Garry E Milley


Blog Header Image  Finding a pathway in the desert of suffering

Finding a pathway in the desert of suffering

I think in ink. For years I have collected and used antique fountain pens and composed in leather notebooks using various colour of inks, mostly blues, rarely black.

My fingers are often stained with the inks that are stored in bottles in my Pastor’s study. I treasure each pen, bottle of ink, and speciality fountain-pen friendly paper.

I'm a bit of an old school geek. The smell of antique pens, inks, and old books is therapeutic. Yet, my study is full of Apple products: iPod, iPad Air, iPhone, MacBook Air, and a 27inch iMac Computer.

As a professor of Church History and Theology, I reach back as far as I can into the intellectual heritage of the Church and, as a pastor, I have been consumed with the desire to reach as far forward as possible so that the ancient Scriptures can still be heard.

There is only one life given us to do that. One only has so many gifts to use. And, it is only this very moment that is available to us to do it. As one ages, one is aware of the urgency to do well so that the “well done” is heard at the very end.

As one prepares for the last chapter of ministry, one wishes for “flowery beds of ease.” But, often there are “foes for me to fight.” Apologies to Isaac Watts.

The Christian life as a journey

Our spiritual forebears in Christianity and Judaism conceived of life from birth to death as a journey through the desert to the Promised Land.

Medieval monks, following the lead of John of the Cross, used the “Dark Night of the Soul” as an image of desperate times along the pathway.

Spiritual writers stressed that the way to the glorious hope of the empty tomb was through the pathos of Gethsemane and the terror of the Cross. One couldn’t get to Easter Sunday without experiencing Calvary.

When Jesus prayed in the garden, he knew his end was near, but he didn’t lay blame on anyone for his troubles. He didn’t speculate what he might have done or said to have avoided the cross.

True, he asked, if it were possible, to be spared, but he resigned himself to God’s will. Various groups get charged for his death: the soldiers, the religious elite, and the angry mob. Yet, it all happens under the sovereign oversight of God. That’s in the Bible, too.

If God is overseeing everything, there must be something good about it. But, in the moments of a desert storm, a dark night, or a Good Friday, nothing seems to be good. It’s hard to tell the difference between the good and the bad. Sometimes we just don’t know.

Is this storm God’s work or the devil’s work? Should I be rejoicing in my suffering (Romans 5) because it will produce perseverance, character, and hope. That’s what we want anyway. We want the strength to endure the storm. We want the storm to make us a better person. And, we want some kind of insight that tomorrow the weather will clear.

Or, should I be rebuking the enemy, using prayer as a spiritual weapon, exposing the tactics of the enemy and his cohorts, smite the foes of God, and take victory in the name of Jesus?

Or, if our situation is seen as an injustice, may we not appeal to Caesar, like Paul? Who knows?

Which path do we take? How long do we stay in a discernment mode when we do not know what is good or bad about our situation?

Trying to find meaning in suffering

Is it possible that the quest to find spiritual meaning is itself part of the problem? Do we have to analyze the situation like a team of secret agents?

Is it possible that the compulsion to discern God’s will or God’s hand, or the devil’s doings, is the cause of much spiritual anguish rather than the path to a cure? Am I responsible to figure out the lesson God is teaching in the moment? Or, is the lesson something that emerges much later?

In Philippians 1:12 Paul wrote, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”

This was not something he was aware of in the moment of suffering, but much later as he reflected on his journey.

Gerald G. May, in the introduction to The Dark Night of the Soul, suggests that our preoccupation with finding relief from our suffering leaves us very little opportunity to search for meaning.

Interesting thought!

Christians are so used to bumper stickers, trite sayings, Facebook memes, and thin spiritual gruel. From the “no pain-no gain”, to the austerity of asceticism which glorifies suffering as inherently good for the soul, we have succumbed to the ideas that God orchestras the evil in our lives.

“It’s His will” is the default position to explain everything so that nothing is outside of God’s will. Why then, even bother to pray “Thy will be done?” Is there any need of a devil if God is the author of all?

Maybe, the best option in suffering is to keep faithful, maintain composure, face the rough road ahead, and be steady at the wheel. Once the weather clears and the dust settles, we can reflect upon the journey and see the hand of God all the way from the Red Sea, through the desert, to the Promised Land.

From, Am I a Soldier of the Cross? by Isaac Watts.

Am I a soldier of the cross, A follower of the Lamb? And shall I fear to own His cause Or blush to speak His name?

Must I be carried to the skies On flowery beds of ease? While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?

Sure I must fight, if I would reign Increase my courage, Lord! I'll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by Thy word.

Thy saints, in all this glorious war, Shall conquer, though they die; They view the triumph from afar, And seize it with their eye.

When that illustrious day shall rise, And all Thy armies shine In robes of victory through the skies, The glory shall be Thine.


Prayer as Sabbath Rest

Many have heard exhortations to pray based on 2 Chronicles 7:14: “ ...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (ESV). Less known are the two verses that follow: “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place ... My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.”

The passage relates to the dedication of Solomon’s Temple and has inspired the consecration of many Christian churches. Christians gather weekly to pray. Some have referred to church attendance as “going to prayers.” Jesus said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’” (Matthew 21:13).

Why do some writers have images of prayer as going to a battle. There are books aplenty about prayer as spiritual warfare. One does battle with the devil; another does battle with God. Many of the books are full of techniques of how to defeat the enemy or how to get what you want from God. Whatever value there might be in that viewpoint, I have always felt that approach to prayer was uninviting. I have never sensed God was stingy or that my time in prayer should be spent worrying about the devil, let alone fighting him. The fact that I showed up in the place of prayer was itself a victory over the enemy. After all week fighting the devil and his temptations, I had made it home safely into the Father’s house at the time of prayer. I was safe in his holy presence one more time. How horrible it must be to be fighting daily against the world, the flesh, and the devil only to arrive at the Father’s house of prayer and to think you have to fight against the devil or God himself! Such imagery keeps many people away from prayer.

When I was younger I was derailed for a short time on this. I went to prayer as if to a fight. Satan wanted to hinder God’s answers to my prayers so I yelled at Satan. God had to be convinced by loud passionate pleas as if he responded to prayers according to volume and intensity. I talked to God as if he were far away and deaf. My earlier praying consisted of me talking loudly not listening quietly. I listen more these days. I pray quieter. God seems closer. Prayer is like rest from the battle not the battle itself. I seek prayer as I seek rest. What rest does for the body, prayer does for the soul. It is a Sabbath rest for the soul. Prayer is not something to endue but to enjoy.

We need to rethink our image of prayer. Rather than it being primarily spiritual warfare, why not think of it as rest and a recovery of strength for the battle? Going to the place of prayer should be like looking forward to Saturday after a hard week at work. Indeed, the Jewish author Abraham Heschel thought of the Sabbath as a sanctuary. He called it a “palace in time which we build.” To borrow his idea, the hour of prayer is a sanctuary built, not will bricks and mortar but with time. God is not limited to space; God does not live in houses. As Heschel said, “The day of the Lord is more important to the prophets than the house of the Lord.” God dwells in eternity and when we set aside time, when we close our eyes to all the things in space and push them away, we create a dimension where we can be in God’s healing presence.

The Christian life is to be a quest for the divine presence. Like that day in the Solomon’s Temple we are called to pray so that God will forgive our sins and heal our land. But, it is more than a mere exhortation. It is a gracious invitation to come into the presence. Do we know that when we pray, God’s eyes and God’s heart are there? God’s eyes penetrate through our pretenses to our sin and our moral sickness. We are naked in true prayer but God’s heart is, also, there—a forgiving heart, merciful, and kind beyond imagination. God is there with us in prayer and sees our helplessness. God is there to love us and to heal us as those who come home to rest in the sanctuary of the divine presence.

Additional Sermons

Prayer as Sabbath Rest

Many have heard exhortations to pray based on 2 Chronicles 7:14: “ ...if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (ESV). Less known are the two verses that follow: “Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place ... My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.”

The passage relates to the dedication of Solomon’s Temple and has inspired the consecration of many Christian churches. Christians gather weekly to pray. Some have referred to church attendance as “going to prayers.” Jesus said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’” (Matthew 21:13).

Why do some writers have images of prayer as going to a battle. There are books aplenty about prayer as spiritual warfare. One does battle with the devil; another does battle with God. Many of the books are full of techniques of how to defeat the enemy or how to get what you want from God. Whatever value there might be in that viewpoint, I have always felt that approach to prayer was uninviting. I have never sensed God was stingy or that my time in prayer should be spent worrying about the devil, let alone fighting him. The fact that I showed up in the place of prayer was itself a victory over the enemy. After all week fighting the devil and his temptations, I had made it home safely into the Father’s house at the time of prayer. I was safe in his holy presence one more time. How horrible it must be to be fighting daily against the world, the flesh, and the devil only to arrive at the Father’s house of prayer and to think you have to fight against the devil or God himself! Such imagery keeps many people away from prayer.

When I was younger I was derailed for a short time on this. I went to prayer as if to a fight. Satan wanted to hinder God’s answers to my prayers so I yelled at Satan. God had to be convinced by loud passionate pleas as if he responded to prayers according to volume and intensity. I talked to God as if he were far away and deaf. My earlier praying consisted of me talking loudly not listening quietly. I listen more these days. I pray quieter. God seems closer. Prayer is like rest from the battle not the battle itself. I seek prayer as I seek rest. What rest does for the body, prayer does for the soul. It is a Sabbath rest for the soul. Prayer is not something to endue but to enjoy.

We need to rethink our image of prayer. Rather than it being primarily spiritual warfare, why not think of it as rest and a recovery of strength for the battle? Going to the place of prayer should be like looking forward to Saturday after a hard week at work. Indeed, the Jewish author Abraham Heschel thought of the Sabbath as a sanctuary. He called it a “palace in time which we build.” To borrow his idea, the hour of prayer is a sanctuary built, not will bricks and mortar but with time. God is not limited to space; God does not live in houses. As Heschel said, “The day of the Lord is more important to the prophets than the house of the Lord.” God dwells in eternity and when we set aside time, when we close our eyes to all the things in space and push them away, we create a dimension where we can be in God’s healing presence.

The Christian life is to be a quest for the divine presence. Like that day in the Solomon’s Temple we are called to pray so that God will forgive our sins and heal our land. But, it is more than a mere exhortation. It is a gracious invitation to come into the presence. Do we know that when we pray, God’s eyes and God’s heart are there? God’s eyes penetrate through our pretenses to our sin and our moral sickness. We are naked in true prayer but God’s heart is, also, there—a forgiving heart, merciful, and kind beyond imagination. God is there with us in prayer and sees our helplessness. God is there to love us and to heal us as those who come home to rest in the sanctuary of the divine presence.

The Biblical Teaching on Tithing

Sermon Header Image The Biblical Teaching on Tithing

The tithe is one tenth of our wages and profits from business or investments. Abraham paid tithes (Gen 14:20). Jacob promised to tithe in gratitude to the Lord (Gen. 28:13-22). The use of the tithe ranged from underwriting the cost of a joyous religious feast in the sanctuary to buying “anything you wish” (Deut. 14: 22-29). Every third year the tithes stayed in the local vicinity and were used to support the priests, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widows (i.e., pastoral support and public welfare).

The Levites lived on the tithe and also paid a tithe (Num. 18:26, Neh. 10:37-38). Tithing was specified as a way to “revere the Lord” (Deut. 14:23). The tithe belonged God (Lev. 27:30) and to withhold it was to rob God (Mal.3:8). Prosperity is promised to the one who tithes (Mal. 3:10-12). When people stop worshipping God, the tithe is directed away from God’s work (Amos 4:4). When God’s people get renewed, among the first evidences of it is tithing (2 Chron. 31:5-12; Neh. 12:40-45).

