Saturday, February 28, 2009


In Mark 2 Jesus is walking beside the Sea of Galilee and he is found by a large crowd of people. It seems Jesus always attracted large crowds. It doesn’t appear that he sat down to teach the crowd this time. The rabbis often taught as they walked along and that seems to be what Jesus did. While he was walking with the large crowd, teaching them on the way, he came to Levi’s tax collection booth. In front of God and all those people Jesus said to Levi, “Follow me.” Levi left his tax collecting and from that day followed Jesus.

Have you ever known someone about whom you might have said, “God can save anybody but that is the last guy I ever expect him to save!” That was the attitude of the Jews about tax collectors. Tax collectors were considered to be traitors. They collected taxes for Rome. There was no salary for tax collectors. They made their money from whatever they were able to overcharge people. Rome didn’t care. The tax collectors could keep whatever extra they were able to collect. As long as Rome got her money it just didn’t matter. So the Jews hated tax collectors. They were numbered among the “sinners” and the “unclean.” When Jesus called Levi to follow him there must have been a wide grumbling among the following crowd.

Jesus didn’t leave it there. Levi invited him and his disciples to dinner at his house. Jesus stirred up more discussion by accepting the invitation and sitting down to eat with many tax collectors and all kinds of other “sinners.” Sitting to eat with “sinners” automatically made a Jew unclean. So, not only was Jesus willing to call a “sinner” to be one of his disciples, he was also willing to be considered “unclean” by the Jewish religio-mafia.

That was all the teachers of the law and the Pharisees had to hear! Being a little gunshy of approaching Jesus personally, the religio-mafia confronted the poor disciples and asked about their master’s practice of eating with tax collectors and “sinners.” Much to their chagrin, Jesus heard them. He said, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mark 2:17)

Who are our churches trying to reach out to? For whom are we planting a church here in Shafter? Are we doing this so the righteous will have a place to worship? Yes. But are we also in the business of reaching out to the lost, no matter how lost they may seem to be, and introducing them to the Jesus who was a friend of sinners? Yes! Too many churches are busy planning programs and spending money on themselves without thinking of ways to reach out and bring in the outcasts and sinners. If we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus then we need to do ministry in the same way he did!

Friday, February 27, 2009


A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing, “he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Mark 1:40-42

The man had leprosy. That was almost like a death sentence. At least as far as having any quality of life was concerned. People didn’t get well from leprosy. Once a leper, always a leper. The law required lepers to live away from the rest of the people. They had to wear a cloth over their faces and everywhere they went they had to call out and announce that they were lepers. They had to shout out, “Unclean! Unclean!” If someone approached, the leper had to move out of the way and call out his warning in order to give the person time to avoid him. No one was allowed to touch a leper. This included spouses and children. A leper lived life without the hope of a loving touch from his family. They were complete outcasts. Lepers were considered to have been judged by God. They did not have the pleasure of worshiping in the temple. They were not allowed to have a relationship with God.

When Jesus reached out and touched the leper he broke the law. His loving, compassionate heart caused him to offer his loving, healing touch. He risked being ostracized by people too. He risked being an outcast. He risked being put out of the temple. All this Jesus risked because he was willing to reach out and touch one who was untouchable. Love overcame law. Compassion overcame condemnation. Jesus wanted to touch the man in spite of his unclean, leprous condition. So he did.

Who are the outcasts in my community? Who are the modern lepers who live around me? Who are the ones whom the “righteous” look at with judgment and condemnation? Who are they whom the good church people avoid like the plague? Who are the people who feel alone and untouchable? Who are the ones who have no love in their lives? Those who have no relationships? Who are the people who have no life to look forward to?

