Sep 232017

Matthew 26:36-56

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”

  • Jesus separates himself for prayer – this could have been a great time to let them all in on the secret handshake when talking to God.
  • But he told the disciples to stay behind.

37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.

  • He then takes Peter, James and John with him. Was the intent for them to see and learn and then pass it down to the others? Are 12 too distracting?

38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

  • Now he tells the 3 to stay where they are and Jesus goes a little further up.
  • What is the watch with me? How much pray is just the watching and waiting?

39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

  • Notice once again – Jesus does this alone.

40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?

  • This really is a bit funny here – again they all are asleep but it is Peter who gets the humiliation.
  • This is one more time of Peter’s denial – in a different form.

41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

  • Jesus gives great teachings; such Godly advice and the disciples just roll over and go to sleep.

42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

  • What is the will of the Father? That Jesus dies.

43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

  • A 2nd time – you would think that one would stay awake as a guard so when he saw Jesus returning he could poke the others – “wake up, the boss is back.”
  • Note that the 10 virgins fell asleep also.

44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

  • Oh no, is Jesus into repetitive prayer? Has he no faith that his first prayer was heard by the Father?

45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

  • What are we to do when the hour is at hand? Not sleep
  • What is the hour at hand? Jesus betrayed into the hand of sinners.
  • How many times has Jesus said “My hour has not yet come.”?
  • Well now it has – the most important ‘hour’ in Bible history.

46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

  • From sinners to sinners – Jesus is surrounded by sinners.
  • Who is his betrayer? We don’t see it here – we must be told that Satan (the betrayer) entered Judas Luke 22:3 – “Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve.”
  • Judas, a member of Jesus Ministry Inc. is used by Satan – to carry out the work.
  • John 13:27 has Satan entering Judas during the meal – Luke 22:1-7 prior to the meal.
  • Here is the point – when Jesus says my betrayer is at hand, Jesus is confronting Satan face to face … alone.

Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus

47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people.

  • Satan kissing Jesus and calling him rabbi
  • Here we have the beginning of Genesis 3:15. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
  • They showed up with swords and clubs to go up against Jesus’ weapon – the word of God.

48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.”

  • It was dark and the torches probably flicker, and we can’t account for how good or bad their eyesight was – so just pointing to Jesus was probably not a good option.

49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him.

50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.

  • As I said earlier in a study in Matthew, when someone calls Jesus Rabbi it is not because they want to learn from him.
  • At the same time, I have said that when Jesus calls someone friend it is usually not a complement.

51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear.

  • Notice the temptation of man to join the battle to save Jesus – to keep Jesus from going to the cross to his death.
  • Peter did this earlier and Jesus called him Satan – Matthew 16:22-23

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

  • Another saying that continues on today in our language.

53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?

  • How would you answer that? Do you trust God that much?

54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

  • Because scripture says it is to be so – so it will be God’s word does what it says … even hanging Jesus on a cross.

55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me.

  • A Robber – in his day that designated a political revolutionary – a zealot – Barabbas who was called a robber (John 18:40) – a rebel (Mark 15:7) – Luke 23:19 – “a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.”
  • A robber as one who is trying to steal authority.
  • The point is that you cannot gain religious benefits by usurping political power — as we see some groups attempting today.

56 But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.

  • Everything falls into place – even the disciples abandoning Jesus as he had just told them an hour ago when they had left the upper room.


Sep 222017

Chester has been home for a couple of weeks now and for the most part, things are good.

For the most part…

He picked up an upper respiratory virus at the pound, which he’s now over.



Miss Kitty, who received the virus as an unwanted gift from Chester, is not doing as well.

She has a runny nose and runny eyes and I have to warm her food up so she can smell it or she won’t eat.

She’s an older cat and such things take a toll on her.

It has cost her to share her home with someone else.

Chester must stay inside and that means that we now have to have a cat box.

A very large cat box.

Chester is a very large cat.

I had never experienced the joy of cat box maintenance until now…and it’s one of those things you must “count” as joy because it is quite unpleasant in reality.

Chester is very good about using his box…multiple times a day.

Which means his box has to be cleaned… multiple times a day.

A call for volunteers has produced no results…

Chester buries his waste with vigor, as a good cat should.

He does so with so much vigor that the area around the cat box must be vacuumed multiple times a day as he kicks sand out over a two foot radius of the box.