In the New Testament, Jesus affirmed the principle of tithing (Matt. 5:17; Luke 11:42), but never established it as a legalistic obligation (Luke 21:3-4). The Pharisees boasted about it (Luke 18:12; Matt. 23:23;) while neglecting more important matters, which they also ought to have done. Paul taught there was blessing in giving (Acts 20:35) and that it was for the work of the ministry (1 Cor. 9:14). He also taught all believers should be regularly, proportionately and cheerfully involved in giving (1 Cor. 16:2-3; 2 Cor. 9:7).

Make it honestly, spend it wisely and give it generously seem to be the Christian principles. Tithing is an ancient and honourable method of supporting the Lord’s work. To modify it in any way is to disadvantage the Lord’s work and deprive ourselves of spiritual and material blessing (2 Cor. 9:6).

On Not Understanding Suffering

Sermon Header Image On Not Understanding Suffering

On Not Understanding Suffering

Text: Psalm 119:71-77 (TNIV) 71 It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. 72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. 73 Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. 74 May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word. 75 I know, LORD, that your laws are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. 76 May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. 77 Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight. Job 1 (TNIV)

1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters, 3 and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East. 4 His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom. 6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?"

Satan answered the LORD, "From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it." 8 Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." 9 "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. 10 "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." 12 The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger." Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. 13 One day when Job's sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, "The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" 16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" 17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" 18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, "Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother's house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!" 20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. Job 19:25-27 (TNIV)

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Prayer: Our Father in heaven, may my words lift up the fallen and give strength to the fainting heart. In Christ’s name. Amen.


Suffering is a fact of life. No one gets out of life alive. Babies are generally made to last 70 or 80 years but our bodies eventually wear out. They are not made to last forever. Violence, accidents, and disease can take us out early. In some countries, war and famine can do it. The older you get, the more cautious you become. We have to remember to take our pills at the right times; we have to read the labels on the canned goods. The older you get, the more life becomes like a walk in a minefield. We have to inch our way along through life, gingerly, to avoid striking something or doing something that will cause devastating results. Try as hard as we might, there is no way we can avoid suffering. We all know it. Suffering is part of life. We will not be able to avoid it. And, we won’t get out of life alive. We can’t avoid suffering. But we don’t have to like it! We don’t have to welcome it! We don’t have to embrace it! We can praise God in spite of it. We can be thankful in the midst of it. But, we don’t have to accept it. We must never learn to enjoy it, and we will never be able to understand it!

Now, of course, if we play in the street, we might get run over. We understand that! If we touch a hot stove, we will get burned. We understand that! If we drink and drive, we risk our own life and the lives of others. We understand all that! However, much of the suffering in life does not result from us doing anything morally or legally wrong. What we find it impossible to understand, is the kind of suffering that is prolonged, painful physically and devastating emotionally—the suffering that needs constant medical maintenance—the suffering that leaves us dependent upon others. When each day is filled with the constant presence of pain and the loss of independence, then suffering is not only intolerable, it is also incomprehensible. The reason why is that it then becomes a faith issue. A pimple on your face is not likely to cause a faith crisis. The common cold does not raise serious God-questions. Job found himself in a faith crisis. The book is an Old Testament novel. In fact, many scholars say that the book of Job is the oldest story in the Bible. Some say he lived at the same time as Abraham, long before Israel was formed as a people of God. The story of Job was already being told when the rabbis started collecting together the sacred writings of the Jewish faith. The book of Job is the account of a person who experienced suffering on such a scale that we have attached his name to common phrases such as “the sufferings of Job,” “Job’s comforters,” and “the patience of Job.”

Job is a honourable man. He is a blameless and upright individual. Even God says that about him! He is morally upright, and he worships God regularly. He has 10 children and there are thousands of animals on his ranch. He has many servants, lots of land— prime real estate. He is as rich as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. He is living on Easy Street. His family is healthy and prosperous. Job is famous enough to be in listed in the world’s “Who’s Who.” He’s the kind of guy that gets invited to Royal Weddings! He is the greatest of all the men on the earth! Life is very, very good for Job.

But, one day, God is down at Starbuck’s having a coffee with his sons. (I’m taking a bit of liberty with the text here—not to lead you into heresy—but to bring out a point). Here they are, the sons of God, and The Satan is among them. The word “The Satan” is the Hebrew word “hasatan” and means the accuser and because this word is used later to speak of the rebellious angel who was in the Garden of Eden, many people think this Satan is the same one. It may not be. Here in the book of Job, this may be a title not an name. There is no real evidence that it is the NT Satan—just that the name is the same. But, here they are. The Satan is with them sitting around with God and God asks the accuser: “Where have you been?” The Satan replies, “Out and about!” God says: “Did you ever run into my servant Job? He’s a great guy! Blameless, upright! Goes to church, stays out of trouble!” The Satan, sipping on a Latte, shakes his head and says, “Seems to me he’s in it for what he can get out of it. Sure, you are blessing the man’s socks off! Look at the guy’s bank account. Of course, he’s worshipping you. You’ve given him the life of Riley. He’s won the Lotto. Just remove the blessings and he will backslide in a New York minute.” “Okay,” says God, “do what you like but don’t touch his life.” In no time at all, Job is reduced to nothing. He rips his clothes as a sign of suffering and he shaves his head as a sign of grief. He resigns himself to his situation and makes this claim: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” He doesn’t blame The Satan. He doesn’t blame God, as such. But, he sees God as active in the process of his suffering. And, he can still praise God. But, then, the suffering hits not just his relatives and his ranch and his riches; it strikes his body. Pus, scabs, and sores cover his entire skin. (Sorry about that so close to lunch!) He is in absolute misery. But he says nothing. Three friends show up. They are there to comfort him. They sit with him for a week saying nothing—just weeping with him. That is the best thing to do. Words are cheap and usually bring no help at all. Nothing is as useless as the pious words we tend to say to suffering people. Those who do not really understand our pain can’t comfort us. At least they didn’t read him a poem from a Hallmark card! Job’s friends just sat there crying along with him. It was the right thing to do. They sit near him and Job begins to spout off. He curses the day he was born. He wishes that death had given him release years ago. He wants to die. He wants to lie down and never wake up. We may think this is the depth of depression. We may think that Job is really losing it here and having a nervous breakdown. But, it might be even deeper than that. But, to wish for death is a sign of a growing bitterness against the Lord. As soon as his friends hear his suicidal talk, they weigh in. “You shouldn’t’ talk like that,” they say. “Bitterness is blasphemy and God is likely to punish you more for talking like that.” But Job is at the end of his rope. He can’t imagine the pain getting any worse. His friends probably thought their rebuke would shock him out of his bitterness. It didn’t work. They should have just let him get it off his chest. It would have been better if they had just ignored him. After all, Jonah, Jeremiah, and Elijah, all great men of God, had said much the same. Job is in good company. Many Bible characters complained to God. The Psalmist had the same experience. “Why do you hide your face from me, when I need you most?” It’s there in Psalm 10: “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” If you have ever visited a sick person, you will hear this often. It is an honest statement. There is a transparency about it. There is no religious veneer to hide the truth. In times of great pain, people can have a faith crisis. They can say pretty strong stuff. It’s not much good for us to say, “Don’t say stuff like that! Don’t make matters worse! We just have to stay positive and believe that God is good!” We parrot the cliché, ”God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!” It doesn’t help to say that to people in the midst of severe pain. Those who are in pain deserve the freedom to say what they want to say. They are in great company. Jonah did it; Habakkuk did it, and so did Jeremiah and Elijah. As long as Job’s comforters kept their mouths shut, they comforted him. As soon as they started to speak, they only made matters worse. One friend tried to wade into theological waters that were way over his head. He was an amateur theologian. “Job,” he said ”In this life you get what you deserve. You have done something to tick God off and he is punishing you. There’s sin in your life.” This was an awful thing to say and a very shallow understanding of God. All it does is to complicate matters and increase someone’s suffering. On top of the suffering you pile on a layer of blame and guilt. What kind of a God is it that would torture people? In the gospels we get the story of a tower that fell over and killed 18 people. Jesus said that they had not sinned any more than anyone else. In another incident, the disciples found a man born blind. People were saying either he had sinned, or his parents had sinned. Jesus said it was neither the blind man nor his parents who were responsible for his blindness. There are such things as accidents and there are, in this fallen world, such things as hereditary defects. On top of the suffering, amateur theologians wish to layer blame and guilt on the victim. Very sad! We should guard our lips from claiming anything to be a God-ordained, vindictive punishment. Job is having a faith crisis. The last thing he needs is comforters who add insult to injury by silly, shallow answers to complex problems. Job is feeling abandoned and God- forsaken. He is “knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door,” but no one is answering. Have you not, at some time or another, been there? Have you ever had pain so severe and so long that you thought you would never come out of it alive? Pat answers and pats on the back don’t cut it. Sometimes, suffering simply cannot be understood or explained. The only comfort we have is that we know other people too have suffered and survived. And, even the Lord Jesus himself cried out in desperation, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” And from the pain of Gethsemane through the suffering of the cross, Jesus triumphed even over death! Job lived many centuries before Christ but in this great Old Testament novel we get a brief glimpse of a light that breaks through. I just love this part of Job. I suspect the reason why this book has survived is because of the powerful hope contained in these verses. Job is able to say: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25- 27 (TNIV) One day, we will get an audience with the Lord of history. One day we will get to ask the Lord himself, the reason for all this we have to endure in this life. Our Lord has suffered, too. He has suffered, to tell the suffering, that through his suffering, he will bring an end to suffering. He will bring redemption. In Hebrews 2:6-9 (ESV) the author writes: 6It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” What is true of Jesus will, one day, be true of us. He suffered too. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again! One day, not today, we will know the answer to the why question. Right now, the best help we have of dealing with suffering is to know that Jesus passed through it also and is able to help us. And, because he had been through it, the author of Hebrews calls Jesus the “author and the finisher of our faith.” He has blazed the trail before us. He has made a way. He has conquered death. Imagine, Jesus, the friend that sticks closer than a brother, has taken down the bully. Jesus has defeated death! That knowledge is the real and true Job’s comforter. The reformation document known as the Heidelberg Catechism asks: “What is thy only comfort in life and death?” The answer reads: “That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, hath fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.” The suffering can never be satisfied by the amateur theology of Job’s comforters. Pat answers do not work in the context of real pain. But, one day, the redeemed will see God. We shall see the redeemer. We will know who he is. We shall see him and not another. I believe this truth. Do you? My father used to pray, ”Keep us faithful until that day dawns and the shadows flee away.” Until that day dawns, let us be faithful to Christ. We have to endure our going yonder. Not everything is subjected to us here, yet. Therefore, we keep looking at Jesus. His resurrection guarantees that one day things will be clearer to us. One of my professors, Victor Shepherd, told the story of William Sangster, a great Methodist preacher. He died horribly of a rare disease. When he was a young boy, a sister was born into the family. She was born deformed and died when she was just nine years old. She had had 14 surgeries that left five gaping wounds in her head. The family kept her hidden from view. We can never explain that today. Don’t even go there. There is no way to explain that.

Years later, Sangster was at a church camp and he ran out of money for the canteen. He sent a postcard to his father asking for help. Would he send more money? No answer came. His buddies began to tease him. “Maybe your father has forgotten you are here.” “Perhaps he’s just too busy to bother with you.” “Maybe your father doesn’t even care about you.” Sangster, even as a young boy, refused to entertain such idea. His friends continued, “Then what is the explanation?” “I don’t know,” he replied, “I simply don’t know. I will have to wait until I get home, and my father will tell me, himself.” Job said, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27 (TNIV) Suffering is a mystery not solvable this side of eternity. Not everything is subjected to us here. But one day we will see God! We shall ask our father when we get home. Until that day dawns and the shadows flee away let us continue to serve and praise our redeemer even in our suffering, and even when we don’t understand it. It’s okay not to understand suffering. “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25- 27 (TNIV)

Prayer: Grant to us, our Father, courage in the face of suffering, and hope for eternal life. In Jesus name, we ask. Amen. Benediction: Hebrews 13:20-21 (Today's New International Version) Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

It’s Time to Brag about Jesus!