These are the ones to whom we are called. These are the people we are to reach out and touch. We are to share the love of Jesus with them. Why are we so concerned to reach people who are just like us? We are not to judge but to offer hope and compassion through the gospel of Christ. We are not to make them feel unwelcome but to bring them in and make them one of us. If the Spirit of Christ lives in us then we will be filled with his love and compassion no matter what the “righteous” think. If we are rejected because we will not reject the unlovely, then we will be more like Jesus than ever! Perhaps someone I touch will be healed and the name of Jesus will become more famous than it was before!

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Have you ever looked carefully at Matthew 28:11-15? I think it is a very important little passage. I can’t read it without feeling bewilderment, wonder, anger, shock, and sorrow. These five verses tell what happened to the guards at the tomb of Jesus and what they did.

On the morning of Christ’s resurrection an angel came down from heaven and rolled away the stone from the mouth of the tomb in which he was buried. This was accompanied by a violent earthquake. The angel’s appearance was like Christ’s on the mount of transfiguration. He shined like lightning and his clothes were snow white. The guards saw all of this and experienced the earthquake. It was their terror of the angel that caused them to tremble and fall down in a dead faint.

We don’t know for sure if the guards saw the risen Christ. We can’t be sure whether they were awake to hear what the angel said to the women. He told the women that Jesus had risen from the dead. They were to go and tell the disciples the news and say that Jesus would meet them in Galilee. Away went the women.

As the women left the garden some of the guards went into Jerusalem to report everything to the chief priests. We understand this to mean that the least they told the Jews was that they had seen an angel roll away the stone from the tomb entrance and that there had been a huge earthquake at the time. In light of the fact that the guards had failed in their duty and were therefore deserving of severe punishment, if not death, they must have told every detail they could remember in order to present some defense for themselves.

At this point the chief priests told the guards to wait while they had a meeting with the elders. This meeting was probably rather long because they had to come up with a plan to explain away this rather significant development! Once they conceived a plan they returned to inform the guards.

First they paid off the guards with a very large sum of money. Then they told the guards to commit professional suicide. The guards were to tell anyone who asked that the disciples had come and stolen Jesus’ body while they were asleep on their watch. Sleeping on guard duty was punishable by flogging and execution. Not to worry, the chief priests promised to intercede with Pilate if he heard the story.

The guards did as they were told and spread the false story that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body. Matthew reports that this is the same story that was still circulating among the Jews at the time he wrote his gospel.

If you look up “hardened hearts” in a Bible dictionary you will see the pictures of Pharaoh and the chief priests as illustrations. They knew the truth! Instead of believing the truth, repenting, and receiving their Messiah, the Jews lied and rejected the truth. They were not interested in the truth. They couldn’t handle the truth! They preferred to believe a lie and maintain their place of prominence among men. As Jesus said, they preferred the praise of men to the praise of God.

Apart from the grace of God every one of us would have a heart just as hard as the hearts of the Jewish religious leaders. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, God removed our heart of stone and replaced it with a heart of flesh. He lovingly convicted us of sin and showed us our need of a Savior. He gifted us with faith and recreated us as his children. We must remember that, by nature, we are identical to these wicked, hardhearted, leaders of the Jews. Thanks be to God for his grace and mercy!

Monday, February 23, 2009


Matthew 27:62-66

The chief priests and the Pharisees were sure they had won. They had succeeded in orchestrating the arrest, arraignment, trial, and conviction of Jesus. Even when that weasel, Pilate, tried to trick them out of their victory by putting Barabbas up against Jesus, hoping the people would choose Jesus over the notorious criminal, they had manipulated the crowd and forced Pilate to turn Jesus over to be crucified. Now Jesus was dead. Joseph of Arimathea had taken the body down from the cross and buried it in his own tomb. The problem of Jesus was gone. They were sure they had won. At least they were pretty sure.

Someone in their group remembered Jesus’ prophecy about rising from the dead on the third day. That, of course, was impossible. Wasn’t it? They had seen Jesus do all kinds of unexplainable miracles. Could he really rise from the dead? Of course not. They were pretty sure he couldn’t. But they had to make certain and they had to be extra sure that Jesus’ disciples didn’t go and steal the body and make resurrection claims.

