May 252017

In Jesus’ Name

“ ‘In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

 I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.’

 His disciples said, ‘Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.’ ” (John 16:23-30)

How do you picture the Gospel? Is it like a Christmas tree with one big present under it, addressed to you? Or is it more like a Christmas tree with a whole bunch of big presents under it, all addressed to you? If you have the former picture in mind, you might feel like a friend of mine who once told me that to him the idea of hearing the Gospel proclaimed on a regular basis sounded repetitive, if not boring.

If the Gospel ever becomes repetitive or boring, then we need to repent. Here I am not calling out ingratitude; there is a more serious issue. The Gospel bestows many wonderful gifts. The Evangelist John calls them “grace upon grace.” (John 1:16) But if we are not hearing the Gospel proclaimed for us in its fullness and regularly, we risk failing to apprehend and appropriate in fullness the manifold gifts which God gives us in the Gospel. For His desire for each of us is: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b).

Undoubtedly we all could agree that the forgiveness of sins and eternal life are the chief gifts given in the Gospel. However, the Gospel also confers many other integral and interconnected gifts, each of which blesses us and is beneficial for our spiritual wellbeing. In the gospel text this week, Jesus promised the disciples the gift of direct access to the Father in His name.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” (John 16:23b)

Jesus was returning to the Father. “In that day,” that is, following His resurrection and return with the Holy Spirit, His disciples will pray directly to the Father in Jesus’ name. The Holy Spirit will dwell in us as our Helper; Jesus will intercede for us as our Mediator at the right hand of the Father; and the Father will love us and grant our petitions, because we have faith in Jesus: “for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”

“I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.” (John 16:25)

Jesus does not give us the use of His name as a formality. Jesus gives us His name so the Father may grant our requests and make us joyful: “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24b) It a type of joy that cannot be taken from us: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22)

Our Father gives us joy (another gift), which comes from faith in the resurrection. What is true for Jesus will also be true for us! The world knows nothing of Christian joy. The joy the world grants, regardless of wealth or status, is temporary and only distracts, at best, from the ever present fear of death. Moses understood this: “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ … You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.” (Ps 90:3, 5-6) No matter what joys or sorrows we may experience during our earthly lives, our Father gives us an inward joy. This inward joy in the midst of sufferings produces endurance, patience and hope (Rom 5:3-4).

Therefore, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit (another gift), to teach us from His Word “plainly about the Father” and to “guide [us] into all truth” (John 16:13), so that we may use His name correctly and beneficially. “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)

“for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:27)

Jesus consoled the disciples by teaching them that the Father’s love for them does not depend on their righteousness or worthiness or from any other inward measure, which they might have imagined. The Father loves us solely because of our belief in Jesus: “because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” Therefore, when we pray, we have only these two unshakeable considerations: (1) God’s promise to hear us for the sake of His Son; and (2) Jesus name.

Even our belief in Jesus (another gift) is bestowed by the Helper in the Gospel: “I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.” We have two examples of this enacted by Jesus on Easter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus:

First through the Word: “They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while [Jesus] talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’ ” (Luke 24:32)

Second through the Sacrament: “When [Jesus] was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” (Luke 24:30-31a)

The Gospel is like a beautiful wildflower. If we continue to hear and ponder the Gospel, this implanted wildflower will grow into a great big beautiful meadow in our hearts. Amen.

“We give thanks to You, our God, who hitherto graciously and mightily helped us in all our needs. Be our refuge and our help, and when our last day comes, grant that we fall asleep commending our souls into the hands of Your Son, Jesus Christ, confident that through His name our death is precious in Your sight. Amen.” (Martin Luther, prayer accompanying Psalm 116)

May 242017

Normally by this time of the week in my writing, I’m refining my article (i.e. trying to make my rough wordy mess at least semi-palatable for the reader) shortly before sending it off to Michael.  Being that this is another one of those “I don’t know what to write about” weeks, I’m grasping for something of worth or interest.  Of course, the latest terrorist bombing just happened, but I don’t have the words to address it and Michael has already spoken well on the tragedy.  And no other grand topic has taken hold of my writing fancy.  So this one may be a good bit shorter than my norm (but maybe not by too much, now that I’m done and came back to add this comment 🙂 ). 

