon as John’s younger brother, Jim, turned around he looked a bit perturbed. It looked as though he was wondering, “Who in the world is bothering me?!” He gazed at the intruder. Suddenly, a full three or four seconds later, he recognized that it was his big brother, and they embraced tenderly. It was an “a-ha” moment. There on the sidelines of the most watched college football game of the year, two brothers, who grew up sharing a bedroom, hugged each other, with the older encouraging the younger.

Last week we began a new, preaching series, entitled, “Full Disclosure.” It’s a study of the book of Hebrews and a perfect follow up to the last series, “Divine Exposures.” Now, instead of glimpses of the person and character of God, we find in the book of Hebrews a complete presentation of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

Remember the question that underlies the letter? “If God loves me, if Jesus has saved me, why is my life so hard?” It’s a question every one of us has asked repeatedly. It’s a question we’ve heard others ask every day. And instead of just hearing the question, the writer of Hebrews answers it in one long counseling session, which is the book of Hebrews.

As we saw last week, he begins chapters one and two by showing us, Jesus as the Final Word. Jesus is not simply the Word of God, as the Apostle John shows us in his gospel, He is the Final Word. In other words, the only voice we need to hear in the midst of the difficult journey of life is His voice.

This week we will be in Hebrews 2:5-18 looking at the second feature of the Full Disclosure of God, by looking at Jesus as Our Brother. Like John Harbaugh is to Jim, Jesus is our elder brother who is described by several other New Testament authors. But the preacher of Hebrews is far more detailed in his description of Jesus than any other writer. By identifying Jesus as our brother, the preacher is digging deeply into His identity and ours as brothers. Just like Jim on the sidelines in Houston, when we first see Jesus, we’re startled. Our recognition is often quite slow. But when we really comprehend who He is, His mere presence changes everything.

There’s so much here in chapter 2. I look forward to digging into it with you.

Sunday, January 7, 2024
Full Disclosure: The Final Word

Easter is early this year. Even the Master’s golf tournament is two weeks afterwards. But the beauty of an early Easter is that it gives us plenty of time to dig into the book of Hebrews and see the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ. 

Decades ago, Gary Filson and I had the same speech professor at Princeton. She was a former Broadway actress who said, “of all the things you can say about the Bible, one of the greatest is that it’s the best writing in the world.” If that’s true of the whole Bible, and it is, the book of Hebrews is the best of the best. 

That’s why for the next 16 weeks we are going to examine the book of Hebrews and see the full disclosure of God in Jesus Christ. This is a perfect sequel to our last series, “Divine Exposure”. As we have seen throughout our last study, at certain times and with certain people, God chose to intervene in their lives. Sometimes it was in a theophany (an appearance of God), as in the case of Abraham in Genesis 18. Sometimes it was in a whirlwind, as in the case of Job. Sometimes it was as a Christophany, as in the case of Joshua meeting the Commander of the Army of the Lord in Joshua 5. Sometimes it was as a messenger of God, as in 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul’s description of the thorn in the flesh. But each one of these exposures or encounters is only a glimpse of God. They are an isolated event that has a profound effect on the one to whom the Lord revealed Himself, but not always on others. They are shadows of the divine, images of a greater revelation that was to come. And as the scriptures surely attest, that greater reality comes in the incarnation. In Jesus Christ, the God of the Universe, fully discloses Himself. 

For years people have observed that in my teaching and preaching, I am focused on Jesus. “You’re a Jesus guy,” some have said. And that’s a moniker I love, for all true and effective ministry focuses on Him. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the focal point of all creation. He is the fulcrum, upon which all history rests. He is the Lord of glory. No one in all human history compares to him, and no biblical writer understands this any better than the writer of Hebrews. It is he who presents the full disclosure of God. That’s why, from this Sunday to April 21 st, we will be examining all that he tells us about Jesus Christ. 