Can you imagine the discussion among the chief priests and Pharisees? Someone had to go back to Pilate and ask him to make the tomb secure. Pilate was not happy with them. He had been made to look the fool the day before. What kind of response might they get from him when they tell him about Jesus’ promised resurrection? Somehow they made the decision about who should go to Pilate and they couched their request in the best terminology they could.

Pilate gave them their permission. Go make the tomb as secure as you know how. These enemies of God did just that. They would make sure Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. They would ensure that the disciples didn’t steal the body. So they blocked God from doing what he intended to do. They placed a seal on the stone that had been rolled in front of the opening to the tomb and they posted a guard. There! That should do it! No way Jesus can rise from the dead now!

It seems rather comical, doesn’t it? Like something from an old slapstick movie. We see the chief priests and the Pharisees make their feeble efforts when we know what is going to happen. Early on the first day of the week Jesus would be raised from the dead and he would burst forth from their securely sealed tomb and the mighty guards would fall down like dead men. No efforts of man can stop God from accomplishing his plan.

This should be a good reminder for us. Human efforts can never stop God. Human laws cannot put him out of our schools or our communities. No government can outlaw his church. No persecution can prevent Christ’s church from rising up and establishing his kingdom on earth. All of these efforts are nothing more than putting a seal on a stone and posting a guard! Let Christ’s church rise up in victory and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom! If they take “under God” from the pledge of allegiance and “In God We Trust” off the coinage it would be nothing more than a seal on a stone. Why should that matter to us? We already know what’s going to happen! Christ is Victor!

Sunday, February 22, 2009


This has been “one of those weeks.” You know, one of those weeks when everything falls off the rails; you can’t keep track of what day it is; everything is kind of tossed up in the air; you forget things you’re supposed to do; your disciplines come apart and you just slip into “survival” mode. I guess I’m explaining why I haven’t remained faithful this week to my “blogging through the Bible.”

I had a doctor’s appointment a couple of weeks ago. My annual routine check up. Everything went great. I heard what I expected to hear: “You have to lose weight and get more exercise.” Otherwise, I got a clean bill of health. I almost made it out the door before my new doctor said, “Oh, have you had a colonoscopy yet?” Rats! Caught! The fact is, I stopped going to the doctor when I was 39 just to avoid such an unpleasant experience. I had a physical last year and the doc told me I needed a colonoscopy but I think he must have forgotten about it. This guy had me dead to rights.

So the test was scheduled for last Tuesday, the 17th. Monday was the day from hell as I had to drink a gallon of some lime-flavored, syrupy liquid. My system processed that stuff very quickly and I discovered I couldn’t be more than about ten steps from the great white throne. I didn’t finish the devilish concoction until 11:30 at night and by that time I was pretty miserable.

But the test went fine. I slept through the whole thing. I remember waking up a couple of times, aware that something was going on down there but not caring! The doctor called Mia and me into a little room to talk about the test. He removed three polyps and found a fourth that he didn’t like the look of so he took a biopsy.

The doctor called on Wednesday at noon and told me that pathology found some cancer cells in the biopsy and he wanted to see me and schedule a CAT scan right away. So I ran down to Bakersfield and met with the doc. He told me that most doctors would call the polyp “pre-cancerous” but that he doesn’t mess with that. For him, if there are cancer cells, it’s cancer! Then he told me that he was confident he found it very early and that I would live another 35 years.

Thursday morning I went back down to Bakersfield for the CAT scan. It went fine except that the IV they put in my arm must have had a needle on it that measured about a quarter of an inch! Haven’t gotten the results from that scan yet. But from there I had to drive up to Fresno to pick up my dear friend John Armstrong who flew in to spend a long weekend with us ministering to our church people.