As a kid, we once had a former NFL football player come speak at our church.  Or so we we were led to believe he was a former NFL player.  I don’t really remember the man’s name (maybe it was something like Eric White), nor what his ministry was, nor do I remember much of anything he said.  In fact, the only thing I can recall him saying at the moment was that he had played for the Buffalo Bills.  At some later point, our church learned that this man had, in fact, never played in the NFL.

I was not devastated by any means to find this out, but was certainly disappointed.  As a kid, it was neat to see this big former NFL player come out to speak at our relatively little country church.  That feeling was lost when finding out the guy had misrepresented who he was and had deceived us about his playing career.  Some may not have been phased much at all by his original appearance or the later finding of truth, while others may have been negatively impacted much more strongly.

Now this was before the days of the internet and Google.  Over time, there probably have been plenty of Christian frauds who substantially misrepresented themselves and their credentials.  Some, such as this so-called NFL player and others like Mike Warnke, were eventually caught in their lies and deceptions.  Plenty of others may have made it through their entire lives without ever having been uncovered publicly.

In today’s world, it would take much more effort and skill to carry out such a ruse.  Yet, and maybe it’s not to the same degree of overarching deception, but I read at Warren Throckmorton’s blog, among other places, of famous Christians who claim PhD’s and other degrees and titles when they have nothing more than empty honorary degrees from schools of dubious standing for which they did little to no work to gain their “degree”.  I was reminded of this scenario once again when Throckmorton posted about General Jerry Boykin being the latest to engage in such a shenanigan.

 The shame is, there is seemingly little concern in the Christian community for such folly, most especially among those who are followers of those who have been “outed”.  David Barton is the prime example here.  Throckmorton has been quite persistent in documenting Barton’s claim of having an earned doctorate, when that doctorate is nothing of such in reality.  Yet, only those who already recognize Barton for his tomfoolery seem to care.  It is difficult to find much of a peep on the matter from those who are supporters.

How much potential damage may occur when these things are just brushed to the side?  When they are treated as miniscule indescretions of scant concern?  How much damage may we, ourselves,  cause when we engage in the same type of behavior?  Maybe we’re not lying about fake PhD’s or about having played in the NFL, but how often do we give false impressions about ourselves or tell little white lies to make ourselves or our intelligence or our standing in life look a little bit better?  When we may exaggerate just that needed little bit to give ourselves that extra oomph of appearance and/or persuasion.  When we may use some “minor” misrepresentation or deception to give that extra edge to get what we want or to win the argument.

We may justify what we do by claiming no real harm or foul.  But how do we know that in just the right circumstance, our conduct may not end up having a significant detrimental effect?  How do those followers of David Barton who are aware of some, if not many of his difficulties, know that their continued support of the man may not have a meaningful negative effect?  How does a preacher going around with a false claim of being a former NFL football player think that this is an acceptable act?  How do we get to decide that getting what we want or winning the argument or achieving the desired ends justifies whatever level of trickery we may use to get there?  When is it okay to just look the other way when we see others acting as such, especially when done so by higher profile people?

May God help us to stand in right behavior and trust that His good will for us and others will be achieved without us helping along the process to get what we want with dubious practices.               

May 232017

My Twitter feed is full of pictures of missing children.

These are pictures of children who attended a concert in Manchester, England that was the site of another terrorist attack.

They are scattered through my feed…they all look precious today…they are precious…they were precious.

The pictures were posted by parents who fear that the most precious part of their lives may have been destroyed by incomprehensible evil.

They must have heard the news about the attack and prayed and waited..and waited…and then were reduced to finding a suitable photo to share in hopes that their child wasn’t one that will never come home.

What they are going through today is more horrific than I can imagine and so much more than they ever imagined in their worst nightmares.

Some have already received a call that the nightmare is real.

The call will not mention that the nightmare will never end in this life.

They say that the attacker is dead and I’m glad…I try to find some small measure of justice in thinking about the pains of hell the person instantly began to experience.

It fails to bring any comfort at all.

There is no comfort when a child dies.

