Blog Archives

Am I Missing Something?

Normally I try and stay out of the fray when it comes to the frenzy around popular scandals and sensationalistic stories. Maybe I should make more social commentaries than I do, but guess that I would rather immerse myself more deeply in God’s word and trust people to have a little common sense that can be applied to a situation strange or otherwise. Yet there has been an odd buzzing around evangelical circles and I am feeling compelled to at least comment in the hopes that this buzz will go along the wayside sooner than later.

It seems that recently, Atlanta pastor, Louie Giglio was first invited and then disinvited to offer the benediction at the second inauguration of President Barak Obama. It is said that the invitation came as a result of Giglio’s work to raise awareness about sex trafficking in the United States. The disinvitation came as a result of a twenty-year-old sermon where Giglio presented the Biblical testimony that homosexuality is sin. And now, it seems that every major figure in evangelical Christianity along with major figures in the liberal establishment are offering us commentaries — folks, enough already! Yet, let me ignore my own advice and make a couple of comments:


1) Why in the world would the Obama Administration invite an evangelical evangelist to offer the benediction? And why, oh why, did Giglio accept said request? Think about it. Perhaps it would be flattering to be asked to offer such a benediction, but there comes a point when one ought to decline.

Though I have never been asked to offer a prayer at such an auspicious occasion (and don’t expect to be), as an area pastor I do regularly get asked to pray or offer a benediction at community events. In these cases, the first question that I ask is always, “Am I allowed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ?” If the answer is, ‘no,’ then my answer is ‘no’ as well. Inclusivity in presidential politics is no new thing to the scene and clearly guidelines and rules would be established for such a benediction that would water down the intentional Christian spirit of the prayer.

One might counter that this is a pluralistic nation in terms of religious beliefs, and indeed it is, but I am not a pluralistic pastor — I am a Christian pastor, and so is Louie Giglio — and thus my loyalties lie with Christ and any authority I have to offer a blessing upon the lives of others also comes from Christ.

Furthermore, when one shares the stage in a setting like an inauguration with someone, that offers an implicit endorsement of the person with whom the stage is shared. Why go down that road? How can an evangelical endorse any politician that supports the gay agenda, the pro-choice agenda, and the agenda of those who are seeking to marginalize the Christian voice from civil life (in our schools, our courts, etc…)? What fellowship does light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)


2) While my intention is not to slam Pastor Giglio here, it seems odd to me that those pursuing a liberal agenda would have to go 20 years back to find something “incriminating” against him in his sermons. Surely, I would hope, that nearly any evangelical pastor would regularly be speaking in a way that those who pursue sin would find offensive. My grandfather (a Methodist minister) used to say, “if you are not stepping on toes, you are likely not preaching the gospel.”

As preachers, part of our responsibility is to address the sins of our time in a way that reflects God’s word and not the fickle preferences of men. We are to call the culture away from its self-destruction and not chase the culture to the praise of men. We should be calling people to repent of their sins — homosexuality being just one of such wicked lifestyles our world has embraced. We should also be calling people to repent of sexual immorality of all kids, including sexuality outside of wedlock. We should be calling people to repent of pornography, slander, gossip, unforgiveness, anger, pride, adultery, and the list goes on! We should be proclaiming the truth that we are fallen sinners and that there is forgiveness in Christ Jesus alone — there is no other way to the Father but through the Son. Surely that too must be greatly offensive in our politically correct society!

This does not mean we are wagging our fingers at the world, for we point toward our own fallenness as well, and we proclaim that in Christ there is grace and forgiveness — yet Christ himself also calls us to turn away from our wicked lifestyles, not to become comfortable in them or accepting of them. “Go and sin no more” are words from Christ that echo down through the centuries.

When the issue of homosexuality was raised with Giglio, rather than to use that opportunity to speak truth into the culture, he soft-pedaled the matter and stated that the question of homosexuality had not been in his “range of priorities in the past fifteen years.” Really? Surely homosexuality is one of the most significant issues eroding the morality of our society over the past fifteen years…am I missing something? Especially given that much of Giglio’s public ministry has been focused on calling kids to “making much of Christ,” does one not think that one’s lifestyle is part of that? Were one to have a ministry that focused primarily on our older generation (let’s say 65 and up…sorry Mom and Dad!), then it would be easy to see how this social issue would not play a role in the forefront of his ministry because that generation in our culture was largely raised on Biblical moral teachings. The younger generation was not and has been encouraged to experiment with sin. One ought to keep that in as much of the forefront as sex trafficking, the use of drugs, and other self-destructive behaviors. Giglio clearly is committed to the Biblical truth on the matter, given the language of his released sermon, but why has he played down the question when raised?


3) It is true, as people like Al Mohler point out, that Biblical foundations are being eroded from our culture and that society is actively seeking to marginalize the influence and presence of evangelicalism from public life. That said, why do we assume (as evangelical Christians) that having an evangelical pastor pray for our president (one who rejects what evangelicals stand for) will change the current state of affairs? Don’t get me wrong, we are to pray for all of our leaders — in this case, I would argue for conversion — but the public prayer at an inauguration does not seem to be the kind of thing that Paul was speaking about when he wrote those words to Timothy.

And why should it bother us if our president would choose a liberal pastor, a unitarian pastor, or even a Muslim Imam to pray for him at his Inauguration? Why not find someone to speak words that will be meaningful to the man being Inaugurated?

Yes, as Christians we may not like the idea of our Christian presence being lost in the Presidential Inauguration, but is it really there just because a Christian offers a prayer and the President swears on a book he cares nothing for? It is said that of Evangelical Christians in America, only about 20% eligible to vote did, so why bother getting upset now? And why bother getting upset at anyone but ourselves. If we have chosen (as evangelicals) to refuse to be salt and light, then it is we who need to repent for our bashfulness. We have bought into the idea that if we put up the pretense that we are a Christian culture we will be…sadly, the Bible calls that hypocrisy. We are a nation grounded in Christian roots, but we have strayed far from the spot where we began. We need a political revival like the spiritual revival that took place in Josiah’s day, calling people in our nation back to the foundation upon which we began — the foundation that God blessed and made our nation the great beacon of freedom and liberty that is — though as we stray further and further from that foundation, we will lose more and more of that freedom and liberty that made our nation great.


The bottom line is that these kinds of things (disinvitations and the like) are not the problems; they are only symptoms of the problem. We, like ancient Israel, have fallen into a time where every man does what is right in his own eyes — and we are paying the price for that sin. No, I don’t think I am missing something.


Unequal Yoking

“And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest in his household who ruled over all which were before him, ‘Please put your hand under my thigh and I will make you swear before Yahweh, the God of heaven and the God of earth that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites with whom I dwell. You must go to my relatives that are in my land and take a wife for my son, Isaac.”

(Genesis 24:2-4)


It seems that people tend to dwell on the practice of setting one’s hand on the thigh (or loins) of another to swear an oath, a practice, it seems that was rather distinct to Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 47:29). Traditionally, Jewish commentators have held that the significance of the placement is related to the covenantal sign of circumcision given by God to all who would serve him. Christian commentators have also cited the significance of the loins as the place from which descendants come, again, tying the act to God’s promise.

Yet, the statement that is far more important is that which follows: Abraham does not want Isaac to take a wife from amongst the Canaanites. Here, Abraham surely must be remembering the terrible effect on the life of Lot and his family as a result of Lot’s action in taking a Sodomite wife. How typical it is that when a believer marries an unbeliever, the unbeliever drags the believer down, not the other way around. The Apostle Paul also builds on this idea, applying it to Christians:

“You must not be unequally yoked with those who do not believe; for what participation does righteousness have with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

(2 Corinthians 6:14)

Paul is using the Old Testament prohibition of plowing with an ox and a donkey together (Deuteronomy 22:10) to illustrate the effect of mismated people within marriage, implying to some degree that believers and unbelievers are different species (children of light and children of the devil!). In addition, when God formed Eve from the rib of Adam, he formed her to be his helpmate. The task given to Adam was obedience (you shall not eat…) and worship in his work (you shall work and keep this garden). Thus the wife’s primary task is to assist her husband in his worship of God in all he does. How can she do so if she is a pagan and not committed to the One True God of Heaven and Earth? How can a believing wife help a pagan husband to worship God when his heart is already committed to serving the works of his hands? How important it is that we be equally yoked together.

Thus, as Abraham has come to the point where he is too old for the task of traveling and finding a wife for his son, he entrusts this task to his eldest and most trusted servant — the steward over his household. Go back to my homeland and find a wife for Isaac. There is an interesting implication being made here, though God has made the Covenant with Abraham, it seems that those from whom he descended are not so idolatrous that they do not know of the God of creation. I would not venture to call them believers as there still are idols as part of their cultural worship, but they are not as “lost” as are the Canaanites that surround where Abraham has chosen to dwell. We must be careful not to push this inference too far, but there is significance in the idea that the children of Abraham’s brother are oriented in such a way that they will follow Yahweh’s call and serve him in covenantal fellowship.

Beloved, the account of Abraham’s life is coming to a close (though he will take another wife) and this is the one last covenantal task that he has left to perform. How alien it is to us in the west who are used to choosing our own spouses to see this action taking place. For most of the world through most of history, men and women’s weddings were arranged by their parents or by their guardians. In that context, you did not marry because you fell in love, but you fell in love because you were married. How, in today’s world of convenience marriages and divorces, we can learn a great deal from those who have gone before us and chosen the act of love because marriage was a life and death covenantal arrangement.

The Laughter of the Saints

“And Sarah said, ‘Laughter, God brings to me; all the ones who hear will laugh with me.’”

(Genesis 21:6)


The emphasis that is placed here is on the laughter. Usually, this word refers to the way we might mock someone by laughing and jeering at him, but in this context a very different sentiment is being conveyed. Here is the joy of a lifetime of reproach being lifted. The desire of Sarah’s heart, to bear her husband a child, has been denied to her through her normal childbearing years, yet he has remained faithful to her. Now, in her old age, a gift has been given to this woman. The shame and reproach that came with being barren has been removed and her only response is to laugh with joy at the thing that God has done.