We had a great weekend with John. Friday we met with seven church planters in our group from Tulare Community Church and discussed missional ministries. Saturday we had a great lunch with the men of New Hope. John preached this morning for us. And tonight we had an all-church dinner and discussion that was truly groundbreaking for us! We may be able to look back on this weekend as a direction-changing, ministry-shaping, vision-developing weekend! Our people were thrilled with John’s ministry and I can tell they are very excited about where we’re at as a body.

I take John back to the airport in Fresno in the morning. Then Mia and I will go to the doctor on Tuesday to discuss the CAT scan and make plans for the surgery to remove the polyp in my lower colon. The odds are that it’s no big deal. But you don’t use the word “cancer” lightly with two people who have already been through so much cancer stuff! Let me just say, it hits pretty hard. I feel suddenly very wide awake. Both Mia and I would appreciate your prayers over the next several days and through the surgery.

I’ll be back to the regular blog tomorrow, Lord willing! Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, February 15, 2009


If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m reading through the One Year Bible published by Tyndale House. If you are unfamiliar with the One Year Bible, it very conveniently puts together readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs in easy-to-read daily sections.

The section I read today includes Exodus 32, 33 and portions from Matthew 26 and 27. I know the editors didn’t put these passages together on purpose. They just happened to fit together for this particular day of readings. But I was amazed at what I read. These passages included some of the most famous sins committed by some of the most famous people in the entire Bible!

Exodus 32 contains the sin of Aaron. This older brother of Moses was the new high priest of Israel. He had just been set apart as Holy to the Lord. Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the tablets of the law when the Israelites came to him complaining that this fellow Moses had disappeared on the mountain and they needed gods to lead them ahead. Aaron called for all the gold earrings the people were wearing and he carefully fashioned a calf of gold to represent Yahweh for them. He even called for a festival to the LORD on the next day. When he was confronted by Moses about the golden calf Aaron lied, They gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf! He allowed the people to get out of control in their wild celebrations and the Levites went through the camp and put about three thousand of them to death. On top of that, God struck the people with a plague because of their sin.

We also have the Israelites who so quickly turned away from their God, the same God before whom they vowed, Everything the LORD has said we will do! (Exodus 24:3) They had seen the mighty hand of God as he struck the Egyptians with the plagues. They had crossed over the Red Sea on dry land and watched as Pharaoh and his army were drowned. They followed the pillar of fire and the cloud.

Matthew 26 has the account of Peter’s denial of Jesus. Peter, the Rock. The one who boasted that even if everyone else abandoned Jesus he never would. A servant girl confronted him about having been with Jesus and he said he didn’t know what she was talking about. A second girl pointed to him and told people that he had been with Jesus. This time he swore an oath in his denial. And finally a group of people came to Peter and pointed out that his accent showed him to be one of Jesus’ followers. Finally Peter called down curses upon himself and swore that he didn’t know the man. The rooster crowed and Peter went out and wept bitterly.

The chief priests and elders of Israel finally decided to try to have Jesus put to death in Matthew 27. They knew better. Even if some of them remained foolishly ignorant, too many of them had seen the signs and wonders and knew the prophecies to be considered innocent in any way. Jesus had even told them he was their Messiah (Matthew 26:64). What greater sin could there be than to plot the execution of the Messiah, the Son of God?

Finally, we have Judas. Judas was seized with remorse when he saw that Jesus had been found guilty of blasphemy and was sentenced to death. There was nothing he could do to change things. Even though he tried to make things right it was too late. Judas has lived with Jesus for a couple of years and he had seen and heard all the things the other disciples heard. Yet he betrayed our Lord.

Aaron was the chosen chief priest. Israel was God’s son being brought out of Egypt. Peter and Judas were Jesus’ chosen disciples. The chief priests and the elders of Israel were the religious leaders of Israel. These people committed the most infamous sins in history. What does that say to me? If these people can walk into great sin with such intentionality, my only hope is to stay as close to God as I can! I can never let down my guard. Sin is nothing to play around with. I must deal with sin and temptation as violently as the Levites dealt with their brethren! It would be very dangerous for me to ever, ever think I have progressed to a place of safety from sin! Such pride and over-confidence would be my downfall!