Over on Facebook most are horrified, others are angry because they have been trying to tell us that this is what Islam is all about.

There are warnings of more death to come…either at the hands of the Muslims or the hands of those who believe they are protecting against them.

The best answer either side can come up with is more death.

War is in the air…war against the Muslims, war between the left and right in our own country, war with brother against brother.

War is putting on it’s noble robes gain.

War will make this country what God intended it to be…if only we identify who the enemy is that needs to die.

Unfortunately, we all qualify in someone else’s eyes.

That’s what war does…it makes everybody someones enemy…and someones target.

We go to the Bible to find a better way.

It speaks to us of sacrificial love and death to self.

We close the book and look for a better way than that.

I have no answers to the terror abroad or the coming terror at home.

I only know that death breeds death.

We have to rightly understand the nature of Islamic terror.

We have to rightly acknowledge the potential for our own.

I weep for Manchester.

I weep for us.

Our children will die too…


May 232017

Satire…25 Christian movies that need to be made…

The beauty of Reformed worship…

The greatest threat to the church isn’t Islam,it’s us…

Is the common cup still relevant today?

The hypocrisy of Bible Belt executions…

The eternal mystery of being in two places at once…

How to make disciples in a secular age…

Dismissing violence…

Five things to pray after the Manchester attack…

Is it time to give attention to the plight of white men in America?

When this pastor got political…

China booming with religion…

Creationist sues the Grand Canyon for religious discrimination…

How to take the church to work…

The hospice chaplain and the schizophrenic…

How to love your ideological enemy…

Why all the fuss? The difference between the Lutherans and Reformed on the Lord’s Supper…

Five things you should know about Reinhold Niebuhr…

Why it matters that Jesus was really human…

A free drink for the parched…

What is the evidence for evolution?

What happens to our pets when they die?

How to be last…

Lord save us from a proof text faith…

The world to which He came…

Shifting footings on Junia…

Huge thanks to EricL as always…support his work at top right…

May 222017

This week…should churches be allowed to speak politically and even endorse candidates? That, plus another musical special from Phil’s friend…

Download the mp3


May 222017

The Church Catholic

“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church…”

What is the nature of the catholic Church that we confess in the creeds?  What constitutes a catholic tradition?  Indeed, what does the very term “catholic” mean in relation to the Church? 

You will note, that these questions are theological, not the pragmatic question of, “how can we get our churches to work?”. I think that often we have problems with the pragmatic issues, simply because we have not first addressed the theological issues. In our current fragmented culture, the most difficult question to answer might simply be, “What is the Church?”  We must recognize in seeking to answer this question, that there is a profound relationship between recovering the true nature of the Church theologically and then applying that understanding to the pragmatic and practical issues that confront us today.  It is, I believe, essential that we do this.  It is essential that the “communio sanctorum” which we confess in the creeds is not viewed as the ancient equivalent of coffee and doughnuts after the Sunday morning service. 

Historically, “catholic” is merely one of the “marks” of the Church confessed by Christians for almost 2000 years.  We refer to the Church as being “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”.  These four, together, are traditionally known as the “marks” of the Church, that is, the traits or qualities that make it possible for us to recognize the Church for what it truly is in its essence.  It is interesting to note that each of these marks is so linked to the others that one cannot be separated from the others.  Each trait or quality is so linked with the others that together they form one coherent and interrelated idea of what Christ’s Church is meant to be.  For example, the unity of the Church is more remarkable because it is to be a catholic unity, that is, a unity of faith (however basic in its outline) and hope in all places and ages.  It is also an apostolic unity, one that guards the one faith first proclaimed by the apostles. Finally, it is a unity of faith which is holy, because Christ, the head of the Church, is holy and we, in imitation, seek to minister to the holiness of life in the Church.  Owing to the outward expression of certain of these marks, they are sometimes spoken of as “signs” of the Church, so that the church takes on in its very being a sacramental nature – that is, a physical means of expression by which God’s grace is given through the work of the Holy Spirit among us.

