Galatians Series and Our 25th Anniversary

I am preaching three messages from the book of Galatians over the next few weeks as our church approaches and celebrates our 25th anniversary on May 23, Pentecost Sunday.
When you spend time listening or reading Galatians it is easy to believe that it’s message is more important than any other portion of Holy Scripture. I encourage you to read through it. If you like, you can also listen to someone else read it. I have given you a link below to my favorite reader, Max McLean, reading Galatians from the KJV. Listen to the entire book, 123 verses, in less than twenty minutes!


For thirty years or so, between his conversion on the road to Damascus and imprisonment in Rome, the Apostle Paul traveled through the Roman Empire and started churches in the provinces of Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, and Achia. In the course of his missionary journeys described in the book of Acts (13-14; 16:23-20:38; 18:23-20:38), he wrote letters to help in the supervision of the churches, and Galatians is one of those. Maybe he knew some of these readers very well and that explains why more than any other letter from him, Galatians is imprinted with the marks of his personality as well as the fullness of his passionate belief in the message he proclaimed. He is greatly disappointed and distressed that the gospel he proclaimed has been compromised by “another gospel”. He appeals to his own experience of coming to faith in Jesus and moving from death to life in Christ and allows no possibility for any other way of acceptance with God except by faith in Him alone. A comment from Geoff Ziegler’s study of the book captures the concern: “Any addition to Jesus as the basis for our standing before God is ultimately a deadly subtraction; to say we need more than Jesus to be justified before God is to lose everything.” Paul’s authority as an Apostle as well as his own experience are mounted in this letter to win back his friends to the message he proclaimed.

A Passion to Right the World, Part 3

As I mentioned last week, one of the books I read while away on my sabbatical was an older publication of Carl Henry’s, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Someone who listened to the sermon last Sunday was kind enough to mention that they had difficulty following what Henry was saying in the quote. Specifically, I think they meant his observation-


 “The apostolic Gospel stands divorced from a passion to right the world. The Christian social imperative is today in the hands of those who understand it in sub-Christian terms.”

I understand Henry in this quote to be lamenting the abandonment of social effort and engagement by Evangelicals in his era. He was concerned that if Evangelicals remained disinterested in the well- being of larger society, then those who did not understand the Christian message would continue to fill the vacuum. I hope that makes sense and seems as relevant to you as it did to me when I read it.

Carl Henry’s book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism
Carl Henry’s book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism

In discussing God’s justice and the importance of Christian involvement in society, I want to make a brief comment on the phrase “social justice” that has become controversial recently. One video brought to my attention by a friend featured a gifted and well-known Evangelical pastor who offered a definition of “social justice” which sounded politically socialistic but which he insisted was the only proper way it could be defined. The pastor references an article by Kevin DeYoung with which I’m familiar and uses DeYoung to support his argument. Read DeYoung for yourself and draw your own conclusions. I’ve included a link to it below. DeYoung seems willing to acknowledge the legitimacy and use of the phrase “social justice” by evangelicals with some qualifications.

I was recently paging through the New International Version of the Bible (1974) which many of us use, and it employs the phrase “social justice” to explain the theme of Amos in its introduction. I can think of a number of places where I have seen the phrase similarly used to describe the emphasis of other Old Testament prophets. John Stott in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount uses the phrase “social righteousness” which amounts to the same thing. I don’t doubt that people could mean different things by their use of the phrase but I do not think the church should shun the phrase simply because someone else uses the term to describe their vision of a textbook socialistic society. I think the phrase “social justice” remains an accurate way to describe the prophetic emphasis of the Old Testament which called upon the people of God to verify their covenantal relationship to Him by their concern for the well-being of the less fortunate and under privileged in their society. Along with DeYoung’s article,I have a link to another article on the same topic by Joe Carter who is on the pastoral staff of McLean Bible Church in Arlington, Virginia.

In closing out the focus of the last few blogs on the topic of justice, I would like to comment on Black Lives Matter and will repeat as I’ve said to some of you that BLM originated because the church did not continue its work in civil rights. And because the church retreated from civil rights after the 60s, BLM is probably best understood as an example of the very thing Henry feared: “the Christian social imperative … in the hands of those who understand it in sub-Christian terms.” BLM is a loosely organized patchwork of groups, decentralized, and each with different leadership and distinctives. I do believe that a Christian, called, as he or she is, to be salt and light in the world, can participate in BLM if they believe this is where their Lord is calling them to serve Him in seeking after His justice for Black Americans. I could change my mind about this were I confronted with BLM organizational goals contrary to the teaching of Scripture so maybe someone reading this has something they would like for me to consider. The third link below is for an article on BLM by Pastor Mika Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship in Southeast Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you are interested in these matters and have not read Pastor Edmondson’s article that we posted last year, you should consider his perspective. The fourth and final link is a response to Edmondson’s article by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary and one of our nation’s important evangelical voices. I hope all this is helpful in evaluating the different opinions you have heard (including mine!) on these important topics.


Carl Henry’s book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism

A Passion to Right the World, Part 2

Founder of Christianity Today, Billy Graham, with Carl F.H. Henry (1913-2003), editor, who is holding the first issue.