What a beautiful picture of the response of this woman. Sometimes, when one has walked so long in the darkness of rejection and then suddenly one is thrust out of that despair and into joy, there is nothing to do but to laugh — one cannot contain the joy one is experiencing. Here, this woman who has tried to bring that child for Abraham in a variety of different ways, even to the extent of giving Hagar to her husband as a surrogate wife, is given the desires of her heart; what a beautiful and a human response as we see her laughing and anticipating the laughter of others who will join in celebrating with her.

Yet is this also not what Jesus does for every believer? He removes the reproach of sin and judgment from us as we stand before God. He gives us life where death was our only state of being. We are brought by him into the household of the Almighty God of the Universe and presented as clean and as a child of that God and King; beloved, what can we do but laugh in joy? What can we do but celebrate? The laughter of the saints is a holy thing and it is a thing that brings healing because it stems from a heart that has been redeemed. When God’s people gather together to fellowship, joyful laughter seems to be one of the most basic characteristics of those gatherings; I can only imagine what the joyful laughter will be like when we are all joined together before the throne of our Lord and our joy made fully and irrevocably complete. I pray that you are ready to join with me there on that day.

Wonderful night! Wonderful night!

Dreamed of by prophets and sages!

Manhood redeemed for all ages,

Welcomes thy hallowing might,

Wonderful, Wonderful night!

Wonderful night! Wonderful night!

Sweet be thy rest to the weary,

Making the dull heart and dreary

Laugh in a dream of delight;

Wonderful, Wonderful night!

-John Meyer

The Sleep of the Beloved


“It is vain for you to get up early and go late to your dwelling,

Eating the bread of toil;

For he gives to his beloved sleep.”

(Psalm 127:2)


It may be granted up front that there is some discussion as to how to interpret the last line of this verse. Commonly it is rendered as I have done so here, but some would argue that it ought to be rendered, “for he provides for his beloved during their sleep.” Though the nuances of the psalm are changed within that translation, the essential meaning of the text remains the same. God provides for the needs of his beloved — and he does so in an abundantly wonderful way.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus speaks in much the same way. It is expected that the pagans will lay awake worrying all night, working long and thankless hours to provide bread for their families. Their idols are false creations of their own hands and imaginations. What benefit can a chunk of wood give me apart from helping to heat the house when I burn it in the fireplace? If I create something with my own hands, it contains no power to do anything but sit there. It has no life. One can draw no hope or assurance from such things.

But we worship a true and living God — one from whom we can draw assurances. He lives and is the God of the living (Matthew 22:32; Luke 20:38) and not of the dead; he gives us new life (1 Peter 1:3) and he gives us that life abundantly (John 10:10). And thus Jesus says to us, “why do you sit home and worry about what may or may not happen this week or even tomorrow?” Do we forget whom we serve? Our worry seems to betray that we do, yet to the beloved, God gives rest and peaceful dreams at night.

How often my dreams have been haunted by the cares of countless anxieties—anxieties that are projected in nightmarish ways. Yet, in prayer, there is rest for the soul. How often there has been tossing and turning rather than restful slumber; again, trust in God’s provision, believer, and you will find that rest will come. There is no need to fear what may transpire; our God is sovereign over all events (Ephesians 1:11) and has promised to work them all out for our good (Romans 8:28). What comfort there is in those divine promises to us! What rest we can find in that context!

For the believer, rest means more than sleep during the evening hours. Rest also includes rest from one’s enemies—the greatest of which are the spiritual powers of wickedness that roam this world like a roaring lion. They may roar, but we are held secure in the hands of our loving Savior (John 10:28-29); of what shall we fear? No, we are loved of God and true love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

Loved ones, sleep well and dream well of the glory of our God. He will provide for your needs because he loves you (Matthew 6:31-34); the pagans eat the bread of their sweat and toil—enjoy the restful sleep that your Father provides.

Playing Dominoes in Ukraine

I spent about half an hour the other day playing a game of two-on-two Dominoes with several of my Ukrainian students. The game was the basic game that I had played as a child, though it has been many years since I had played, and it was fairly easy to follow the progression even though neither my opponents nor my partner and I spoke the same language.

Though my gaming partner and I did lose our little tournament, it began to get me thinking about the nature of cross-cultural ministry on two levels. First, how often we go to great lengths to put on an expensive program or elaborate activities to help us bridge the language barriers when often one of the most significant ways we can bridge that gap is by our simple presence in their lives. That which proved meaningful to my three students was not so much that I was able to play a game that they liked or that I could be competitive with them (then again, my partner and I did lose the game, so I am not sure just how well I did at playing) but it was simply that I was willing to spend time interacting with them on a very basic level outside of the classroom.

Such was the case even when I was teaching students in America where no (or almost no!) language barrier was present. It was not the things that I normally did in the classroom that endeared my students to me and it was not my lectures that they will remember for years to come (as much as I would like that to be the case!). Instead, it was the time that I spent with my students outside of the classroom, living life together, sitting down to arm-wrestle, or working together on a project. It wasn’t even always about the quality of the interaction, but it was the willingness to interact that made the impact.

The second thing that I got to thinking about was in terms of the nature of what “cross-cultural” means. Typically we think of cross-cultural as going somewhere else in the world and bridging a language-barrier. Such activities are essential in working out the Great Commission and I have enjoyed the privilege of being able to do so in a small way myself here in eastern-Europe. Yet one need not travel 5,000 miles away from home to find a cross-cultural context. In seminary, I spent several years doing inner-city homeless ministry — a culture that was very different than the rural middle-class context in which I was raised. Sometimes cross-cultural simply even means sitting down with your grand-kids and listening to their favorite music or sharing a favorite movie of your own with them. You may find out that cross-cultural contexts are as close as your neighbor’s back yard or even your own home.

In putting this all together, I am reminded both of Jonah and of Jesus’ ministry to the Samaritans and others outside of the Jewish context. The Syrophoenician woman, for example, came to Jesus shortly after he had spent time in her non-Jewish town. Jonah, of course, did not want to go proclaim the Gospel to the Ninevites, but God sent him the hard way. The sermon that Jonah finally preached was terse at best and he fled the city hoping to see a mighty display of fireworks. Yet God moved even through Jonah’s half-hearted message. The very fact that God had sent them his prophet must have (at least initially) made an impact on the people and caused them to take notice. Jesus’ response to the Syrophoenician woman was that it was not yet time for the pet dogs to receive their meal; hardly a cordial greeting, but his mere presence in her community told her that he would be willing to help and the desperation she felt for her daughter’s need drove her to be undaunted by this initial rebuke. Even in Samaria, Jesus’ interactions are warm, but brief, yet the impact is profound.

Ukraine may be a long way to come simply to play a game of Dominoes, but no distance is too far to go for the opportunity to share the Gospel and to help develop disciples. Even so, you likely do not need to travel very far to cross a cultural barrier. My encouragement is to look for those opportunities, find a chance to simply be present in the life of your neighbor (even in the Good Samaritan sense) and build a relationship with him or her, for it is out of that relationship that you will have a chance to share the Gospel. Who knows, were Jesus to have come for the first time in this world today — a world of running water in homes and water-fountains in public places — I wonder how he might have engaged the Samaritan woman at the Well…it might have even been through a game of Dominoes.

Strengthen What is About to Die

You must become alert!  And you must strengthen the ones who remain, who are waiting to die, for I have not found your works to be fulfilled before your God.

(Revelation 3:2)

The seven letters of Revelation contain some devastating rebukes for those in the churches of Asia. Out of the seven churches, two receive no commendation and only rebuke; the church in Sardis is one of those two and is the church that receives these words of condemnation: your works are wanting, so strengthen what is about to die.

As a pastor, I must confess that this is about the last charge that any of us would want to hear. I suspect that all of us yearn to serve a church that is thriving and healthy and filled with spiritual life, where everyone who attends is hungry to be taught the word of God, to be engaged in worship, and desires to apply God’s word to every area of their life. I suspect we all dream of serving a church where God’s people will come together and act like God’s people, loving one another and not deteriorating into bickering and where marriages would be seen as a permanent covenant and children would grow up in humble submission to their parents’ teachings. And we hunger for the church body that lives out their faith in such an infectious way that they are constantly pointing others to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

At the same time, when going through the various ministerial resource catalogues, we find book after book written by a pastor of some “mega-church” somewhere who has found a way to bring people into the church by droves. My point is not to disrespect or arbitrarily write off such movements, sometimes these books contain some useful insights, my point is simply to say that such is not the model of church that most pastors have been called to. A rural church pastor, for example, may not even have 5,000 people in his town, let alone that many people in his church. In fact, according to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, nearly 60% of protestant churches in America have fewer than 100 people in them on Sunday mornings.

In addition, many of these churches scattered across the countryside are predominately made up of older members where there may not be the energy, resources, or interest in many of the things that seem to attract the droves of people that may or may not be in their community to come to worship.

Again, my point is not to extol one model of worship service and put down another; those of you who have read my blogs for any amount of time know that I have some strong opinions in some of these areas, but that is not my objective today. My point is to reflect on the nobility of this call to strengthen what is about to die and to apply it in a way that we may not have otherwise considered. My purpose is also to honor those many pastors who may not have had ministries that the church culture would consider “glamorous,” but have faithfully served God’s people, often in churches that are dying whether due to age or due to an unwillingness to change in a way that communicates the truth of the gospel to a new generation. Many, many of God’s most faithful servants labor for decades in this context.

