Sermon Question

canstockphoto5414832I got this question after the sermon “God’s Rescue Plan” on the history of the city of Jericho.  In Joshua 6, the city was cursed because of sin, but the story actually shows not just judgment but a recurring picture of God’s plan for salvation and rescue through Jesus.



Q:  When talking about how Elijah’s ultimate successor was Jesus, you referenced the end of Malachi and how Elijah would return preparing the way for Jesus, and how Elijah returned in the form of John the Baptist.  I’d never heard this before. Could you explain for me where this comes from, or at least where to go so I can learn more about this connection?

A:  The Elijah prophecy is from the last verses of the Old Testament — Malachi 4:5-6, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.  He will turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

This prophecy finds its fulfillment in the coming of John the Baptist according to Matthew 17:11-13, “Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things.  But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished.  In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.’ Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.”

You can also see Luke 1:17, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”



My Name Is….

It was a blessing to have Marvin Williams back with us on Sunday, delivering a powerful message about Jesus enduring the shame of the cross so that we do not have to be defined by shame but can live in freedom.

The song, Hello My Name Is, by Matthew West reminds us to take off the labels we might be tempted to put on today and live in the truth of being a beloved child of God.

All is well,


Two Steps Forward

What happens when we find our spiritual journey marked by pain and suffering?  When life is difficult, how does Christ lead us forward to the peace he promises?

Those questions form the premise of Two Steps Forward, the new book by Sharon Garlough Brown, and the sequel to the book Sensible Shoes that I recommended last year.

In her new book, Browns invites us to enter back into the lives of four unique women who met in a spiritual disciplines class.  Each woman’s story shows God’s grace as he calls them to a deeper relationship despite the circumstances around them.

  • Charissa is a perfectionist graduate student working on her Ph.D. in literature.
  • Hannah, a pastor on a forced sabbatical, wrestles with how to separate her professional and spiritual life.
  • Mara is in a difficult marriage, trapped by feelings of rejection and fear.
  • Meg, who has been stymied by grief and loss, is headed to England in an effort to reconnect with her college-age daughter.

Two Steps Forward has launched a new category of Christian fiction called “spiritual formation fiction.”   There are some wonderful nonfiction books on the spiritual disciplines (Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster or The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg) but fiction is a wonderful accompaniment to enhance our understanding of the spiritual disciplines. The beauty of Sharon’s work is that the fictional characters become mirrors where we can see ourselves in their stories and experience what is means to practice spiritual disciplines.  As we are drawn into the beautifully written story, we identify with the triumphs, and the failures, of the characters.  As we identify with them, we can allow the Holy Spirit to gently guide us on our spiritual journeys as well.

I had the priviledge to read the manuscript for Two Steps Forward and I hope that you are as anxious as I was to jump back in the lives of these four courageous women.

As an encouragement to add this book to your reading list, following is a 40% off coupon for preorders.  At the IVP Press webiste, enter the coupon code below. There is a $5 shipping fee but you will have it as soon as it is available.


Happy Reading!



Meditating on Scripture


In the sermon today, we heard an important reminder from Joshua 1:8 —

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.

I gave several suggestions to help you meditate on scripture that I’ve listed again here:

  • Listen to a sermon.  Send time listening to God’s word being taught and discuss it with your family or small group.
  • Post scripture.  Write scripture on cards and place them in places where you spend a lot of time during the day so that you are reminded of scripture throughout the day.  Post them in your car, by the kitchen sink, at your desk, in your wallet.
  • Talk about scripture.  When you are with family or friends, enjoying a meal or on a walk, read a verse of scripture.  Take turns reflecting on the verse together.
  • Listen to scripture.  There are lots of great ways to listen to scripture.  You can listen to verses being dramatically read at a number of online sites including Bible Gateway.  Listen to songs with the words taken directly from scripture from groups such as Seeds Family Worship, Sons of Korah (Psalms) and Forever Grateful Music.  Another great site with musical and visual art to help people meditate on scripture is The Verses Project.  Calvary Kids has put the book of James to music and teaches through a chapter each year on Wednesday nights. It’s a great way to learn scripture along with your kids.
  • Select scripture randomly.  If you don’t know where to start, let God direct you. Choose a random number between 1 and 66 (or use an online site) and read the book of the bible that corresponds to that number.  For example, 15 would be the book of Ezra.  Ask the question, “Why would God have chosen this passage for me today?”
  • Discuss scripture.  Ask your family, friends or small group these questions, “If you were to hang a scripture verse on the outside of your door for everyone who passes by to see, what scripture verse would you want to hang up and why?”  “If you were going to hang a Bible verse on the front door facing inside so you would read it before you left the house, what would that scripture verse be and why?”
  • Memorize scripture.  Don’t outgrow the power of memorizing scripture.  Our verses for this series, Joshua 1:8-9, were some of the first verses I memorized as an adult. It’s a great place to start.  Try memorizing a verse every day for a week and see what happens.

Meditating on scripture — it’s challenging, but it’s simple.