Yet, seen in this light, the marks of the Church must also be seen as paradoxical.  For example, the Church is holy, but it is made up of sinners.  The Church is one, but it is scattered throughout the world and, indeed, includes all those who have gone before us in faith through the centuries.  The Church is apostolic, but it is not culturally bound to the mores and norms of first century Palestine resulting in ecclesial gatherings today that would, for the most part, be unrecognizable to the apostles.  Finally, the Church is catholic, yet most Christians today – from Roman Catholic to evangelicals – would, at best, struggle to define what the word means and, at worst, would run away from the term altogether.

The word, “catholic”, was first used by Ignatius of Antioch, one of the so called Apostolic Fathers.  Ignatius was born just a year or two after the death of Christ and went to a martyr’s death in Rome in the first decade of the second century.  Writing a letter to the Church in Smyrna on his journey to Rome, he wrote, “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church”. Catholicity has since been defined as “universal”, “orthodox”, “continual”, “universal in mission”, “ageless” and a myriad of other terms and phrases. 

For myself, however, I like the early statement of Ignatius, that “wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”  Simply stated, it’s not about us, it’s about Christ.  The church that is truly catholic is one that is universal, because it has Christ who is universal. The church that is truly catholic is ageless, because it has Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever. The church that is truly catholic is orthodox, because it has Christ who is the fullness of truth.  As the late Reformation era Apology of the Augsburg Confession says, “It [the creed] says ‘the church catholic’ lest we take it to mean an outward government of certain nations. It is, rather, made up of men scattered throughout the world who agree on the same Gospel and have the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit, and the same sacraments, whether they have the same human traditions or not.” (Art. VI:10)  

We may worship differently.  We may have differing polities. We may dress differently. We may speak or use different languages in our churches.  We may live in a totalitarian state or in a democracy.  We may be liturgical or casual.  We may be politically inclined or apolitical. None of these issues define the catholicity of the Church, nor, I would suggest, should we allow them to ultimately define our identity as the Church.  What does define the catholicity of the Church is the One we come to worship when we gather together.  As the Orthodox theologian, Alexander Schmemann wrote, “The purpose of worship is to constitute the Church, precisely to bring what is ‘private’ into the new life, to transform it into what belongs to the Church, i.e. shared with all in Christ. In addition its purpose is always to express the Church as the unity of that Body whose head is Christ”. 

Simply put, our common worship of Christ is the greatest sign of our catholicity as the Church.  Our insistence on our own prerogatives – in our traditions, our “distinctives”, our forms of worship, our partisan politics, and all the rest – may be the greatest hindrance to finding that catholicity.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

May 202017

Thou art Jesus, the Son of the Father, Yea, Amen.

Thou art He who commandeth the Cherubim and the Seraphim, Yea, Amen.

Thou hast existed with the Father in truth always, Yea. Amen.

Thou rulest the Angels, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the power of the Heavens, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the crown of the Martyrs, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the deep counsel of the Saints, Yea, Amen.

Thou art He in whom the deep counsel of the Father is hidden, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the mouth of the Prophets, Yea, Amen.

Thou art the tongue of the Angels, Yea, Amen.

Thou art Jesus my Life, Yea, Amen.

Thou art Jesus the object and boast of the world, Yea, Amen.

The Dying Prayer of St. Athanasius

May 202017

Matthew 21:33-46

The Parable of the Tenants

  • Again we should note what is going on here, what Jesus is doing as he is working them to repent – to get them to learn by the obedience to his word.
  • If they will not learn by the seriousness of the hour – Messiah is here – Salvation is here,
  • If they will not learn this by his kindness, they will have to learn it the hard way – from his wrath.

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.

  • Pay close attention in this parable for the promised inheritance, taken away and even given to another – this is judgment.
  • The Pharisees, students of the law understood this is about Isaiah 5 – they understood that Israel is God’s vineyard.
  • READ ISA 5:1-7

34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.

  • Who are some of the players
  • The Master of the House = God … the Father
  • Tenants – God chose the tenants as is his right as Master of the House
  • Servants = Prophets
  • His Son = Jesus

35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.

  • Look what the people of Israel did to Jeremiah – look at what was done to John the Baptist and other prophets.

36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them.

  • God continually reaching out to his people

37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

  • You would think so – you would think that they knew the Father and the goodness he provided (again look at Isaiah 5 how the Father had nurtured and cultivated his vineyard – that they would have respect for the son.

