Sunday, August 21, 2016


Throughout the reign of Ahaz and Hezekiah, two Old Testament Kings, there were two temptations which gripped God’s people. Under the reigns of previous kings, Uzziah and Jotham, Judah had enjoyed a prolonged period of peace and prosperity, but now everything seemed to be in peril. Internally, the social and economic fabric of the nation was fraying. Externally, neighboring empires were flexing their muscles and threatening Judah with invasion. So it was a time of national crisis, and the crisis wasn’t just that the nation was changing for the worse, the very existence of their nation and the safety of their children was in jeopardy. And in the midst of these very serious crises the people of Judah began to cast about for anything that might promise a continuation of the peace and prosperity they had experienced up to that point. So they began to add idol worship to the worship of the Great Jehovah. From their perspective, they weren’t abandoning God exactly. They were just covering their bases by also worshipping other gods. But that’s not how it works, is it? After all, how many of you wouldn’t mind sharing your spouse with another? That’s about how God felt, and he says as much in Isaiah 52 (7-8),

“You have committed adultery on every high mountain. There you have worshiped idols and have been unfaithful to me. You have put pagan symbols on your doorposts and behind your doors. You have left me and climbed into bed with these detestable gods. You have committed yourselves to them. You love to look at their naked bodies” NEW LIVING TRANSLATION

And there was also strong and vocal faction of the king’s court arguing that Judah should pursue alliances with strong neighbors such as Egypt who could come to their aid if they were attacked. This displeased God because it meant that the people were not putting their trust in Him, but in that of man.

Isaiah 30:1-3
 “Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge. But Pharaoh’s protection will be to your shame, Egypt’s shade will bring you disgrace.

And 31:1
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord.

The real issue for God’s people in the days of Isaiah was which would they choose- Would their confidence be in God or in desperate alliances? Would they say like David Psalm 20, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. Or would they jump ship and jump into bed with idols and Egypt? This was the great question hanging over the Judah of Isaiah’s day, and what they did with that question had great consequences.

And I feel it is a question that is also hanging heavily over the church in America today…especially in an election year. I think for many Christians they have allowed their sense of security to become attached to the strength of the economy rather than in a provider God, or in election results rather than in our great King, or who sits on the supreme court, rather than a God who sits on high. Their fear over the state of things in our country has caused some in the church today to throw their support behind candidates who do not fear the Lord and who do not love righteousness. Christians in this country have enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity that is unprecedented in the history of the world. But now, just like in the days of Ahaz and Hezekiah, all of that seems to be in peril. And just as in those days, one of the great issues of our day is whether we will choose, at this critical hour, to proceed with a quiet confidence in God or will we make desperate alliances.  

Friday, August 19, 2016


In the Gospel accounts we see Jesus miraculously reversing many consequences of the fall- the hungry are fed, the blind are made to see, the dead are even raised. This prompts a question which Dr. Halverson posed in his book relevance, "Why did Jesus not remain alive and eliminate, generation by generation, all the evils that plague fallen humanity?" After posing the question, Halverson goes on to answer the question by pointing out that it would be silly for a physician to merely treat the symptoms of a disease if it was within his power to eliminate the disease entirely. That is certainly true, but I don't think that quite gets to the heart of the true reason why the broken body and the spilled blood are better and more excellent than a Jesus who remains alive like an almighty Sisyphus to make whole again and again, day after day, generation after generation, what is perpetually being rebroken.

The very question betrays that in the hearts and minds of some, as John Piper once put it, "Jesus is viewed more as useful than precious." What is desired most is something that Jesus has within His power to provide and not Jesus personally. Such a person is not concerned that their sin has separated them from God. They’re fine with the brokenness the divorce and alienation, so long as they can be made comfortable in their separation. By sinning and choosing others things over God, we  as a race have broken covenant with Him and moved out, and in so doing we have brought all this misery and suffering and separation onto ourselves. All that is wrong, painful, twisted and sick in the world was born when Adam and Eve decided it would be better to be gods than to trust in God. And now, all us sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, all of us who cheated on a kind, generous, faithful God, have the gall to now insist that because God is rich and it is within His power that he should pay our bills, clean up our messes, and fund all our dates with the world. There is a way of approaching Jesus that asks Him to heal, feed, provide, comfort and keep alive, without ever truly asking for Him or desiring Him. Why did Jesus enter history and lay down His life on the cross? Because we were alienated from our Heavenly Father who loved us and wanted us back!

