Preparation for a Long Review: Confessions of a Funeral Director

“Grandpa Dixon passed away this morning.”

Even at 4 years old, I knew what that meant. I wouldn’t be seeing Great-Grandpa Dixon anymore, at least not on this side of Heaven.

Introduction

I had been exposed to death a lot as a kid. I don’t think my parents tried to hide it from me one bit. The first loved one that I remember dying was my Great-Grandpa Dixon. He died when I was 4 years old, and my parents didn’t try to soften the blow. They just came right out and said it.

“Grandpa Dixon passed away this morning.”

Even at 4 years old, I knew what that meant. Read more here at my new blog. Please subscribe here to get all of my new posts at Substack.

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What Hath Levi’s To Do With Blackshear?

In his Facebook post, Mike Stone seemed to be throwing his power around in much the same way that a CEO of a certain blue jean manufacturer might. He seemed to be making threats just like a secularist politician who feels that their power and authority might have been questioned by some peon who works as a volunteer in their campaign headquarters.

Introduction

On February 14th, Jennifer Sey announced that she had left her job as the Brand President at Levi’s, and after turning down a $1 million severance package that included her signing a NDA, she told her story.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Sey publicly brought into question whether or not the schools should be shut down, and the woke mob that ran Levi’s didn’t take too kindly to that.

Things changed when Covid hit. Early on in the pandemic, I publicly questioned whether schools had to be shut down. This didn’t seem at all controversial to me. I felt—and still do—that the draconian policies would cause the most harm to those least at risk, and the burden would fall heaviest on disadvantaged kids in public schools, who need the safety and routine of school the most.

I wrote op-eds, appeared on local news shows, attended meetings with the mayor’s office, organized rallies and pleaded on social media to get the schools open. I was condemned for speaking out. This time, I was called a racist—a strange accusation given that I have two black sons—a eugenicist, and a QAnon conspiracy theorist.

In the summer of 2020, I finally got the call. “You know when you speak, you speak on behalf of the company,” our head of corporate communications told me, urging me to pipe down.

Jennifer Sey

Pipe down she did not. The Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Levi’s requested that she do an “apology tour.” She was told that she “was not a friend of the Black community at Levi’s.” She was told to say that she was “an imperfect ally.” Naturally, she refused.

Later Sey was promised that she was in line to be the next CEO of Levi’s. All she had to do was shut her trap and fall in line, (and again, she did not.) Eventually things came to a head when she was told that by her CEO that it was “untenable” for her to stay employed with the company. So, she left, and she made it clear to public as to why she left.

Now, after reading all of this you might ask yourself…

What Hath Levi’s to do with Blackshear?

Mike Stone, the sorest loser of the 2021 SBC Presidential election, has taken to Facebook to share his opinions on the latest appointment to the Supreme Court.

It might be helpful for me to state first that I am also not thrilled about the idea that our newest supreme court justice believes that you have to be a straight up biologist to know what a woman is. I’m in agreement with Mike Stone that this is nothing to celebrate, and I’m in agreement with Douglas Wilson when he says of our newest Supreme Court Justice:

Jackson either does not know what a woman is, and is unsuitable for this high judicial office for the same reason that the homeless guy who lives in a cardboard box down by the river under a bridge is unsuitable, or she knows quite well what a woman is, and won’t say because she is too cowardly or too ambitious to offend the college of cardinals who have a choke hold on the Church of Flattening Everything. In other words, she is either demented herself, or is being held in thrall by those who are demented.

Douglas Wilson, So I’m No Biologist Either…

Now that I’ve made clear where I stand (as if my regulars don’t already know), I would like to point some things that bother me about what Mike Stone said in his post.

Hang On, We’re Getting There…

The last part of Stone’s post says:

…if one of our church’s employees found some reason to celebrate and appreciate this confirmation, I’d fire them on the spot. If for no other reason, for insulting me and our church family by thinking such an asanine position would be tolerated at our church.

Mike Stone

What Does This Say About Stone’s Desire (or Lack Thereof) to Pastor the People Who Serve Under Him?

In the same way that the CEO of Levi’s sought to get rid of an employee who didn’t conform to the hivemind, Mike Stone also seeks to rid the staff of his church of anyone who has a differing opinion.

I can already two responses being tapped out on the keyboards of armchair pastors and theologians everywhere so let me address those before moving on:

“Logan, don’t you realize that there are right and wrong opinions?”

Yes, I do, and I understand the need to be in unity on whether we can define what a woman is. I also understand the disjointedness that can occur within a local body if two of the pastors are in disagreement about issues such as this, but why jump straight to firing? If you’re a Senior Pastor and you feel that a staff pastor serving underneath has an unbiblical opinion that is harmful to the integrity of the church, why not treat them like a brother in Christ and try the Matthew 18 approach?

It’s probably Mike Stone doesn’t know how to treat brothers in Christ as such. That was evident after he lost the 2021 SBC presidential election and took his frustrations out on Russell Moore by filing a lawsuit against Moore by claiming that Moore had defamed his character thus costing him the election. Roughly two months later the lawsuit was withdrawn. According to The Tennesean,

Stone commented on the decision in statement that his attorney sent in an email.

“My attorneys have, at my request, moved to voluntarily withdraw the lawsuit I had filed against Russell Moore,” Stone said. “I believe that based on current circumstances the better path for my family, my church, and our convention at this time is to leave the matter in the hands of our Lord.”

Southern Baptist pastor Mike Stone drops lawsuit against Russell Moore

It’s not clear as to the exact reason that Stone dropped the lawsuit, but it probably didn’t help that the Religion News Service found a sermon preached by Mike Stone where he said,

Let’s say somebody defames your character with unfounded gossip. The legal thing to do and I’m not just talking about a lawsuit, I mean the understandable natural thing to do might be to defend your name. The godly thing might be let it go.