Friday, February 13, 2009


When people decide to read through the Bible they frequently run into trouble and abandon their effort when they get to the passages that talk about the law or the building of the tabernacle. There are just so many words there that don’t seem to have much application to our lives. I understand that. It’s no easier for me. But what we often fail to understand is that these passages are not there to give us something to do. They are about God!

For example, I read Exodus 28-30 tonight. I won’t quote much from those chapters. Exodus 28 gives direction for the sewing and preparation of the priestly garments Aaron and his sons were to wear. There are specific instructions for the garments, the ephod, and the breastplate; the turban, the tunic, and the sash. Chapter 29 gives instructions for the consecration and ordination of Aaron and his sons. They were to bake unleavened bread, cakes and wafers. They were to bring a bull and two rams. God was specific about what was to be done with sacrificial animals; how they were to be slaughtered, prepared, and burnt; what parts were to be washed, burned, or eaten. And then the first part of chapter 30 gives the instructions for the recipes anointing oil and the incense.

But here is what I noticed. All the garments for the priests were special because these men were consecrated to the Lord. They were separate, different, from everyone else. On the turban Aaron was to wear was a solid gold plate that was inscribed with the words, “HOLY TO THE LORD.” One of the rams was to be burnt as an offering to the LORD. Blood was applied to Aaron and his sons so they could be consecrated to the LORD. The altar and all its utensils were consecrated so they would be holy. The incense was holy. No one could make incense from the same recipe because it was holy to the LORD.

It is easy to see that all of these instructions were designed by God to show the Israelites that he was holy. It was all done very strictly. Nothing was to be done in a haphazard manner because God is holy. Those who were to represent the Israelites before God were ordained, consecrated, and holy before the Lord. Even the incense was holy because God is holy. It is all about God’s holiness!

Why don’t we have such instructions in the New Testament to govern our worship? Why don’t we have detailed lists of things we have to do in the church? The answer is humbling and powerful. Jesus Christ was the once-for-all sacrifice for the church. The sacrament of Holy Communion reminds us of this every time we celebrate it. “This is my body,” Jesus said. We eat the sacramental bread in the same way that the sacrifices were eaten under the Old Covenant. Under the New Covenant we are all consecrated and made holy unto the Lord by the sacrifice of Jesus. The Holy Spirit has come into us and made us new creatures, holy to the Lord. And even that is all about God and his holiness, not us! Thanks be to God for his marvelous grace!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


If you’ve been reading the Shiloh Guy over the last week, today’s text might just put you over the edge. You might go away thinking, “This guy is really riding his hobby horse! All he talks about is social justice and the poor.” If you really know me, you know that’s not true. You might actually be surprised at these last three posts. I know I am surprised by them.

I’m just reading straight through my One Year Bible and these are the texts scheduled for my reading. I’m not going out looking for social justice passages, they’re coming to me! In fact, I’m amazed at how many of them I am finding. Gives us reason for pause I would say!

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:34-40

The next verses reflect these. They are the condemnation of those who call Jesus “Lord” yet did none of the abovementioned things.

What life characteristics distinguish the righteous from the wicked in the eyes of the King? The righteous demonstrate love for their neighbors; the wicked don’t. I guess it is what is not mentioned that shouts out so loudly at someone like me who grew up in fundamentalism. The King doesn’t say, “Take your inheritance because you didn’t smoke, drink, dance, go to movies, date non-Christian girls or grow your hair long.” He doesn’t even say, “Come into the kingdom because you accepted me into your heart when you were young.” He looks at the fruit of my life as it relates to my treatment of the wounded and suffering around me.

Look carefully at what the King says at the beginning. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father.” He’s saying, “I can tell you have been blessed by my Father and are therefore my brother because of the way your treated your neighbors.” In other words, if I do these righteous things it is because the Father blessed (called, adopted, redeemed, ransomed, justified) me!