You show me a “Christian” who desires the benefits of Jesus more than Jesus Himself--- one who loves the gifts more than the giver--- and I will show you somebody who probably does a lot of things for Jesus, but who has never done a single thing with Him. Christianity is not principally about getting something from God, but about getting God Himself.  It is not about doing things for God either, but rather doing things in Him personally and through the power He provides.

Jesus doesn’t want anything from us, His aim was to gain us personally. He said “For even the son of man came not to be served but to serve.” Paul quotes Jesus as saying " is better to give than to receive." Those are not the words of someone who wants something from us. We don’t have anything he wants or needs anyway. We can’t do for Him. However, because He loves us He wants to give us what we need most--- HIMSELF. We need Jesus more than we will ever need healing from disease or food to eat. Those needs exist to point us to a deeper hunger, a deeper healing that is needed.  That’s why the cross was preferable and more excellent than if Jesus had remained alive indefinitely using His power to continually remove the consequences of the fall. Our sin separates us from God, and because God is a just and righteous God that sin must be punished, but amazingly Jesus, who is God, took that punishment onto Himself so that we could be reconciled to the Father.

Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father not to make us comfortable in our state of separation.


In Luke 22 and also 1 Corinthians 11, we read of Jesus’ commands that we observe the Lord’s Supper saying, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

This is not the first time in the Bible that we are given a command to remember. You might recall when God instituted the Passover celebration among His people to remind them of how God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God said of the Passover in Exodus 12:14, “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” 

 Or maybe you’re familiar with the story of when God stopped the flow of the Jordan River allowing the Israelites to enter the Promised Land on dry ground. Do you remember how God commanded Joshua to have the people erect a memorial on the far bank? Joshua 4:6-7, “that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

I hear the same God speaking when Jesus says of the Lord’s supper, “Do this in remembrance of me.” God instituted the Passover Holiday as a memorial to remind them that God had brought them out of the land of slavery. He ordered that a pile of stones be set up on the far bank of the Jordan as a memorial- an enduring reminder- that God had brought them into the land of promise. Two memorials, one to remind God’s people that they had been brought out, and another to remind them that they had been brought in- both by a miraculous work of God. The Lord’s Supper combines these two thoughts in one- for through the broken body and the spilled blood of Jesus, represented by the bread and cup, we are reminded that we have been miraculously delivered out of slavery to sin and death and brought in to the promised Kingdom of Light.

Why does God repeatedly issue these commands for us to remember Him and the great deeds He has done? And I don’t ask why because I’m confused about why it is necessary --- that’s easy--- us humans are small, shabby, forgetful creatures who have a hard time seeing beyond the difficulties directly in front of us. As soon as the bear shows up in our lives it’s like all of us sheep suddenly have no memory of the shepherd. Our eyes focus on the bear, Our google searches are all bear-related, and because our minds are full of thoughts about the bear our minds are full of anxiety. If today somebody’s car breaks down or they get laid off or they feel a lump---it’s a new crisis--- and they seem to forget the God who brought them through crises in the past and who has promised them an eternity free of such worries. So in one sense that’s why the command to remember is given--- because it’s necessary--- we’re forgetful--- but maybe a more important question than why is the command necessary, is why does God care that we remember. Does He want us to obey His command to do this in remembrance of Him because that will be satisfying and rewarding to Him or does He give the command for our joy?

Scripture is clear that Jesus is God. It was through Him, we are told in the opening lines of John’s Gospel, that all things were made, and that he existed eternally, without beginning and without end. Before ever the earth was spoken into being He was. So according to the plain teaching of the Bible Jesus is God- he is the Creator. When we state that Jesus was/is God that should color the way we view the motive behind His commands. God is perfect and perfect in all of His ways. That means that Jesus is perfectly content, and all-sufficient within Himself. He wants for nothing. He needs nothing. And we, of course, have nothing to offer Him that would make Him more complete, or joy-filled or satisfied in Himself.