Mike Stone, Stop Airing Your Dirty Laundry, Part 1

The second objection I might hear is, “Logan, a large Baptist church and a corporation like Levi’s is not the same. This is apples and oranges.”

My point exactly. In his Facebook post, Mike Stone seemed to be throwing his power around in much the same way that a CEO of a certain blue jean manufacturer might. He seemed to be making threats just like a secularist politician who feels that their power and authority might have been questioned by some peon who works as a volunteer in their campaign headquarters.

What Does This Say About Stone’s View of Grace?

I asked about Matthew 18 earlier, and I think that’s a legitimate question. Church discipline is meant to restore a fallen sinner to fellowship within the local body of Christ. Paul laid out the process of discipline in 1 Corinthians 5 when he addresses the issue of a man sleep with his stepmother.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! … In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

1 Corinthians 5:1, 4-5, NKJV

Later in 2 Corinthians 2, Paul will instruct that man should be restored and forgiven showing that the church discipline had its intended affect.

But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.

2 Corinthians 2:5-8, NKJV

If Mike Stone is not willing to pastorally walk with someone who has a damaging opinion, then that means one of two things:

Having a damaging opinion is an unforgivable sin so heinous that it cannot even be repented of through church discipline.

OR

Mike Stone can’t be bothered with extending the grace of pastoral care and discipline to those who serve under him.

Both of those are terrible conclusions, but one of them has to be true if Stone feels that the best thing to do is fire someone on the spot for celebrating the apppointment of the new Supreme Court justice.

In Conclusion

If Mike Stone had left the pulpit in exchange for the world of politics like Mike Huckabee did so many moons ago, then I may have scoffed and moved on, but the fact that Mike Stone serves as a senior pastor of a significantly sized church, and has a notable voice in the world of American Christendom means that I’m not going to quietly stay in my lane. I’m going to say something because the world is watching and people need to understand that Mike Stone does not accurately represent a Christian worldview.

White Privilege (No, Not That Kind)

Context is King

I used to have the utmost respect for Dr. James White. He tremendously helped me think about the Scriptures in ways that were new and exciting to me as someone who had been raised in the trenches of KJVO Pentecostalism. I owe a great deal to White’s work and ministry for many of the key theological milestones I’ve reached in my life. Ironically, it was his debate with Douglas Wilson about whether or not Roman Catholics are our brothers and sisters in Christ that made me reconsider my position on believer’s baptism.

Although, my theology was far away from his at the time (as I was well settled into the Cumberland Presbyterian camp), I was honored when some of my Baptist friends invited me to attend an apologetics conference where Dr. White would be speaking that was being hosted by their local association. Dr. White’s talk on New Testament reliability was enthralling and very enlightening. I thought of Dr. White fondly as someone who, though a tad bit arrogant and intimidating at times, could be trusted to provide thoughtful dialogue on any given theological topic. It was for this reason that I used to think Dr. White was reasonable enough to have an open dialogue with someone he disagreed with. Almost anytime he saw someone on social media making what he believed were ridiculous claims he would invite them to debate the issues. At times he has even invited people to come onto his show, The Dividing Line, and talk through those issues with him. However, it seems that White doesn’t seem to want to participate in these kinds of open dialogues anymore. Instead, it seems as though he would rather call out his opponents on social media without giving them a chance to defend their statements so he can continue to get applause from his fan club.

James White has such a high profile in the theological world that he doesn’t need to bother himself with every statement made about him on Twitter or Facebook, but I guess his pride won’t allow him to rest until he vindicates himself to his audience.

Here’s What I Mean

Personal friend and former LNT contributor, Cory Allen Byrum, posted a quote from Reformed Baptist Pastor Josh Sommer.

Sommer also made another post which can be seen here:

Image

I’m not sure which one of these quotes caught White’s attention first, but his response on Twitter to the second post soon followed.

It seems as though if you respond to probing questions with your resume, then that makes you correct.

Sommer responded, requesting dialogue with White. White didn’t oblige.

James White made this discussion about social media numbers, Sommer didn’t. Now, I’m sure if Josh Sommer had offered to pay White an honorarium to travel to where he was, then I’m sure White would have jumped all over the opportunity to “pump up his social media numbers,” but seeing as how White didn’t feel he had to anything to personally gain from this dialogue, he might as well accuse Sommer of trying to make a name for himself and move on.

If this had been the sum of the whole interaction between White and Sommer, then we could just call it an interesting day on Twitter and go home, but that wasn’t the end. White went on his own program, The Dividing Line, and proceeded to promptly belittle Josh for his youth and then before reading and condescendingly responding to the quote above that Cory Allen Byrum shared, White said at the 10:25 mark, “My hope is that 20 years from now Josh is going to be sitting at his desk and just go, ‘Oh Lord, I see now and I’ve repented and may I teach others not to do what I did as a young person.'”

And what exactly is that? Challenge him?

Honestly, I would expect someone who is as educated as he is, as old as he is, and someone who holds the office of elder in Christ’s church as he does, would not be so arrogant as die on every hill he comes across.

What Privilege?

It’s simple: Sommer offered to talk to him one on one, and White hid behind his resume and his microphone to make sure his followers only got one side of the story. My hope is that we can see open and honest dialogue between these two great minds and that Dr. White will come to a place of repentance for the way he has behaved.

What is Medium Theology?

As a Cumbelrand Presbyterian, I’m often asked if we are Calvinists or if we hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and I always give an answer that sounds something like this: In some ways, and no. We are Calvinistic in some ways, and we reject Westminster Confession of Faith. (Sadly, many Cumberland Presbyterians today have never read Westminster to know why they should reject it. They just know that our founders rejected it and that they probably should too, and they don’t feel the need to look into the matter any further than that.)