In some ways I have had the privilege of looking at this picture from both sides of the fence. For most of my pastoral ministry, I have served either full or part-time in small, rural churches dominated by septuagenarians and octogenarians. I have also spent time working amongst drug addicts and homeless, a group that may not be dying due to their age, but are just as near to death as the octogenarians due to the lifestyle they have chosen. I have also spent quite a bit of time doing nursing home ministry, again a group of people who are very much about to die. At the same time, I also spent several years as a chaplain of a Christian school working mostly with teenagers, a group who biologically are on the other end of the spectrum. They are filled with life and energy, but also bring with them a new body of issues and problems due to the frenetic lifestyle that many of them consider quite normal. It is true that the school is not the church, but life on life ministry takes place anywhere God places us and the relationships often bear a great deal of similarity.

All of that being said, I would like to apply this statement of Jesus’ in three ways. The first, in the context that it is given, and the latter two in perhaps a little different way, while at the same time trying not to do an injustice to the text.

In the context of the passage, Jesus is giving a rebuke to a church that has been unfaithful in its calling. Their works have a reputation for having life, he states in the previous verse, but they are really dead. The church puts on a good show and they do all of the right things, but what they do is simply going through the motions. Their good works are not done as a response to God’s saving work in their lives, but they are done out of a sense of misguided duty. Later on in the passage, Jesus speaks of those who have not soiled their garments, implying that most of the congregation members have given themselves either physically or spiritually to idolatry. In the midst of that, Jesus makes two statements: first, that he is going to destroy the church and second, that the pastor there needs to strengthen the church that is about to die.

There are many churches today that have fallen into this context. They are dominated by extremely influential people (often who have money) who decide what the church will and will not do, typically on the basis of preference and not on the basis of a heart committed to the Gospel ministry. Sadly, many pastors do not discourage this, either preaching in a way that keeps this dominant group satisfied or never rebuking the people for their actions. How often I have heard stories of ministry works being cut for the purpose of paying the pastor’s salary. It is a shame when the pastor becomes little more than a pawn in the game of church influence. Yet even in these churches, there is normally a remnant that is spiritually alive and who yearns to see the church break free from the bonds of the status quo and live. It is for those in this latter group that Jesus gives the command to strengthen the church. The institution is dying; it has a disease that is killing it from within like a cancer, but through the preaching of the Gospel and the teaching of God’s word, those healthy body parts are strengthened in the midst of a great and agonizing collapse. Though this is not the calling to which most seminary students dream of going, there is a nobility to such a call and such a call, more-so than a call to a vibrant church I would argue, that will teach the minister how to pray and how to confront sin in the lives of people. This is the call to which the minister of Sardis was called, and this is the call that many pastors have had to labor through as we have sought to do ministry in this fallen world.

The second context I have already alluded to. There are times when the death of a congregation is not so much about the indwelling sin a body has, but has to do with the increasing age of the body without a younger generation that will come and accept the baton of leadership. Again, my interest in this reflection is not to attack one style of service over another, but there is a reality that many young families would rather not go to their grandparents’ church, but want to take ownership of something uniquely theirs. And we must understand that the mindset works the other way as well; many older congregations would rather not have the noise and activity that comes with young families filling the sanctuary. I suppose that I could go on and on in that area, but that is not the aim of this reflection.

The aim of this reflection is to state that there is a huge need for ministry in these areas. Our older/dying churches are likely not the churches that will be building numbers rapidly through evangelistic ministries, etc… Typically they will dwindle slowly until there are so few that the church closes or until there are so few that the influence of the older generation ceases to be a driving force and the church experiences a transformation and rebirth led by a few younger families with a clear vision of what the church could be. Just because someone is older or dying does not mean that they no longer need pastoral care or that the pastoral care they get should be second-class. Nursing home ministry for pastors should not be an afterthought when it is convenient, but it ought to be something of primary concern. Men and women, as image bearers of God, deserve the dignity and grace of such care and they deserve to have the kind of pastoral teaching and care that strengthens them in their faith up until their dying day. My own hat is tipped in respect to those who serve as Hospice chaplains and whose entire calling is devoted toward strengthening those who are about to die.

The third application is a very broad one, though I would argue comes very close to the context of Jesus’ original letter to those in the church of Sardis. Many are lamenting the downfall of the church in western society. Europe is all but a spiritual wasteland, though there are some wonderful (but isolated) renewal movements at work (for example the one I am involved with in eastern Ukraine). America is following suit. Many in America still think of themselves as Christians, but given the state of our culture, comparatively few are living out their faith in all of life.

The question has often been posed to me as to whether I expect that God is bringing judgment on America or preparing us for revival. There is an old axiom that you hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Of course, in some ways, I do not think that judgment and revival are mutually exclusive ends. Does not God know how to judge the wicked while preserving his own (2 Peter 2:9-10)? With that being said, I do pray for revival, but I know that with true revival there must be true repentance and typically there is not repentance until the sin to which we cling hurts too much to keep it within us.

At the same time that I am praying for revival, my heart tells me that we (as a nation and as a church) are facing judgment. Typically the church is healthiest when it faces the greatest persecution (the seven churches in Asia are an excellent illustration of that). When persecution comes and it begins to cost us something to call ourselves Christians, then the “convenience christians” will fall away and the true church will find itself being refined under fire and made strong. And it is in the presence of such a reality that pastors need to hear these words to the church in Sardis all the more: strengthen what is about to die.

I suppose that there is always a temptation to spiritualize a text, and that is not what I mean to do here, but I think you will find that history bears out a remarkable truth. Just as there is a promise of death and resurrection for our physical bodies, there is a kind of death and resurrection for the localized Christian bodies here on earth. God always preserves for himself a remnant (Romans 11:4-5); that is God’s way. He may permit a church to close its doors, but in doing so, he raises up a new witness and testimony for himself. It is right for us to lament the death of a congregation just as we lament the death of a person, yet we still move on. Our God is the God of the living, not of the dead, he will not permit a dead church to play act at being alive indefinitely but will preserve a remnant. And we who have been called to the Gospel ministry will often find ourselves in the midst of such a context where we are commissioned by God’s word to strengthen that which is about to die. Doing so won’t get us a book deal with a big publisher, but faithfully laboring in such a call will receive a “well done my good and faithful servant.” I daresay that I do not need to explain which one is more valuable.

Ignorance and Vague Generalities

Of the tools at the devil’s disposal, it would seem that ignorance and vague generalities are most commonly in his hands in the landscape of the American church. Here is not simply an indictment of the unbelieving culture at large, for who should expect them to know all of the details of our Christian faith apart from an academic curiosity, but my indictment is against professing Christians who have been lulled into the false notion that they need not bother themselves with knowing the details of our most holy faith. Herein is the site of the devil’s great activity.

I read a recent set of surveys that stated that the majority of the church-goers polled could not name all four Gospels, let alone all of the Ten Commandments. Even fewer were able to name all of the books of the Old and New Testaments, let alone in order. How does one find a word in the dictionary if one does not know the order of the letters of the alphabet? How will you find a reference in Micah or Jude if you do not know where in the Bible to look? How will you know whether an idea is right or wrong if you don’t understand the basic grammar and vocabulary that is being used to communicate it? And when a bad idea is being introduced from the pulpit, how with the believer know the error if the believer does not know the details of the theology he professes?

The devil has lulled people into a sense of security within their pews and he has convinced pastors and church leaders that the most important thing in church is to keep people happy (and in most cases, entertained). Even seminaries have taken this tact, putting more emphasis on practical theology and classes in church growth than in Biblical knowledge and understanding. It would seem that a clear exposition of the Biblical text is about as unwelcome as active application to life even though such is what is most lacking in most church-goers lives. “Does it work?” tends to be asked long before the question, “Is it true?”

Yet what does the Bible expect of us on this matter? To Aaron and his sons, God instructs:

“You are to make a distinction between the holy and between the profane, between the ceremonially unclean and the ceremonially clean. You are to instruct the Sons of Israel in all the laws which Yahweh spoke to them by the hand of Moses.”

(Leviticus 10:10-11)

It should be noted that while God is directly giving this rule to the Levitical priests, as the people began to be dispersed into exile, it is a task subsumed by the Rabbi in a local community—a role that is arguably the forerunner for the Christian understanding of a pastor. In addition, since in the Christian era there is a priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5,9), the task of instructing others in the things that God has taught falls squarely upon our shoulders. This would apply not only within the context of the church where the pastor and elders are to be the teachers of the people, but also in the homes where the father is to be the primary teacher of his family. Since there are levels of authority described in this model, it is worth noting that the Father’s job is two-fold. It is first to study himself so that he can teach his family how to distinguish between the holy and the profane and secondly, to study so that he can ensure that the pastor is teaching doctrine consistent with what the Scriptures present. Not too that this principle applies not only to what his family may learn in church, but it applies to what his family learns in every aspect of their educational process (hence the difficulty with educating children in the secular, state-run school system).

Many object saying that faith is primarily about a relationship with God, not about facts, propositions, and doctrines as revealed in the Bible, thus seeking to justify some degree of ignorance in the faith. It is agreed that faith in Jesus Christ is about a relationship, but note that every relationship in which we engage is one where there are ideas, facts, and propositions that are known about the one in which we are in relationship. In fact, the deeper the relationship, the more we tend to know about the individual. The facts do not make the relationship, but without these facts, no true and lasting relationship will exist. Note too, the way that God speaks of the connection between knowledge and obedience through Moses:

“You stand here with me and I will speak to you in all of the commandment and the prescriptions  and judgments which you shall learn that they may obey in the land which I give them to inherit.”

(Deuteronomy 5:31)

Moses and the leaders must learn these things (with the aim of teaching them) so that the people will put into practice the command of God in the Promised Land.

The assumption, though, that is being made is that knowledge of the law yields obedience. On one level, there is the obvious principle that you cannot obey the things you do not know. Yet, Hosea builds this idea further:

My people are ruined for they are without knowledge. For as you refuse to accept knowledge; I will refuse to accept you from being my priest. You forgot the Torah of your God, so I will also forget your sons.