Again, the call for volunteers has been met with silence.

I tell you all of this to tell you what I’ve learned yet again.

Mercy always makes a mess.

Grace is never free, it always costs somebody something.

The mess and the cost are part of what love looks like.

Miss Kitty is sick and I’m worn out…but Chester knows he’s loved.

It’s worth it.

It’s also easier to give both to pets, rather than people…but the people are worth it more.

Make your own application…

Sep 222017

Over the last year, my involvement in social media has dropped precipitously, including here on my own property.

The tone and tenor of online discussions on Facebook, Twitter, and other forums, is increasingly negative and in my opinion, spiritually and emotionally damaging to people.

I believe in free speech, but I also believe that every right carries with it responsibility.

Christians exercising their rights have a greater responsibility to model behaviors and speech in line with Christian standards.

I have three choices in this matter…I can go with the current flow and do nothing, shut down the blog, or set community standards that reflect my convictions.

I care deeply about the people that post here and who read here…and that means acting in a way that reflects that care.

If we are to be a true “online community of faith” then it has to be a safe community where there are standards and people conduct themselves as people of faith, indeed.

Therefore, we are going to set and enforce standards for how discussions are conducted here.

Violation of the standards will lead to immediate moderation of a poster.


I have liberally “borrowed” from Christianity Today’s comment standards to set ours.

1. The only posts allowed on the “Prayer & Praise” thread are … prayer requests and praise reports. If you have something that doesn’t fit a current thread that you want to post, use “Open Blogging”.

2. Stay on topic. Once again, if you want to start a new thread on something, use “Open Blogging”.

3. You can share opinion, debate, or even argue, but you must do so with decency and grace. I can’t stand echo chambers, but neither will I tolerate threads that look like barroom brawls.

4. While you can graciously take apart someone’s perspective, you may not tear apart an individual. We debate ideas and doctrines, not the character or integrity of those who express them. We do not allow ad hominem attacks here. We do allow robust discussion and critical thought, even if I am the target. Good discussion does not require angry criticism. If you think someone’s wrong, don’t shame, just share your thoughts kindly.

5. If you do not follow the rules we will have to block you from future commenting.This is always a last resort. But no one has the “right” to comment on this blog. You have a right to comment on your own blog, not mine.

6. Don’t be a troll. Trolls come in many forms, but Wikipedia explains: “In internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.” Trolling will result in instant moderation.

7. Please don’t feed the trolls. Arguing with a troll just distracts from the conversation, and feeds their need for validation. Ignore them when they appear. I decide who is acting like a troll.

8. This community is ecumenical. All orthodox Christians are welcome to participate and all orthodox Christian doctrines are up for discussion. You may think that your group is the only “right” one ( and you may be right), but any discussions will remember that all of us are made in the image of God and worthy of respect.

9. As a general matter, you may post content or responses to content in the blog freely, so long as the content of such post is not illegal, obscene, defamatory, threatening, infringing of intellectual property rights, invasive of privacy or otherwise injurious or objectionable. However, we reserve the absolute right to edit content. We may also determine not to post content if we determine that such content is not in the best interest of Michael Newnham, Phoenix Preacher, our contributors, or for any other reason.

10. You understand that all content posted to this blog is the sole responsibility of the individual who originally posted the content. You understand, also, that all opinions expressed by users of this site are expressed strictly in their individual capacities, and not as representatives of Michael Newnham, Phoenix Preacher, or our contributors.

The theological position of the Phoenix Preacher is detailed here.

We reserve the right to add to or modify these standards in the future.

We encourage your feedback on these standards.

All content here is © Phoenix Preacher 2002-2017

Sep 222017

This statement written by Robert Webber and other evangelical scholars in 1977 reflects my own theological convictions and I affirm each of its points.

As an Anglican, I also affirm and confess the early creeds of the church and the 39 Articles of the Anglican faith.

The Chicago Call: An Appeal to Evangelicals

Published, 1977


In every age the Holy Spirit calls the church to examine its faithfulness to God’s revelation in Scripture. We recognize with gratitude God’s blessing through the evangelical resurgence in the church. Yet at such a time of growth we need to be especially sensitive to our weaknesses. We believe that today evangelicals are hindered from achieving full maturity by a reduction of the historic faith. There is, therefore, a pressing need to reflect upon the substance of the biblical and historic faith and to recover the fullness of this heritage. Without presuming to address all our needs, we have identified eight of the themes to which we as evangelical Christians must give careful theological consideration.