Though we are Calvinistic in some ways, Cumberland Presbyterians as a whole wouldn’t label themselves Calvinists. To be a Calvinist generally means to hold to all five points of Calvinism (which you can read about here if you are unfamiliar with them), and Cumberland Presbyterians reject the Calvinistic views of reprobation and predestination while emphasizing both the need for and the power of God’s grace in salvation with the same zeal that Calvinists would.

The Preface to the 1883 Confession of Faith lists what I might call the Four Points of Cumberland Presbyterianism.

The Cumberland Presbytery, which was constituted at the time of the organization of the church, and which originally consisted of only three ministers, was in three years sufficiently large to form three Presbyteries. These Presbyteries, in October, A.D. 1813, met at the Beech Church, in Sumner County, Tennessee, and constituted a Synod. This Synod at once formulated and published a “Brief Statement,” setting forth the points wherein Cumberland Presbyterians dissented from the Westminster Confession of Faith. They are as follows:

1. That there are no eternal reprobates.
2. That Christ died not for a part only, but for all mankind.
3. That all infants dying in infancy are saved through Christ and the sanctification of the Spirit.
4. That the Spirit of God operates on the world, or as coextensively as Christ has made atonement, in such a manner as to leave all men inexcusable.

Preface to the 1883 Confession of Faith

What this amounts to is what T.C. Blake and many of the other early Cumberland Presbyterians would call Medium Theology. To explain what Medium Theology is, I’ll include an excerpt Blake’s work The Old Log House: A History and Defense of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church:

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church claims to occupy what it denominates as the “Medium System of Theology” – a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism. The two latter systems (Calvinism and Arminianism) as we all know, are regarded as the extremes of theology. It is also claimed by the advocates of these systems that there is no medium ground; that every one must either be a Calvinist or an Arminian in his religious belief, else he is nothing; but such an assertion, when we analyze it, is absurd – might as well say that there is no territory between the North and South Poles, or that there is no space between the extreme ends of a platform! How could those two systems be the extremes of theology without having this intermediate area- this medium ground?

But let us examine those systems (Calvinism and Arminianism), and see if there is not a theological medium ground.

1. The Doctrine of Election. Calvinism teaches that election is unconditional. Arminianism teaches that there is no election in this life. Medium System teaches that there is an election, but that it is conditional.

2. The Doctrine of Salvation. Calvinism teaches that salvation is unconditional to sinners, but certain to Christians. Arminianism teaches that salvation is conditional to sinners, but uncertain to Christians. Medium System teaches that salvation is conditional to sinners, but certain to Christians.

3. The Date of Election. Calvinism teaches that the date of election is before man was created. Arminianism teaches that the date of election is not prior to the death of the Christian, if indeed it occurs then. Medium System teaches that the date of election is the moment when the sinner is regenerated.

4. The Extent of the Atonement. Calvinism teaches that Christ died for only a part of the human race – that salvation is not possible to all, and that none but those who were “elected from the foundation of the world,” will be saved. Arminianism teaches that the atonement of Christ was made for all mankind – that salvation is possible to all; but, as Christians may fall from grace, it is not certain that any one will be saved. Medium System teaches that the atonement was made for all mankind – that salvation is possible to all, and that every one who has been truly regenerated will be saved.

5. The Perseverance of the Saints. Calvinism teaches that perseverance depends principally upon the immutability of the decree of unconditional election. Arminianism teaches that perseverance depends principally upon good works of the creature. Medium System teaches that perseverance depends, not upon the immutability of the decree of unconditional election, nor upon the good works of the creature, but upon the love of God, the merits of Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and the covenant of grace.

Other points could be given wherein these three systems differ, but surely these are sufficient to show any unprejudiced reader that there is a medium ground between Calvinism and Arminianism. On that medium ground the Cumberland Presbyterian Church stands; and it rejoices to know that its foundation is broad and secure. Nor do we hazard the truth in saying that not only the Cumberland Presbyterian Church stands upon this medium ground, but that nineteen-twentieths of the Christian world to-day really occupy the same position. How rare to find a Calvinist who adopts all the sentiments of Calvin? And how rare, too, to find an Arminian who adopts all the sentiments of Arminius? Instead, then, of finding no ground upon which to stand between these extremes, we find a vast area – an area large enough to hold not only Cumberland Presbyterians, but also the great body of professing Christians throughout the world. The people can find that medium ground, although theologians may not be able to do so.

T.C. Blake, The Old Log House: A History and Defense of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church

Build a Dinghy

The idea is that the Southern Baptist Convention is a ship that is headed in the wrong direction and it needs to be commandeered and steered by the conservatives in the right direction. (Now, in this case, whether ‘right’ means ‘correct’ or if it just means ‘not left’ remains to be seen.)

To those of you who follow me on Facebook, you already know where this is going, but I would encourage you to read on for two reasons: #1) This is an elaboration on what I’ve been posting for the last couple of days and I’m going to be a little more thorough than what I have been on Facebook, and #2) this is a preface to a forthcoming article Build a Dinghy: Rainbow Edition where I address the “Welcoming” Cumberland Presbyterians. (I’m sure you can guess what their priorities are.)