(Hosea 4:6)

Notice the comment that is being made. When there is a lack of knowledge amongst the people it is not simply because it is unavailable, but it is because the people have chosen to reject the knowledge of God as it is presented to them. And as the people reject the Law of God, so too, God turns away from his people. The principle is that it is not as if God has not made his word known to his people, but that they have chosen to set their minds and hearts on other things, being satisfied with only a passing knowledge of what God teaches.

It has been my contention for some time that the relationship that the majority of American Christians have with God is one-sided and unfocused. We tend to focus our praise of God on what he has done for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Certainly, this is a right and a proper thing for us to do and, especially for a new believer, this is something that is tangible in their lives. At the same time, we ought not stop there. Our aim should be to worship God for who he is and for his great excellencies of character.

When I was courting the woman who would become my wife, much of our relationship revolved around the special things that we did together. At the same time, as our relationship grew, the love was built less on our common activities and more on loving the person for who she happened to be. In married life, this is an essential transition, not because the common activities cease, but because those long romantic evenings tend to become more spread out during the activity of life and raising a family. Yet, after thirteen years of marriage, our love is deeper and richer than it was when we were first courting.

In terms of our relationship with God, it works in the same fashion. Early in our Christian walk, often the passion of our love for God is built on those “mountaintop” experiences that we have, yet as the Christian walk progresses, often those mountaintops seem to become further apart. If our faith is built solely on our experience of God and not on our knowledge of God, then the Christian life often becomes a pursuit of the next mountaintop. Yet, maturing takes sanctification and sanctification takes place most commonly in the valleys of life. David relates his time in the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4) as a place of darkness where he cannot see God at work. Yet it is the knowledge of God’s character as the shepherd and that the rod and staff are yet in the shepherd’s hand that gives him courage and is the basis of his trust. It is the knowledge that keeps the sheep from panic and flight.

Our culture has bought into the model that when they read scripture, the first question they typically ask is, “How does this relate to me?” or “What can I learn from this so I can have a better life?” My contention is that the first question we must always ask is, “What does this passage teach me about God and about His character?” The shift is an important one for two reasons. First, when we are focused only on personal application, we will not tend to read the whole counsel of God, but only focus on those things that can easily be applied to today. Why spend time reading the seemingly endless genealogies of the Bible, for example, if your focus is only on personal application. Yet the Apostle Paul insists that all scripture is both God-breathed and useful to every aspect of the life of the believer (2 Timothy 3:16-17)—even the genealogies! The second problem that arises out of reading the scripture primarily for personal application is that our motivation to study decreases in proportion to the comfort-level of our lives. If everything is going well, we often assume that we have gotten the principles right, so why bother challenging them?

My argument is not that we do not apply scripture to life, indeed, we must. Yet this ought not be where we begin, we ought to begin with a focus on God and then secondarily toward application and his works in our life. And since God is infinite, his word will provide us with infinite depth of reflection on his character to satisfy and strengthen our souls. And when we fail to pursue the character of God, our relationship with Him remains shallow. And when we fail to teach the character of God, the people’s knowledge of Him will be vague at best.

I began this reflection with the impoverished state of the church when it comes to Biblical knowledge. One would expect that if my supposition that Biblical knowledge is directly related to obedience (as the old song goes, “to know, know, know him is to love, love, love him”—and as Jesus states, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” [John 14:15]), the lack of knowledge that exists in the church today would betray a lack of obedience to God’s word in the church today. When one looks at the state of our country, our depraved culture, and the anaemic church in America, my point is made. When you realize that more than three-quarters of the American general public identifies themselves as “Christian” yet at the same time immorality fills our streets and rules our governments, we must conclude that something is horribly amiss.

The solution? It is not more programs or more gimmicks to get people to come to church, nor is it to water down the gospel so that everyone feels comfortable under its teaching. The solution is to combat the tactic that is being employed by the enemy and instruct people in the knowledge of God. Peter reminds us that we are to add knowledge to virtue as we seek to grow in our sanctification, building upon what God has initiated in our life.


Burning the Q’ran

There has been a lot of discussion as of late about a Florida pastor who desires to burn the Q’ran (some also write it: Koran) on September 11th in protest of the Muslims who were responsible for the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and on the Pentagon in 2001. Such has caused a great deal of stir in the news and in churches and this pastor has received pleas not only from political leaders but from religious leaders as well to cease his activity as it would be offensive to many worldwide. The pastor has chosen to back down and cancel his event, but as I have watched this play out, several thoughts have come to mind regarding the principles surrounding the whole debate.

I must confess, my first instinct was just to chuckle, wondering why the whole world, it seemed, was interested in the activities of a small church pastor down in Florida. My second instinct was to think, if I really wanted to make a point about false religions, why not be an equal-opportunity offender and burn copies of the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, and anything by Joel Osteen. I even thought that we could make it a group participation event and rather than burning them, set them on a large stand and let everyone from church bring their guns for target practice.

As entertaining as such an event might sound, it wasn’t long before God’s word sobered me a little bit. Indeed, we are called to tear down the strongholds of the devil (Matthew 16:18; 2 Corinthians 10:4), yet at the same time we are to do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:24-26). Indeed, we are to be well thought of by the unbelievers around us (1 Timothy 3:7). The principle is simple: if the world considers us a bunch of backwoods radicals, they won’t be interested in the message of truth we bring. If we earn their respect with integrity, then they will listen (though whether they respond savingly is a work of the Holy Spirit).

So, what then ought to be our response to this pastor’s call to burn the Q’ran on the memorial of September 11th, 2001? To begin with, we ought not participate ourselves in such actions as they are not consistent with the Scripture’s own teaching in the area. Should we then forbid him? Such is a different matter altogether. In terms of whether or not to forbid his action, the question needs to be raised as to whether his action is legal or not. If it is legal, then why all of the fuss? If it is not legal, arrest or fine him if he does it and again, why all the fuss? The point is that we live in a nation governed by the rule of law. Some, including myself, have argued that this is changing in American culture at least on a philosophical level, but for most of us, the law still very much governs our lives on a practical level. We have to pay taxes, drive the speed limit, and avoid stealing things if we want to stay out of jail. It is as simple as that. And currently, the First Amendment to our Constitution allows this man the freedom of expression, thus whether we may consider it wise or unwise, it is legal.

Now, it should be noted that there are times when complete freedom of speech is not legal. For example, it is not legal to yell, “fire!” in a movie theater. Some have suggested that this falls into that category given that we are currently at war within several Muslim nations. Yet, my suggestion is that we have a different situation at hand. The case of yelling fire in a movie theater is an intentional act of creating fear and confusion that will likely get people killed or injured. We are already at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, things are likely not going to get worse because of a local book burning.

What I find most alarming about the entire event is the contrast between these events and the events of 1988 surrounding the publication of Salman Rushdie’s book, The Satanic Verses, where Rushdie addressed several verses in the Q’ran which allowed the Muslims to make intercessory prayers to three Meccan goddesses. As a result of this publication, a “fatwa” was declared by several Islamic leaders calling on all “good Muslims” to kill Rushdie. Not only did the western governments put Rushdie into protection, but the Muslims who were calling for fatwa were denounced and condemned as radicals and told to cease and desist their actions. In 2007, Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist, published several drawings depicting Mohammed as a dog. Again, people were in an uproar, several attempts to execute Vilks were made and prosecuted, and the Muslims were chided for their intolerance.

Yet, now, it seems that things have changed in our attitude toward Muslims. While it is common to publish things that mock Christianity, those things designed to mock Islam are shunned. This is where, I believe, we need to raise concerns. One of the things that my father impressed on me was that no matter how big the bully was, you do not compromise doing what is right. As Europe drew closer to its Second World War, there were many who desired to appease Hitler in the hopes that he would fade away and leave them alone. Winston Churchill had a different view, though. He defined an “appeaser” as someone who “feeds his neighbor to the crocodile hoping that the crocodile will eat him last.” I fear that the path we are on is one of feeding others to the crocodile of Islam.

A final thought and a solution: the primary reason that Muslims (as with other immigrants) are coming to America is for economic freedom. Though we are in a recession, one can still raise one’s own standard of living through hard work and persistence. And even the most modest standard of living here is worlds better than what most people in most of the world have to endure…we have running water, electricity, and air conditioning, just to start naming things! As Christians, we ought to use that to our advantage. Instead of fearing Muslims who are coming into our community, let us welcome them and then evangelize them. Can you imagine what our culture would look like if our evangelistic witness was so strong that the majority of people coming from the Arab countries were converted to Christianity. If such were the case, then we would be saying, “send us more!” rather than being worried about them sending any at all.

The Ethic of Authenticity

“You are the light of the world; it is not possible for a city established on a mountaintop to hide.  Nor does one light a lamp and set it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, thus it illuminates the whole house.  In this way, shine your light before mankind so they might see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.”

(Matthew 5:14-16)

When we talk about ethics, usually questions of morality come to mind.  The dictionary defines ethics in terms of moral principles that guide a person’s or a group’s behavior.  It also refers to a study of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any given action.  This rightness or wrongness ultimately is determined by a standard of some sort—for many, it is society (which leads to despotism) or their own preferences (which leads to chaos and anarchy), for the Christian, the standard is the Bible and specifically the Ten Commandments (along with Jesus’ summary of the 10 Commandments, that we are to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves).

As Christians, we are pretty used to hearing the language of moral norms and guidelines, though oftentimes, we approach them in practice more as practical suggestions than as absolute laws.  God commands us to make no idols, yet we idolize celebrities; we are called not to use the Lord’s name for vain purposes, yet many use church or their Christian profession simply as a way to generate more business.  We are called to keep the Sabbath holy, yet treat it as we would any other day.  We speak of a high moral calling in every area of life, yet often live it out half-heartedly and the world is watching us the whole time.  When a non-believer watches a Christian whose walk does not match his talk, there is a term that they rightfully use: “hypocrite.”