A Call to Historic Roots and Continuity

We confess that we have often lost the fullness of our Christian heritage, too readily assuming that the Scriptures and the Spirit make us independent of the past. In so doing, we have become theologically shallow, spiritually weak, blind to the work of God in others and married to our cultures.

Therefore we call for a recovery of our full Christian heritage. Throughout the church’s history there has existed an evangelical impulse to proclaim the saving, unmerited grace of Christ, and to reform the church according to the Scriptures. This impulse appears in the doctrines of the ecumenical councils, the piety of the early fathers, the Augustinian theology of grace, the zeal of the monastic reformers, the devotion of the practical mystics and the scholarly integrity of the Christian humanists. It flowers in the biblical fidelity of the Protestant Reformers and the ethical earnestness of the Radical Reformation. It continues in the efforts of the Puritans and Pietists to complete and perfect the Reformation. It is reaffirmed in the awakening movements of the 18th and 19th centuries which joined Lutheran, Reformed, Wesleyan and other evangelicals in an ecumenical effort to renew the church and to extend its mission in the proclamation and social demonstration of the Gospel. It is present at every point in the history of Christianity where the Gospel has come to expression through the operation of the Holy Spirit: in some of the strivings toward renewal in Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism and in biblical insights in forms of Protestantism differing from our own. We dare not move beyond the biblical limits of the Gospel; but we cannot be fully evangelical without recognizing our need to learn from other times and movements concerning the whole meaning of that Gospel.

A Call to Biblical Fidelity

We deplore our tendency toward individualistic interpretation of Scripture. This undercuts the objective character of biblical truth, and denies the guidance of the Holy Spirit among his people through the ages.

Therefore we affirm that the Bible is to be interpreted in keeping with the best insights of historical and literary study, under the guidance of the church.

We affirm that the Scriptures, as the infallible Word of God, are the basis of authority in the church. We acknowledge that God uses the Scripture to judge and to purify his Body. The church, illumined and guided by the Holy Spirit, must in every age interpret, proclaim and live out the Scriptures.

A Call to Creedal Identity

We deplore two opposite excesses: a creedal church that merely recites a faith inherited from the past, and a creedless church that languishes in a doctrinal vacuum. We confess that as evangelicals we are not immune from these defects.

Therefore we affirm the need in our time for a confessing church that will boldly witness to its faith before the world, even under threat of persecution. In every age the church must state its faith over against heresy and paganism. What is needed is a vibrant confession that excludes as well as includes, and thereby aims to purify faith and practice. Confessional authority is limited by and derived from the authority of Scripture, which alone remains ultimately and permanently normative. Nevertheless, as the common insight of those who have been illumined by the Holy Spirit and seek to be the voice of the “holy catholic church,” a confession should serve as a guide for the interpretation of Scripture.

We affirm the abiding value of the great ecumenical creeds and the Reformation confessions. Since such statements are historically and culturally conditioned, however, the church today needs to express its faith afresh, without defecting from the truths apprehended in the past. We need to articulate our witness against the idolatries and false ideologies of our day.

A Call to Holistic Salvation

We deplore the tendency of evangelicals to understand salvation solely as an individual, spiritual and otherworldly matter to the neglect of the corporate, physical and this-worldly implication of God’s saving activity.

Therefore we urge evangelicals to recapture a holistc view of salvation. The witness of Scripture is that because of sin our relationships with God, ourselves, others and creation are broken. Through the atoning work of Christ on the cross, healing is possible for these broken relationships.

Wherever the church has been faithful to its calling, it has proclaimed personal salvation; it has been a channel of God’s healing to those in physical and emotional need; it has sought justice for the oppressed and disinherited; and it has been a good steward of the natural world.

As evangelicals we acknowledge our frequent failure to reflect this holistic view of salvation. We therefore call the church to participate fully in God’s saving activity through work and prayer, and to strive for justice and liberation for the oppressed, looking forward to the culmination of salvation in the new heaven and new earth to come.

A Call to Sacramental Integrity

We decry the poverty of sacramental understanding among evangelicals. This is largely due to the loss of our continuity with the teaching of many of the Fathers and Reformers and results in the deterioration of sacramental life in our churches. Also, the failure to appreciate the sacramental nature of God’s activity in the world often leads us to disregard the sacredness of daily living.