Why I’m Even Saying Anything

Now, you might be reading this and wondering to yourself, “Logan, you’re not Southern Baptist. Why do you even care? Why are you even taking the time to comment about such things?” It all boils down to the following reasons:

  1. The Southern Baptist Convention is easily the largest Protestant evangelical denomination and they have a large voice in the United States which is where I happen to live and pastor so I think I’m entitled to say something about what’s going in the culture which I to preach to every week.
  2. I was a part of a Southern Baptist church plant for 3 years. While I would not consider them a cult, there were cult-like practices that were in place that eventually led to their downfall. (Imagine Seattle’s Mars Hill Church in small town Arkansas where Mark Driscoll was sane and it was the “Executive Elders” who were arrogant, had anger issues, and terrible opinions about women.)
  3. I have a blog and I can. *insert shrug emoji here*

If You’re Still With Me By Now…

Let me start off by saying that I love my Southern Baptist friends. There are things about being Southern Baptist that greatly appeal to me. Southern Baptists, in a lot of ways, are outdoing Cumberland Presbyterians in how many missionaries they commission each year, how much of a reach they have out into the world with the Gospel, and a lot of them could teach us a thing or two about expositional preaching. So, understand that what I’m about to say doesn’t come from a place of malice, it comes as an elbow jab from a brother. Afterwards, we can go out to the pub and have an apple juice together. (You can tell your congregation it’s apple juice, I’ll lie for you.)

The Jolly Roger Wasn’t So Jolly

I couldn’t really find the origin of it, but #TakeTheShip became the war cry of many of the ultra conservative Southern Baptist pastors and leaders for this year’s annual meeting held in Nashville. The idea is that the Southern Baptist Convention is a ship that is headed in the wrong direction and it needs to be commandeered and steered by the conservatives in the right direction. (Now, in this case, whether ‘right’ means ‘correct’ or if it just means ‘not left’ remains to be seen.)

In an article that heavily featured Southern Baptist pastor and fellow Arkansan, Allen Nelson IV, The New York Times reported, “Those hoping to “take the ship” maintain that piracy is nothing more than a cheeky metaphor for a dry, democratic process.” Now, when it comes to pirate imagery, I’ve got to admit the aesthetic is cool, and I’m a little mad that I didn’t think of it first. However, the imagery implies that those who take the ship don’t belong on the ship to begin with. Historically speaking, pirates weren’t exactly great people who went around kindly asking for stuff with an open hand. They apprehended ships that weren’t their’s by force and took what didn’t belong to them.

Maybe I’m reading into it, but this got me to thinking about what the Conservative Baptist Network and what they really stand for. At the end of the day, I’m sure there are a lot of members of the Conservative Baptist Network who passionately love the Southern Baptist Convention and they passionately love Southern Baptist life. However, if you want to be one of them, it’s not enough that you be Southern Baptist, you must also be a conservative Southern Baptist.

Now, if you’re an “outsider” like I am, you might be reading this and thinking, “Aren’t most Southern Baptists conservative?” Yes, they are. The vast majority of Southern Baptists would tell you that abortion is a sin, homosexuality and all of its related behavior is sinful, and that the Bible should be taken literally. So, what’s the problem? The problem is that none of those things are good enough. It doesn’t matter if you share all of those positions with them, you’re still just a liberal who wants to steer the ship into an iceberg. It’s not enough to be conservative, you have to be conservative by their standards. When they move the goalposts you have to go with them.

For example, if you go to the Conservative Baptist Network website, and try to join a local chapter, you will be asked for your contact information, but then you will be asked to click a box that indicates that you affirm with the Conservative Baptist Network Purpose.

Purpose of The Conservative Baptist Network

Now, if you read the Conservative Baptist Network Purpose this is where it gets interesting. If you know the Baptist Faith & Message, then you can see right off the bat that the second bullet point is superfluous. The Baptist Faith & Message already affirms “the inerrancy, supremacy, and sufficiency of Scripture in all facets of life and application.” If it doesn’t then why are they requiring people to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message as part of this statement?

Now, I’m not going to run through all of these, but these are pretty standard beliefs and practices of those that call themselves Southern Baptist except for the fourth bullet point. Now, I get it. CRT is important issue. I fully believe that CRT does more damage to racial relations than good. Many Southern Baptists felt that passing Resolution 9 at the annual meeting in Birmingham in 2019 was a bad idea, but the resolution only stated that CRT could be used an “analytical tool” not a theological one, AND the resolution affirm that “Critical race theory and intersectionality have been appropriated by individuals with worldviews that are contrary to the Christian faith, resulting in ideologies and methods that contradict Scripture.” What more do they want, egg in in their beer? Part of the failure of Southern Baptist polity is that resolutions don’t really mean anything anyway. Just because a resolution passes doesn’t mean you or your church have to affirm it. It’s not like the Baptist Faith and Message. Which brings me to my next point…

It doesn’t matter if you affirm everything else that they affirm. It doesn’t matter if you stand against same-sex marriage, abortion, or if you stand for the doctrines that are taught in the Baptist Faith & Message, if you can’t agree with them on this issue then you’re not conservative enough for them. They can’t lock arms with you and call you a brother.

When I was a part of a Southern Baptist church plant, I was taught that part of what it means to be a Southern Baptist is to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message. When I could no longer do that, I stopped identifying as a Southern Baptist and eventually left. If you cannot lock arms with someone who also affirms your confession and your statement of belief, and you have to go above and beyond it to make sure someone is on “your side” then you either need to repent and seek biblical reconciliation or if you believe you are correct, then you need to form a new statement of belief that matches your ideals and use that as the goalpost.

If You Can’t Take the Ship…

If you feel the need to take the ship like pirates on the open sea, then you’re implying that you weren’t on the ship to begin with and in all honestly, maybe you weren’t. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I disagree with the Conservative Baptist Network a lot, but I think a lot of them have good intentions. I don’t think they’re evil people, but maybe it’s time they branch out. Starting a new denomination or cooperative program isn’t a bad thing. The body of Christ has arms and it has armpits. Some parts might stink more than others, but they’re all necessary.

So, if you can’t take the ship, build a dinghy.

P.S. I’m not going to be so nice in my next article.

Don’t Take it Back

“Stick by your guns—if you’re a real preacher.”

[The following story appears in Will Willomon’s Stories from Willimon. When I read it, it struck a chord with me and I hope it does the same for you.]