The English word, “authentic,” comes from two related Greek terms: aujqentiko/ß (authentikos), which means “original” or “genuine,” and aujqentikwvß (authentikos—with a long “o”), which refers to something that can be seen with perfect clarity (no blurry or grayed edges).  While neither word is found within the Biblical texts of either testament, the principle of being authentic is clearly portrayed.  Jesus says that we are to be lights to the world, guiding them through the darkness of this life and guiding them in such a way that the light is neither hidden nor distorted. We are to shine our light before men and in such a way that it clearly points to God and not to those doing the works.  In a very real sense, Jesus is calling us to be authentic in living out our faith.

While some would argue that the unbeliever is the real hypocrite and others would argue that churches really aren’t filled with hypocrisy, taking this tact of argumentation degenerates swiftly into an ad hominem argument and name calling is neither makes for effective evangelism nor is it the foundation for an honest relationship to be built upon.  If we as the church are to genuinely be a light that illuminates everything in the world and to do so with the aim of pointing people to God (the Great Commission), then as a church, we need to be ready to accept the honest criticism of unbelievers in this world and strive to live in an authentic way before watching eyes.  Rather than being defensive, let us strive toward authenticity in our faith, always seeking to live with integrity.  What the world wants to know is not whether our faith is better than the other alternatives this world has to offer; what the world wants to know is whether or not our faith is real and genuine.  They can live with some inconsistency; what they cannot abide with is inauthenticity.  Any Christian ethic that we might articulate will find itself entirely undermined unless it begins with the expectation that Christians live authentic—genuine—lives that are transparent and lived honestly (for good or for ill) before the world around us.  Until we live authentically and have authentic relationships with others in and out of the church, the watching world won’t be interested in what it is that we have to offer.

Evidence for the Historical Jesus

Recently, I watched a debate where a critic of Christianity made the statement that there was no historical evidence to support the Jesus of the Bible that existed in Jewish literature.  The Christian in the debate made a tolerable answer, but I felt that he had missed a major point of the argument.  In this essay, I would like to do two things.  First, I would like to pose the question as to just what does constitute historical evidence and second, what historical evidence is there in the world?

To begin with, we need to ask what constitutes “historical evidence” before we can honestly set evidence on the table for discussion.  The Historical Method, which is the method used by historians to relate the history of peoples, events, and cultures can be summarized by a series of principles[1]:

  1. Archaeological Relics are the most reliable witnesses to an event because they were actually present at the time the event took place.
  2. Primary source material is the most reliable witness, followed by secondary sources and then tertiary sources, etc…
  3. The more independent sources testify to an account, the more credible the account becomes.
  4. When looking at source data, one must take into account the sympathies, biases, and agenda of the author.
  5. The less biased a witness is, the more credible the witness.

These are the criteria of those who practice what is called the “Historical Critical” method, which is dominant in historical evaluation today.

In light of the above criteria, I would begin by suggesting that the Biblical text itself satisfies all of the above requirements to be considered reliable primary source data of the most credible degree.  Manuscript evidence of the Bible dates back to the first century AD, during the lifetime of some of the original 12 Apostles.  It is primary source data in that it records first-hand accounts of the life, the works, the teachings, the miracles, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  These early witnesses are also testified to by first and second century manuscripts, themselves constituting either primary or secondary witnesses.  Given the large amount of independent sources that corroborate the Biblical account, the biases can be recognized as minimal.  In additional, since all of the Biblical writers, save perhaps Luke, were Jewish, even the New Testament counts as primary Jewish source evidence.  Those who reject the Bible because of its religious nature have allowed their own biases to cause them to be inconsistent in their methodology.  Yet, in addition to the primary source material contained in the Bible, we additionally have references like the following to support the life and ministry of Jesus Christ:

  • Josephus (a Jewish historian in the Roman court) in Antiquities, Book 18, Chapter 3 mentions Jesus as “a wise man” and a doer of “wonderful works.”  Though this text is debated, here Josephus also attributes Jesus as a teacher and Christ who was executed.
  • In Book 20, Chapter 9 of Antiquities, Josephus also mentions James as the brother of Jesus “who was called Christ.”
  • Tacitus (a late 1st century Roman Historian) in his Annals 15.44 mentions “Christus” as the namesake of the Christians and that this Christus was executed in Judea during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of Pontius Pilate.
  • Thallus (a Roman historian writing in the mid first century) records an unusual eclipse as well as an earthquake during the time of Passover in Judea.  The eclipse was unusual because Passover was held at the time of the full moon where eclipses do not take place naturally.
  • The Babylonian Talmud (Hebraic tradition and commentary) records that on the eve of Passover “Jeshu” was hanged.  Jeshu is a Jewish name for Jesus.
  • Mara Bar-Sarapion (a Stoic Philosopher in the mid to late 1st century AD from Syria wrote the following in a letter to his son: “What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given”

It should be noted that this list contains only a small sampling of the extra-Biblical evidence to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  We have not begun to talk about some of the archaeological evidence like the “James Ossuary.”  We also have deliberately kept Christian writers out of the discussion, though there are many.  The bottom line is that there is an abundance of evidence to support the existence of the Historical Jesus—even in the Jewish writings.  If we were to include Christian writings, layers upon layers of textual evidence would be added. Ultimately, to deny the historicity of Christ is like trying articulate a new scientific law without ever having taken the time to test it in the lab; it is intellectually dishonest.  Those who deny the Bible as Historical evidence are not being honest with their methodology and the evidence that is available.

[1] — footnote 1: Thurén, Torsten. (1997). Källkritik. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Thoughts on Structuring a Discipleship Program

Recently, I was asked for some input on how I would structure a discipleship program if I were to have about 6 months of fairly intensive time to work with a small group of men.  I thought that I would share my initial thoughts here.


When I began doing homeless ministry, I spent some time looking at some of the sermons found in the book of Acts to gain some insight into a model to base evangelistic preaching/teaching on.  The model I came up with covered things in this order:  1) God’s glory, 2) man’s fallen state, 3) the work of Christ, 4) the promise of salvation coupled with the hope of ongoing sanctification in this life.


Unpackaging this in terms of a longer study would look something like this:


I.  God’s Glory

            a.  Who is God?

                        i.  names of God which reflect God’s character

                        ii.  character traits of God 

            b.  What has God done?

                        i.  Creation

                        ii.  Ordaining and Governing history

II.  Man’s Fallen State

            a.  What does it mean to be made in God’s image?

                        i.  the doctrine of the Imago Dei

                        ii.  human dignity as a result of the Imago Dei

                        iii.  the doctrine of the Imitatio Dei (how do we imitate God?)

            b.  What happened when Adam and Eve sinned?

                        i.  Genesis 3

                        ii.  The promise of a redeemer in Genesis 3

                        iii.  Inherited sin guilt and the impossibility of our paying God back that sin debt on our own merit

            c.  How has the fall corrupted and contorted the Imago Dei?

                        i.  Our aversion to the things of God and suppression of the truth

                        ii.  The problem of pain–why do bad things happen to good people?

III.  The Work of Christ

            a.  Who is Jesus and why is a Savior important?

                        i.  the person and character of Christ

                        ii.  the names of Christ

                        iii.  the Old Testament prophesies of Christ

                        iv.  The work of a mediator and paraclete

            b.  How Did Christ save us?

                        i.  the  preexistence of Christ

                        ii.  the humiliation of Christ in life and in death

                        iii.  the exaltation of Christ and his ongoing work as mediator at the right hand of God the Father

IV.  The Promise of Salvation and the Hope of Sanctification

            a.  Who is the Holy Spirit?

                        i.  the person of the Spirit

                        ii.  the work of the Spirit

            b.  What is Faith and how is that tied to salvation?

                        i.  The nature of Faith (Hebrews 11:1)

                        ii.  Regeneration, Conversion, Repentance

            c.  What does it mean to be saved?

                        i.  Justification

                        ii.  Adoption

            d.  What happens next once I am saved?

                        i.  Sanctification as a means to prepare for glory

                        ii.  Living all of life “Coram Deo” or “Before the Face of God”

                        iii.  2 Peter 1:3-11 and adding to the faith as “Partakers of the Divine nature” (untwisting the Imago Dei–like having broken bones set)

                        iv.  The fruit of the Spirit

                        v.  The gifts of the Spirit

                        vi.  Glory


The Contagiousness of Worship

Worship, when it is filled with the Holy Spirit, is contagious.  I expect that this is part of the reason that the scriptures emphasize that believers are to live within a covenant community.  Not only can we support one another, but in our joined worship, we enable each other and lift each other up.  I don’t expect that this principle could be displayed any more graphically than it is displayed at the end of Revelation, chapter 5.  As soon as the twelve elders finish their song, they are joined by the four living creatures, the four cherubim, that are around the throne.  Then they are joined by “myriads of myriads” of angels.

If you are interested in mathematics, a myriad is 10,000.  Thus, a myriad of myriads, would be 10,000 times 10,000, or 100,000,000.  And John describes “myriads of myriads,” both being plural.  Thus, if we take this number literally, there are hundreds of millions of angels around the throne singing praise (this would require a choir loft that was 10 miles long and 10 miles deep!).  Regardless of whether you take this number literally or figuratively as an uncountable number, it is one heck of a large chorus!

I had the blessing a number of years ago to participate in a evening worship service at a youth retreat where there were an estimated 90,000 youth and adults—all lifting their praises to heaven.  It was a beautiful thing to behold.  In Exodus 15, we are told that when the Israelites had crossed over the Red Sea safely, they sang praise to God—the men being led by Moses and the women by Miriam.  We can safely assume that there were at least a million people present at this event.  The sound of their voices must have shook the earth!  Now multiply that and imagine for a moment hundreds of millions of angelic voices lifted up in perfect harmony to our Lord and God!  What an amazing thing that must have been for John to witness! 