Therefore we call evangelicals to awaken to the sacramental implications of creation and incarnation. For in these doctrines the historic church has affirmed that God’s activity is manifested in a material way. We need to recognize that the grace of God is mediated through faith by the operation of the Holy Spirit in a notable way in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Here the church proclaims, celebrates and participates in the death and resurrection of Christ in such a way as to nourish her members throughout their lives in anticipation of the consummation of the kingdom. Also, we should remember our biblical designation as “living epistles,” for here the sacramental character of the Christian’s daily life is expressed.

A Call to Spirituality

We suffer from a neglect of authentic spirituality on the one hand, and an excess of undisciplined spirituality on the other hand. We have too often pursued a superhuman religiosity rather than the biblical model of a true humanity released from bondage to sin and renewed by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore we call for a spirituality which grasps by faith the full content of Christ’s redemptive work: freedom from the guild and power of sin, and newness of life through the indwelling and outpouring of his Spirit. We affirm the centrality of the preaching of the Word of God as a primary means by which his Spirit works to renew the church in its corporate life as well as in the individual lives of believers. A true spirituality will call for identification with the suffering of the world as well as the cultivation of personal piety.

We need to rediscover the devotional resources of the whole church, including the evangelical traditions of Pietism and Puritanism. We call for an exploration of devotional practice in all traditions within the church in order to deepen our relationship both with Christ and with other Christians. Among these resources are such spiritual disciplines as prayer, meditation, silence, fasting, Bible study and spiritual diaries.

A Call to Church Authority

We deplore our disobedience to the Lordship of Christ as expressed through authority in his church. This has promoted a spirit of autonomy in persons and groups resulting in isolationism and competitiveness, even anarchy, within the body of Christ. We regret that in the absence of godly authority, there have arisen legalistic, domineering leaders on the one hand and indifference to church discipline on the other.

Therefore we affirm that all Christians are to be in practical submission to one another and to designated leaders in a church under the Lordship of Christ. The church, as the people of God, is called to be the visible presence of Christ in the world. Every Christian is called to active priesthood in worship and service through exercising spiritual gifts and ministries. In the church we are in vital union both with Christ and with one another. This calls for community with deep involvement and mutual commitment of time, energy and possessions. Further, church discipline, biblically based and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, is essential to the well-being and ministry of God’s people. Moreover, we encourage all Christians organizations to conduct their activities with genuine accountability to the whole church.

A Call to Church Unity

We deplore the scandalous isolation and separation of Christians from one another. We believe such division is contrary to Christ’s explicit desire for unity among his people and impedes the witness of the church in the world. Evangelicalism is too frequently characterized by an ahistorical, sectarian mentality. We fail to appropriate the catholicity of historic Christianity, as well as the breadth of the biblical revelation.

Therefore we call evangelicals to return to the ecumenical concern of the Reformers and the later movements of evangelical renewal. We must humbly and critically scrutinize our respective traditions, renounce sacred shibboleths, and recognize that God works within diverse historical streams. We must resist efforts promoting church union-at-any-cost, but we must also avoid mere spiritualized concepts of church unity. We are convinced that unity in Christ requires visible and concrete expressions.
In this belief, we welcome the development of encounter and cooperation within Christ’s church. While we seek to avoid doctrinal indifferentism and a false irenicism, we encourage evangelicals to cultivate increased discussion and cooperation, both within and without their respective traditions, earnestly seeking common areas of agreement and understanding.

Sep 212017

The Ten Lepers

“On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance” (Luke 17:11-12)

When Jesus reached the village, ten lepers approached Him, but at a distance. They had heard of Jesus, of His Gospel and miracles, which had been proclaimed and witnessed throughout Galilee prior to His arrival at their village. Hearing this good news kindled an untested and unexperienced faith in the lepers which brought them to Jesus.

“and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ ” (Luke 17:13)

The lepers were outcasts, considered unclean under the Law, who had no works or merit of any kind to present to Jesus. They knew they were sinners. They had nothing to offer Jesus other than their humble prayer of faith: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” However, unlike works and merit, faith is a receptacle into which Jesus can pour out His service and grace: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28) Faith brought the lepers to Jesus, stood them up and lifted their voices with boldness and eagerness.