 If He was needy he would not be God

This is why Acts 17:24-25 says, 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,[a] 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  This is why Jesus Himself says in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” So, Jesus, in coming to the earth as a savior had nothing to gain, because, as God, there was nothing he needed, nothing he lacked. He’s perfect! And perfectly content. So why did he come and allow his body to be  broken for us and his blood spilled out for us? If he was not motivated by some need in Him, than what did motivate Him? It was because of our desperate need and for our joy that he came. So when Jesus commands us to do this in remembrance of Him it is not self-serving in any way. He is not eager for us to keep this command so that he might become more complete or satisfied or joy-filled or because He would feel bad if He was forgotten. Jesus is not pathetic or lonely or weak or needy like that. He is God, the very opposite of those things. He is so full and so complete that he can never receive but only overflow as a blessing to us. So the command is given for our benefit and for our joy. He does not need to be remembered. It is us who need to remember. So the command was given for our good and for our joy.


There is such a perfect, mirror symmetry in the story of man's fall and subsequent redemption on the cross. In the garden of Eden there were many trees which one could eat from and live, but only one that would cause you to die. On this side of the fall there are many ways to die and only one way to know life. Adam exited paradise when he decided it would be better to be a god than to trust in God, and all us sons and daughters of Adam may only enter back in when we cease striving in our own power and trust in Jesus alone for our salvation.

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. - John 14:6

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Fellow Pastors, I recently read Piper's book, "Seeing Beauty, Saying Beautifully," and it prompted this thought. I wonder if you have experienced the same. As I am preparing my messages and struggling to find fitting words to describe something that I have seen in God's Word, in the very act of trying to wrestle that idea down onto paper, I am drawn into a deeper, wider pool where I see truths that are more excellent and beautiful than the first. My plan had been for the message to terminate on the first idea, but instead it becomes merely the entry point.

This is why, although I think it is unfair to demand that a preacher have a beautiful way with words, it is fair to demand that your preacher be one who wrestles to describe what God is showing him in his own words.

Human words can no more contain the deep mysteries of God, then a hiker's boots can contain a mountain range, but they do allow us to explore the higher reaches and experience some beautiful views. Saying begets seeing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Fellow Christian, I have heard it said that things are becoming harder for the church today. How can that be? It can never become easier or harder to accomplish impossible things. The God-given objectives of the church are impossible. We have been tasked with nothing less than to make dead people alive (Ephesians 2:1-10, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21). There was never a time when that was easy and there will never come a day when it is more difficult. It will only, ever, always be impossible according to the limits of human strength. So the belief, so often expressed in these days, that things are becoming harder for the church reveals the smallness of our goals (Comfort? Approval? Security?) and an inflated view of what men can accomplish in their own power under the right circumstances. 

Monday, July 18, 2016


For friends long-separated, life has a way of piling up like snow, and it is only when you sit down to write a letter or place a phone call that you become suddenly surprised at just how much has accumulated since you last caught up. It can be hard work to keep the paths between homes cleared. Although letters and phone calls make a poor shovel, shovel we sometimes must because that silent mound of days can become a serious impediment to an easy  back-and-forth. That is sometimes the fate of friendships in this fallen, winter world, but Jesus is bringing the springtime when all that chill and silence will melt, and all those separated by distance, death, deceit and disappointment, yet still bound and tethered by Christ will pull chairs up to the fire and enjoy a more perfect friendship in the warmth and light of his eternal presence.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Racism and Christianity can never be brought into harmony because racists boast in their blood, but Christians boast only in the blood of Jesus.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


"That's just foolishness!"
(Starbucks Barista to a man who was apparently homeless- the man approached the counter and explained that he had already bought coffee elsewhere, which he was carrying in a cardboard carrier, but he was hoping she could help him out. She asked if he needed "cream or something?" and he answered, "Nah, I need like five bucks.")