But before the first sermon in the series, it’s helpful to know a few things. First, the book of Hebrews is perhaps the most theological book in the New Testament, covering Christology (the study of Christ), soteriology (the study of salvation) and eschatology (the study of end times). The principal reason for its depths of theological understanding is that it is written to a group of perplexed Christians, who are seeking to discover how a Christian is to approach the Old Testament and discover the true meaning of its focus on the Messiah, to justify their departure from Judaism. 

Second, the writer of Hebrews recognizes that with the ascension of Jesus Christ and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the Old Testament covenant has been superseded by the new covenant in Christ. This is a huge theme running through Hebrews that is under appreciated. 

Third, the culture in which the recipients of this letter find themselves is much like 21st century America, where every claim of the uniqueness and exclusivity of Jesus Christ is realigned. Syncretism reigns. In other words, “You can believe whatever you want to believe.” “No one view is better than any other.” “Let’s all get along.” “Let’s all go purchase ‘co-exist’ bumper stickers and put them on our cars.” It’s into this cultural stew that injects the exclusivity of Jesus’ Lordship and sovereignty.  

Fourth, the fundamental question at the heart of the book of Hebrews is one his audience is regularly asking, “Why is life so hard?” In the midst of their suffering and death for the sake of the gospel, they ask, “If Jesus is Lord, if He is the King of the Kingdom of God, if He rules over the whole world, why does life have to be so hard?” And the answer to such questions is consistent and regularly articulated by the author of Hebrews and we will encounter it regularly as we study together the Full Disclosure of God in Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, December 31, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Stakes

The man was single. He taught music in Philadelphia, not only in the public school, but he also taught it in his apartment. Every late afternoon, he would have one or two students in his apartment learning to play an instrument. It was good for the students because he was a good instructor. It was good for him because, in addition to his meager teacher’s salary, he got paid for the lessons he gave. It was good for nearly everyone, except some of the folks who lived beside him or above him.

Finally, one woman worked up the courage to ask, “How can you stand it? How can you stand all those starts and stops, all those missed notes?” He replied, “Well, it’s not always easy. Sometimes, I think about whether I’m making any progress with some of my students. Sometimes, I even wonder if I know the score of the music after some of them butcher the piece.” The woman said, “That must be discouraging.” He said, “It can be, but that’s why you might hear me after the last student leaves with a tuning fork. On my worst day, all I have to do is hit the “A” a few times and listen. I say to myself, “In the midst of all that discord, this is still A and it will always be A!

That’s a feeling every Christian can have these days. Whether we’re reading the news or listening to it. Whether a son or daughter has lost their way. Whether the relativism of our day has caused us to think and ask, “What is truth anyway?” The temptation is always there to wonder where we’re going or how we got here.

That’s the question the prophet Isaiah raises for us this Sunday, the last one of the year. It’s the question Christians have asked throughout the ages. It’s that question that was at the heart of the Reformation 500 years ago. And how they answered that question is much like that music teacher did. They identified the stake in the ground – the “A” note of all of history.

It’s a good note to sound on December 31, 2023. It’s the best note to hear. This Sunday, in a message entitled, “The Stake,” we’ll dig into Isaiah 55:1-9 and hear what the Lord is saying to us.

Sunday, December 24, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Sale

One of my favorite authors was an Episcopal priest who died in New Jersey 10 years ago. Robert Farrar Capon wrote 35 books in all, some on food, but all on grace. As a friend and mentor of mine says, “He got grace.” And the reason he says that is that most don’t. Most never “get grace” because it’s totally opposite what we’ve been taught. And the reason it’s totally opposite to what we’ve been taught is that it flies in the face of everything human nature tells us is true. And nowhere is that more evident than at Christmas.

Christmas is a time when the most irreligious people get religious. They engage in carol singing and prayers prayed, without knowing the One behind it all. There is in all of us a deep desire to justify ourselves before both God and man but the clarion call of the Gospel of Grace is simply this that’s all rubbish.