Two things leap out at me from this passage. My righteousness is a result of the Father’s blessing, not my works. And, most Christian people I know are not looking at the same fruit that the King is looking at. What do you think?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


If you read American history you will know about the immigration problems in New York in the years preceding the Civil War. The Potato Famine in Ireland sent thousands of poor Irish to the tenements and ghettoes of New York City where they sought to scratch out a hardscabble living while being hated and abused by the ethnic groups that came before. When the Italians came along later the Irish had someone they could then hate and abuse. America has a history of hating and abusing newcomers even though our statue in the harbor says something about bringing “us your poor, your huddled masses.”

I lived in the Chicago area for about eleven years through college and my twenties. I discovered Chicago to be one of the most precisely racist major cities I have ever seen. I say “precisely” because Chicago has very precise ethnic neighborhoods. These blocks are Italian, these are Polish, these are African American, these are Mexican, this is Chinatown, etc. Except for a couple of years when I lived in a predominately Italian suburb, I spent my years safely ensconced in the suburbs. The racism didn’t really affect me. The movement of new ethnic groups into established neighborhoods which triggered more movement and a redrawing of the neighborhood boundaries in the city didn’t touch me or cause me a moment’s concern.

During Bush’s eight-year presidency the issue of illegal aliens was continually debated. What should be done? Should a long wall be built along the border with Mexico? Do we need to have more border patrols? Citizens created their own posse of border patrols and took matters into their own hands. There was a lot of hissing and fussing about the illegal aliens coming into Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and especially California. I visited my family here in California a number of times over the last eight years and heard people calling the state “Mexifornia.” (They weren’t smiling.)

Back in our lily white communities in Michigan I heard a lot of distressed people talking about the problem of illegal aliens. It was a touchy subject with some of my friends. “They are taking away jobs. They are getting free health care. They’re just coming here to have their babies so they will be American citizens. They are putting a burden on our welfare and educational systems. We are footing the tab for them being here illegally. My grandparents had to learn English when they came here.”

Now I live here. Now I have to have an opinion. Now I have to do something. It sure looks a lot different from this perspective. Let me make an admission: I’ve always been somewhat of a bleeding heart on some issues. I’m plagued with “white guilt.” As a student of history I recognize that the USA simply took all this land from Mexico in the great Mexican War in which all our Civil War generals first made names for themselves (before they turned on one another a decade later). We wanted this land so we took it. I can’t get away from the nagging fact that this land was theirs. (I wonder if the Israelites had bleeding hearts who felt guilty about taking Canaan away from the Hivites, Jebusites, and all the other “ites?”) In fact, when I drive south to Los Angeles I pass through a massive ranch called the Tejon Ranch. The sign along the freeway shows that this ranch was founded when California was still Alta California, Mexico.

There are many illegals in our area and our neighborhoods here. I don’t know who they are. They don’t wear any insignia on their sleeves and they are not tattooed (at least not yet). They mix in perfectly with all my other neighbors. They work on our farms. They harvest our almonds. They pick our strawberries. They have Social Security deducted from their paychecks. I know this much. None of my kids would ever do the jobs these folks are doing. Also, come down to Mexico with me and see the poverty, hardship, and hunger there. If I was living there I would do everything in my power to get up here and feed my family.

I don’t have to take a political position. I have the luxury of saying that I am here in Shafter, California to offer the gospel of Jesus Christ to all and to minister to their needs in the name of Jesus Christ regardless of citizenship status. I’ll let others debate the politics and economics of the situation. I just know that I have far more “stuff” than any of the illegal aliens around me and I’m not hurting because they are here. (No, I’m NOT an economist and, no, I DON’T know the long term effects of their presence, and I’m not sure I CARE.)