Galatians 6:11-18 (NIV)

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! 12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

17 From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.


We come today to the end of this great but short book of Galatians and we come to the final message in this series. For me it has been a rich experience and a personal renewal of faith. It is as if, once again, I was confronted with the greatness of the Cross of Christ, the significance of his death, and the wonder of the gospel of the grace of God. The books of Galatians and Romans sustained me as a young Christian in my first years of following the Lord. After heeding the call to ministry, I had the tremendous privilege to studying these books with such great teachers as Charles Ratz, Roy Matheson, J.I. Packer, and N.T. Wright. During my long season of Bible College and Seminary teaching I was given the honour and assigned the responsibility to teach these two epistles of Paul—Galatians and Romans. I had treated them in the classroom but not in a Sunday morning pulpit. So, I have found this sermon series to be personally enriching and I am grateful to God for you, as a loving and affirming people, who have journeyed with me in these messages.

And now for the final leg of the journey!

A Personal Note from Paul

I dislike form letters and most that come across my desk are quickly discarded and thrown into the recycle box. But, every now and then, I get a letter and there is a personal note attached or written near the signature at the end. I usually pause to read that note and then go back over the form letter to review what I normally would have tossed out. I have followed the lead of some of those letters and now, if you received a letter from us here at the church, you may discover that I have included a brief note to you. But, Galatians, of course, is not a form letter. It was not photocopied and distributed. It was not a mass email. Galatians was a letter hand-written, most likely, by a scribe who wrote as Paul dictated the contents. That was the ancient custom of the day. Letters were often, not always, dictated to scribes.

You can see this in Romans 16:22 (NIV): “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.” Paul was the author; Tertius was the scribe. And, then, after the letter was written, the author who was dictating would pick up the pen and write a personal note—a postscript. Let me give you three examples:

1 Corinthians 16:21(NIV): “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.”

2 Thessalonians 3:17 (NIV): “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write.”

Colossians 4:18 (NIV): “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.”

The purpose of taking up a pen and writing a personal note helped to ensure that the letter was not a forgery. Paul ran into that problem with the Thessalonians. Apparently, there was a letter circulating claiming to be written by Paul but was not written by him at all. In 2 Thessalonians 2:2 (NIV), Paul urges the Christians there, “not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.” So, Paul takes time to append a personal note to this last section of Galatians beginning with these words: “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” Some have suggested he wrote this way because he was near-sighted and had difficulty reading or forming small letters. Others think he is using large letters as a way of underlining or highlighting for emphasis what he is about to say. No great doctrinal matter rests on this but I think he is wanting to reemphasize certain key words that have already come up in the letter. In what comes next, we meet again words such as “flesh,” “circumcision,” “persecution,” “cross of Christ,” “law” and “boasting.” It is as if he is pulling all the ideas together at the end. It is as if he were saying, “Now, don’t forget what I have been talking about all along.”

The Main Point: The Cross

The main point of the letter and the main point of the gospel is the cross of Christ. The cross is the dividing line of history. You either stand for Christ crucified or you don’t. We can argue all we want about the role of circumcision or non-circumcision. When it comes down to the essence of it, the matter settles on the place of the cross in our lives and the difference it makes.

Faith is about internal affairs

The Christian faith is about internal matters. The false teachers wanted to magnify the external. Apparently, they were stressing the ritual of circumcision in order to avoid persecution for “the cross of Christ.” They, themselves, may not have lived by all the dictates of the law consistently, but they imposed circumcision on the church. After Paul had established the congregation and moved on, they moved in, and brought the church under bondage. They were not members of the synagogue who were trying to run the competition out of town. They were probably Jewish Christians, with a Pharisaic background, who wanted to give the impression to the nationalistic Jews at the synagogue that they were getting Gentiles introduced to Judaism. They may have thought the nationalistic Jews would not bother them so much if they knew that Gentiles were getting circumcised. Paul says, “Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh.” “The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.”

They wanted to boast about how many men, in particular, they could circumcise. It eased the pressure from the traditionalistic Jews they knew. It was a misplaced external emphasis. Paul would have none of it. In Romans 2:28-29, the NT informs us: “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.”

Yes, circumcision was the sign given to Abraham. It was important to the Jews. But, certain people elevated it to having a role in salvation itself. The issue was hotly debated and came to a head at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. I remind you of it.

The First Christian General Conference

15 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe.

[Remember? Peter went to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, because of a vision he had received in which God told him not to call unclean what God had cleansed.] Let me continue to read from Acts 15:

8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Don’t reopen matters that have been settled

The false teachers were bragging about the law and seeking to impose circumcision and the law on the church. That’s why Paul has to write this letter. These false brethren resisted the teaching of the apostles who had settled this matter. And, it should not have been re-opened. Not too many people today are trying to push circumcision on the church. But we ought to take care that nothing replaces the cross as a subject for boasting.

The wounds of the Cross

The marks of circumcision do not matter as much as the wounds of Christ. If you really want to highlight physical wounds, then try the wounds of persecution for the cross of Christ. Paul says he bear in his body the “marks of Jesus”. It is interesting that the word translated “marks” is the word “stigmata.” Some parts of the church emphasis that quite a bit. In certain states of spiritual trance spontaneous wounds appears on some people, it is claimed. This is not what Paul is speaking about. It’s not surgical wounds, not trance induced bleeding, but sacrificial wounds are what really matters—in particular the wounds of Christ’s cross. That’s worth boasting about. Of course, we are not talking about going out and being obnoxious about our faith so that people hurt us. We dare not try to incite persecution. To do that is not to show dedication and commitment; it merely shows our mental instability. Conflicts with the world are plenty on any given day—one does not need to manufacture them! But they pale in the light of what is going to come.

Romans 8:18-39:

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“The Israel of God”

That is the source of peace and mercy! And Paul desires that “Peace and mercy” be on “all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.” Most Christians at this time were Jewish but the church over time quickly became predominately Gentile. But, there is no reason to suppose that God replaced Israel with the church. That is wrong-headed. In Romans 9-11 Paul makes it clear that God has a plan for Israel. But Gentiles are grafted into the Abrahamic family through faith in Israel’s messiah. We are picked up and written into Israel’s story. Paul refers to Christians as the “true circumcision” and “Abraham’s offspring.” Believing Gentiles are in God’s one true family as much as believing Jews are in. The Israel of God includes both Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Christ. It is faith in Christ that brings unity. Whenever the law or anything else is elevated above the cross there is disunity.

The cross means everything for Paul. The messiah has been crucified. Christians have been crucified with him. He said as much twice already. Galatians 2:19-20 (NIV): “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 5:24 (NIV): “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

His cross is our cross

The messiah is crucified. We are crucified with him. And, the world has been crucified. Galatians 6:14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Is that the way we really feel about the world? The world, here in this context, is the “present evil age,” not the rocks, fields, rivers, plants and other living things. It is the world where we have erected barriers between people. It is a world where big gaps exist between rich and poor, black and white, Jews and Gentile, bond and free, male and female. Paul is dead to that world because Christ has come to break down the barriers—to make us one is Christ. That world is dead and a new one is coming. In other parts of Paul’s writings, we even get the death of the law and the death of death itself!

The cross is huge! It cannot be overemphasized. It seems to be there on every page of the NT, especially in Paul’s writings. The cross is the death of everything so that it may prepare the way for the rebirth of everything. “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.”

What does that mean? The old creation is spoken about in the first book of the Bible. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” But that first creation fell into sin and was ruined. The story of the Bible, the great cosmic narrative is that the world that was ruined by sin will be redeemed by Christ through his death and resurrection. In Jesus there is the promise of new life—new beginning. The promise of a new heaven and a new earth is central to the biblical narrative.

Isaiah prophesied it: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

2 Peter 3:13 says, “Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

John, on the Isle of Patmos longed to see it. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also, there was no more sea (Revelation 21:1).

There is a new world breaking into this world. It is not fully here yet, but it has begun with the work of Christ. The first word Jesus preached was, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus himself said, “If I, with the finger of God, cast out demons the Kingdom of God is upon you.”

There is a new world breaking in. Jesus is called the first-fruits of the resurrection. Why? Because what has happened to him, in his victory over death, will happen to us. The word of God says in Romans 8:11 (NIV), “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” Jesus is typical of what is to come. There is a new world coming—a new creation. That is what matters. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

How can anyone who is gripped by this live according to the values of a dead world? A new world is breaking into this one! And, I for one, want to be part of it! May God richly bless this book of Galatians to your soul.


Benediction: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.”

The Priestly Duty of Prophetic Preaching

Romans 15:16 (TNIV) 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.


Our heavenly Father, you give us both the power to speak and the power to listen. Grant me the grace to speak so that what I say will be of some benefit to those who hear. In Christ name. Amen!

I wish to say thanks to the Dean Rev. Tim Dobbin and acknowledge the presence of his grace, Bishop Terry Dance. I am honoured to speak at this Clericus Meeting of the Anglican Clergy.

What’s a Pentecostal like me doing in a nice Anglican place like this? It speaks well of the grace of the Anglicans! I grew up in a preacher’s home and eventually entered university in a rebellious state. I came to faith in Christ in the time of the Jesus People movement in the early 70s. The writings of C. S. Lewis and John R. W. Stott helped to centre me in the faith and, later in seminary, I had the privilege of being the student of such notable Anglicans as J. I. Packer, Geoffrey Bromiley, and N. T. Wright among a few others. That’s it for the name dropping! But my head and heart have been shaped in the historic Protestant tradition and the Anglicans have had a good influence on me.

My wife grew up Anglican, and despite being Pentecostal now, we seem to be doing our bit for Anglican Church growth. My son is a graduate of an Anglican College. My wife has a diploma from an Anglican College. Erika our daughter is married to The Rev’d Jonathan Massimi, one of the priests here. Little Samuel, our grandson, is an Anglican and it looks like another baby Anglican will arrive in April. I have had the privilege of teaching theology as an adjunct at Queen’s College, an Anglican Seminary on the campus of Memorial University. I have even given a seminar on the Need for Creed at Huron College in London.

Some of my very good friends have become Anglican. Dr Ron Kydd (St. Peter’s in Cobourg) and Dr John Stephenson (St. Timothy’s in Agincourt) were my colleagues for years. We taught together in Peterborough for the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. They both became priested quite a number of years ago. Rumour has it that our former students had a gambling pool set up to see how long it would take me to get to Canterbury. So, I joined a Facebook group called Pentecostals who have not yet become Anglican!

It is a great kindness you have shown me by this invitation. I am not a scholar in OT studies, nor am I a famous person in the church. I took a more scholastic route in following Jesus than most of my peers in our tradition, but I am not superior to them for that. We all follow the call of Jesus from where we are to wherever he leads. I am just an ordinary pastor who serves Jesus in the PAOC. To borrow a line from C. S. Lewis, I am just an ordinary Pentecostal. I am neither particularly high nor particularly low. Just an ordinary pastor of a small congregation. I face the same challenges as each of you.

Sunday by Sunday I am expected to preach the gospel to the people—to feed the flock and to shepherd them as a pastor. Half my work week is focused on the preaching. Like most pastors, I desire to speak prophetically to the many social and economic issues pressing in upon us today. Reading Scriptures as we do each day brings us face to face with the ministry of great prophetic preachers. If you take a left turn at Matthew you run into the Prophets. We get struck with the boldness of Amos, the deep pain of Hosea, the disappointed Jeremiah, the gentle voice of Haggai, and a host of others. The suicidal Jonah! Go back even further and we meet the king slayer Ehud! The depressed Elijah.