“When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ ” (Luke 7.14a)

But Jesus disappoints human reason, causing affliction and suffering, as faith is tested, exercised and strengthened. Reason asks: “Why are you sending us to the priests? We have already shown ourselves to them and received our sentence: ‘You are unclean.’ Why have you ignored our request? Is He unable or disinterested? Are the reports we have heard about Him false? Does He despise us?” Since Jesus did not answer Reason’s prayer, instead of attempting the painful journey on foot, probably for nothing, Reason would remain in place, outside the camp, in torn clothes, with unkempt hair, warning off passersby, crying: “Unclean, unclean.” (Lev 13:45-46) Reason will not receive or endure Jesus.

Faith, on the other hand, receives Jesus entirely differently: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) Faith holds fast to what it does not see, feel or experience, either in body or soul. As a firm trust in Jesus and His Word, Faith commits itself to and relies entirely upon His goodness and without any doubt expects to receive grace from His goodness. Thus grace will certainly be received, and the feeling and experience of it will come unsought and unsolicited, in and through such faith and hope. Therefore, in faith that Jesus would not forsake them, the lepers obeyed Jesus’ command: “Go….”

“And as they went they were cleansed.” (Luke 7:14b)

The lepers received two cleansings from Jesus. The first cleansing was in the eyes of God, which the lepers received immediately when Jesus saw their faith. As Isaiah prophesied: Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.” (Isa 65:24) We also read vividly of this in Jesus’ healing of the paralytic: “but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, ‘Man, your sins are forgiven you.’ ” (Luke 5:19-20) Before we can even ask, Jesus without hesitation bestows grace to faith in Him.

It is as though Jesus were to say: “Take what you have come for and ‘Go.’ Show your purity to the priests. As I consider you, and as you believe, so you shall be.” When God appears to be farthest away he is nearest. But so that His grace could afterwards be felt and experienced by the men, Jesus also healed their leprosy.

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’ ” (Luke 17:15-19)

If the story had ended at verse 14, we would have had a very happy ending indeed. Because the lepers, having been cured of their leprosy, would now be welcomed back into their communities and homes, could make a living alongside other men, and could worship God in the temple. But what about that Jesus fellow? What will they tell their priests, families, and potential employers when asked about their healings? These men again suffer affliction on account of Jesus.

If these men confess Christ, they will be rejected by the priests and cast out of the synagogue, ostracized by family and community, and could very well place their lives in jeopardy. From a worldly perspective, they have come so far and have gotten so close to a normal life that they can almost taste it. Will they risk throwing it all away by confessing that they were healed by Jesus, the Christ of God?

The devil afflicts a follower of Jesus both from outside the church and from the inside. Outside the church, the world, for example, may exact financial suffering on a Christian who will not conform to the pattern of the world and its idols. However, even more dangerous than those afflictions, are the ones which come from within the church. This happens when a priest or pastor, twisting the words of God, attempts to deprive us of Jesus and His gifts, such as when they say: “His words do not mean what they say;” “His words do not do what they say;” or “His words no longer apply today.” Wherever the Church is present, the devil is busy attacking our faith in the name of God.

“And the [seeds of the Gospel] on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:13-15)

Sadly, nine of the ten lepers fell away. Their faith had no root to endure testing, or their faith was choked by the allure of the pleasures of life which were now available to them. But one of the ten held Christ’s Word fast in an honest and good heart. From his heart he yielded his fruit: the sacrifice of praise to Christ His Savior of both his body and soul; and his public confession that God healed him. The man received exactly what he came to Jesus for: mercy! To this Jesus responded: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Praise be to God that Jesus does all things well for us who trust in Him and His Word. Amen.

“[T]hese are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31) Amen.

Sep 202017

As Christians, we carry a wonderful blessing and a frightful concernment in that we represent God to the world.  Most specifically in the extent that the name of Christ is contained within the very name we take – that of Christian.  It is both a magnificent gift and a harrowing reality that we portray the Maker and Ruler of the universe and Savior of our souls to rest of living humanity.  Sometimes God’s presence and representation of His attributes shine brightly through us.  Other times we royally screw up and it is embarrassing to even remotely connect God to the things we have said and done.