Where did all this come from? Exodus 23:6, 9. Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. Most of us never knew how it feels to be aliens. My question has to do with what the body of Christ will do.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23:23, 24

I grew up in a very conservative church in the ‘60s. I heard a great deal about the “mainline, liberal, social gospel” denominations and churches that were actively involved in the civil rights movement and the anti-Viet Nam war movement. These churches were bad because they were part of the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches. They had given up the true meaning of the gospel; or at least they were associating with churches that had done so. Apparently they thought they could earn their salvation by being “do-gooders.” This was nothing less than salvation by works. Some people even whispered that these so-called Christian groups really didn’t even believe in anything other than doing good to people who were in need. They had lost the gospel.

On the other hand, we had it right. We didn’t smoke or drink. Our youth weren’t allowed to go to dances. We didn’t go to restaurants that served alcohol. We stayed away from bowling alleys because bowling alleys had several strikes against them (forgive the bowling pun): they served alcohol, they had pool tables which were used for gambling, and they were open on Sundays. We didn’t go to the movies. We only played Rook because playing cards were used for gambling. We didn't listen to godless rock 'n roll music. We boys kept our hair cut short and didn’t grow facial hair because we didn’t want to be mistaken for rebellious hippies. We dressed up for church because we should always offer God our best. Catholics weren’t Christians at all. The pope might be the anti-Christ. We didn’t date girls from those liberal denominations because they probably weren’t really Christians. As long as we stayed separate and lived holy lives our friends would be convicted of their wickedness and become Christians by osmosis. And after all this, we had the temerity to rant against liberals who thought they could be saved by their good works!

Now I’m all grown up and I have to make all these decisions on my own. I don’t want to be a Pharisee. Jesus was really angry with the Pharisees and I don’t want to end up there. So I don’t want my faith to be defined by all the things I don’t do or all the people I won’t associate with. I also don’t want to neglect the more important matters, the things God seems to be really concerned about: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. (Don’t those sound a lot like what those liberals were talking about in the ‘60s?)

Not only am I all grown up, I’m a pastor trying to help plant a church in a community that is predominantly Hispanic (75%). How shall we position ourselves in order to have the opportunity to present the gospel to many, many people here in Shafter? If we do not concern ourselves with justice, mercy, and faithfulness we may as well pack up our sound system and Bibles and go home. If we do not present the very clear and simple message of good news, that salvation comes only through the accomplished work of Jesus Christ, we might as well stop now. Jesus said it very clearly, “You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.” Live faithful lives while working for justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


My good friend, Sean Nemecek, has visited here at the Shiloh Guy and thanked me for… wait a minute, let me look at what it was he thanked me for… oh yeah, the “meta-narrative theology” in my posts. Thanks, Sean. That’s really nice of you! Now I’m not exactly sure what a meta-narrative is. I think I went to seminary when we were still struggling with the narrative; long before the meta was invented. (Yes, I’m kidding. I can picture some of my more theologically-minded friends starting to choke here.) But tonight, this Sunday night, I abandon the meta and look at just a couple of words.

I led worship this morning. I prayed publicly. I sang in front of our people. I read scripture. I preached. And I pronounced the Lord’s blessing over them before they left. And I am abundantly aware of the fact that I can do none of these things to the glory of God in my own strength. I’m feeling completely dependent on the Lord. Helpless. The task is too great. Without him I will never do anything of any value. So the words of the psalmist leaped off the page at me this evening.

Teach me your way, O LORD; lead me in a straight path. Psalm 27:11

I need you to teach me, Lord. I don’t know what to do and I wouldn’t know how to go about doing it even if I knew. I can’t find your way on my own. I always tend to do things my way. There is no other place for me to go to discover your way. I need you to teach me.

And I want to know your way! What good is my way? What good comes from trying the ways I can read about in the “How to Plant a Church” books? And it won’t help me to try to follow the ways others have tried. There is only one way to lead this particular church and it is your way. So I walk away from my way because I only want your way.