Preaching is challenging. It’s the most boring and useless part of Christian worship, some say. Several reasons are usually given: the dogmatic stance of the pastor on every possible issue; the lack of any forum to question the content of the sermon; the unfamiliar theological language; and the apparent lack of preparation on the pastor's part which results in a constant repeat of two or three themes.

A few years ago I wrote a little book of meditations on the Minor Prophets. I felt they were neglected in the church. They were eclipsed by the big guys such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. There are 66 chapters in the 12 Minor Prophets but only 12 passages are used in the text of the day in liturgical churches. The lectionary is thin on these prophets. Few people know much about Joel, Nahum, or Malachi. The lectionary has great value but it can restrict you. One prophetic daring would be to teach expositional Bible studies on one of the Prophets. I would not advise you to neglect the gospel, or to be rebellious, just be daring and find some way to engage these sections of Scripture. It doesn’t have to be on a Sunday.

I suspect different traditions have different ways of imaging what a pastor does. We don’t use the word priest in the free church tradition. The main image of pastor is the one who preaches. In liturgical churches, the image of pastor is the one who prays, who hears confession, who administers the sacraments, and affirms the forgiveness of sins. The length of time given the sermon illustrates this. The average homily is about ⅓ the length of the free church sermon. This limits the amount of time available for serious study in the sermon itself. I suspect you are well aware of the challenge.

The enemy of prophetic preaching, of course, is not the limited time. The enemy is Moralism. The book or movie review, the allusion to the latest best selling author, the reference to the popular blog, the recounting of a news report and the lessons we learn. This approach can reduce the sermon to an anaemic, “I’m on top of things, and while are already nice people, let’s be a bit nicer this coming week.” In Moralism the focus is on what we can do to improve our selves so that God will like us better and people will think better of us. It results in a kind of class prejudice. We are fine. It’s too bad about the rest of the world.


Prophetic preaching is more than cultural analysis and commentary. It is more than a scholarly lecture on OT theology. It is more than a condemnation of popular culture. Often called "topical" preaching, this form of presentation is quite inspiring and informative, but it lacks the solid authority of a "thus saith the Lord." Many topical preachers endeavour to be biblical. But, the temptation is there make the sermon about the opinion and personal preferences (often disguised as convictions) of the speaker.

Prophetic preaching is not a scholarly lecture on theology. The pulpit is not the place to make and ostentatious display of learning. Learning must be servant to truth. It must be employed in the service of proclamation. It exists merely to serve. Plain preaching is the rule of thumb. Words that hide the truth rather than make it known should not be uttered from the pulpit. True preaching is not an exhibition, but an exposition.

Prophetic preaching is more than a condemnation of the prevailing attitudes in our culture. Some self-proclaimed prophets appear to delight in the negative message. Their forte is shearing the sheep, not feeding them. Only pastoral love legitimizes prophetic licence. A prophetic voice which speaks from a heart lacking compassion surely falls short of the biblical precedents. No pastor ought to adopt a prophetic posture in the pulpit without earning that right by loving God’s people.

When the pulpit is used to proclaim personal opinions, preferences and experiences, the pulpit is no more than any other public podium. The pulpit should be reserved and revered as the sacred platform for the telling of the good news of the gospel of God's saving grace in Christ.

Prophetic preaching is not social activism. The pulpit is not the place to inspire people to vote for a cause, but to bring them face to face with God’s truth. Social activism can easily become another form of works-righteousness. Preachers should not be champions of political causes or social movements, to the neglect gospel proclamation. One can run into a ditch on both side of this road. Remaining silent in the face of social evils will surely bring the judgment of God upon the church. Our positions must not be nebulous, but clear. Preaching must sound a definite alarm against sin, personal and corporate.


Prophetic preaching is expository preaching. It is declaring or speaking out the good news. The good news is God-centred, not human-centred. Prophetic preaching makes the love of God in Christ known. It is preaching that uses illustrations as windows into the text, not as distractions from the text. It is a message of redemption to a world which needs, not exhortation, but conversion.

Prophetic preaching is doctrinally sound. The biblical preacher will heed the admonition of Paul, "Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt save thyself and them that hear thee" (1 Timothy 4:16). Some Christians are blown about by every wind because many sermons are weak in doctrinal content. Can we be truly prophetic without being doctrinally solid?

The prophets were in touch with God’s feelings. Heschel, the Jewish writer, spoke about the pathos of God. He highlighted how the prophets reflected the way God felt about things. So, prophetic preaching is passionate preaching. It is a serious business. It is not for the half-hearted. The greatest encouragement to preach prophetically is the fact that the Holy Spirit graciously accompanies the preaching of the Word. The anointing of the Holy Spirit creates a fire in the bones and burning in the heart. This results in a presentation that is convincing and convicting. Nothing can substitute for that special touch. All our academic preparation is merely loaves and fishes which are too few for so many, unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down.

Prophetic preaching includes a call to holy living. Preachers must also model the Word as well as preach it. If life and speech are not in harmony, the message will be unheeded and reproached. A preacher's life must not become divorced from the preaching. Preaching becomes ineffective if the preacher is morally careless. Preachers are sheep as well as shepherds. What we preaches we must practice. Our character must reflect Christ-likeness. Moral purity and personal uprightness must be the constant companions of biblical preaching. In Acts 6:2-6 we are told the serving of the tables distracted the apostles from their basic work of preaching the Word of God. Their main duty was to be distributors of divine truth, ministers of the Word. Paul advised Timothy, "Preach the Word" (2 Timothy 4:2). This was to be Timothy's all-encompassing purpose in his ministry.

Prophetic preaching is still God's way of confronting. Preaching is a priority. It is the most effective way to convince us of our need, to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, and to encourage holiness of life. If we are to be anything, those of us who have been called to preach must be biblical if we are to be prophetic. We must be people of the Book. Let us wait upon God in prayer and meditation, on bended knees, before its open pages.


O God, our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, grant grant your blessing upon your servants, these pastors gathered here. They must lead your people. Pour out upon them a new anointing of the Holy Spirit. Help us all the grave to feel as you feel, so that when we preach the people will hear your voice that is above our voice. Empower us to speak your Word faithfully. And, may it accomplish everything you plan to the salvation of all those who call upon your name. In the Name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.

Ending Well: Paul’s Farewell Sermon

1Co 15:58

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Acts 20:24

But none of these things move me, neither do I count my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus Christ, to testify fully the gospel of the grace of God.


Grant me, Our Father, the grace to speak so that your people will be encouraged in their faith. I Christ’s name I ask. Amen.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul writes, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” In the New Testament the Greek word is paradosis. In the Latin it is traditio and it means something valuable that is “handed down.” It is not a chronological word as if it meant for us to keep using a horse and buggy. It is naïve to see everything in the past as if it were the type of the things Jesus rejected about the Pharisees. Their “traditions” were placed higher than the commands of God and Jesus rebuked them for it.

In 2 Thessalonians Paul is talking about a “living faith,” a faith that has been entrusted to us so that we may hand it on to the next generation as it was handed on to us. It is a relational term. The traditio, the paradosis, is personal and relational.

So, we must affirm that we are related spiritually to every martyr, every early pioneer, and every loyal pastor who has ever had a part to play in the proclamation of the faith and the development of Christian communities. We mustn’t assume that we have to reinvent the faith every season. We cannot despise or betray Christian heritage and expect to retrain God’s blessing.

The Legacy of the Holy Gospel

Those who have gone before us have trusted us with a legacy of the holy gospel and an absolute dependence upon a sovereign God. The success of our ministries is because we have received what has been handed down to us. We have received the truth as a treasure. We didn’t invent the Gospel. We have nothing we have not received. And, the orthodox believer is confident that the quest for truth is valid because God has made truth knowable.

David F. Wells, in an issue of Christianity Today (October 7, 2002), wrote: “Christ is not a product to be purchased, and the gospel is not up for sale. It is truth that the church has to offer, and when this is treated indifferently, the church loses its reason for existence."

Christians must be faithful to the Gospel. We don’t change it, add to it, subtract from it, modify it, or try to improve on it. We hand it on as it was handed down to us. As Paul said to Timothy, “What you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

Saying Goodbye to the Ephesians

In the text, which we have read in Acts 20, we see four important ideas that may be understood as working principles for effective Christian ministry. I find much encouragement in this verse. You may be familiar with the context. This is Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders. The people to whom he was speaking most likely were part of the original Ephesian revival we read about in chapter 19.

Paul had found certain disciples there in Ephesus who had not even so much as heard about the Holy Spirit. Paul explained the gospel to them and they were baptized in water and then he laid his hands on them and the Holy Spirit came upon them and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Paul spoke boldly in the local synagogue for three months with mixed results. There was much conflict. Eventually he broke with the synagogue and started preaching in the school of Tyrannus. Probably he rented the facility. He kept this up for two years and Ephesus became such a ministry centre that “all in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”

Unusual miracles happened by the hands of Paul. Something like anointed prayer cloths were so powerfully used that people were healed of diseases and evil spirits were driven away from them. People abandoned their witchcraft and their magic, even burning their books! “The word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” we are told. Paul eventually decided to leave Ephesus to take the gospel to other regions. So, he headed off on a missionary tour. On his returning trip, he came near Ephesus and he called the elders together. It’s a moving scene.

What is Paul saying? He says, “But none of these things move me, neither do I count my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus Christ, to testify fully the gospel of the grace of God.”

  1. I love this phrase: "None of these things move me."

    Popular culture does not set the agenda for the church. Circumstances do not provide, in themselves, the "to do" list for ministry. I love this phrase: "None of these things move me."

    What does he mean by “these things?” The passage does not give us details. But, from other places in the New Testament we can surmise that Paul may have had in mind several things.

    In Acts chapters 20 and 21 we know that Paul was persecuted for his faith and deeply moved by the weeping and pleading of his brothers who sought to prevent him from it. We know that the care of the churches was a burden to him. He was deeply saddened when things weren’t going well. In Galatians 4, and 2 Corinthians 11, we know that Paul was discouraged when his ministry was under attack from false prophets. Paul endured severe criticism in his ministry. He seemed very upset in Galatians 2 at the failure of those who were leaders to remain true to the gospel he preached. He even rebuked Peter to his face. Yet, none of these things moved him.

How unlike us! We are so easily moved by the desire to be popular. We are so easily moved by the desire to make a name for ourselves, and to be admired. We are so easily moved by the lure of the limelight. We are so easily moved by the love of money. We are so easily moved by the love of pleasure. We are so easily moved by the love of power. We are so easily moved by the popular opinion. We are so easily moved by the latest trend.

Let some popular writer put forth a book about the latest cool ways to do church and we immediately set about to tear down our barns and build greater ones. In many ways the world rides the church and dangles a carrot on a string in front of it and we follow blindly. But, none of these things moved Paul. Why? Is it because Paul does not wish to engage the culture? Is it because he does not think himself intellectually adequate for the task? Is it because he wishes Christians to cloister themselves and hide from the world? No! Paul felt that effective ministry did not depend on dancing to the world’s tunes. He did not think the effectiveness of ministry, in his world, depended upon being able to analyze every facet of culture.

Now, Paul is not insensitive to the needs of people. He is not deaf to the cries of a hurting world. Why is it that he can say, "none of these things move me?" The answer is this. It is because he himself has been moved in the presence of God and it is in God’s presence that he found his calling and purpose. He comes to the circumstances with an agenda already set--an agenda from above not an agenda from below. This perspective is absolutely crucial.