38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’

  • Not so – and isn’t this like man even today – we want it all to consume on ourselves.
  • We think that following God is to give up what is rightfully ours.

39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

  • Who was crucified outside the walls? Jesus

40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

  • So look here for the attempt to get people to repent.
  • You are sons, you are tenants you are invited to the marriage feast
  • Look at the order of these parables
  • (1) Sons – 28 – 32
  • (2) Tenants – 33 – 44
  • (3) The marriage feast – 23:1 – 14
  • So Jesus leaves the question up to them – this is similar when Nathan challenged David’s adultery with Bathsheba with the little lamb story and David without realizing it pronounced judgment on himself.
  • Jesus speaks but will they apply it to themselves?

41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

  • Perry Mason could not have set this up any better – to get the guilty parties to condemn themselves.
  • As I said above, King David was trapped as Nathan said “you are the man.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

  • Psalm 118:22-23
  • This very event was prophesied 1,000 years before.
  • God has chosen the rejected stone to be the cornerstone.


43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.

  • Taken away from whom? Israel
  • Given to whom? The New Israel – called the Church.
  • The vineyard is going to be rented out to other tenants.
  • When the message of Paul was rejected in the Jewish synagogues God had Paul turn to the gentiles.
  • In one generation, gentiles outnumbered Jews in the church.
  • Now there is always a remnant – I am, through my family line the remnant.
  • But not to be Israel but to be the Church.

44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

  • Either way, this is going to hurt.
  • It will either break you through confession or it will crush you through judgment.
  • A Jesus reminder – When the stone falls on a man – the stone does not get hurt.
  • This is Jesus separating the sheep and the goats.

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.

  • Duh
  • Can you imagine the Pharisees in their self righteousness applying Jesus’ words to every group they hate when the light goes on and they realize Jesus is pointing his finger at them?
  • These are fighting words.

46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

  • This is a problem – Jesus must be taken down, but how do you do it without a revolt?


May 202017

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May 192017

(comparative more inexplicable, superlative most inexplicable)

  1. Impossible to explain; not easily accounted for.

I offer you the dictionary meaning of the word “inexplicable” because it’s utterly inexplicable how I’m even online this morning.

Just a few short hours ago, before I went to bed, I decided to spray some air freshener about because my little space here smelled like various varieties of wet cat food.

I doused the air with Febreze and laid down for the evening, having exchanged the smell of rotted shrimp for that of “Bora Bora Waters”.

I’m not sure why the waters of Bora Bora smell like old perfume, but that too is inexplicable…I digress.

As often happens, Miss Kitty decided that she needed a snack after I had gotten comfortable, necessitating that I rise and get one for her.

I got up and turned on the lamp…and as I reached for the lamp chain my hand was sprayed with something wet.

When the light came on I saw the bottle of Febreze slowly emptying it’s contents…directly into my modem.

The handle was stuck and it had been spraying a stream into the router for a few minutes.

Needless to say, the drenched electronics no longer worked.

I poured (and poured is the right word) out the liquid from the modem and wondered how in the world I was going to be able to replace it.

I laid down again feeling more than a little depressed and defeated…the inexplicable accidents of life seem to happen here way too often.

This morning, I plugged it in, just out of desperate hope.

One by one, the lights flickered on across the face of the modem.

They stayed on.

They’re on now.

This, my friends, is inexplicable.

The seeming destruction of my modem and it’s resurrection are both inexplicable.

Actually, the fact that it is working is explicable.

God had mercy.

I don’t need any other explanation.

This got me thinking…

We try so hard to explain everything, including the Biblical story of redemption.

We analyze every jot and tittle of the 66 books to come up with precise doctrines and definitions of that which in the end is inexplicable save the love and mercy of God.

Then we condemn anyone who came up with something different in their search for answers to the inexplicable.

We suck every last bit of the joy and wonder out of our salvation and the work of God on our behalf, which is truly inexplicable behavior.

This morning, I’m rejoicing in the inexplicable mercy of God.

Go and do likewise.

Inexplicable mercy is a call to worship, not explanation…

Make your own application…


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