"Where did Lucy get ham?"
(My son, Jack, after exiting the dentist's office where his sister, Lucy, had just had a tooth pulled. She had removed a wad of blood-soaked gauze from her mouth which vaguely resembled a piece of ham, and which Jack was eyeballing hungrily.)

Monday, December 22, 2014

We're Gonna Go Get a Christmas Tree (Words and Music by Josh Tate but it really ought to be performed by someone else)

O we're gonna go get a Christmas tree
We're gonna go get a Christmas tree (2 X's)
And bring it home tonight!

Running through the rows of trees (3 X's)
Shouting with delight!

Put one up on the minivan (3 X's)
Tie it down real tight.

Driving home through the busy streets (3 X's)
Hey, let's grab a bite!

Set it up in the living room (3 X's)
And string it all with lights.

Decorate the Christmas tree (3X's)
Such a beautiful sight.

O we're gonna go get a Christmas tree
We're gonna go get a Christmas tree (2 X's)
And bring it home tonight!

Things I thought today but didn't share with anyone (until now)

1. Every time I witness a fender bender I feel a certain amount of survivor's guilt.

2. If I was working on the marketing team of a department store I would recommend that for the Christmas season we advertise that our bags are not see-through. Every year it strikes me as a major oversight that shopping bags at Christmas don't better disguise their contents.Don't they know?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Thursday, November 6, 2014


 I miss this place. I need a zone that is bummer-free.
 I'll open all the windows. Then I'll sweep, dust and fix the screen door.
Once the place is ship-shape again, I'll invite everybody over. Please, come.


Several years ago God began speaking to me about the problem of pride in my heart.
How I came to that point is too long a story to recount here, but suffice it to say that God used some circumstances and relationships in my life, as well as some good Bible teaching from my pastor at the time, to begin opening my eyes to the problem of pride in my life. I was cut to the heart and resolved to do something about my pride problem. Anyone who has ever made greater humility the petition of their prayers and the aim of their Christian pursuits knows that it is a very slippery thing to acquire and an even more difficult thing to measure.  Any “achievement” in humility instantly becomes the basis for pride, and round and round we go. It's a vicious cycle. Perversely, the pursuit of humility often gives birth to new depths of pride.
Humility is a funny thing. It seems that the harder you try to focus on it the fuzzier it becomes. The harder you try to lay hold of the more it slips like water through your fingers. I have been surprised at times by humility when it has shown up in my heart unannounced. At such times I have found surprising words suddenly spilling from my lips like I was returning a borrowed thing. However, when I seek out humility it always seems elusive and just beyond reach.
Recently, I was listening to a radio preacher speak on the topic of pride and humility and he made the claim that as a result of God’s sanctifying work in His life he could now look back on his younger self and see how he had become more humble over time. At the time, that was a very discouraging thing for me to hear. After all, I had been sincerely praying for God to grant me more humility for the past ten years, and I had done everything I could think to do within the scope of human power to foster greater humility. I had memorized scriptures on the topic and sought to behave in ways that outwardly demonstrated humility even as I remained suspicious of the purity of my inner motives. However, as I reflected over the past ten years I did not feel less prideful than I was when I began this journey, but only more aware of the depths of my pride.
Those thoughts led me to the following questions, which are not convictions masquerading as questions. These are honest questions. How would you answer? 

Three Questions on the Topic of Humility:
1. As a Christian grows in humility, will increased humility in his/her life be marked by a corresponding decrease in prideful inclination or rather an increased awareness of one’s prideful inclinations?

…or to put the question another way…

It has been observed that courage is not absence of fear but rather the mastery of it. In much the same way, can it be said that humility is not the absence of pride, but rather the capacity to recognize and reject it?

2. Are these good working definitions for humility and pride?

Humility- Recognition of who God is and who man is in relationship to Him.

Pride- A desire for the place of God.

3. Is pride roughly synonymous with our sin nature?

Thursday, May 1, 2014


"The choice is yours. Will your life be a sermon or a cautionary tale?" J. B. Tate