  1. Faithfulness to ministry is more important than the fame of the minister.

I noticed a second principle for effective ministry. It takes a long time to get to this place. Our text says, "Neither count I my life dear unto myself." Faithfulness to ministry is more important than the fame of the minister. I am not the centre of the universe. The world doesn't revolve around me. I should not seek to order my own personal world so that I have veto power over everything. I am not the centre.

The curse of the pastoral ministry in our times is the idea that pastors are CEOs over their church corporations. We are to be servants of the servants of God. We are under-Shepherds who are given the direct command to feed the flock of God under our care. We are to treat them, not as employees, but as a mother nurses her children, or as a father loves his family. Our people are not pawns in some scheme to fulfill our personal vision. It is amazing that the word “vision” has been redefined in our day. No longer is it a sovereign gift from God, no longer is it a sacred encounter with God. It now is not much more than a code word for a business plan. If you doubt my conclusions, I invite you to go to the local bookstore and read some books, almost any book, on management theory. Many pastors are courting worldliness by reading more on management theory than on pastoral theology. Paul says, "Neither count I my life dear unto myself." Paul is not at the center. His ego has been crucified with Christ. He is a slave to Christ and a servant of the servants of God. Paul would not see himself as a CEO. It is not the best image for a pastor.

  1. Out text points out another interesting thing. Paul writes, “so that I might finish my course with joy.”

Completing the race is what counts, not how you began. Our political history is full of stories of great beginnings with great promises, but it is how you finish that really counts. People will be impressed by the glitz and the glamour only for so long. Eventually, no matter how much spin you put on it, the truth emerges. Do you have what it takes to finish well?

In the old movie Chariots of Fire Harold Abrahams, the British track star, loses a 100-meter preliminary race. For a long time afterwards, he sits in the empty stands staring at the track in front of him recalling the pain of the moment when one of his competitors crossed the finish line a fraction of a second before him. His future wife, Sybil Gordon, came and offered him her consolation, but Abrahams turned and said, "If I can't win, I won't run." Sybil replied, "If you don't run, you cannot win." Facing bravely that simple truth, Abrahams goes on to win the final race.

Paul, "so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus." It’s important to finish one’s course and ministry well. That’s the desire of every Christian. It may have not started out that way. It may not have begun on the mountaintop. Your course may have started in the valley. Maybe it was a tragedy? Maybe when you started sowing, you sowed in tears. What counts is that you can reap in joy! You can finish the course with joy. You can complete with joy the ministry that you received from the Lord. Why? Because the seeds that you planted will bring forth fruit. One plants, another waters, but it is the Lord that gives the increase. God’s word will not return void. The Holy Spirit will see to that.

  1. So my brothers and sisters, be steadfast and unmovable always abounding in the work of the Lord.

That’s the fourth principle of effective ministry. It sounds like a paradox doesn’t it? Unmovable but always abounding. Staying focused on the mission will keep you on course. Our mission is to announce the gospel and urge people to accept the salvation of God--"to testify fully the gospel of the grace of God."

I don’t mean to be offensive, but I wish to say that missions is necessary because people are lost without Christ. This is a major point of contention in our politically correct pluralistic world. Even within evangelical circles, the lines are being drawn between those who think that God saves us in a variety of ways and those who hold to the common faith of the church that “there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”

To use a phrase of A.W. Tozer, I want to be gently dogmatic. I believe what I’m teaching you. I believe it deeply not easily. I do not find it pleasurable to believe that those outside of Christ will suffer a godless eternity. There is no sense of satisfaction from in this belief. It would be much easier to believe that everyone is already saved because of Christ. I would rather believe that. There is a part of my heart that wishes God had done it all himself without using missionaries or preachers. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the people in the world would be eventually saved while we can worry about things closer to us? But as Martin Luther said at the beginning of the Reformation, “My mind is captive to the Word of God.”

Some of my beliefs I believe with tears and this is one of them. I am constrained to “testify fully the gospel of the grace of God.” Why bother with it if it is not absolutely necessary that people believe it? People need the Lord! And, before we get the message out we have to get the message right as Clark Pinnock used to say.

And Paul is living for this. And it had a dramatic effect on his life. His utmost desire is ". . . to testify fully to the gospel of the grace of God."

What the church needs is a rededication to the cause of Christ. We have to find out what it is. We have to re-discover the word of God in our worship and in our preaching. Let’s have done with lesser things. We must "lay hold on hope," says Hebrews 6:18. We must not be moved away from "hope of gospel” we read in Col. 1:23. We must not be "carried about by every wind of doctrine," according to Ephesians 4:14. We must be “steadfast, unmovable and yet always abounding,” I Cor. 15:58.

The Holy Spirit is at work

Today the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work bringing into being a new call for a return to orthodoxy in Christian beliefs and practice. This return to the core of our faith will be a source of lasting renewal in our churches. The Holy Spirit is urging many pastors to recover the joy of preaching from the biblical text and seeking renewal through expository preaching. The Holy Spirit is moving those in charge of music ministries to broaden and deepen their knowledge of the history of worship. Liturgical renewal will happen even in Pentecostal churches. The Holy Spirit is raising up those who, with keen discernment, will combat false teaching in the church. The Holy Spirit, in convicting power, is urging preachers to design their sermons to evangelistic ends and not just as a cheap form of popular psychology. The Holy Spirit is helping us to truly make disciples of people and not just to entertain them with a good show on Sundays.

Acts 20:24

But none of these things move me, neither do I count my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus Christ, to testify fully the gospel of the grace of God.

1Co 15:58

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.


Heavenly Father, guide us through this confusing culture by your sovereign power. Lord Jesus, keep you call ringing ever clearly in our ears. Holy Spirit, empower us anew so that we may be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of testifying fully of the grace of God in Jesus. Amen.

Weak & Strong Notes

Who are the weak?

  • Eats vegetables not meat (vv. 2, 22)
  • Regards some days as more special than others (vv. 5ff)
  • Doesn’t drink wine (vv. 17, 21)

Who are the Strong?

  • Know how to live in the freedom of justification by faith; the weak do not.
  • Are able to grasp the significance of Christ’s death for daily living; the weak are not.

Origin of the Problem?

  • Food problems
  • Jewish food laws
  • Clean & unclean
  • Food offered to idols
  • Remember:
    • Jesus pronounced all foods clean (Mark 7:15-19)
    • Peter’s vision on the housetop (Acts 10: 9-16)
  • Religious Observance of Certain Days

    • Paul was easier on the Romans than he was on the Galatians and the Colossians because here, in Romans, it was a matter of lifestyle while in the other places it was seen as a condition for salvation.

    • (Col 2:16) Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath [days]:

    • (Col 2:17) Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ.
    • (Col 2:18) Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.
    • (Col 2:19) And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
    • (Col 2:20) Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances.
    • (Col 2:21) Touch not; taste not; handle not;
    • (Col 2:22) Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men
    • (Col 2:23) Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
    • What do the “Weak” and the “Strong” have in common?
  • Both groups are Christians; they are genuine believers. (Romans 14:1-4, 6, 10, 13)
  • Each is very critical of the other. (Romans 14: 3, 4, 13)
  • Each individual will have to give an account to God. (Romans 14:10)

Where do they differ?

  • The strong believed that they could eat anything (meat as well as vegetables); the weak were vegetarians (14:2).
  • The strong regarded everyday as being “good.” The weak regarded one day on the week as being better the others.

What was Paul’s attitude?

  • Paul agrees with the strong. (Romans 14:14, 20; 15:1)
  • Both groups ought to avoid looking down at the other. (Romans 14:3, 5, 19)
  • He denounces those strong in particular who have a bad attitude towards the weak. (Romans 14:14-21)
  • The strong must lovingly bear with the failings of the weak. (Romans 15:1)
  • The problem with the weak is not that they are more spiritually mature—to the contrary.
  • The matter of eating and drinking is not nearly as important as being a citizen of the Kingdom of God. That is, “peace, joy in the Holy Spirit” is what we need.
  • Both groups should seek those things that lead to peace. (Romans 14:19)

What was Paul’s Advice to the Weak?

  • People are not justified by
    • Vegetarianism
    • Sabbatarianism
    • Total Abstinence

What is Justification?

  • A judicial act of God whereby the sinner is declared righteous; thus we are pardoned and accounted righteous before God, only on the merit of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, by faith and not for our own works or deserving. “He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (PAON Statement)

Dangers of the Weak

  • “Weak” people can become tyrants seeking to restrict the behaviour of others who exercise their Christian liberty in some things.
  • “Weak” people can tend to externalize God’s righteousness into a new legalism supposing that vegetarianism and such like are sufficient to create an acceptable standing before God.
  • “Weak” people tend to judge the “strong” as unspiritual.
  • Paul sees “Weakness” as an “infirmity” or “failings.” It ought to be grown out of or cured. In this case, the “weak” were not just immature in need of teaching; they are morally and spiritually unwell.
  • Compare
    • (1Co 11:30) For this cause many [are] weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
    • (Rom 15:1) We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

Advice to the Strong

  • accept, in love, the weak person, but not for the purpose of arguing the person into a “strong” position. People are not won merely by argument.
  • Do not have a superior attitude towards the weak.
  • Do not judge your brother.
  • Be flexible enough to restrict your behaviour to avoid causing injury to your weaker brother. The basic principle is to “give way to others” in matters that do not endanger the Gospel or cause misconceptions about the nature of redemption. E.g., the message of Galatians and the issue of circumcision.
  • Don’t “give way to others” if the heart of the Gospel is being compromised.
  • Tolerate each other; don’t bicker, complain or gossip about people.
  • Build each other up; don’t destroy each other.
  • Don’t major on minors. “The kingdom of God is more than meat and drink.”
  • We might want to add that causing unnecessary emotional distress in your brother or sister violates the principle of love.

The Atonement in Titus


Titus 2:11-13: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his own, eager to do what is good.”

Titus 3:4-7: “But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” In the warm and personal pastoral letter that Paul wrote to young Titus, we have two sections that are crucial to a proper understanding of the atonement. In these two sections of Scripture Paul the apostle relates Christ’s atoning work of the cross to the great past event of the incarnation (2:11) and to the future event of the return of Christ (2:13).

The way that God began to deal with human sin is the intervention into human history that we call the incarnation. To paraphrase the words of Paul, “The grace of God appeared bringing salvation.” When the infant Jesus was brought by his parents to be presented at the temple (Luke 2:28-32), Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to you people Israel.”

It is the “grace” of God that has appeared in Jesus. And the grace of God in Jesus has appeared to bring salvation. The phrase “to all men,” does not teach that all men are automatically saved because Jesus came; it merely teaches that the incarnation was not a private or hidden thing. It was “not done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). It was a real event in history. It also teaches that the grace of God was not limited to a select few. It was not simply for the Jew. The promise of salvation in God’s pledge to Abraham was that in him “all nations” would be blessed.

Paul does not teach that all people will be saved, but salvation is offered to all. In 2:12 we see that Christians between Christ’s first and second appearing must become disciples of grace. Grace is personified as an instructor in ethics. Grace teaches us to say “No” to some things and to affirm other things. Grace can never be license to sin. To claim to have received the grace of God and still be in the habit of saying “yes” to “ungodliness and worldly passions” is simply an exercise in self-deception. In verse 14 Paul makes a direct reference to Christ’s self-sacrifice on Calvary. It reminds us of Jesus’ own words in Mark 10:45, “For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The word translated as a verb “redeem” in 2:14, and a noun “ransom” in Mark 10:45 comes from the same word group in the Greek language. It refers to the price which was paid to bring about a person’s deliverance and in the active sense it means to release upon the payment of the ransom price. Jesus Christ gave himself as our substitute to redeem us out from under the threat of the law’s wrath. The law demanded the death of every covenant breaker. Christ death in our stead allows us to escape the law’s just wrath on sin.