He owned a hardware store, and he was a member of my church. Someone had warned me about him when I moved there. “He’s usually quiet,” they said, “but be careful.” People still recalled the Sunday in 1970 when, in the middle of the sermon (the previous preacher’s weekly diatribe against Nixon and the Vietnam War), he had stood up from where he was sitting, shook his head, and walked right out. So, I always preached with one eye on my notes and the other on him. He hadn’t walked out on a sermon in more than ten years. Still, a preacher can never be too safe.

You can imagine my fear when one Sunday, having waited until everyone had shaken my hand and left the narthex, he approached me, gritting his teeth and muttering, “I just don’t see things your way, preacher.”

I moved into my best mode of non-defensive defensiveness, assuring him that my sermon was just one way of looking at things, and that perhaps he had misinterpreted what I said, and even if he had not, I could very well be wrong and er, uh . . .

“Don’t you back off with me,” he snapped. “I just said that your sermon shook me up. I didn’t ask you to take it back. Stick by your guns—if you’re a real preacher.”

Then he said to me, with an almost desperate tone, “Preacher, I run a hardware store. Since you’ve never had a real job, let me explain it to you. Now, you can learn to run a hardware store in about six months. I’ve been there fifteen years. That means that all week, nobody talks to me like I know anything. I’m not like you, don’t get to sit around and read books and talk about important things. It’s just me and that hardware store. Sunday morning and your sermons are all I’ve got. Please, don’t you dare take it back.”

  “The Unfettered Word,” sermon, Duke
University Chapel, October 15, 1989


It is Good to Hope and Wait Quietly: The Forgotten Discipline of Solitude

It was cool outside a few days ago and I wasn’t doing anything. I had nothing planned for the next couple of hours and I just wanted to spend some time with the Lord.

I’m not oblivious to my shortcomings when it comes to my personal prayer and devotional time so I thought I might go outside, sit in my lawn chair with my Bible and redeem the time a little. I played Bible roulette (which I don’t recommend), and I landed on Lamentations 3, and I just started reading. I know the context of Lamentations. It’s Jeremiah’s lament over the destruction and exile of Jerusalem during a time when they were acting rebellious agains the Lord, and it was their time reap what they had sown.

As I read, I could see the typical parallels between the sins of Jerusalem and the sins of our culture, and I got to epic passage where Jeremiah finally says, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NKJV)

This is the text everyone likes to cross stitch on a pillow and make a graphic of on their Bible and completely forget the fact that it comes from a place deep sorrow, anguish, and longing. Those verses have great meaning, but my eyes didn’t fully come to rest until I landed on verse 26.

“It good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:26, NKJV

I think sometimes we want this big emotional payoff when we pray. Maybe we want an “AHA” moment where something just clicks in our hearts and minds that we didn’t thinks of before. Maybe we want a heavenly pat on the back that for taking the time to pray. Maybe we want to walk around glowing so people know that we’ve been with God.

I think sometimes believe that the way prayer works is that we talk to God, and then He should talk to us whether through His Word or a thought that comes into our minds or whatever means He chooses, and we can walk away knowing that our prayer did something, but I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work.

We live in a time where everyone wants instant gratification. We want every post on social media to make an impact. We want the likes and comments. We want our 15 minutes of fame on TikTok after we just posted a stupid video of ourselves singing along to a dumb song. We are a people who love the microwave. Put a frozen brick of food in there, and in 5 minutes you have a meal. This whole way of thinking about gratification can bleed over into our spirituality if we’re not careful.

When we think of the spiritual disciplines we think of prayer, fasting, and Bible reading. Those are the main three that our minds wander to. I’ll even admit that when I preached a sermon series over the spiritual disciples a couple of years ago that those are the ones that I focused on. Don’t misunderstand me, those are important and we shouldn’t lose or even diminish the value of those disciplines, but they’re not the only ones available to us.

When my eyes landed on Lamentations 3:26 I was reminded that solitude is in fact a spiritual discipline. I don’t think we realize how valuable just being quiet is. We always have to noise. I often keep my television on for background noise. We’re always listening to music, a podcast, or some radio station in our car. Even when we sleep, we must have white noise from a fan or air conditioner or we can’t sleep. When my wife comes home from work she sometimes just wants to sit in the quiet for a few minutes and it drives me batty because I always have to have something going.

However, I’m not so sure that it’s entirely healthy to always be surrounded with noise. For some us, I think it’s almost a fear. We don’t want to be left alone with our thoughts. Maybe it’s not that dark for some of us. Maybe it’s that we feel like if we just sit in the quiet that we’re wasting time and not accomplishing anything, and we fear not getting anything done.

Whatever the reason is, I think we sometimes just have to push our issues aside for a few moments and allow ourselves to relax and connect with the Lord in solitude.

In his book, The Great Ommission, Dallas Willard actually argues that for some of us, having a Sabbath isn’t possible without solitude.

For most of us, Sabbath will not become possible without extensive, regular practice of solitude. That is, we must practice time alone, out of contact with others, in a comfortable setting outdoors or indoors, doing no work. We must not take our work with us into solitude, or it will evade us—not even in the form of Bible study, prayer, or sermon preparation, for then we will not be alone. An afternoon walking by a stream or on the beach, in the mountains, or sitting in a comfortable room or yard is a good way to start. This should become a weekly practice. Then perhaps a day, or a day and a night, in a retreat center where we can be alone. Then perhaps a weekend or a week, as wisdom dictates.

This will be pretty scary at first for most of us. But we must not try to get God to “do something” to fill up our time. That will only throw us back into work. The command is “Do no work.” Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don’t have to do to be. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.

Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. You will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways. Joy and peace will begin to bubble up within you and arrive from things and events around you. Praise and prayer will come to you and from within you. With practice, the “soul anchor” established in solitude will remain solid when you return to your ordinary life with others.