And if that wasn’t enough, all of creation lifted its voice to join the heavenly song!  True worship is contagious, oh believer, what joy you have to look forward to!  This chapter closes appropriately, indeed.  Once this amazing chorus finishes it’s last verse, the four cherubim around the throne, say, “Amen!”  And the elders fall on their faces and worship.  Loved ones, this is what God has planned for you.  Don’t be too busy worrying about the individual blessings that are promised in scripture—in comparison to this—they are nickels and dimes.

O For a thousand tongues to sing

my great Redeemer’s praise,

the glories of my God and King,

the triumphs of his grace.


Hear him, ye deaf; his praise ye dumb,

your loosen’d tongues employ;

ye blind, behold your Savior come;

and leap, ye lame, for joy.

-Charles Wesley

Show Me Your Glory, part 19: The Hand of God and the Cleft of the Rock

“And Yahweh said, ‘Behold, there is a place beside me and you will stand upon the rock.  And while my glory passes over, I will set you in the crevice of the rock and I will hold protectively my hand over you until I pass by.  Then I will turn aside my hand, and you will see my back, but my face will not be seen.’”

(Exodus 33:21-23)


Once again, God covers his people.  We need to be reminded of this over and over as we struggle with doubt and sin.  God protects them even from eternally falling away and he protects them even from the things that are too wonderful to know!  One may not see the face of God and live—though that might be the heart of Moses, it would be too much for Moses’ eyes to handle.  Thus, God covers him.  Oftentimes we want to know more of God’s plan or more of God’s glory than is good for us to know.  We sometimes get frustrated that God does not give us a crystal ball to see our futures.  Where will I go beyond seminary, what will my son grow up to be, what effect will my ministry have…  These are things that would likely harm us were we to know them.  Thus we must recognize that sometimes God closes our eyes to some of these truths for our own protection. 

At the same time, here is Moses in the presence of the transcendent God of creation.  That prospect, in itself, ought to cause us to cringe!  Who are we, oh sinful man, to approach such a God.  Yet, Moses did in faith, and God preserved him with his hand.  Sometimes I think that we take the prospect of coming before the transcendent God a little too lightly.  Admittedly we do not stand on Mount Sinai in the presence of God, surrounded by his glory-cloud, but we do go before his throne in prayer and in worship.  While we ought to revel in the privilege, we also ought to see it as the awesome privilege it is and to recognize that it is God’s Son that is protecting us from being consumed by the wrath of a Holy God as we come before him in all of our fallen-ness.  Oh, dear Christian, what a God we have.

A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,

A wonderful Savior to me;

He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,

Where rivers of pleasure I see.


With numberless blessings each moment he crowns,

And filled with a fullness divine,

I sing in my rapture, O glory to God

For such a Redeemer as mine!


He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock

That shadows a dry, thirsty land;

He hideth my life in the depths of his love,

And covers me there with his hand,

And covers me there with his hand.

-Fanny Crosby


Show Me Your Glory, part 18: The Rock

“And Yahweh said, ‘Behold, there is a place beside me and you will stand upon the rock.  And while my glory passes over, I will set you in the crevice of the rock and I will hold protectively my hand over you until I pass by.  Then I will turn aside my hand, and you will see my back, but my face will not be seen.’”

(Exodus 33:21-23)


This rock that God stands Moses upon is most likely the same rock as which Elijah found shelter in when he experienced the passing over of God’s presence (1 Kings 19).  In the Elijah encounter, the cleft in the rock carries with it a definite article, suggesting that this cleft was a well known cleft to God’s people; hence it is likely reference to this passage in Exodus.   Note the connection, then, between Elijah and Moses.  Elijah is the prophet that God raised up to prepare God’s people to go into exile—Moses had been the prophet that God used to bring God’s people into the land in the first place.  Of course, God would later raise up a third great prophet—the greatest prophet (the one prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:18)—indeed, the great divine prophet, the Son of God himself, Jesus Christ.  Moses had led the people into the land as a nation, Elijah would prepare the people to leave the land and to cease being a nation, and Jesus would unite his people once again as a nation, but not one whose boarders are here on earth, but a nation of priests, whose citizenships are in heaven.   How it should not surprise us that when Jesus’ glory is being revealed to Peter, James, and John on the mount of transfiguration, that it is Moses and Elijah that join Jesus for a conversation about God’s redemptive work (Luke 9:30-31).

While there are some who suggest that this rock upon which Moses is placed is Christ, I think that they are in error.  While it is indeed correct that one may not see the Father without being “held upon the rock of the Son,” to say that this rock is Christ would be to enter into speculation and allegory.  We are told by Paul (1 Corinthians 10:4) that the rock which was struck by Moses to bring water to the people (Exodus 17:6) is Christ, but these two rocks are not the same rocks.  Accordingly, we should speak of this rock in terms of refuge, not salvation.

The verb that is used in this passage for the “covering” that God does with his hand is the verb %k;f’ (sakak), which is a derivative of the verb %k;s’ (sakak), “to cover.”  Most often, though, this term is used to reflect a protective covering that is placed over something.  The idea, then, that is being expressed is the idea of God personally placing his hand over Moses as a protective covering, to prevent Moses from seeing his face as he passed by.  Jesus would pick up on this same language when he spoke of believers being held protectively not only in his hand, but in the hand of the Father as well (John 10:28-30).

Oh, loved ones, we have a God who preserves us not only here and there, but he preserves us for all eternity.  As a born again believer, he has called you and separated you from this world for himself—trust him to complete that work and bring you effectually to glory.  Oh, the promise of God as revealed by Paul in Romans 8:29-30: “Those who he chose ahead of time, he also predestined to share in the likeness of the image of his son so that he should become the firstborn of many brothers.  And those who he predestined he also called, and those he called he justified, and those who he justified he also glorified.”  The Puritan, William Perkins, called this the golden chain—not one link can be broken for this chain was wrought and cast by God and it binds his elect wonderfully to himself.  Beloved, though you may go through times where it seems the world is falling down around your ears, never forget these words, for God will preserve you to glory and he will stand beside you in all of your darkest times—even to the point of death—and beyond for all eternity!

Show Me Your Glory, part 17: No Man May See My Face and Live

“And He said, ‘You will not be able to see my face, for no man can see me and live.’”

(Exodus 33:20)


The language of not being able to see the face of God and live is language that will be picked up later in the New Testament by both John (John 1:18) and Paul (1 Timothy 6:16).  God is infinite and incomprehensible to a finite mind.  This prohibition is not meant to keep us from knowing God (indeed, he has given us his Son and his Word so that we might know him), but it is meant to spare us from destruction.  To gaze upon his face would be like gazing upon the Sun; it is beautiful beyond comprehension and would sear our eyes forever.  So too, is God too wonderful for fallen man to set his eyes upon–yet, God has given us his Son, so that our finite eyes might gaze upon the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and we might see the glory of the Father revealed in the Son.

Oh, what a wonderful theme to reflect on for a time—seeing the face of God.  Sin has separated us from that blessing and redemption through Christ makes seeing his face something that we will experience once again in heaven.  In the face of God are glory, truth, and all beauty; there is radiance and joy for the believer and wrath and judgment for the unbeliever.  Redemption, hope, and peace can all be found when God’s face shines upon us.  Believer, let the hope of seeing God’s face fully revealed permeate into your very being; let it color the way you live, behave, and interact with the world.  It is a great promise that we have been given in Christ and this promise will sustain us through even the darkest of days.  Let the things of God become part of the very fabric of your soul that you may never be separated from them and that they will clothe you with hope even when it seems that all hope is gone.  Trust and hope in these promises, loved ones, and share them with your children and grandchildren, for these promises are for all who would trust in Christ for their salvation.

Show Me Your Glory, part 16: In the Name of Yahweh

“And He said, I will cause all of my goodness to pass over your face.  And I will invoke my name in your presence, that is, I will show favor upon those who I will show favor to and I will show compassion upon those to whom I will show compassion.’”

(Exodus 33:19)


Literally, the text reads, “And I will call in the name of Yahweh in your presence.”  Many have taken this to be a sermon that God is preaching on his divine name.  While that is a perfectly legitimate translation of the text, I don’t think that it captures the full meaning of what God is promising to do.  The language of “calling in the name of Yahweh” appears 8 times in the Old Testament (Genesis 4:26, 12:8, 26:25; Exodus 33:19, 34:5; 1 Kings 18:24; 2 Kings 5:11; and Joel 2:32).  In each instance apart from these two debated instances in Exodus, the language is used to reflect an invocation of God’s name, not a sermon.  Thus, my suggestion is that we should understand these two debated uses as an invocation as well.  Thus, Yahweh is not preaching a sermon on the divine name, but invoking his own name to give force to what it is that he speaks next.

And what does come next? Some suggest that Yahweh us making an idem per idem statement.  In other words, this is meant to be a reflection of his divine character and name: “I am who I am.”  Here, they suggest, God is expanding on what his name means–specifically in terms of God’s sovereignty.  Yet, the Apostle Paul connects this statement with God’s election (Romans 9:15), and though God’s election does flow out of his sovereign character, it certainly is only a single aspect of God’s divine nature. 

We can find clarification on this statement in Exodus 34:6-7, when God does invoke his own name.  God speaks of both his compassion and his judgment; all of these things flow from his absolute divine nature.  To those who would question God’s ultimate autonomy in creation, I would cite God’s response to Job’s questions in Job 38-39:  “Who are you, oh man? …”  And to those who would assert their own autonomy in matters of personal salvation, I say, “repent and put away your fallen pride!”

In a sense, then, we can suggest that God, as he approaches Moses on the mountain, did preach a sermon, but it is not as much a sermon on his divine name as it is a sermon on his divine sovereignty in judgment and redemption.  What primacy God himself places upon preaching that he would do so himself!  It does the heart of a believer good to hear the character of Yahweh faithfully preached.  Though sometimes people in the pews complain about their preacher’s sermons not being “fresh enough” or “contemporary enough,” for the believer, God’s character, his blessings, and all that is contained in his word should always be fresh and rich and refreshing to hear.  What a blessing that God gave to Moses on that mountain!