Lead me. I won’t run ahead of you. I won’t leave the path to the right or to the left. I won’t stop and sit down. If you will lead me I will follow you no matter where your path lies. What else am I to do? Whom else shall I follow? Let’s go. You lead, I follow.

And I don’t want to wander around in circles like the Israelites in the wilderness. I don’t have time for that. Again, I won’t turn in my own direction if you are leading. I want to just walk in a straight path to the end you have for me. Can we go straight? Straight to the people you have chosen in this city? Straight to the ministries that will make your name famous here? Straight through all the distractions and obstacles for your name’s sake? Can we just walk a straight path with you leading the way?


Friday, February 06, 2009


The scripture says that when the Hebrews finally left Egypt God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. (Exodus 13:17, 18) It strikes me that God is treating Israel, his son, like a young child who is just learning what the world is like. He takes the part of a loving father who is protecting his son from encountering a test that might prove too great for him. Just as I might allow my sons to face tests and trials while ensuring that none of them would completely devastate them and discourage them.

The loving father wants to encourage his son so he shows him how strong he is and how safe the son is with the father. I always knew I was safe with my dad around. He was so strong and so smart that nothing bad could happen to me as long as I was close to him. So God leads his son right to the shore of the Red Sea, hardens Pharaoh’s heart, and sends Egypt’s army after him. All this is done so the father will gain glory and the son will learn to trust his father.

God himself stands between his son and danger. He parts the Red Sea and the son crosses over safely. The Egyptian army chases the son into the sea and the father destroys it. If the son will just keep his eyes fixed on the father he will be safe!

Israel sees the mighty deliverance of the hand of God and begins to sing a hymn of praise. I love these two phrases from Exodus 15. In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed (v.13). By the power of your arm they will be as still as stone until your people pass by, O LORD, until the people you bought pass by (v.16). Israel is the people God redeemed and the people God bought! The same terminology used for the church under the New Covenant. By his blood Jesus redeemed his people. He paid the price of redemption and bought them!

We are God’s sons. He is our almighty Father. We were adopted into his royal family because our older brother redeemed us and bought us. As long as we keep our eyes fixed on our father nothing can hurt us. He is a loving father and will lead us to his rest.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


Exodus 12:17, Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.

Exodus 12:22, 23, Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.

Exodus 12:26, 27, And when your children as you, “What does this ceremony mean to you?” then tell them, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.”

Exodus 13:8, On that day tell your son, “I do this because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.”

Exodus 13:9, This observance will be for you like a sign on your hand and a reminder on your forehead that the law of the LORD is to be on your lips. For the LORD brought you out of Egypt with his mighty hand.

A couple of readers of this blog have pointed out that the entire Exodus story is a foreshadowing of the gospel, the salvation of the church; that the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt is a parallel of God’s deliverance of the Church from bondage to sin. I couldn’t agree with them more! And the above passages make the point even more strongly! Note the significant parallels:

Israel continued to celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover as a lasting ordinance for generations. Until that astonishing night when Jesus took the Passover bread and passed it among his disciples and said, “This bread is my body which is broken for you.” And he took the Passover cup and passed it to them saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” The disciples present must have been stunned. Prophecy was being fulfilled and a new sacrament was being established!

When the destroyer saw the blood on the doorframe he passed over. The LORD prevented him from striking down the faithful. The blood of Christ cleanses us from sin and covers us in righteousness that is not our own. When God looks upon us and sees the blood of his Son he does not allow the destroyer to strike us down.

When our children ask us what the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper means to us we tell them that it is the sacrifice of Christ who sealed God’s covenant with us which keeps us from being struck down along with the wicked.

At the sacrament I will tell my son, “I do this because of what the Lord did for me when he paid the penalty for my sin on the cross and brought me out from among the condemned.”

The observance of the Lord’s Supper will serve as a reminder of God’s grace and mercy and the love of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Along with the sacrament the gospel of Christ is to be upon my lips!