Dallas Willard, The Great Ommission

If what Willard says is true (and I think it is), then it would do us well to sit and wait on the Lord in quiet solitude.

I think we tend to think of things like waiting, solitude, and silence as just things we have to endure until we get to what we want, but what if we saw them as opportunities to engage with the Lord? What if we even went out of our way to be quiet and step away from the noise? What kind of a difference could it make our lives if just agreed with God that it is good to hope and wait quietly for Him?

Matthew 2:13-23 // Finding the Light in the Dark Side of Christmas

[This sermon was preached on December 27th, 2020 for the Mars Hill Cumberland Presbyterian Church broadcast on their Facebook page.]

Good morning, we’re going to read from the Gospel of Matthew, and we’re just going to read verses 13-23. We’re going to read the violent scene that takes place at the hands of Herod, and we’re going to see what an awful scene like this means for us today.

When you get to Matthew 2:13-23, go ahead and stand for the reading of God’s Word.

TEXT: Matthew 2:13-23, NKJV

PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION:

Almighty and Everlasting God, we have a hard text before us. It looks bleak and we need help seeing the Gospel, the good news, in a text like this. So Father, would you come to us with the power of the Holy Spirit and open our hearts to hear what You have to say to us through this word? Father, send the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts leave the other side of this message looking more and more to you than when it began. We ask these things in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

INTRODUCTION:

Last week, I gave a brief history lesson over what was going on in Rome at the time of Jesus’ birth which made his arrival at that particular time all the more meaningful. Whenever we read the Scriptures, it’s important for us to consider the cultural and historical landscape of what’s going in the world around the writing of Scripture because Scripture wasn’t written in a vacuum apart from what was going on. Scripture was written by a particular people in a particular place in time and they assumed that their audience would know what was going on at the time because they didn’t expect the world to go on into this many future generations. They thought Jesus would have been back within a generation or two perhaps even in their own lifetimes, and a lot of information can be lost in 2000 years so it’s important for us to consider what was going on in the world that surrounds the writing of Scripture so we can see the full context of what we’re reading when we open the Bible. 

This week we’re going to expound more on what’s going on in the world around the time of Jesus’ birth. So many times we prefer the more serene pictures of the nativity that we see on Christmas cards at Hallmark or Hobby Lobby, but I don’t think we consider the darkness of the circumstances surrounding such a holy event. So, this morning we will consider “Where the Light Shines in the Dark Side of Christmas.”

Romans 15:4 tells us that “whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” We apply that principle to stories in the Bible that might be hard to grasp for whatever reason because we’re trusting that by reading those things it will strengthen our hope. 

So, the natural question is: where’s the hope? It seems like evil is running rampant, and Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are on the run. The only good thing about it is that at the end, Herod dies, and Joseph and Family seem to have found a place to lay down roots in Nazareth. So, what does it all mean? 

What I want to do this morning is I want us think about this passage under two headings, I want us to think about: The Suffering of the World, and The Savior of the World.

The circumstances surrounding Christ’s birth are interesting to begin with:

  • First, an angel appears to Zechariah and tells him that he and his wife will have a baby, and we know from last week’s Sunday School lesson that his child going to be John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ.
  • Then, an angel appears to Mary to tell her that she will give birth to Jesus.
  • Then, an angel appears to Joseph to confirm that Mary is in fact pregnant with the Son of God.
  • Then, angels appear to shepherds to tell them that a Savior had been born in the City of David. Now, shepherding was a working man’s job. Remember last week we said that it wasn’t exactly considered a noble profession and the testimony of shepherd weren’t even allowed to be heard in court. Shepherds aren’t the kind of people that anyone would expect to see the angels come to. 
  • Then wise men are guided by a star in the East to the place where Jesus was born. 

Then finally, in our passage, an angel appears to Joseph two more times to show him where to go and what to do. 

THE SUFFERING OF THE WORLD

Meanwhile, in the midst of all this good news and celebration, Herod issues an edict that all male children two years old and younger should be put to death. Why? Because he’s insecure.

  • In his mind, he’s the King of the Jews. Afterall, he’s the one who went before the Roman Senate petitioned to have that title. He’s going to kill anyone who threatens his place in society, including children, and not just children, but his own children as well.
  • Herod had three sons, and one of them framed the other two in a conspiracy to have Herod assassinated, and so Herod, feeling threatened, didn’t hesitate to have his own sons put to death. 

This kind of evil that Herod perpetuates isn’t like a tornado or a hurricane that comes through and kills people, and damages property. Natural disasters like that are impersonal, but the death of these children is an active and decisive act of someone who is evil and bent on retaining control and power. 

  • If modern day psychologists were to peer into his mind they would probably deem him a deranged sociopath.

But this is the world that Jesus is born into. 

“Perhaps no event in the gospel more determinatively challenges the sentimental depiction of Christmas than the death of these children. Jesus is born into a world in which children are killed, and continue to be killed, to protect the power of tyrants… 

The Herods of this world begin by hating the child, Jesus, … [they] end up hurting and murdering children. That is… the politics of murder to which the Church is called to be the alternative.” – Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew

So, this is where we begin to learn about Jesus, the savior of the world. 

THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD

Jesus is born into a world of suffering. Jesus is born into a world of pain. Jesus is born into a world where children are murdered and where people are fighting each other for control of a world that they only have a few years to live on. 

And the reason Jesus is born into this world is so the world can be transformed and renewed, and in order for that to happen, Jesus has to be better. 