Listen to how Robert describes it in his book Between Noon and Three: Romance, Love and Outrage of Grace. “The life of grace is not an effort on our part to achieve a goal we set ourselves. It is a continually renewed attempt simply to believe that someone else has done all the achieving that is needed and to live in relationship with that person, whether we achieve or not. If that doesn’t seem like much to you, you’re right it isn’t and, as a matter of fact, the life of grace is even less than that. It’s not even our life at all, but the life of someone else rising like a tide in the ruins of our death.”

This week, we are going to look at one of the clearest encounters of grace that we find in the life and ministry of Jesus. It’s a famous encounter, chronicled in Mark’s gospel, of a man who runs up to Jesus, kneels before Him and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Mark’s account of the encounter is chock full of meaning and illumination. Robert Farrar Capon’s take on the Gospel of Grace is confirmed in an amazing way. In fact, there are few more appropriate texts to examine on Christmas Sunday than this one. In a message entitled, “The Sale,” we will dig into all of it.

Sunday, December 17, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Sight

The next day, he took up his chisel and began working. He toiled day and night for six more years. When he finished, he brought another girl into his studio and asked, “Who is that?” As she gazed at it, her eyes began to well up with tears. She reached out her arms and said softly, “He’s my Lord.” Instantly, he knew that his task was complete.200 years ago, a German sculptor, Johann Heinrich von Dannecker, worked for two years on a statue of Jes

us Christ. When he was finished, he had formed what he thought was a perfect representation of Him. So, he called a young teenage girl into his studio, pointed to the statue and asked her, “Who is that?” The girl looked at the marble and replied, “He’s a great man.” Dannecker thanked her and when she left, he broke the statue into 1000 pieces.

He would later confess that during those previous six years, Jesus had revealed Himself to him, so he was only transferring to the marble what he had seen.

When Napoleon saw the sculpture, he sent word to Dannecker that he would like him to sculpt a statue of Venus for the Louvre. Dannecker refused, saying, “A man who’s seen Christ, never employs his gift for an idol.” Simeon would understand that.

For 14 weeks, we have been all over the Bible looking at places where God reveals Himself to men and women. In the last two weeks, we’ve been in the first chapter of Luke looking at Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary. In each case, it’s an angel or the Holy Spirit residing in someone that delivers the message of God and the effect is revolutionary. All three of them are radically transformed by the exposure.

This week’s exposure is even more profound, for it’s not an angel or a cousin that’s seen but Jesus Christ Himself. And when Simeon sees Him, it’s the fulfillment of everything for which he’s longed all his life. He sees the One whom Scriptures have testified from Genesis 3 onward.

This passage is chock-full of profound truth. In a message entitled, “The SIGHT”, we will dig into all of it.

Sunday, December 10, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Song

110 years ago, they thought he was dead when he was born a 13lb baby boy. He had to be delivered with forceps and was thought to be stillborn. Blue and not breathing, the doctor laid him aside to attend to his ailing mother. It was only when his grandmother picked him up, ran him under cold water, and slapped his back that he started breathing.

Another mishap was just around the corner. He was supposed to be named after his father, Martin, but the priest accidentally named him after his godfather, Frank Garrick. His mother liked the name, so she stuck with it.

As a teenager, his peers called him “Scarface” because the forceps used during his birth left severe scaring on his left cheek that ran down his jaw line. In the 1940’s scar and all, he became one of America’s first teen idols. His publicist auditioned girls who could sing the loudest and paid them $5 each to sit at the strategic points and the audience to generate excitement.

Long before Taylor Swift pulled her supermodel friends on stage, he traveled with four of his friends known as the Rat Pack. They became the featured headliners in Las Vegas for decades.

After suffering a severe heart attack in 1998, he died by his wife’s side at a hospital in Los Angeles. His last words were, “I’m losing.” That night, the Empire State Building was illuminated in blue as a tribute to Sinatra. The lights on the Las Vegas Strip dimmed and the casinos stopped working for a minute in his honor. On his tombstone is written “The best is yet to come.” It was the last song he sang in public three years earlier. One music critic wrote, “his voice is gone, but the song continues.” Such was the life of Francis Albert Sinatra.