So why the themes of judgment and redemption?  The Bible itself is the story of God’s redemption of a people for himself.  Everything that God reveals to us in scripture is for the purpose of this separation—a separation between the elect and the non-elect, between God’s children and the children of the serpent.  And, of course, all redemption and judgment has its climax in the person, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the center of the scriptures and of redemptive history.  Redemption and judgment are the story of the scriptures.

One pitfall that preachers often fall into is that they like to preach about redemption but shy away from preaching judgment.  They like to preach that God is love (indeed he is) but neglect to preach that God is holy and righteous and brings judgment upon his enemies.  The big problem with this is that redemption (or judgment) are rendered meaningless if they are not kept together.  There can be no redemption if there is no judgment and speaking of judgment serves no purpose unless there is a hope of redemption.  They are flip sides of the same coin and are inseparable if you want to present the scriptures in a meaningful way.   Thus, when God proclaims these words before Moses, both judgment and redemption are held high as a pronouncement of his goodness.

Beloved, our culture, in only speaking of God as some sort of all-loving, sappy, celestial blessing-giver has tried to sell us a picture of God that is emasculated and impotent.  They present God as just wanting good things for mankind and not having the power to stop evil from going on.  Friends, reject that language with the strongest terms!  This language (as one preacher is fond of saying) is from the very pits of hell and smells like smoke!  Flee from it and flee from those who would preach it for it is not the truth.  It is poison, spoiled food, and rotting flesh from a diseased animal.  It is simply not suitable for consumption by the people of God.  Beloved, flee to the truth of Christ in both redemption and judgment; this is what God pronounces with force—in his name.

Show Me Your Glory, part 15: All My Goodness

“And He said, I will cause all of my goodness to pass over your face.  And I will invoke my name in your presence, that is, I will show favor upon those who I will show favor to and I will show compassion upon those to whom I will show compassion.’”

(Exodus 33:19)


Note the response of God.  Moses asks to see the glory of God, yet God offers to pass all his goodness over Moses.  While there are some who would equate God’s glory with his goodness, God’s glory is far more comprehensive that that.  Indeed, God is glorified in the goodness that he demonstrates to all the earth as well as the goodness that he demonstrates to his people.  Yet, God is also glorified in his wrath and judgment of his enemies.  God is glorified in the discipline that he gives to his people, and God is glorified in his electing people for grace and passing over others for condemnation.  Oh, how so many of God’s people have developed an anemic vision of the glory of God!  Oh, that we might put spiritual meat on our bones and rejoice in all of the activities of our God, even when we have difficulty coming to terms with what good can come about from them.

So why is it that God chooses to show his glory to Moses by passing his goodness by?  Could not have God revealed the fullness of his glory?  The answer is twofold.  First, the human mind, finite as it is, is simply not capable of taking in and understanding the full glory of God—it is a simple impossibility.  The full glory of God would overwhelm us—I might even suggest that we might die as a result.  Thus God is gracious in controlling how we are shown his glory so that we can comprehend what it is that he is showing us.

And secondly, it is God’s goodness that is promised to God’s people; the wrath of God is reserved for his enemies.  God’s presence here is not meant to intimidate (as in other cases), but it is meant to bless.  Thus, God blesses Moses with a revelation of his goodness in such a way that God’s glory is revealed in an edifying way rather than in a way which would break him.

Beloved, let us rest in the revelation of God’s glory.  Ultimately, he has revealed his glory in his Son, Jesus Christ, and he has given us his word that we might know him deeply and intimately.  Here is a God who is just and righteous and holy, yet he meets us where we are, not only meeting our needs, but blessing us beyond our ability to comprehend.  Oh, dear saint, enjoy the revelation of God; immerse yourself in it—his word is life and he has made it available to you and me.  Take and drink.

Show Me Your Glory, part 14: And He Said…

“And he said, ‘Show me your glory!’”

(Exodus 33:18)


I think that it is impossible to read this verse without feeling the excitement that Moses was feeling.  God had promised to walk with his people and to lead them from this mountain.  Here, Moses verbalizes the glorious hope of every believer:  to see God’s glory.  There are very few that the Bible records being given such a privilege:  Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the three Apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration, John in his final Revelation, etc…  While there are others, the response of believers to God’s presence is always one of awe, fear, and an overwhelming sense of unworthiness.  It would do the church well to learn from these past believers, for one of the great problems we have is that we often enter into God’s presence all too casually.  We are bid to enter in with joy and thanksgiving, but doing so ought to give us goose-bumps.  Here is the transcendent creator of the universe kneeling down in the muck and the mire of our sinful existence to have a relationship with us. 

Oh, what a God we have been called to serve!  And oh, what a bold request that Moses makes upon this mountain!  When we see the Apostle Peter awaiting his own martyrdom, likely about 35 years after the resurrection of Christ, we can see from his own words that he is still reflecting on the transfiguration of Christ, which he was blessed to witness (2 Peter 1:17-18).  How much more must the experience of Moses on the mountain sustained him through the difficulties of leading God’s people through the wilderness over the following years?

I would suggest that this should be the heart’s desire of every Christian—that we might see the glory of the Lord, not only in part as we look upon the faces of believers, but in full as we anticipate seeing the glory with our own eyes when we see him face to face in heaven.  The hope of seeing this glory should be a powerful motivation for the believer to live faithfully and to persevere through this life, lest we fall away and be separated from him forever (note that I am not denying the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, but scripture also seems to describe those who have had an experience that looks like a conversion, but who then later fall away—showing that the experience that they had was not true regeneration—thus believers are often bid in scripture to walk in faith towards the goal).

Beloved, do you long to see the glory of God revealed with your own eyes?  Certainly, you can get a taste of it in the Scriptures, but we look forward to a time when our eyes will be finally opened and we will see our King, our Lord, our Savior, our Prophet, and our High Priest riding triumphantly on a great white steed in the clouds returning to bring final judgment on his enemies and to remake the world to be as it was before the fall.  That day is coming, loved ones, hope in it; dare to dream of it; and pray to God that your life would be one that leads others to see it as well—not as one condemned, but as one rejoicing in the return of their king.

Show Me Your Glory, part 13: God Confirms

“And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘I will indeed do this thing that I have promised, for you have found favor in my eyes, and I have known you with a name.’”

(Exodus 33:17)


God confirms that he will fulfill his promise to Moses and to the people of Israel.  This promise is the same promise that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and is the promise that Moses reminds him of in defending Israel against God’s righteous wrath (Exodus 32: 13).  Yet, beloved, this is the same promise that God makes to those who trust in his Son, Jesus Christ, for their salvation.  God’s presence will be with us.

Notice how patient God is with his promises of reassurance.  It is not that God likes being redundant, but it is that God recognizes our weakness and need to be reassured of his continued blessing.  How often, when we are facing difficulties or when we fall into sin, do we think of God having left us—I don’t feel his presence, people often say.  Yet, beloved, God has promised to stand with you through all of the mountains and valleys of life if you are a believer—you are his and he will not allow you to slip through his fingers.  Just because you cannot “feel” him does not mean that he is not there, ordering and shaping your life to bring you back into conformity to the image of his Son.  God has repeated this promise over and over in scripture—it is not going away.  So beloved, stake a claim on these promises—stand on them.  They are trustworthy and true and will never fail you even when you fail to trust and rely on them.  Why are these promises so stout and true?  Because God stands behind them and who is more worthy of trust than him who spoke creation into being?

Show Me Your Glory, part 12: Your Presence Makes Us Special (part 2)

“And he said, ‘If your face is not going, do not lead us from this place.  And in what way will it be known, then, that I have found favor in your eyes―I and your people?  Is it not in your going with us and that we have been treated specially―I and your people―from all the people who are on the face of the earth?’”

(Exodus 33:15-16)


Moses also clarifies the motive behind his request for God’s presence (as we discussed above).  When God’s threatened to destroy the nation of Israel because of their idolatry, part of Moses’ defense of God’s people was based on what the pagan world would say about God’s activity (Exodus 32:12)—Moses’ concern was that the righteous name not be besmirched in the eyes of the surrounding pagan nations.  Here that theme surfaces once again.  Moses poses the rhetorical question of how the world will know that God has favored Moses and the Israelites.  And here is the answer to Moses’ rhetorical question.  It is in God’s presence and in his favor that the world will know that the nation of Israel is favored by God (see Psalm 117, 1 Chronicles 16:31). 

There is some disparity in how translations render Wnylep.nIw> (weniphleynu)—“we have been treated specially.” Most major translations (ESV, NASB, NIV, KJV, RSV) translate this word with respect to God distinguishing or making his people separate from the rest of the earth—“so that we are distinct” reads the ESV.  Yet, hl;P’ (palah), which is the verbal root that Wnylep.nIw> (weniphleynu) is derived from, speaks of a distinguishing that comes as a result of special or preferential treatment.  Thus, in the context of this passage, the distinguishing from the peoples of the earth is a result of both God’s presence and the blessing that comes as a result of God’s presence.

Though God’s people are set apart from the rest of the earth as a result of God’s presence and blessing, the glory of the Gospel is that we are to take the good news of Jesus Christ to all the world!  Though we are set apart by God’s blessings, people from all over the world can enter into those blessings through faith in Jesus Christ.  But notice that the receiving of such blessings comes as a result of entering into the body of God’s people—this is not a universalistic promise, but one only given to those who belong to Christ.  Beloved, what a joy it is to watch someone partake of such blessings for the first time; so why is it that we don’t share the gospel with more people?  Oh, what blessings we so often withhold from our friends, neighbors, and loved ones because we are often timid when it comes to inviting people to come and join our fellowship with the great King of all creation—our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms;

What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,

Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;

Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

-Elisha Hoffman

Show Me Your Glory, part 11: Your Presence Makes Us Special

“And he said, ‘If your face is not going, do not lead us from this place.  And in what way will it be known, then, that I have found favor in your eyes―I and your people?  Is it not in your going with us and that we have been treated specially―I and your people―from all the people who are on the face of the earth?’”