Elisabeth Elliott Tribute

Margaret Ashmore Drawing of Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth Elliott, pioneer missionary and Christian author, entered the presence of Jesus on Sunday, June 14, 2015, after a long battle with dementia.   A prolific author, her most famous book, Through Gates of Splendor, told the story of five missionaries (including her first husband Jim Elliott) who died while trying to reach the Auca people in Ecuador.  Splendor had a significant impact on me as a young adult as I encountered men and women in the pages of the book who were willing to give all in the service of Christ. And, not only did they give all but they considered their sacrifice worth it in the service of their Savior.  Jim Elliott famously wrote in his journal, 

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep

to gain that which he cannot lose.

The day of her death, I just happened to re-read These Strange Ashes, the book detailing the first year of her life as a single missionary woman in the jungles of Ecuador and the faith lessons that she learned.  Each lesson ultimately centered on the the sovereignty and goodness of God — in other words, how she learned to submit to the assignment given to her by God.  But, she wrote about submission to God’s will with a full understanding of the cost.  She wrote,

To be a follower of the Crucified means, sooner or later, a personal encounter with the cross. And the cross always entails loss. The great symbol of Christianity means sacrifice and no one who calls himself a Christian can evade this stark fact.

I had the opportunity to meet her, but I only really knew her through her many books and articles.  Through those vehicles, she was a teacher and an encourager.  More often, she was one who rebuked me as she asked the Lord to “deliver us from our sad, sweet, stinking selves!”

She ends the most recent epilogue of Through Gates of Splendor with these words that are a fitting match to the current sermon series:

We are not always sure where the horizon is.  We would not know which end is up were it not for the shimmering pathway of light falling on the white sea.  The One who laid earth’s foundations and settled its dimensions knows where the lines are drawn.  He gives all the light we need for trust and obedience.

Christianity Today has an excellent summary of her life here, with a lot of links if you want to learn more about her extraordinary life.

All is well,


(picture from

Giving An Account

canstockphoto5414832I received an email recently with a question I am asked a lot.  A summary of the question is:

The Bible says we are seen in God’s righteousness (Phil. 3) but I don’t know how to make sense of that idea with verses about how we will one day give an account for our actions (Heb. 4:13, Matt. 12:36, Rom. 14:12). It sounds like God sees us as clean and separates our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) but then remembers it all again in the end which doesn’t sound like he actually sees us as clean, or perhaps we’re allowed to wear God’s righteousness, but only until judgment.

Here was my response:

On judgment day, we will have to give an account – for the good things that we have done.  As for the sins, they will show up as simply blanks.  Anything bad is removed, but there won’t be any corresponding good.  For example, if a person spends 10 years of her life living in adultery but confesses her sin to God, on judgment day that adultery will not show up.  But those 10 years will be essentially blank of good deeds and therefore there won’t be any reward.  That time will appear wasted.  In that sense, she will be held accountable for not having done good during that time, but her sins won’t be revisited.  He truly has forgotten them and removed them from us.


Exercise in Gratitude


On Sunday, we discovered the way to avoid selling our inheritance for a bowl of soup is to “be thankful” (Hebrews 12:28).

I gave you several questions to help guide us towards thanksgiving.  We went through them fairly quickly so I am posting them on the blog so you can take time to reflect again.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I did the list exactly the same in every service so it may look slightly different from your notes.

Questions to help us appreciate God:

  1. How did God come find you?  How did he pursue and rescue you?
  2. Where would you be if God hadn’t rescued you?  What would your life look like without the Spirit?
  3. What are the things since you became a Christian that God has forgiven you for?
  4. What are the current blessings in your life?
  5. Who are other people in your life that you have seen God rescue and transform?
  6. How has God been with you, especially in suffering?
  7. How has God healed you – physically, spiritually and/or emotionally?
  8. How have your experienced the discipline of God?
  9. What are the ways that God has blessed you through your involvement at Calvary or other churches?
  10. What are specific prayers that God has answered?
  11. What are the things you are most looking forward to in God’s kingdom?

Thankfulness and gratitude help us keep our eyes on Jesus, which is the theme of the song A Mighty Fortress, that we sang at the beginning of the service.  Here it is again to encourage you on your journey of gratitude this week.



Wrestling with Desire

As Christians, we often picture desire as a vice — a seductive, fleshly, sinful part of us that is attempting to tear us away from God’s authentic plan for our lives.

Then we read verses that say, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” If a good God is granting faithful children the longings of their heart, can the desires really be wrong?

UnknownIn her book, Teach Us to Want: Longing, Ambition & the Life of Faith,” author Jen Pollock Michel writes a practical theology of biblical desire. Deeply rooted in scripture, as well as rich in examples from literature and modern life, the beautifully written book is loosely structured around the Lord’s Prayer.

Michel travels through the prayer that the Lord taught his disciples to pray, and guides our understanding that while desire can be corrupted, it is “good, right and necessary. It is a force of movement in our lives…. Growing into maturity doesn’t mean abandoning our desires, but growing in discernment of them.”

One chapter I really appreciated is “Be My Neighbor,” a chapter on community, specifically community found in the church. Many Christian books disregard the importance of the church in spiritual growth, but Michel argues for the “mysterious, unparalleled holy energy when believers gather together for church” even when it is messy and even when we are hurt.   Jim and I deeply believe in the power of church, which is helpful when you are pastoring in a local body, but this chapter still served as an encouragement.