What a different life Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived. Within Roman Catholic doctrine, she’s often called, “the Mother of God.” For generations, many have pointed to her pedigree or her humble roots. As I mentioned last week, some even refer to her stoicism in accepting the news of the angel Gabriel.

Whether it’s at the angelic announcement, or her journey to Elizabeth, or at the manger, or her flight to Egypt, or at the cross, the life of Mary is often remembered in her deeds rather than her words.

That’s unfortunate because it’s her words uttered in a song of praise that is most profound.

This Sunday, The Second Sunday of Advent, we will be listening to her song together. To say it’s magnificent is a designation Christians have uttered for millennia. In fact, they have called it, “The Magnificat.” It’s that incredible. Come and join us this week as we examine it together!

Sunday, December 3, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Seed

Bob Edens was blind. He couldn’t see a thing. His world was one long, dark hallway full of sounds and smells, but no sights – not until his surgery. Through the grace of God and the skill of a surgeon, he could see for the first time in his life. He says, “When I come to, the first thing I saw was the next day’s menu. I couldn’t get over the yellow. Never had I dreamed that yellow could be so yellow! Then, I saw red and it looked even more wonderful than yellow. Then, I looked out the window and saw a plane moving across the sky leaving a trail of vapor and you know what I did? I stared at it until it disappeared.” Imagine being blind for 5 years and then seeing.

Someone has said that real faith, in its purest form, means seeing Jesus for who He is. And yet, most don’t. T.S. Elliot was born in St. Louis in 1888. By the time he was 25 years old his poems and plays were already famous making him one of the greatest American authors of all time.

That’s why it was so surprising that 14 years later he renounced his American citizenship and moved to London. People couldn’t understand it but you know what they really couldn’t understand? How, at age 39, he left the Unitarians and became a Christian.

He wrote a poem about it entitled, “The Journey of the Magi.” He describes himself as one of them who made his way to Bethlehem. Listen to the last stanza, “we were led all that way for Birth and Death. There was certainly a birth; we had evidence and no doubt. We’ve seen birth and death but had thought they were different; This birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death. We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here… with an alien people clinging to their gods. I should be glad of another death.”

Do you know what he’s saying? He’s saying that when we see Jesus, really see Him, nothing else maters. When we come face to face with who He really is, everything else pales in comparison, just like the wisemen.

It’s a remarkable truth that hits me nearly every Christmas. The more you read some biblical account of Jesus’ birth, the more fresh, new glimpses you get of Him. Such is the case this Sunday. In a message entitled, ‘The SEED,” we will see how God exposes Himself to an adolescent Hebrew girl and changes her life and ours. We are in our 13th Sunday examining how God reveals Himself to people like us. This week we will see another example, Far more vivid than yellow or red!

Sunday, November 26, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Guide

This week, we will hear about Philip, a young Christian who had a powerful ministry. He was appointed by the Apostles in Jerusalem when they discovered that they could not keep up with all the demands of their growing ministries.

When Jerusalem becomes too dangerous for Philip, he journeys to Samaria where he encounters Simon Magnus. Simon wants to buy the powers of God from Philip. We learn that no amount of money can buy God.

Next, Philip journeys to Gaza where he encounters an Ethiopian trying to understand the writings of the prophet Isaiah. Philip becomes the “guide” sent by God to help that man come to an understanding of God’s word. So convicted is he that he asks to be baptized. Sometimes all of us have an opportunity to guide another person as they struggle with God’s word and will for their lives. Sometimes God calls us to be their guide.

Sunday, November 19, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Thorn

When Brennan Manning died 8 years ago, the tributes began rolling in. One man wrote, “His consistent banging the drum of God’s unconditional love sounded at a time when many of us had about ‘had it up to here’ with religion and the church, and probably more importantly, ourselves. “We were tired, poor, self-hating, huddled masses yearning to be free, and along come this patch work preacher who grinned and said, ‘you already are! Abba go get some ice cream.’ His best seller, The Ragamuffin Gospel, was like medicine; never before that God’s grace has been communicated in such a way that I actually started believing it.