Throughout the history of this blog, plenty of Christians, especially pastors and leaders, have been called out for bad behavior.  Behavior that is sometimes committed in secret and other times boldly in front of an audience, but in the end is a disgraceful representation of Christ by those who are more visible and have a higher level of responsibility due to their position.  Sometimes I’m glad that I’m a nobody and so my dirty laundry has a lesser reach in besmirching the name of Christ.

Beyond our behavior, however, we also portray God by the words and descriptions we use to tell others about who He is and what He does.  When speaking of or about God, I want to portray Him as accurately and faithfully as I can.  Although I am sure I often fail in giving a fully correct depiction of God, my desire is to do my best in any given circumstance to properly represent God.  Since I am not a trained theologian I at times will be circumspect in what I say for fear of misrepresenting God due to my own dearth of knowledge.  Others are better equipped to speak in meticulous detail.

Additionally, I am usually pretty cautious in making statements like “God told me this” or “God is doing this”.  I fully believe that God speaks to us in ways that aren’t necessarily audible or documentable, but in varying intimate ways He communicates to our hearts and minds and souls.  I also fully believe that we are fallible beings and sometimes our own biases and desires may dupe us into thinking something is coming from God when it is just our own creation.  And for that reason, I am often leery of those who regularly say things like “God told me this” or “God is doing this” on items that are beyond what is already plainly communicated in Scripture.

This whole topic was brought to mind in the advent of the recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma and they way I saw one well-known Christian speaking about them.  In short, he basically said that God was showing His power through the storms and He was doing it to cause us to respond in humility and repentance.  And I thought, here we go again, another famous Christian speaking authoritatively as if they’ve been given some special revelation as to what God is doing with another earthly tragedy.  Now, this wasn’t as egregious as some have spoken before, saying such things as God is bringing judgment through specific catastrophes for America’s acceptance of homosexuality or their lack of support for Israel, but it is still a similar scenario, just more generalized.

As for myself, if I’m ever going to say that some disaster is God’s doing and give the reason for why He’s doing it, then I darn well better have gotten a direct revelation from God, Himself, telling me this, or else I’m keeping my mouth shut.  Do I believe that God could cause or allow some great adversity to occur for a specific reason?  Sure.  But again, unless God has directly and clearly disclosed the details to me, I’m not telling the world what God is doing with definitive certainty.  (And I’m not looking at this moment to go down the theological rabbit hole of God causing something versus Him allowing something.  That can be a discussion for another day.)

So when I see a fellow brother or sister in Christ saying that God sent a particular tragedy to humble us and cause us to repent, it saddens and frustrates me because I believe God is not being represented fairly or properly.  All the more so when it is done by someone with a large audience and the misrepresentation is far more reaching and impactful.

On the other side of the coin, I have seen other Christians react to this specific incident or similar incidents in the past by declaring that God would never do such thing.  That He has never done anything like it and is incapable of anything like it because God is love.  Therefore, God never has and never would have anything to do with any tragic or traumatic happening except to be there to love the people going through it.  He may not even have any control over it.  And He would never be involved in the sending of any tribulation or exhibiting any type of judgment.

And I agree that God is love.  But what about His justice, and holiness, and omnipotence, and sovereignty, and righteousness, and so on and so on?  Does not God teach us such things and many more about Himself through His Word?  Yes, God is love, but He’s also much more than just love.  And what of all the times in Scripture we are told of God manifesting his judgment?  What of the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah or the final judgment at the end of the age?  To what point can it continue to be claimed that our understanding continually evolves to a higher level where we can see what parts of Scripture are actually God’s Word and true and determine the other parts to be inaccurate and untrue and unauthoritative, etc., etc.?  Or to essentially redefine what those terms even mean?  There are tons of technical particulars and nuance when it comes to Scriptural interpretation, far more than I know or am even aware of.  But beyond all the art and science of biblical interpretation there would also seem to be a pitfall where we can rely more on our own fallen and biased reasoning and desires to make God out to be who we want Him to be rather than trusting that He has communicated accurately and truthfully through His Word.

So on this other side of the coin I am just as saddened and concerned by what I also see as a misrepresentation of God.  And just as much as these Christians have an audience, they can give an, at least partially, false picture of who God is.

One side claims to know God so well that whenever something tragic happens in this world they can assign God as the cause and for what specific reason He caused it.  The other side claims to know God so well that they know He never has been involved in any such calamity or hardship and never has or would execute his judgment upon man.