(Exodus 33:15-16)


Moses now reiterates his plea that God be with them as they leave Sinai, but now he adds reasons for the request.  When God’s people stray from God’s presence, there is nothing but grief and trouble for those people.  And oh, this world has enough troubles in it as a result of sin–even when we walk in God’s presence–how is it that so often the church thinks that they can go on alone.  Moses rightly understands, though, that what makes Israel separate, blessed, and unique from all the other people of the earth is the presence of God with them.  Without God’s presence, there can be no true blessings.  Solomon sought to explore this idea further in the book entitled Ecclesiastes.  His conclusion is that anything done or gained apart from God is empty and vain.  This statement of Moses’ is a statement that should be found upon the wall of every pastor’s office and should be part of the prayer of every leadership meeting that Christ’s church has.  Oh, how often we stray from this truth.

          It is also worth noting that some of the last words of Pharaoh to Moses were that the next time Moses saw the face of Pharaoh, he would die.  Yet, Moses understands clearly that it is not the presence of Pharaoh that insures peace, but the presence of Yahweh alone.  The sad thing is that so many Christians seek to find their “place” in this world on their own strengths rather than seeking their place in Christ.  We chase after fame and we chase after recognition, but what do these things gain us in the eyes of an almighty God?  No, loved ones, let us seek our place in Christ—all else is vanity.

Show Me Your Glory, part 10: Rest

“And He said, ‘My face will go with you and I will secure rest for you.’”

(Exodus 33:14)


God promises to provide x;Wn (nuach), or rest, for his people.  While there are a variety of uses of this verb in the Old Testament, in the context of this passage, the rest that is spoken of is rest from trial and from one’s enemies.  God is speaking of his presence with his people, and it is only when we rest in his presence that we find peace–even in the midst of worldly challenges.  The problem that God’s people so often run into is that they fail to rest in God and seek satisfaction in the temptations of the world.  God is promising rest for his people, but it is in the context of his presence and it is in the context of them following his ways (see verse 13). 

This is the promise that Jesus offers the church when he says “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened; I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.  For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Matthew 11:28-29).  Oh, how we may learn to rest in Christ, for this rest can be found even in the most chaotic days of our life.  Let us rest and find our pleasure in him and in him alone.

At the same time, let us always remember that this promise of rest carries with it conditions.  Just as the rest that was promised to the Israelites was rest based on their remaining in God’s presence and upon their remaining in God’s “ways” (or their obedience to him), so it is the same with the church today.  Too many people take the freedoms that we have been given in Christ as a license for worldly behavior.  The apostle Paul responds to this attitude with the strongest language in Romans 6:15-18, reminding us that we serve one master or another, either sin and death or God and life—take your pick.  Yet, beloved, if you want it, if you desire to have this peace and rest in the midst of life’s storms, it is yours for the asking; just seek that peace and rest in Christ.

I come to the garden alone,

While the dew is still on the roses;

And the voice I hear,

Falling on my ear; the Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,

And He tells me I am His own,

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

None other has ever known.


Show Me Your Glory, part 9: My Face

“And He said, ‘My face will go with you and I will secure rest for you.’”

(Exodus 33:14)


There is an exegetical question that must be answered within this clause: should we translate this as “my presence” or “my face.”  Certainly, the idea that is being conveyed is that God’s presence will go with his people.  At the same time, the language of the face of God shining upon his people is the language of blessing (Numbers 6:22-27).  God’s name and God’s blessing are seen as that which marks his people apart from the nations, and indeed, are significant themes in this passage.  Thus, while speaking of God’s presence is a legitimate translation of this clause, speaking of his face provides a fuller and more theological understanding of what is being conveyed.  It is not merely the presence of God that he is granting (though that is a great blessing in itself!) but he is turning his face to shine upon his people, bringing blessing upon them as long as they do not stray from his presence.

The willingness of God to set his presence with his people is one of the most encouraging doctrines of the Christian faith.  Jesus echoed these words when he said “Behold, I am with you every day, even to the consummation of eternity.” (Matthew 28:20).  This is an important concept that runs through the Old Testament with his people (see Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:5, 1 Chronicles 28:20) and that is what is symbolized by the tabernacle and the temple.  Believers can draw great confidence from this for we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and God dwells within us (1 John 2:24). 

God’s presence with us means that we can have confidence in stepping out in faith to share the Gospel with others.  This means we can go to the deepest, darkest regions of Africa or the coldest wastes of Siberia, and God is still with us.  As King David wrote:

O Yahweh, you have searched me and known me;

You know when I sit and when I rise,

You understand my thoughts from far away.

In my journeying and in my lying down, you observe me;

You are acquainted with all my ways.

Even when there is yet no word on my tongue,

Behold, Yahweh, you know all it will be.

My back and east are besieged,

And you set your hand over me.

This knowledge is too wonderful for me;

It is exalted and I am not able to attain it.

Where can I go from your spirit?

And where can I flee from before your presence?

If I ascend to the heavens, you are there.

And if I lay in the grave, you are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn,

Or I dwell in at the ends of the sea,

Even there your hand will lead me,

And your right hand shall hold me.

(Psalm 139: 1-10)

There is no place in this world that we can hide from him and there is no place in this world that we are not sheltered by his grace.  We can walk with confidence, knowing that God has ordained even our footsteps for his glory.  Even if we go to the fires of martyrdom, God is yet there with us.  And if God is there with us in the furthest regions of the earth, he will be with us at the water-cooler at work or at the fencepost, when we have the chance to talk to an unbelieving neighbor.  He will be with us in school, when we are surrounded by people who are not believers, and he will be with at the grocery store when we have the chance to share the gospel with the lady behind us in the check-out line.  And he will be with you even as you are grieving great loss.  Believer, take courage, though this world may not be your home and at times may be a hateful place, our God has promised to never leave nor forsake us.  That is more comfort than we deserve and all the comfort that we need—no matter what life holds.

Show Me Your Glory, part 8: This Nation-Your People

“And Moses said to Yahweh, ‘See, you said to me, ‘lead this people up.’  But you did not reveal to me who you were going to send with me.  And you said, ‘I have known you with a name and you have found favor in my eyes.’ And now, if I have found favor in your eyes, reveal to me your ways so that I may know you and so that I may find favor in your eyes.  And understand that your people are this nation.’”

(Exodus 33:12-13)


This last clause is perhaps one of the most difficult to translate into idiomatic English and still maintain the integrity of the original text.  Simply stated, Moses is reminding God that this rebellious nation is “your people.”  Literally, Moses is stating: “See!  Your people–this nation.”  God has raised up a people for himself and bound them together as a nation.  Though they may be rebellious and discontent, they still belonged to God and were separated apart by God for his good pleasure. 

Oh, how these words still ring true of the church today.  Though we are rebellious and prone to sin, we are still the bride of Christ, and God still blesses us with his presence and works to sanctify us as a holy and pure bride on account of his Son, the great and true covenant mediator.  Beloved, God has chosen to have a relationship with us.  That simple statement is overwhelming and is the thing that separates Christianity from every other religion on the planet.  We have a transcendent God who chooses to have a personal relationship with us even though we are sinful and rebellious.  Oh, the grace and mercy of God that is demonstrated in his claiming and keeping of his people!  O, the grace and mercy of God that is demonstrated in his claiming and keeping of me—wretched sinner that I am!  This is truly a God that deserves our worship!

Show Me Your Glory, part 7: Show Me Your Ways

“And Moses said to Yahweh, ‘See, you said to me, ‘lead this people up.’  But you did not reveal to me who you were going to send with me.  And you said, ‘I have known you with a name and you have found favor in my eyes.’ And now, if I have found favor in your eyes, reveal to me your ways so that I may know you and so that I may find favor in your eyes.  And understand that your people are this nation.’”

(Exodus 33:12-13)


The request of Moses to understand God’s ways should be understood as carrying a double meaning.  First, the ways of God are holy and pure and in them is life (Psalm 119:37).  Sanctification is an ongoing process for every believer and to seek the ways of God is to seek the God behind the ways, and by extension, Christ (John 14:6).  God is holy and thus his ways are holy, and if we wish to grow holy in our lifestyles, we must seek after the things of God—to hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matthew 5:6) with a passionate zeal.  This is what it means to live out ones faith and this is how we grow wise in living (Colossians 1:9-10). 

At the same time, Moses is interceding for his people.  His desire is that God bless them with his presence as they travel to the Promised Land.  Thus, this request can also be understood in terms of Moses’ desire to see the plan of God for his people as they leave the mountain and that he (Moses) would be able to lead the people faithfully in the eyes of God.  And, indeed, through walking faithfully, that one might find favor in the eyes of God.

Oh, how we should seek after the ways of God, beloved, and we should guard and cherish them in our lives.  This is why deliberate sin is so heinous for the believer in Jesus Christ—we know the ways of God—we have been shown them in scripture and the Holy Spirit testifies to these things in our lives—yet we rebel against what we know to be true and act upon our own sinful desires. 

How foolish we can be, that we allow the weakness of our flesh to veil the truth of God’s glorious way!  At the same time, loved ones, for those who repent—those who turn from their sin and return their eyes to God’s way—God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from our unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  Oh, the marvels of grace!  Oh, the joy of being undeservedly forgiven!  Beloved, taste of the goodness of God, that he would not only forgive you when you strayed from his ways but that he would set you back on the path that leads to his righteous throne—oh the wonders of the God we serve!

O may this strange, this matchless grace,

This god-like miracle of love,

Fill the whole earth with grateful praise,

And all the angelic choirs above,

And all the angelic choirs above,

Who is a pardoning God like thee?

Or who has grace so rich and free?

Or who has grace so rich and free?

-Samuel Davies