“In it he wrote, ‘when Jesus said, ‘come unto me all you who labor and are heavy ladened,’ He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. If you know anything about Brennan, you know he lived what he preached.”

Brennan remains one of my heroes in the faith. A former Jesuit Priest. Author of 22 books. The most heavily sought after young life international speaker, alcoholic. Divorced. Abba’s child.

His friend, Philip Yancey, wrote the foreword to his memoir, All is Grace, writes, “As you read this memoir you may be tempted, as I was, to think, ‘O what might have been…if Brennan hadn’t given in to drink.” But I urge you to reframe the thought to, ‘o what might have been if Brennan hadn’t discovered grace.’ Brennan progressed in faith not by always making the right decisions, but by responding appropriately to the wrong ones.”

He ends his foreword with a poem by Leonard Cohen, the famous singer and song writer:

“Ring the bells that still can ring forget your perfect offering there is a crock in everything that’s the way the light gets in.”

And Paul knows all about that. In II Corinthains 12, Sundays’ text, he lets us into the depth of his discouragement and trauma. He let’s us into a place where most leaders would prevent others from seeing. As in the case of all the others we’ve examined over the past 10 weeks, God comes to him at the point of his deepest despair and changes him with the astounding message of the Gospel. We’ll dig into all of this on Sunday. I’m looking forward to it!

Sunday, November 12, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Altar

Helen Keller was 19 months old when she lost her sight and her hearing. Until she was 7, she communicated primarily through gestures and groans but then she met Anne Sullivan, her first teacher and life-long companion. Sullivan taught her language, including reading and writing. Keller attended Radcliffe college and was the first deaf blind person in the United States to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Keller once said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.” She said it because she knew how common that is.

Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “A primary qualification for serving God with any amount of success, and for doing God’s work well and triumphantly, is a sense of our own weakness. When God’s warrior marches forth to battle, strong in his own might, when he boasts ‘I know that I shall conquer, my own right arm and my conquering sword shall get me the victory,’ defeat is not far away. God will not go forth with that man who marches in his own strength. He who counts on victory in this manner has thought wrongly, for it is, ‘not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

This week we are going to be in Isaiah 6 looking at one of the most dramatic exposures to God in the Bible. Here, the prophet receives a vision of God in His heavenly throne room when he is absolutely changed. This is one of the seminal texts in all the Bible. What happens here is phenomenal. The timing, the vision, the results are as important for Isaiah as they are for us. Prior to this exposure, Isaiah had a lot of sight but here he gets vision. May we all gain vision this week as we study together!

Sunday, November 5, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Prayer

Rodney Dangerfield was born Jacob Rodney Cohen in 1921 in New York City. He died at age 82 and was married three times, twice to the same woman, Joyce Indig. Following their second marriage he remained single for over 20 years before marrying his second wife, Joan Child.

Dangerfield’s stage persona was that of a belligerent loser. He was famous for starting many of his one liners with, “I don’t get any respect.” (Interestingly, he was the opposite in real life. In fact, Joan described him as, “classy, gentlemanly, sensitive, and intelligent.”) And, marriage was one of his favorite comedic subjects. Here are a few:

  • “My wife can’t cook. She made chocolate mousse and an antler got stuck in my throat.”
  • “My wife is always trying to get rid of me. The other day she told me to put out the garbage. I said I already did. She told me to go keep an eye on it.”
  • “I haven’t spoken to my wife in years. I didn’t want to interrupt her.”
  • “My wife was afraid of the dark…then she saw me naked and now she’s afraid of the light.”

But, one of his lines I’ll never forget is this one:

  • “I’ve got such a bad self-image when I asked my wife to marry me she said, yes, and I told her to think it over.”