Christ not only gave himself to redeem and release us from the tyranny of sin’s dominion, but also to purify us. The objective aspect of the atonement must never be divorced from the subjective aspect. Christ accomplished redemption and the Holy Spirit applies it. If we have been washed from our sins, it is inconceivable that we should be unconcerned about future filthiness. Christ atonement is not only concerned with sin’s penalty but also with sin’s pollution. He redeems us and cleans us, because he intends to adopt us as his sons and daughters who will become worthy heirs in the household of faith.

In the second passage, Titus 3:4-7 we also find the language of salvation. Again, the section is introduced with a reference to the appearing of Christ as in 2:11. However, this time it is the “kindness and love of God” in parallel to the “grace of God” in 2:11. Our salvation is set forth as the work of Christ on our behalf without any credit for human works. This is made clear by the negative statement “not because of righteous things we had done” (3:5). It is by the mercy of God that we have been saved.

Verse five contains a very interesting phrase, “by the washing of rebirth.” In the KJV in reads, “by the washing of regeneration.” What does it mean? It may refer to water baptism. The concept of an unbaptized Christian would have been unthinkable for Paul. In the New Testament era, the reality of conversion and the symbol of immersion in the waters of baptism were not separated by a period of weeks or months as they are today in many Churches. Baptism took place on the very same day or night as conversion. The reality and symbol came so close together that they were seen as two sides of the same coin and were often spoken of as if they were the one and same event.

Most commentators see this verse as an allusion to baptism even though many disagree about the mode of the ordinance. The symbol is not magical, but it is meaningful. It is also possible that the “washing of rebirth” may refer to the cleansing aspect of the blood of Christ as in Revelation 7:14, or the privilege we have in the priesthood of all believers to draw near to God, duly qualified by blood and water as in Exodus 29:4,21; 40:30; and Leviticus 8:30. This would show continuity between the work of Christ and the Old Testament sacrificial system.

The biblical pictures of cleansing and washing also illustrates the work of the Holy Spirit and the subjective experience of salvation that is based on the objective work of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 10:22). God gives us his Holy Spirit generously. He never gives us just enough to get by. In 3:7 Paul uses a word taken from the law courts, “justified.” We are now, because of Christ’s work, in a right relationship to the law. It has no further claims on us. We are also in a new relationship to the judge. He becomes our father! He adopts us as heirs having the hope of eternal life! And as Luther once said, “If these fires do not stir you, you are colder than cold.”

What the Women in My Life Taught Me

Text: Proverbs 31:1-9 (TNIV)

  1. The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.
  2. Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb! Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!
  3. Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.
  4. It is not for kings, Lemuel— it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer,
  5. lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
  6. Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!
  7. Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.
  8. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
  9. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.


Our Father, I pray like Moses, “Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.” In Jesus Name. Amen.

This week, my mom came to visit. Mom is 89 and our visits are getting fewer and farther between. We have a beautiful daughter, Erika, and two cherished daughters-in-law, Crystal & Gwyn. We have a wee grand-daughter, Sophia Claire. Also, I am in love with my closest friend and confidant, Christine. We’ve been married more than 40 years.

Everything I know I, pretty much, learned from the women in my life.

I won’t say much about wives today because the text focuses on what Lemuel’s mom taught him not what his wife taught him. But, I am grateful to Christine. She is not “up front.” She is more of a one on one person.

She is not, at all, an extroverted self-promoter.

She’s behind the scenes all of the time. She, nonetheless, has taught me many things over the years. I couldn’t function without her.

She has taught me that being a mother or queen of the home is a high Christian calling and ministry.

She has taught me that having a few loyal friends is better than have many shallow relationships.

She has taught me that we can do anything we set our minds to even if it is bringing a baby into this world.

She has helped me through grief and serious illness.

She knows that tragedy can cause you to either run away from God or to run towards God. If we run towards God, we will be upheld and sustained.

She has taught me that God’s promises don’t need to be forced. Just wait and be the person God created you to be. We don’t always have to promote ourselves. We can change the world by letting God work through us.

She has taught me that God’s love can be shown in the little kind words and deeds more than in the long sermons.

Christine has taught me to listen to people. To slow down, talk less, even if that means not giving my opinion at all. Just listen.

God is with us in difficult times and he brings high-quality friends to help in times of trouble.

Christine has taught me that women are essential in church ministry even if they don’t preach or teach. She has taught me about the ministry of presence. The role of just being there—full of grace and humility.

She has taught how to be sensitive to another person’s pain. We can’t always cheer up people who are hurting, but we can be there in their pain. She is not naïve. She knows that time doesn’t heal all our wounds, but God can.

There’s no one in the world as valuable to me as Christine.

But, today, the focus is on Lemuel’s mom. Mothers are great teachers. When I was younger, I thought I knew more than my mom. But as I got older, it’s amazing how much smarter mom became. Recently mom bought an iPad and I hope she will become my friend on Facebook. No one believes in us, encourages us, and loves us like our mother.

####Children are a blessing & a responsibility The family is a social unit that has the blessing of God upon it. There are different kinds of families in our world today. Some are healthy single-parent families. Some are struggling single-parent families. Some families are fractured and full of pain and fighting. Some healthy families are limited to just a husband and wife. Different kinds of real families! But the original design was to have mothers, fathers, and children living in a holy covenant relationship.

Children are God’s blessing upon a marriage whether they are the product of martial love or the conscious choice of loving adoptive parents. Parenting is a great calling from God and the weight of it seems to be laid upon the women.

When I dedicate children to the Lord in a church gathering, Christine and I hold them in our arms. Christine takes the child and walks around the sanctuary showing the little one their new church family and to demonstrate that a dedication is a welcoming of the child into the family life of our church. I love baby dedications. Christine returns with the child and I take the little one in my arms, pray and bless them.

Baby dedications are very precious moments. I do many things in the run of a week that do not give me the same deep sense of calling. But, when I stand with parents and present a child to the Lord in holy dedication I know deep inside of me that I am doing something very significant. Before I pray the prayer of dedication I usually say something like, “You have no idea who I am holding in my arms today. This child may grow up to discover the cure for cancer. This child may grow up to be a future Premier of our province, or the Prime Minister of our country. This child may grow up to be the next Billy Graham.”

Sisters, you are not “raising children”; you are raising doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, missionaries, theologians, ministers of the gospel, and the leaders of tomorrow. You are raising those who will shape our future.

Yes, I know that when I put it that way you feel the heavy weight of the task. But, it is a great honor to be a parent and I wish to bless every one of you.

My sister, Elaina, is a widowed mother of three. She struggles with great pain and is disabled and confined to a wheelchair. But, she prays for me regularly despite her own limitations. She preservers in prayer. I’m encouraged by that.

What we have learned of value we have learned from the women in our lives, especially our mothers. I am grateful for my mom who is now in her 89nd year. I treasure my mom. She and my father brought me up in the fear and the admonition of the Lord. My interest in reading and studying God’s Word was due to our house always being full of good books not trash. Dad’s study, that’s what we would call a home office, was always open to us. Mom read books daily and borrowed lavishly what she couldn’t afford to buy. She taught me how to read and gave me a love for learning. I still remember mom trying to teach me how to research an encyclopedia and how to compose a short essay. Every article or sermon I write, I owe it to my mom. Mothering never seems to stop! Mom is still interested in what I write and teach. Mothers are amazing teachers.

####Listen to your mother. King Lemuel thought so. In Proverbs chapter 31 he tells us that it was his mother who taught him some things that helped him along his way. He could not be the king he was had he not listened to his mother. As I read this, I thought how my mother must have been influenced by this part of the bible. It seems that my mom instilled in me this same kind of wisdom.

Did you notice the way the writer of this passage introduces his mother’s wisdom? It’s in verse two. “Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb! Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!” Did you have a mom like that? Were you as stubborn as Lemuel? Notice she had to say “Listen” three times. I imagine each time she was louder! But, my imagination mustn’y govern interpretation.

Today, if we wanted to draw attention to, or to place emphasis upon a word like “listen,” we would underline it or use italics to write it. According to Abraham Heschel, a recognized Jewish authority, “In ancient times emphasis is expressed through direct repetition.”

You can see this kind of thing often in the bible. Deuteronomy 16:20 has “Justice, justice shall thou follow.” Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.” To put the stress on the holiness of God, we get the often-repeated phrase, “holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts.” So, when the word “listen” is repeated three times it means that what is coming is very, very, very important! You get the point? “Stay away from bad girls.”

The first thing the King mentions was that his mother said, “Stay away from bad girls.” (If Lemuel had been a daughter, his mom would have warned her about the bad boys.) Apparently, there were quite a few bad girls in the bible. I was in Chapters some time ago and saw a book that didn’t interest me very much. I just noticed the title, “Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible.” The same week I went to a religious book store and noticed a book with the title, “Bad Girls of the Bible.” I don’t think it sold very well because; right next to it was another book by the same author titled, “Really Bad Girls of the Bible.” I think that one is out-selling the “slightly bad” and “bad” for some reason. No, I didn’t buy either one of the books! Just sayin’.

King Lemuel’s mom told him to stay away from the bad girls. My mom would say the same thing. “Stay away from those bad girls. You don’t know what you’re going to …” I figured that bad girls must have had some sort of girl-germs. So, I listened to my mom and I did all right.

It’s good to be light-hearted. It’s good to laugh at ourselves. Too many people have a joyless religion. But make no mistake about it; the passion of my mother was that I remain pure before the Lord. My mother wanted me to be a holy man whose mind and body were set part for the purposes of God. My mother warned me of the dangers of an immoral life.

King Lemuel’s mother said
  1. Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb! Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!
  2. Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings.

Lemuel’s mom didn’t have a good opinion of certain girls in Lemuel’s circle of friends and, so, we mustn’t generalize about all his friends. But his mom was concerned. You may be a young man. Your mom may be giving you more advice than you want to hear. I say, listen to your mother! She’s seen more trouble in her lifetime than you. She’s had friends who have ruined their lives and she wants something better for you. Give her a break! Listen to her. Pay attention! Not to just her words but to her prayers. Did you notice that? Listen to your mother’s prayers.

Mothers? Take note of that! Are you praying from you children or just yelling at them? Have your children heard you pray? If you do not pray, they will not be able to listen to your prayers.

“Stay away from the booze.”

The second thing that King Lemuel’s mother taught him was to stay away from the booze. “Booze is too far below you. Lemuel; you are to be a king not a drunk. Lemuel, you are destined to rule our people. Stay away from the booze. Stay away from the wine and the beer. Lemuel, if you give yourself to the bottle you will forget your own laws. Lemuel, listen to mommy! I don’t want to make your life miserable. Lemuel. I know all your friends at school are doing it. But, please stay away from the wine and the beer. Lemuel, that stuff will twist your mind. If you give in to the temptation to drink, Lemuel, you will become a part of that crowd that deprives all the oppressed of their rights. Did you know, Lemuel, that the abused children, and the abandoned mothers can point to a bottle as the cause of it all? Stay away from it. You were meant for greater things. Some people are so far gone that a drink might help them in their last moments, but you are meant for greatness.”

  1. It is not for kings, Lemuel— it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer,
  2. lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.
  3. Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!
  4. Let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.

But you, Lemuel? Stay away from the booze.

I never saw my father or mother lift a glass of wine or beer. It was not part of growing up in our house. I don’t have harsh attitudes with people over this, but I have tried to live and raise my children in a booze-free zone. I have seen too much abuse of the bottle. It is a far too dangerous substance. I am not legalistic about it. Today I’m just listening in on what King Lemuel’s mom is saying.

I’ve heard some recent statistics. One third of college and university students drink, just to get drunk. They spend more money on booze than they do on books. It is estimated that between 10 o’clock at night and 1 o’clock in the morning, on weekends, that 1 out of 13 people on the road are drunk. The best advice a mother can give is to say, “Stay away from the booze.”