  • First, Jesus has to be the better Adam. 
  • God’s plan for the world was to create a dwelling place for himself, and He gave Adam a responsibility, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it…” (Gen. 1:28) He also tells him that there’s a tree that he can’t partake of. It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
  • Adam fails in his obedience to God, he partakes of the tree with wife, and they are kicked out of the garden.
  • Jesus has to be the more obedient Adam. He doesn’t disobey God in any way, instead He fulfills the law in every aspect. 
  • Secondly, Jesus has to be the better Moses.
    • Have you noticed that the beginning of Moses’ life, and the beginning of Jesus’ life are very similar? At the beginning of Moses’ life there’s a Pharaoh who feared God’s people. He feared that the Jewish population would get so big that there would be an uprising to Egyptian government, and he would lose his power. So, he sets out to murder their male children, and Moses’ life was spared because Exodus 1 tells us that the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them. (Exodus 1:17)
    • At the beginning of Jesus’ life there’s a king who also fears losing his power, and now he’s hearing about this baby who is supposed to be the king of Jews so he sets out to kill all the male children in his region. Do you see how Moses’ life and Jesus’ life are running parallel?
    • In Exodus 2, Moses kills an Egyptian soldier and takes refuge in Midian because Pharaoh is out to kill him. In Exodus 3, Moses see the burning bush, and God tells him that it’s time to go to Egypt. When we come to Exodus 4, God tells Moses that he can finally go back to Egypt.
      • “Now the Lord said to Moses in Midian, “Go, return to Egypt; for all the men who sought your life are dead.” – Exodus 4:19, NKJV
      • Does that sound familiar? It’s the almost exact same phrase from our passage in Matthew 2:20 where the angel appears to Joseph and says, “…go to the land of Israel for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Like Moses, his life is being sought after, and like Moses, God makes a way for him to go back to where He is to lead God’s people.
  • According to Matthew 2:15, this all took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.”
    • When you’re reading your Bible in the New Testament, and you notice that the text says, “this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” or “as it is written…” go back in your Old Testament and see what’s being said in context. If you do that, I promise the Bible will open up to you.
    • So, when Matthew says that this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, we need to see where it comes from. Most your Bibles have cross references, and if you follow your cross-references it should take you back to Hosea 11.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

2 As they called them, so they went from them; they sacrificed to the Baals, and burned incense to carved images. 3 “I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them.” – Hosea 11:1-4, NKJV

  • What God is describing here, is how he pulled Israel from the dust, and he set them on their own two feet, and then in verse 2 it says they sacrificed to Baals. So, what happened was that God brought them out of Egypt (“out of Egypt I have called my Son”), He establishes them as a nation (“I taught [them] how to walk, taking them by their arms”), and then they turn away from God and turn to idols.
  • Matthew is assuming that when he quotes from the Old Testament we’re going to know what he’s talking about it. So, when he quotes Hosea passage here, he’s communicating to us that the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is a type and shadow of Jesus’ return to Israel from Egypt.

This leads us to our third point about the Savior of the World, he has to be the better Israel. If the world is going to be made right, then Jesus has to lead the charge obediently and faithfully, better than Adam, better than Moses, and more faithfully than Israel. 

  • Going back to the quote from Hosea 11, think about the whole book of Hosea. We have a story where God tells a prophet to go marry a prostitute, and have children with her because this is how God was loving His people.
  • And what happens is that even after being married to a prophet and having children with him, this woman goes back to street corner and returns to prostitution and God tells Hosea to go back and buy her. The cycle continues, and the rest of the book Hosea is God calling out Israel’s idolatry, and promising judgement, but finally the end of the book takes a different turn. The final chapter in Hosea is chapter 14, and it’s there where God calls them to turn back to Him.

“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. 5 I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. 6 His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. 7 Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’ I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; your fruit is found in Me.” 9 Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right; The righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” – Hosea 14:5-9, NKJV

That’s how the book ends. 

Everything that Israel went through, all their trials, all their judgements, everything they would face would point forward to a deliverer better than Moses. 

Israel was not true to its identity and was finally cast out of the land. But Hosea saw that God’s anger against His people would not last forever; He would provide a renewed Israel who would serve the Lord faithfully (vv. 2–12; see 2:14–23).

That hope for a new Israel—a true Israel that would embody all that God called Israel to be—persisted all across redemptive history. This hope was finally fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. Matthew tells us that Jesus fulfills Hosea 11 (Matt. 2:13–15). He is the true Israel, the faithful Israel who succeeds where old covenant Israel failed.

Like ancient Israel, He came up out of Egypt, passed through the waters, and was tested in the wilderness. In Matthew 4 and in Luke 4, both of those authors recall Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. He was tempted with the same kinds of things that they were tempted with, and He was tempted with the same kinds of things that we are tempted with, but the difference is that Jesus passed the test where Israel failed. Jesus passed the test in the same areas of our lives where many of us have failed.

  • Because of that, we look to Jesus as the true and better Israel, we look at Jesus as the true and better Adam, we look to see Jesus as the true and better Moses who brings us into the fulfillment of everything that God has promised to us. 

The good news of the gospel is that when we are in Christ we are made members of the new Israel. If we are in Christ, we share in the privileges and relationship He enjoys as God’s true Son… As such, we inherit all of the promises given to old covenant Israel. Those promises of God that Israel would rule over her enemies and enjoy abundant covenant blessings (for example, Isa. 14:1–2)—those promises are for all of God’s people united to Christ by faith alone. In Him we are the true Israel of God, heirs of the destiny promised to God’s old covenant people (Zeph. 3:14–20).

CONCLUSION

The question I want us to ask ourselves this morning is: where are we? 

Are we trying to serve God on our own terms or are we resting in the fact that our lives are hidden in Christ?

This is what Paul has to say about his relationship to Christ, and hopefully we all can say this as well.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, NKJV

Then Paul challenges us even farther in Colossians 3. 

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” – Colossians 3:1-3, NKJV

Now, I’ll ask again, are you in Christ? Are you resting in Him, trusting in Him, pursuing Him? Or are you on the outside? Are you wondering why everyone else is so excited, why everyone else takes their faith so seriously, wondering why other people are experiencing a deep joy that goes beyond surface-level happiness? Look to Jesus.