Now, when you come to this Sunday’s text you find that that’s what Abraham is trying to get God to do. Think of it. In one chapter of the Old Testament, we find two dramatic encounters with God, both involving the same couple – Sarah and Abraham. Last week, we dug in to “The Laugh” and all that we find in Genesis 18:16-33. It’s the first extensive prayer contained in the Scriptures. It’s the first intercessory prayer. It’s a prayer that flows from the heart of Abraham and the Heart of God. It’s an unbelievable conversation! As you read it, think about these questions.

  1. Who initiates this prayer?
  2. Why does He initiate it?
  3. What is Abraham’s purpose?
  4. Why does God answer as He does?
  5. How does this encounter speak of Jesus?

We’re going to dig into all of this on Sunday, Halfway Sunday! It’s hard to imagine a more ideal text to study this Sunday. Among all of the things we have to celebrate together, none is greater than the amazing God we serve.

Sunday, October 29, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Laugh

Did you hear about the retired lady who was inquiring at a travel agency about a certain European tour they were offering? The agent mentioned that on this particular tour travelers would get to attend the Passion Play of Oberammergau.

Hearing it, the woman drew herself up to her full 5’1″ and replied icily, “I’m sick and tired of all this sex stuff – and I’m surprised at you!” Then she stormed out.

This week, we will be talking about sex in relation to Sarah and Abraham and God’s encounter with them in Genesis 18. It’s astounding how often I have read this text, even preached it, without understanding the full impact of what’s happening there.

It’s funny, last week I was talking with a man I had just met. He was someone I had heard a lot about but we had never met until we were together near the first tee. In the course of our conversation, he mentioned that he and his wife may start attending First Presby Irwin soon. He said, “I’d like to get to a place where the Bible is studied and preached, and the question is answered about how God can be so different from the Old Testament to the New.” It’s a perennial question that many people ask and the reason they ask it is because they’re a lot like that woman at the travel agency. It’s not that the Bible is obtuse. It’s not they haven’t engaged the Scriptures to see what’s there. The truth is that the change of there being two different Gods in the Bible, judgmental in the Old Testament and loving in the New Testament, is a caricature of what the Bible says. And, nowhere is that more clearly seen than in Genesis 18:1-15. Here, the God of the Old Testament (who is the same as the God of the New Testament) goes out of His way to demonstrate His profound knowledge of Sarah and His unconditional love for her.

As you read this text, think about this:

  1. Why does Abraham run to meet these 3 men?
  2. Who are they?
  3. Why does Sarah laugh in verse 12?
  4. Why does the Lord call her out on her laughing?

We’ll dig into all of this on Sunday, Reformation Sunday!

Sunday, October 22, 2023
Divine Exposure: The General

A few years ago, I wrote a book about my life called, “God, Golf and Grace”, and some of you have read it. It’s a hundred stories spanning 50 years and, in chapter 18, I tell a story of being in church at Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church. It goes like this:

One fall Sunday morning, I was sitting in my spot on the right side of the square sanctuary. Steve is an expository preacher who regularly preaches through a book of the Bible in line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph style. Unlike topical preachers who search for texts that address a theme they wish to get across to their listeners, expository preaching takes the Scripture as it comes, forcing the preacher to submit to the text rather than the other way around. Throughout my time in Miami, Steve was preaching through the Gospel of John.

In the middle of chapter 17, Jesus is deep in prayer, talking to His Father about the welfare of those who His Father has given Him. Steve pointed out that this prayer clearly underscores Jesus’ belief in the sovereignty and immutability of His Father. He knows that, regardless of what happens to Him and His disciples throughout the ages, His Father can be trusted to secure them because of who He is.