I know Jesus turned water into wine! I am not adding to the 10 Commandments. I am just preaching on this part of Proverbs and I want to represent King Lemuel’s mom. She loved her son enough to warn him of the dangers that lurk in the bottle. She prayed to God that her son would not be given to wine and beer. King Lemuel heard his mother pray.

“Stand up for the little guy.”

The final thing that King Lemuel’s mother taught him was to “Stand up for the little guy.”

  1. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
  2. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

One of the earliest times I recall getting into a fight as a boy was to defend a fat kid that a bully was beating up. I paid a price for getting involved but I made a life-long friend to this day. I am not a political activist, but I hate injustice and will usually find myself on the side of the underdog. I don’t always win. I’m not interested in starting a revolution of the poor against the rich. But, I was raised to treat everyone with respect and to defend the rights of the oppressed. Something stirs within me when I see human rights being violated.

My mother taught me those values. Growing up, my friends weren’t always from the right side of the tracks. Our house was home to people of all races and religions. We slept out of our beds for people who had no place to stay. My parents were the kind of people who would pick up hitchhikers and bring them home for dinner.

We have an obligation, as a church, to speak up for the rights of the poor and the oppressed. My mother told me that. King Lemuel’s mother told him same thing. We need to be heard on the issue of abortion. The rights of the unborn are being trampled on in the interests of loose living and convenience. We should speak up and we should stand up for the cause of righteousness in our nation. Too many people grumble about the moral state of affairs and yet say nothing and do nothing. My mom taught us to look out for the less fortunate. Speak up for them. Take the side of the fat kid. Bring the bullies down.

Let me close with this story: Martin Niemöller was a German pastor and theologian. Niemöller was an anti-Communist and supported Hitler's rise to power at first. But when Hitler insisted on the supremacy of the state over religion, Niemöller became disillusioned. He became the leader of a group of German clergymen opposed to Hitler. Unlike Niemöller, many clergy gave in to the Nazi threats. In 1937 he was arrested and eventually confined in Sachsenhausen and Dachau. His crime was “not being enthusiastic enough about the Nazi movement.” Niemöller was released in 1945 by the Allies. He continued his career in Germany as a clergyman. He is famous for this quote:

First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.

King Lemuel’s mother taught her son well
  1. Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
  2. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Sisters you have a tremendous responsibility. It’s not easy being a mom these days. The challenges are great. For single Christian moms there is the added pressure. We know we need to maintain a good life of faith. How do we do it? There is no way you can get the time to compete with the pastors in the reading of the Bible and the all kinds of religious books we consume. Thanks be to God; our study habits are not the measure of what it takes to be a Christian. It’s our calling, not yours.

But, as your pastor I would encourage you to make sure you make room for the Lord in your daily life. Church on Sundays alone will not do it. If you desire to grow in Christ, make every effort to do so. It’s easy to get so taken up in the task of caring for the family, you can lose interest in caring for your own soul. I want to encourage you to care for your soul. Nurture that spiritual life that’s there inside of you. Don’t neglect your soul.

Angela Thomas Guffey, wrote the book, Tender Mercy for a Mother's Soul. She said, "I had lived most of my life as a spiritually enthusiastic woman who desired the holiness and passion of God. And then I had four children in seven years. Four amazing blessings. Four people I adore. Four inquisitive needy little squirts who wanted hot meals, clean clothes and answers to a million questions every day.” Then she added, “In the midst of unloading the dishwasher, matching a hundred white socks every week and giving more explanations than required by legal counsel in a deposition, my soul fell fast asleep. It happened so slowly that I didn't even know I had been tranquilized by the joys and the monotony of motherhood. The blur of my real life with a husband, children, school and church had come roaring in like a major league fastball. I had proudly stepped into the batter's box wearing a brand new uniform with SUPERMOM on my back…. I was intent on doing whatever necessary to be a great mom. I would show those other women a thing or two about packing diaper bags and making cupcakes for 50. I thought I could be the room mom, bleacher mom and the family-manager mom…. But stress and deep anxiety filled most of my days.”

Many of you know what that’s like, don’t you? You’ve been there. Let me encourage you. If you’ve been a mom, you are worthy of an Olympic medal. Mothering is a high calling. I pray that God will give you the grace to be the kind of mother you want to be, and I pray your children will give you the love and respect that you deserve. Don’t neglect your soul. Make time for the Lord. Take some time each day and build a sanctuary, however brief, a sanctuary of time in which the Spirit can renew your soul.

  1. The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.
  2. Listen, my son! Listen, son of my womb! Listen, my son, the answer to my prayers!


Our Father in heaven, thank-you for the woman who brought me into the world and who taught me wisely. May every man listen carefully to the saying of King Lemuel’s mom. Thank-you for my sister, my wife, my daughter, my daughters-in law, and a host of others from Sunday school teachers to college and seminary students. They have been your tools help me grow in faith. I pray, today for the many sisters here who are struggling to be the kind of woman or mother they wish to be. Grant them abundant grace and overflowing favour. In Christ’s Name. Amen.

A Hard Saying of Jesus

Text: John 6:53-58 (NIV)

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”


Jesus made people think and rethink. The disciples were rather slow in picking up the big idea. And, no wonder! Jesus said some very puzzling things like unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us. In John 6:60, John writes, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”” You really can’t blame them. The Jews are not supposed to eat blood.

Leviticus 17:10-13: 10

“I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.”

So, you see, this saying of Jesus is quite difficult for the disciples and, even for us who know all about vampires. What did Jesus really mean when he said this? We have to being in the OT.

Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 10:

2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that people do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD...

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.

Jesus is in the synagogue when he says this: John 6:48-52 (TNIV)

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which people may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Is there anything more disturbing that this in the gospels? I don’t want to ruin your Sunday dinner. But, Jesus tells us to do this. And, unless we do it we cannot have eternal life.Hunger and thirst are horrible. Hunger and thirst break people. Good people will steal grain to provide bread to feed their families.

You can’t live on bread alone, of course, but you can’t live without it either. Bread is important. Bread is so important that we use it to refer to other things. Sometimes we used the word to mean food in general. For example, we would say, “We have to work overtime just to but bread on the table.”

Bread means more than bread. Bread means more than bread. Sometimes you have to read the Bible like you read poetry not like you read prose. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” we are asking for everything we need not just the raw material for toast. When we pray for daily bread we are symbolically asking for peace and safety, health and happiness, and everything. Bread means more than bread.

Bread can be used to talk about other things. In Psalm 80:5 God is said to have fed people with the “bread of tears.” In other places the Bible speaks about the bread of sorrow or the bread of affliction. Those who are overwhelmed by grief are described as eating the bread of sorrow. The Bible even notes that some people eat the bread of laziness. Proverbs 4:17 speaks of those who ate the bread of wickedness. It was a way of saying that you were what you ate! If you meet someone whose attitude is as “cold as the grave”, you might say they have eaten the bread of death. You look at people’s faces you can tell what kind of bread they are eating! Please don’t look now! It’s obvious that the kind of bread we really need is the bread of life!

It this chapter 6, Jesus feeds the 5000! They participated in a miracle but never got the point of it. The miracle of the loaves and fishes was “sign” pointing to Jesus. But the people just wanted free groceries. They didn’t want to believe and follow Jesus. The miracle of the 5000 was meant to point them to Jesus.

When God’s people were wandering through the wilderness, on their way to the Promise Land, they, too, were given a sign. They were given manna. It got them through the tough times between the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan River.

The word “manna” is interesting. It actually means “What is it?” Here they are--the redeemed people of God, imperfect, confused and complaining, grumbling and ungrateful, yet sustained by a great mystery—the mystery of the heavenly manna. They didn’t know what it was, so they called it “manna.” “What is it?” They couldn’t explain it but it sustained them through the wilderness. God used it to get them through. They couldn’t deny it. But they couldn’t explain it either. They just ate it. Mother and father, sister and brother! They all ate it and were sustained on their journey!

To the grumblers of his day, Jesus explained that it was God who gave them the manna and now God was sending down the true bread from heaven. He said, “I am the bread of life. I am the living bread. If you come to me, you will not go away hungry. If you come to me I will sustain you. You will not perish.”

4 Manna was a sign. But, they eventually complained about eating it so much. They didn’t see the meaning in it. It was too bland—too ordinary. But, it pointed to Jesus. To say it in another way, Jesus is the truth that was hidden in the manna even though they didn’t know it.

Here, in Jesus, was the mystery of God’s provision. He looked so ordinary. They couldn’t see it as many people today can’t see it. They see a Jewish teacher, a wise man, a humble rabbi, but they don’t see the one who embodies the divine life of God—the one who gives us eternal life. But, Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven. By eating that living bread we may have eternal life. The word bread means more than bread.

Wine means more than wine. In ancient Israel wine was part of every meal but they found drunkenness disgusting. We find it amusing. Modern people organize parties for the purpose of drinking to excess. Our modern culture thinks getting hammered or plastered is a sign of having a good time! The ancients were disgusted by such behaviour. But, they customarily drank wine at every meal.

The rare exception would be those who took special religious vows like John the Baptist. He didn’t drink wine. He didn’t wash either. He lived in the desert, dressed in animal skins, ate bugs with a honey dip. He stank like a sewer, but he didn’t drink wine. The Bible says that wine makes the heart glad. But, you can avoid wine and still live. Wine is not as essential to life as bread is. But, the word wine means more than wine! Wine was a sign of joy and happiness. On one occasion, after he was being criticized, Jesus reacted by saying, “John came neither eating nor drinking and you said he was demonpossessed. I’ve come eating and drinking, and you call me a winebibber and a glutton.”

Some people didn’t the way Jesus enjoyed life. His habits of being at festive gatherings were not to their religious tastes. They looked down their noses at Jesus. But, Jesus would not let them spoil the party. Wine is a gift that makes the heart glad according to the Bible that Jesus read. Not everyone was a John the Baptist.

At the Last Supper, our Lord with the cup of wine in his hand says, “this is my blood, make sure all of you drink it.” It is a tough statement. Here in John’s gospel Jesus said my blood is “real drink.” In another place Jesus said that he was the “true vine.” “The true vine” produces “real drink”—the kind of wine that makes the heart joyful and loving, not drunk and disgusting.

“My body is real food and my blood is real drink.” Quite a statement! I was thinking about what it could mean some time ago and found an interesting story in 2 Samuel 23 and in 1 Chronicles 11. Many of us can recall the story of David and Goliath but there are other stories about King David. In one of them, the Philistines had captured David’s home town of Bethlehem. David was tired of fighting and was very thirsty. Before he knew it, he blurted out that he would love a cool drink from the well in Bethlehem. Three of David’s mighty men overheard him say it. They were very loyal and broke through the enemy lines and brought water from the well to the King. But, David would not drink it.

You know what he said? He said, “God forbid that I should drink the blood of these men who risked their lives.” David refused to profit from the risk the men took. If he had taken the water, he would have benefited at the risk of their lives. Drinking that water would be like drinking their blood.

Are you getting the point, saints? To “shed blood” was to commit murder. To “drink blood” was to benefit from the crime. And King David could not bring himself to benefit from their death. He could not drink their blood.

Jesus said, “Unless you drink my blood, you have no life in you.” To get eternal life we have to drink his blood. It is not gross. Forget the vampire movies. A Jewish person was never to drink blood literally. The disciples would never have thought that Jesus was trying to get them to drink literal blood. The thought would have turned their stomach. Even the analogy/comparison of wine and blood didn’t sit well with them.

But, some who heard Jesus picked up on the phrase to make a point of it. They deliberately took advantage of the situation. We see this often, don’t we? Direct quotes that are often used to say what the hearers want to hear not what the speaker wants to convey. To “drink his blood” is what is called an “idiom.” It is a way of saying something else. It is a way of saying that we are benefiting from his death. By saying “the wine is my blood” Jesus was using a saying that goes back to this ancient story about David. Jesus was symbolically saying that in his death we have the provision of eternal life.