I am not espousing that we never say anything about God for fear that we get something wrong.  We are called to live out and speak of our faith.  God uses us as instruments to spread his message of salvation and tell people about who He is.  It is a great privilege that we get to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But it is also a frightening proposition knowing that by our words and actions we are representing the great and holy King over everything.  And that our words and actions often fall woefully short of giving an honorable representation.

We need to find a manner where we can enthusiastically share about God but also do it in a responsible, honorable, and accurate fashion.  Some of us are filled with a great passion to share about the things of God but sometimes lack good understanding or discernment.  Others of us may be quite diligent in gaining a healthy understanding of God but are light in the enthusiasm department or lack the needed care and thoughfulness when sharing.

Whatever our strengths or struggles may be, may God help us to represent Him honorably and with devotion, and may we find refuge in His grace when we fail to do so.                

Sep 192017

I let Miss Kitty out for her morning constitutional and quickly shut the door.

Chester let out a mournful wail as it slammed shut in front of him.

Chester cannot go outside…and it grieves him to the bottom of his soul.


He looked up at me and his countenance asked “What did I do”?

His world has shrunk to the size of one room and he wonders what he has done to be punished so.

He doesn’t understand, he can’t understand, that his confinement is for his own good.

It sure doesn’t feel good to him.

I try to comfort him and assure him he isn’t in trouble, but the comprehension gap between us makes that effort futile.

My guess is that many of us often feel like Chester.

We ask God, “What did I do”?

Life hurts and it seems we’ve been confined to failure and divine discipline.

Now, there are times when we are being disciplined by God.

In fact, He says that one of the ways we know we belong to Him is if He disciplines us.

If that’s the case, though, you won’t have to ask what you did…the Holy Spirit will convict you of your sin.

You’ll know what you did.

God is not a capricious parent who decides to take you to the woodshed just in case you may do something wrong.

Gods discipline for His kids is always rehabilitative, not retributive.

In other words, its for your good to help you change, not to batter you in anger.

He poured out His anger on Christ, so He could pour out grace to you.

Most of the time, you didn’t do anything wrong, at least not wrong enough to merit divine discipline.

You aren’t being punished for being bad, you’re being conformed to the image of Jesus for your good and His glory.

There is no way to conform us into that image without suffering.

Suffering, by nature, doesn’t feel “good”.

He doesn’t explain to us the “why”…the gap between our understanding and His is greater than between Chester and me.

Our suffering is often inexplicable, but it’s never an expression of God’s wrath.

He’s simply making you look like your big Brother.

Jesus asked for another way too…but there wasn’t one.

He says it will be worth it all in the end.

Hang on…pretty soon your door will be open and you can go out with joy again.

He’s not angry with you.

Hang on…


Sep 192017

Did John MacArthur and the Masters College cover up a rape?

We are not germs…

New confession of Protestant unity…

You need to know the difference between “do this” and “done”….

How the church can respond to DACA…

In defense of unspoken prayer requests…

Is the Rapture on the 23rd?

How many churches does America have?

Three problems related to spiritual experiences…

A letter to white church leaders from a black pastor…

Why every church should have weekly Sunday communion…

Is 1 Corinthians 14: 34-35 authentic?

The legacy of the Reformation in contemporary evangelicalism…

Latino pastor: the challenge for white evangelicals…

Christian psychology out at Southern…Mohler fires professor…

This is our home…

What to do when the churches thought police come after you…

The ghosts of sins past…

Loving people we hate…

How to pray when we don’t feel like it…

Huge thanks to EricL for the link help…support his work at top right…

Sep 182017

Garage Band Church

I was eleven years old.  Like most of the rest of America, I was parked in front of our black and white television.  It was February 9th, 1964.  Like visitors from another planet, The Beatles appeared on the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show and life would never be the same.

I wanted it all – the hair, the boots, the attitude.  Most of all, I wanted to be in a band.