Teach Me to Want would be an excellent book to read with your community. Each chapter ends with reflection questions, and there are additional discussion questions at the end of the book.

We had the opportunity to get to know Jen and her family this past summer, and she is as authentic, engaging and lovely as her writing.  I am not the only one to commend this book. The book was selected by Christianity Today as the best book of 2015 in the “Christian Living” category, as well as the magazine’s overall pick for the best book of the year.

All is well,


We’re Back!


The Olives and Coffee hosting site was hacked at the end of last year and it has taken quite a while to get everything back up and working.

We look foward to getting back to our goal of providing the Calvary community with extra information related to Sunday morning services, encouragement during the week, music that inspires us, book suggestions, stuff we find helpful on our faith journeys, and a few things that just make us smile.

Let’s relaunch with some new favorite music.

Where words fail, music speaks.

-Hans Christian Anderson

“It is Well” is an updated version of the classic hymn that beautifully captures the idea of our Hebrews theme of having eyes of faith.  How do we do it?  By “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Or, as the song says,

Far be it from me to not believe
Even when my eyes can’t see

And this mountain that’s in front of me
Will be thrown into the midst of the sea

Through it all, through it all
My eyes are on You
Through it all, through it all
It is well

All is well,


Hebrews 5:11-6:12


Today’s sermon raised a number of questions. I am glad because it allows us to continue to wrestle with what God is saying in Hebrews 5:11-6:12. It also helps me to think through ways I can be more clear when I preach.

Let me begin by stating that I believe in eternal security. Once a person is saved, they cannot lose their salvation. I affirmed that doctrine in the sermon when talking about the “in/out” language of being born again, adopted, forgiven, justified, redeemed and united with Christ. Once someone has been born again, they cannot be un-born again. Once they have been adopted into God’s family, they will never be un-adopted. That’s the doctrine of eternal security.

But that was not the focus of this week’s sermon because it is not the focus of Hebrews 5:11-6:12.

There is another related doctrine that people sometimes confuse with eternal security and that is the doctrine of assurance of salvation.

  • Eternal security holds that if you are a Christian (from God’s point of view), you cannot lose your salvation.
  • Assurance of salvation is concerned with whether you or I can know that we are Christians (from our point of view).

Being a Christian and knowing that you are a Christian are two different things, although they are usually connected.

The doctrine of assurance of salvation fits better with the journey, sports, agricultural and maturity metaphors. It is viewing salvation not from God’s point of view but from ours.

From our point of view, someone who does not continue to end of their journey with Jesus will not make it to the final destination of heaven: not because they lost their salvation but because they never truly had it in the first place. 1 John 2:19 makes this point. John Calvin formulated it this way: how do you know if someone is a Christian? If they persevere to the end.

If you abandon Jesus and the journey of faith you are demonstrating that you are not genuinely born again.

Don’t genuine believers sometimes wander away from Jesus for a season? Absolutely. But, you know that a person is a genuine believer if he or she comes back. If a person doesn’t come back, you cannot know whether they are a genuine Christian.

In the sermon I said if you have loved ones that have walked away from God, I do not want to give you false hope.  I do not want to simply tell you that if your loved ones made a profession of faith when they were younger then those individuals will be fine. But what I do believe is that “God is not unjust.” He will do the right thing. If they are genuinely believers by faith, they will end up in heaven, even though they walked away. If they were never believers, they won’t.

But if someone is not currently journeying with Jesus, then neither you nor I can know whether that person is a Christian or not. And so our job is not to give false assurance but to warn them – if they do not keep going with Jesus they will not get to their destination (not because they lost their salvation, but because they are giving evidence that they are not actually saved).

But here’s the additional point to be made from Hebrews. If you go and read Hebrews 2:1-3, 3:12-14, 10:26-31, 12:25 and 5:11-6:12 you will not find any discussion about eternal security. You will not even find a discussion like what is found in 1 John 2:19 about how people who turn away from Jesus were not believers in the first place. What you will find are warnings not to walk away from Jesus. These verses are meant to frighten people who call themselves Christians (also see Matt 7:21-23; John 15; Romans 11:17-22; 1 Cor 9:27-10:12; James 2:14-26). If we preach these passages in such a way that they don’t frighten us, then we have not preached them correctly.

The author of Hebrews believes in eternal security. But he understands that people who are constantly fed a diet of “once-saved/always saved” can draw from it an incorrect inference, namely if I pray to receive Christ it doesn’t matter what I do from that point on. I realize that it is a difficult tension, but we have to let the Word of God speak in all its complexities without using one passage to silence another.

Scripture both affirms that “even if we are faithless, he is still faithful because he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13) and “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14).

I know that we want to hear just the eternity security passages, especially if we have a loved one who once professed faith but now no longer does so. But we should not silence the truth of Hebrews. While I have seen God use 2 Timothy 2:13 to bring comfort to believers, I have also watched him – just this morning in fact – use the real, bona fide warnings of Hebrews to bring people who were wandering from the faith back to him.