There is an interesting paradox here. It was our sins that nailed him to the tree. It was our sins that killed him. And yet, we are the ones who benefit from it. That’s what grace is. We sinners crucified the Lord of Glory and yet we receive eternal life by our cruel act. That is amazing grace! But, bread means more than bread and wine means more than wine. We are feeding on the bread of life and the wine that makes the heart glad. The bread will sustain us between here and glory and the wine will give us a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

What do we mean by God?

Text: 1 John 4:8 (NIV)

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, My Rock and My Salvation. Amen.

The challenge in our day is to avoid creating a God in our own image. Human nature always seeks to justify its aberrant behaviours. We argue with the police officer that we weren’t really going that fast. Our speedometer is a bit off. Or, the radar is malfunctioning. If that doesn’t work we say we had exceptional reasons for speeding.

What is evident today is the attempt to rewrite the Bible to say that what we once thought objectionable for Christians, is no longer objectionable. So we are in a moral wilderness where many Christians cannot tell right from wrong and many are questioning the value of the Bible as a guide in our spiritual lives. If you stand up for traditional morality one runs the risk of being labelled “old school.” Frank Moore, in the first book of his two-volume work, Coffee Shop Theology , says there is “an unconscious eagerness to create a God more accepting of questionable choices and destructive lifestyles.”

C. S. Lewis once said, ”We want not so much a Father but a grandfather in heaven, a God who says of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’” So, because we don’t like the Biblical God, we create a choice of homemade varieties.


This God is a kind of senile but kind person who really doesn’t mind what we do as long as we don’t hurt each other or damage the furniture. He picks us up when we fall, never blames us for anything, always lets us off, and is always cheerful.


This is a similar deity to the Heavenly Santa Claus. This God is the source of all the magic we desire. We throw a request in the wishing-well each night and prayer becomes simply a way of getting our desires met with only cosmetic changes on our part. Nicer clothes in the closet! A few more Loonies and Toonies in the piggy bank. God is a real sweetheart of a guy.


Some opt for a God who is rather stern and rigid. He’s like a judge with a robe and a mallet ready to condemn us at the slightest violation of the rules. This God is angry and wants to consume us all in eternal fires. Most people are not eager to embrace this kind of deity. So, for the most part, we avoid “the Judge Judy” God by decriminalizing all our vices.


God! Mrs. Fix it in Heaven. When we get broken, when life get shattered, we run to God to fix it, like a child to it’s mother. We want God to kiss it and make it better. God cleans up the mess we’ve made with our lives. This God makes home visits only when called. Other than that, we really don’t have much of a relationship with this God until panic time. Once things are up and running again, we don’t find much use for Mrs. Fixit.


This deity is different than the others in that this God is not like a person at all—just an impersonal force. This God is like the substance, however microscopic or subatomic, that holds everything together. This God is just the life force that drives evolution forward. This God makes no demands on us at all.

C. S. Lewis said, with a hint of sarcasm, “The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?”

I'm sure we could go on with other varieties of deity that we create once we reject or seek to modify the God revealed to us in the Scripture.

As a Christian, it is my duty, as much as lies within me, to introduce you to the God of the Bible. I want to connect you with the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Not all Christians agree on very single detail of doctrine. There are many ongoing conversations. But, about the character is God, there is great consensus. Yes, there are squabbles about a few points of how God administers God’s sovereignty in election and salvation. For the most part these discussions are carried on with good will and do not destroy fellowship. The various sides of that discussion (there are more than two), still confess belief in the “One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

This One God is Sovereign and Almighty. This One God created all that is for a divine purpose. There is no other God but this One God who is revealed in the Bible as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. This same God is referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is the creator, sustainer, and redeemer.

Westminster Confession

“There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.”

That’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? The Methodists modified that by striking out the word “passions” for obvious reasons. It made God seem unfeeling and unconcerned about human affairs. It smelled too much like the Greeks who considered the gods ‘apathetic’ or beyond feeling. The Presbyterians, of course, simply meant that God wasn’t moody or subject to irrational swings.

But this statement in the Westminster Confession seems rather philosophical. God appears like a definition in a dictionary and not someone we have met.

John Wesley, considered God not just the great creator of reality but, also, the one who preserved creation. God wasn’t just a sovereign who was governing everything by his immutable will, as if there was no other will in the universe. God was also an actively-involved loving parent who cared patiently for his creation.

In his Notes on 1 John 4:8, Wesley said, “God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom in the abstract as he is said to be love; intimating that this is ... his reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all his other perfections.”

Rather than putting sovereignty and power out front, Wesley taught that the love and compassion of God were out front. That’s what Jesus came to tell us about God. Yes, God is the almighty sovereign. But, the reigning attribute that shed glorious light on all the others is the love of God. God is a loving compassionate Father who is sovereign and almighty, rather than God is an almighty sovereign who is also, by the way, loving and compassionate. The perspective matters.

So then, let’s talk about what God is like. I first studied Systematic Theology under Walter Ellwell who wrote and edited many books. I found his approach helpful in preparing this message.

1. The Attributes of God

  1. NATURE OF AN ATTRIBUTE: Definition: "Attributes of God" are the qualities of God’s being and character, or those perfections of God which are revealed in Scripture and which are exercised and demonstrated by God in God’s various works. They are distinctive features which tell us what God is like. "Attributes" are not qualities attributed to God by theologians, but qualities revealed to us by God in God’s works and God’s Word.
Three Cautions to Christians
  1. Even though we know some of God's attributes, we do not know all of the attributes that could be known.
  2. Even though we know some of God's attributes, we do not understand fully even those. This is reflected in Christian hymnody.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill/and were the sky of parchment made/ were every stalk on earth a quill/ and every man a scribe by trade/to write the love of God above/ would drain the ocean dry/nor could the scroll contain the whole/ though stretched from sky to sky/The love of God/How rich and pure/how measureless and strong/it shall forevermore endure/the saints and angels song.” (Frederick M. Lehman)

  1. We can truly talk about the incomprehensibility of God. God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)


The attributes may be divided into two classifications: a. Incommunicable: Those attributes which emphasize the transcendence and the exalted character of God. These attributes God cannot share with us.

  • Self-existence (depends on nothing outside for existence)
  • Immutability (unchangeable)
  • Omnipresence (everywhere present)
  • Omnipotence (all powerful)

    • v. Eternality (without beginning or ending)
    • b. Communicable: Those attributes which find some reflection or analogy in humankind who were made in the image of God. Those attributes God can in part share with us.
  • Holiness

  • Justice = righteousness
  • Goodness
    • love
    • grace
    • mercy
    • general benevolence of God for the good of his creation
  • Truth

Or, God can communicate (1) Intellectual attributes: knowledge & wisdom; (2) Moral attributes: goodness, love, grace, long-suffering, faithfulness, holiness, righteousness; and (3) Volitional attributes: his sovereign will.


We cannot exhaust the attributes of God in one session. But, we can show how certain attributes, or defining qualities of God, are deducted from Scripture. For, example:

A. Infinity: God is “without limitations” 1 Timothy 6:16 (TNIV) 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33 (TNIV) 33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

B. Self-existence: God “depends on nothing else” for his existence. Psalm 90:2 (TNIV) 2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Revelation 1:8 (TNIV) 8 "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."

Acts 17:25 (TNIV) 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

Isaiah 40:13-14 (TNIV) 13 Who can fathom the Spirit [a] of the LORD, or instruct the LORD as his counselor?

14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding?

C. Immutability: God is “always consistent, and unchangeable” in his character and essence.

Malachi 3:6 (TNIV) 6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”

James 1:17 (TNIV) 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Hebrews 13:8 (TNIV) 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. D. Omnipotence: God is “all powerful.” God can accomplish whatever God wills to happen.

Genesis 17:1 (TNIV) The Covenant of Circumcision 1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, "I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.

Genesis 18:14 (TNIV) 14 Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son."

Jeremiah 32:27 (TNIV) 27 "I am the LORD, the God of the whole human race. Is anything too hard for me?”

God can do whatever he wills to accomplish. I have heard people asks can God create a rock too heavy for God to life? But, putting the word God in a sentence doesn’t make the sentence a logical one. The almightiness of God refers to God being able to accomplish God’s will.

E. Omnipresence: God is “everywhere present.” This doesn’t mean solely that God is physically immense and huge. It really means that God is accessible everywhere to everyone. No one ever needs to fear that they are beyond the reach of God.

Psalm 139:7-12 (TNIV) 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,

10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,"

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

F. Omniscience: “all knowing.” God journeys with us and God knows all things past and future. Nothing God or surprises God.

Revelation 20:12 (TNIV) 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.

John 14:6 (TNIV) 6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 16:13 (TNIV) 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

Colossians 2:3 (TNIV) 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. John 17:17 (TNIV)

17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. Time doesn’t permit us to given further example. But, you can by reading the Bible learn that God is:

G. Righteous H. Just I. Wrathful against sin J. Good K. Loving L. Merciful M. Faithful, Covenant-keeping

Who is God Like?

That’s the main question for Christian proclamation. Who is God’s like? Above all God is like Jesus. Jesus is the “perfect image” of God. Jesus came to show us exactly what God is like. John 14:9-10 reads:

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”

And Hebrews 1:1-3: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

Finally, let me close with the verse in John 1:18: “ 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

For Christians, God is known as revealed in creation, in the story of Israel as the people of God, and supremely in and through Jesus Christ.

The vast majority of the world today are virtually ignorant of the God of the Bible. They have heard of God, but much of what they have heard is distorted, one-sided, or altogether inaccurate. They have created a god who exists only in their own imaginations. It is very sad that so few will take time to try to know God better. To know God is to love God. To know God means eternal life. That’s what Jesus came.

I encourage you brothers and sisters to read the Bible prayerfully, meditate intently, and obey promptly. And, I pray that the Holy Spirit will shine more light upon God Word so that we will be drawn into an ever-deepening relationship with the God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Holy One of Israel.


Our Father, give us insight into your Word that we may learn to know you and Jesus Christ whom you have sent to us. If we learn to know you truly, it will mean everything in this life and the next. Amen.


Upcoming and past events.

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Calvary Community Church, Tilbury, ON Website
February 17 2019
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December 2 2018
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October 22 2018
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October 9 2018
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September 17 2018
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September 10 2018
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August 12 2018
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July 8 2018
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May 20 2018
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An Inconvenient Cross

Proclaiming Christ Crucified

Sadly, the most central truths of the historic, biblical Christian faith are sometimes neglected in the pulpit. In this moving collection of sermons that will appeal to readers across denominational boundaries, Dr. Garry Milley draws our focus to the central proclamation of the universal Christian church: the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Accessible to a general audience, yet informed by his life-long experience of teaching theology, new believers will be nurtured by these sermons, while mature believers and pastors will be challenged to proclaim these matters of "first importance" anew: "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). > "With the heart of a pastor, the mind of a theologian and the art of a preacher, Dr. Garry Milley skillfully weaves his reflections on Scripture with familiar hymns and popular literature, together with homey illustrations, to highlight in a fresh way the power of the Cross and the magnitude of the salvation to which God invites us in Jesus Christ." > -- The Rev. Dr. John C. Mellis > Provost, Queen¹s College, St. John¹s, Newfoundland > "With surgical precision Dr. Milley has woven a theological tapestry of the atonement and its soteriological applications. His lucid and rewarding study and his preaching of the practical implications of holy communion and the new covenant cannot be commended too highly. It is an able vindication of the Cross of Christ." > -- Rev. Clarence Buckle > General Secretary-Treasurer > Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland

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