After months of not so subtle hints (read “continual badgering”) my birthday present was unveiled in the basement – a four piece drum set by Ludwig in black oyster pearl and a card for six months of drum lessons.  I was ecstatic.  Even better, my drum teacher was cool.  It says something about the the innocence of those times that somehow (I still don’t know how) my teacher later convinced my parents to allow me to accompany him to a night club to see James Brown and his Famous Flames.  I think the excuse was that it would help my playing to see a professional drummer! But, I digress…

So, I had my drums and my lessons.  All I needed now was a band.  Thankfully, my friend across the street had the same idea.  He had just been given an Epiphone Wiltshire electric guitar (sure wish I had that today) and a Fender  Deluxe amp (likewise). He had even mastered three chords!  Not only that, his older brother said he could sing.  Finally we found a friend in school whose parents agreed to buy him a bass (a nondescript Japanese model) and a Vox AC15 amp.  Our singer, however, did not have a microphone.  We saved our allowance money, put it all together and bought a second hand mic for $12.00.  No PA system, but we could plug the mic into the second channel of the Fender.  We had a band.

We got together for our first rehearsal.  We thought maybe we could play a Beatles song… we couldn’t.  So, someone suggested “Louie, Louie”.  We tried playing it.  We were terrible!  We kept trying.  In garages and basements around the neighborhood the noise was deafening.  We switched rehearsal venues according to the patience of parents and siblings. Eventually, we even added a couple more songs to our very limited repertoire but, to be honest, I’m not sure we improved all that much.  I think we played at least one birthday party in a basement – repeating our three songs twice! 

We were a garage band, the same as countless others across the country.  Most garage bands weren’t very good.  Most didn’t go anywhere. Some, however, kept at it.  They kept rehearsing, playing and improving.  People like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen come to mind.  They didn’t start off with a great deal of promise. Their equipment was pretty bad and they had a lot to learn, but they had to start somewhere.  That “somewhere” tended to be a less than flashy or professional garage band where, along with the bad music, there was also a good deal of joy and learning.  

The music industry has changed and music has changed with it.

We live in a day of professionalism and spectacle.  Artists with a modicum of ability and/or talent are often ushered into a recording studio, linked up with a team of writers, producers and publicists.  Stage designs are created, image makers are employed and, skipping the fabled 10,000 hours of paying dues, they are unleashed upon the public.  If they crack the charts, great.  If not, they will be set adrift as there are dozens waiting in the wings to take their place.  We no longer have the patience to see a garage band emerge, play terrible venues, write bad songs, then better ones and finally take their place on stage. We want it now…

Unfortunately, this modern model has all too often been applied to the church. 

My first church started with a Bible study with four people in attendance. I had seen Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and thought, we can do that. We met in the living room of the house I was renting.  I had a big Thompson Chain Reference Bible… and very little real theology.  I must confess, I’m glad there are no extant tapes of those Bible studies, because I wasn’t very good.  In fact, there were times when I must have been terrible. We went verse by verse, book by book, just as I was taught.  I ordered tapes from Costa Mesa and listened to them almost to the point of memorization.  I had a friend who played guitar and led the singing.  (A very new Christian, for special music he once introduced the Poco song, “She’s a Barmaid in the Honky Tonk Downstairs”, as an allegory of Christ and the Church!)  All this being said, we learned, we grew together and we loved each other as brothers and sisters.  In time a Christian coffeehouse was opened and, a bit later, we purchased a derelict UMC church which we filled with an active congregation.  Eventually, with a bit more theology and reading under our belts, we even became a eucharistic and liturgical faith community. 

Looking back, I guess that we were sort of a Garage Band church.  We made loads of mistakes, we weren’t very glamorous and, in the beginning, not very professional. I’ll have to say, however, there was a good deal of joy and learning all through the time that we grew together, as individuals and as a body of believers.

Now, if we sought advice today about starting a church, I imagine it would begin with a demographic study of a particular town or city as an “ideal location”.  We might attend a Willow Creek conference.  We would have to think about a multi-use building (not too “churchy”) and then assemble a “ministry team”.  We would need a pastor, a teacher, a counselor, a Christian Ed director, a worship leader and a nursery care director.  Parking would need to be convenient.  Sound equipment and stage lighting with suspended screens at the side and overhead would be a priority in the auditorium (“sanctuary” being considered far to “churchy”).  A Public Relations person or agency would handle the roll-out of the new church.  A key member of the “team” would be in development, i.e. fund-raising.  We might even succeed in planting and growing a church.  We could be known for a great praise band (“some of them went to Berklee, you know”) and our dramatic Sunday morning events.  Maybe… 

Or maybe, just maybe, we need some more Garage Band churches.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project