How the Gospel Brought Shame to the First Century World by Timothy J. Martin

[Preface: This was originally written in a Facebook by Mr. Martin. I got his permission to post it here for your reading pleasure.]

The Gentile Shame

The Greeks, the Romans, and everyone nation since Babel has balked at the idea of the biblical God. Some were dissatisfied with His mercy. Others were dissatisfied with His justice. It has become the longstanding human tradition to transform the God of the universe into the God of our backyard. So it was with the Romans. Their gods were decadent and sinful as their own culture. Fickle and driven by whims. They also rarely had the consequences of their actions catch up to them. Now the Greek world is supposed to accept the claim that God’s chosen champion came and died on a cross and that he is the only way to salvation? Even if you do come to a true faith, what of the instrument of death?

The cross is taboo. Let’s try to illustrate it with modern ideas. We know that there are very few labels worst than ‘fascist.’ No one wants to be associated with the death machine that was Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Let’s say that we instituted crucifixion for fascists. Now you expect me to believe that God’s Messiah died a fascist’s death? It’s a little harder to believe. It’s very hard to rally around. The Gentile shame of the Gospel robs God of majesty.

The Jewish Shame

Now on the other hand, let us pretend that we are in the place of the Jew. We expected a conquering king. But to your unbelieving blood brothers it appears that we received, instead of a conquering king, a conquered blasphemer. This so called ‘son of God’ who would inherit the nations was, by the testimony of the Sanhedrin, a damnable offender of the law. And rumors of the resurrection – a doctrine going out of style – are a lot harder to believe when you’re in Rome and not in Jerusalem. The Jewish shame of the Gospel robs God of credibility.

The Theological Shame

There is also the very shame that this ‘Gospel’ is the foundation of the church. Where is the inheritance of the Son of God? Where is the justice in this? How can you accept the murder of an innocent man to be the will of God? Furthermore, will the son be vindicated? How can the church follow a disgraced and dishonored incarnate God? Where is the honor of God in this affair? Where is the glory due Christ’s name? Paul is approaching the church in Rome, trying to unite them so that they can fund a missionary journey to the edge of the Earth in Spain, and yet how can a church that does not understand the incarnation pursue Christ? The theological shame of the Gospel robs God of all honor.

The Universal Shame

Now let us step away from the immediate and theological context and look at the anthropological context. As a result of the fall, the heart of man is infested with the deadly sin of self-justification. Absorb that word – justification. It will become the keyword for this entire passage. The self-justification of man shields him from the truth about his state. But now as the Gospel message is proclaimed, God’s word – when His Spirit wills it – pierces the mental shield of self-justification and lets the mind lay naked before the truth of the Gospel. Who cannot become overwhelmed with such mental anguish when they know a perfect God died for them? Who cannot be ashamed of a Gospel that uncovers your wickedness? The universal shame of the Gospel robs man of his self-justification.

Exile, Ezekiel 12, and Hope for an Unshaken Kingdom

Today, I started doing an in-depth read through Embracing Exile by T. Scott Daniels. In this short, but edifying volume, Rev. Dr. Daniels gives us an over of the texts of Scripture that speak of God’s people living in the face of exile. Daniels then uses these narratives to explain how God’s people today experience exile as it seems that we’re losing influence and power within the western world.

To open the first chapter, Daniels shares a brief quote from Ezekiel 12:11.

They shall go into exile, into captivity.

Ezekiel 12:11, NRSV

To see the verse in context for myself, I opened up my Bible and read the entire chapter, and I can’t really explain what happened while I was reading it other than I felt the way someone might feel if they were reading a good novel and they can’t seem to bring themselves to put the book down.

I read Ezekiel 12, and I then I went back and read it again and again and again. It’s almost as if I could visualize the prophet Ezekiel packing his bags and leaving the city mourning over the sin that will lead to the people’s exile. Unfortunately, Ezekiel seems to be one of the few (possibly the only one) mourning in this way. While the people of God live complacently, God is making plans to “scatter them among the nations and disperse them throughout the countries.” (Ezekiel 12:15, NKJV)

However, the people are skeptical. According to Ezekiel 12:22, the people have heard all of the visions and words from many prophets before who were false and just want the give the people what they wanted to hear, and if those flattering visions and prophecies didn’t come to pass, what made the people believe that Ezekiel’s legitimate message from Yahweh was going to be true?

However, the Lord speaks again to Ezekiel and says:

For I am the Lord. I speak, and the word which I speak will come to pass; it will no more be postponed; for in your days, O rebellious house, I will say the word and perform it,” says the Lord God.’ ” 26 “Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 27 “Son of man, look, the house of Israel is saying, ‘The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off.’ 28 Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “None of My words will be postponed any more, but the word which I speak will be done,” says the Lord God.’ ”

Ezekiel 12:25-28, NKJV

The damage had already been done by false prophets and wicked leaders. The people had been led astray to live complacent in the muck and mire of their rebellion without recognizing anything was wrong. All of their sin and rebellion was going to come to a head when they get taken into exile.

However, not all hope is lost. In the midst of exile, even while the children are growing up in the midst of foreign nations and comforming to pagan standards of life, God spares for Himself a people who remember Zion, a people who still honor God, a people who long for worship in the temple once again.

While the world around us changes and the Church seems to be pushed to the margins of society, Jesus is still on His throne. While God’s people may have longed to return to Zion, we the Messiah-following Israel of God, have been brought to Zion and our position is secure. We are citizens of kingdom that cannot be shaken, and we long with great anticipation for that day when everything that can be shaken will be shaken so that only that which of God’s kingdom may remain. (Hebrews 12:25-29)