As he neared the end of his message, Steve told of a ship that was struggling to find its way in the midst of titanic wind and waves. The radar man shouted to the Captain that dead ahead, about three miles away, he saw the lights of another ship. So, the Captain got on his ship’s radio and said, Please alter you course 10 degrees to the south.” Within seconds there was a reply, “Alter your course 10 degrees to the north.” At this, the Captain was miffed, so he sent a second message, “Alter you course 10 degrees to the south. I am a U.S. Naval vessel!” Less than a minute later a response was received, “Alter you course 10 degrees to the North!” By this time, the distance had narrowed to less than a mile and the Captain was indignant, “Alter your course 10 degrees to the south or I will blow you out of the water, I am a battleship!!” In less than 10 seconds, came reply, “Alter you course 10 degrees to the north. I am the lighthouse.”

That was 1979, and yet, I’ve never forgotten that story. Why? Because it captures so well the God of Scriptures. In the face of all our good intentions and hubris, He is the One who stands firm and says in the midst of any storm, “I am the lighthouse!” And no encounter in Scripture demonstrates that truth any clearer than the one the pre-incarnated Christ has with Joshua in Joshua 5:13-16. It’s a profound encounter that tells us so much about God and us.

Unfortunately, over the years, the story of Joshua fighting the battle of Jericho has been turned into a moral tale taught to children. Even a song was written in 1922 to reinforce the misinterpretation of the events surrounding Israel’s first battle in the Promised Land. As is the case in most moralistic teachings, the emphasis is squarely on the wrong person and the lessons derived are the exact opposite of what God intends.

Sunday, October 15, 2023
Divine Exposure: The Wrestler part 2

Did you hear about the student who rushed into the office of his faculty advisor just after midterms? He said, “I need help bad.” The professor asked, “What’s your explanation for that?” The student replied, “I think I spent too much time on that one subject.”

Well, there’s one subject far too few Christians spend time on and that’s, “Christophanies.” The word Christophany comes from the Greek word ”Christos,” and “Phaneroo“ which means “to appear.” You say, “It sounds like the word ”Theophany,” and it is, but far more specific.

In the Old Testament, there are numerous appearances of the second person of the trinity. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden.” In chapter 12, verse 7, and again in chapter 17, verse 1, we’re told that “The LORD appeared to Abram” and spoke to him.

In Exodus 24, we read that “Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel went up (Mount Sinai), and they saw the God of Israel.” In Exodus 33, we read that “The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”

There are also numerous Old Testament appearances of someone described as “The angel of the Lord” but who is – unlike other angels – treated as worthy of worship and who is identified as God Himself.” In a remarkable passage, the Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 10:4, speaks of God’s people in the Old Testament being led through the wilderness by Christ. Jude is similarly explicit about the identity of the one who delivered God’s people from Egypt. He says, “I want to remind you that Jesus, who saved people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.”

So, Jesus Christ is present in the Old Testament and that helps us to answer an otherwise thorny question. How is it that God, who Paul calls “The invisible God,” appeared to Abraham and Moses or could be spoken of as meeting face to face with a man? How is it that God, who tells Moses, “You cannot see my face and live,” the same God who appears to numerous people in the Old Testament. Paul answers those questions plainly in Colossians 1 when he says, “Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God.” In fact, it’s Jesus who makes the invisible God visible.

What this means is dramatic! We serve a God who desires to be known. More than that, He is a God who desires intimate interact with those He calls and commands. Throughout the Bible, God repeats this stunning promise to those He loves, “I will make my dwelling place among you and walk among you.” Nowhere in the Old Testament is that more profoundly seen than in Genesis 32 and His wrestling with Jacob. Think of it. The same Lord who walked on water, healed the sick, delivered the demonized, died on the cross and arose again was the One who wrestled with Jacob all night.

This encounter is so profound and the Lessons derived so impactful that it’s taken us two weeks of focused attention. This Sunday, we continue our study of this great text in a message entitled, “ The Wrestler part 2.” I look forward to digging into it with you!

Sunday, October 8, 2023
Divine Exposures: The Wrestler

For the past month, we have been examining places in the Old Testament where God exposes Himself to people at the most critical moments of their lives and they’re transformed. They’re changed forever and what has been particularly interesting to note is that He always shows up in different ways, depending on the uniqueness and circumstances of the individual.

For instance, when He comes to an 80-year Moses in “the west side of the wilderness” near Mount Horeb, He shows up as a voice calling to him out of a bush that’s on fire but is not consumed.

When He comes to Job after 37 chapters of carnage and complaint, He comes in a whirlwind and challenges him. When He comes to a vulnerable Egyptian slave woman, named Hagar, who has been driven away from the household of Abraham, the Lord comes to her as the Angel of the Lord, the pre-incarnate Christ and speaks gently with her.

When He comes to the greatest prophet of God in the Old Testament, in his deep dark despair, He comes not in a tornado, or an earthquake, or in fire but in a whisper and suddenly Elijah learns the truth about himself and the God He serves.

This week, we look at another amazing exposure of God that is often read quickly with little thought. Indeed, many biblical commentators only scratch the surface of this stupendous encounter. Here in Genesis 32, the Lord of Hosts, the God of the universe, condescends to wrestle with Jacob all night.

He doesn’t come to him as a voice, or a whisper, or a whirlwind, He comes as a wrestler! Think of it. He comes to a 97-year-old Jacob with over 2/3’s of his life behind him, and He wrestles him on the ground all night.

They wrestle throughout the night but, in the earliest of the morning light, Jacob is transformed. He’s utterly changed. The encounter is so significant that God even gives him a new name.

There is so much to see in this story that we will work through it this Sunday and next Sunday. As in the case of each exposure, there’s so much truth to absorb and connections to make with our own lives. I’m looking forward to digging into it all with you!

Sunday, October 1, 2023
Divine Exposures: The Whisper

Years ago, I had a professor who wrote a book entitled, He Gave Us Stories. It is the study of the Old Testament. In the preface he writes,

“Lay people commonly emphasize the ministry of the Holy Spirit and neglect careful study. They often appeal to the words of Paul, ‘No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.’ (1 Corinthians 2:11). Since the spirit is our teacher, these believers prepare themselves by searching exclusively for spiritual guidance.

I remember once talking with a friend who had given a lesson from the story of Jacob’s Ladder, (Genesis 28:10-22). Most of his comments were helpful, but at one point he remarked that Jacob’s Ladder represented ‘the way we climb up to God through our diligence’. Sometime later, I suggested that a more careful reading would not have led to this conclusion, but the opposite. ‘The ladder was a symbol of God’s grace. The angels, not Jacob, went up and down the ladder,’ I contended. The distinction seemed obvious to me, so I was surprised when he disagreed.

‘No,’ he insisted, ‘The Holy Spirit told me this is what it means. And that’s good enough for me!’ No amount of discussion or examination of the text could move him from his position. He had rejected careful study for what he thought was spiritual enlightenment.”

Now I’ve witnessed much of the same kind of thinking in myself and others throughout the years. Though John Calvin has famously said that the Bible is “God’s baby talk”, it is nevertheless, quite challenging, to say the least. That’s one of the reasons that when God delivered the Scriptures to us, He didn’t communicate truth through lectures or essays, but through stories. And there are many reasons for that.

Stories draw us in. Stories are engaging. They’re existential; we all have stories that illustrate some truth we’ve learned. Stories are immensely relatable. In fact, sometimes we can miss the point of a story by jumping too quickly to our own story.

When the Apostle John wanted to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to his 1st century learners, he began with a story every Greek speaking person would understand. He says it this way, “In the beginning was the Logos (the word), and the Logos became flesh”!

When the prophet Nathan wanted to confront David, the king, with the gravity of his sin, he told him a story. When Jesus wanted to communicate the essence of His Father’s character, he told the story of the prodigal son.

But of all the stories of Scripture, few are as dramatic as the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. You find it in 1 Kings 18 and 19. It’s in this story and it’s aftermath that we again see another marvelous divine exposure. Unlike God’s encounter with Moses in the fire of the burning bush, or with Job in the whirlwind, God comes to Elijah in a whisper. And what a whisper it is!