As I mentioned last week, one of the books I read while away on my sabbatical was an older publication of Carl Henry’s, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Here is another quote that I found relevant and convicting:

“…the Hebrew-Christian tradition historically involved an articulate statement not only of dogmatics [doctrine] but of the social implications of redemption. Today, Protestant Fundamentalism [evangelicalism] …is a stranger in its predominant spirit, to the vigorous social interests of its ideological forebears. Modern Fundamentalism does not explicitly sketch the social implications of its message for the non-Christian world; it does not challenge the injustices of totalitarianisms, the secularisms of modern education, the evils of racial hatred, the wrongs of current labor-management relations, and the inadequate basis of international dealings. It has ceased to challenge Caesar and Rome … The apostolic Gospel stands divorced from a passion to right the world. The Christian social imperative is today in the hands of those who understand it in sub-Christian terms.” p.45

I will be speaking more about justice this Sunday. Coming back to a recent Sunday School class, and the question about  “equity” – the difference between equality and equity is a little hard to work out, isn’t it? But I think I found a helpful example brought to my attention in Dr. Shannon’s book, The Major Themes of the Bible. In his chapter “Principles of Justice and Compassion” he mentions the distribution of the land to Israel and the Jubilee legislation that forgave debts. He points out how the Jubilee legislation kept the land from belonging to fewer and fewer people. In my thinking, the Jubilee legislation was the equity that kept things relatively equal among Israel’s tribes. So perhaps equity can be thought of as the dynamic or ongoing work of keeping things as originally intended. I am going to think about this more and come back to this next week with a final word from Carl Henry.

Dr. Fosters Shannon’s book, The Major Themes of the Bible
Dr. Foster Shannon’s book, The Major Themes of the Bible
Founder of Christianity Today, Billy Graham, with Carl F.H. Henry (1913-2003), editor,
who is holding the first issue.

A Passion to Right the World

In a recent Sunday School class, I used the word “equity” and was asked about its meaning. The larger question being discussed was the position or practice of our church on justice issues in society. How much our own ministry should be or will be influenced by concerns about what is happening in our society? To begin, the biblical idea of equity comes from a Hebrew term that basically means “level” like a geographical plain. The idea of equity in society should mean that people are treated “on the level” or fairly. If we pay attention to our society or the people we encounter in life generally, we will become aware of situations where there is inequity

One of the books I read while away on my sabbatical was an older publication of Carl Henry’s, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. Carl Henry was an American evangelical and Christian theologian who gave leadership to evangelicals in the mid-to-late 20th century. He is perhaps best known for his leadership along with Billy Graham in the founding of Christianity Today. He wrote this book to argue for the active involvement of evangelicals or “fundamentalists” in the social issues of American culture. He was troubled that evangelicals had distanced themselves from societal concerns and that “the apostolic Gospel stands divorced from a passion to right the world (p.45).” Sound relevant? I will be sharing some other notable excerpts next week. Keep in mind that Henry wrote this book in 1947! Given the divisions in our nation and which are reflected among Christians and in our own church, what Henry worried about then, is worth our concern now.


Jesus as Warrior King (King Aragon)

View of the World

It was great to be back and see so many of you on Easter Sunday! I appreciated some comments that I received through email and other interactions on the phone or in person about the sermon on Easter Sunday. After thinking about it a little more, I am going to go on in Psalm 110 this Sunday. On the traditional church calendar, Easter Sunday is the “First Sunday of Easter” and the following Sunday is the “Second Sunday of Easter” and so on. The series explanation for Easter Sunday and this coming Sunday is reposted below.

I am persuaded that the truths touched on in Psalm 110 provide the basic and best biblical structure for shaping a Christian perspective and outlook about so much that is happening in our world today. Most recently attention has shifted to concern over the treatment of Asians and Asian Americans in our society. Please, when you have a minute check our link to Karalee Nakatsuka’s letter that she has given us permission to circulate. Also, if you have written anything or come across an article that you have found particularly helpful for evaluating or understanding these times in which we live, pass it along to me. I’d like to consider it.

Click to Read Karalee’s Letter

The Right Man at the Right Hand — Psalm 110: View of the World 

Three-Part Series on Psalm 110

Easter Sunday, April 4, 2021
Psalm 110:1-2

Second Sunday of Easter,
April 11, 2021
Psalm 110:3,5,6

Third Sunday of Easter,
April 18, 2021
Psalm 110:4,7

By Colin Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0,


Arguably, the most frequently quoted psalm in the New Testament, Psalm 110 sets forth the authority and power of Jesus Christ over, and in, this present fallen world.  King David, the author of the psalm, prophetically listens in and records God direct message to His anointed King.  David’s reference to Him as “my Lord” is his act of worship, recalling Joshua’s worship and his humble question to the mysterious man he encounters outside Jericho: “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” In Psalm 110, Yahweh and His King are in Divine alignment with one purpose: to completely subdue and rule our world. Their unity of purpose is such that whether the setting is the throne (verse 1), or the battlefield (verse 5),  they are at each other’s “right hand” to this end. Jesus began His conquest by breaking the power of sin’s punishment on the cross and now in the fullness of His resurrection, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, He is breaking the power of sin’s presence. The battle against sin is not over, not in us, and not in our world, but we can take heart. If we believe in Him, the right Man is on our side, as Martin Luther taught us to sing. No other psalm displays the divine Person of Christ, His passion, His power, and the prospect before Him.

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Dear Friends,

…today I would like to share some of
my thoughts, not out of anger, but out of care for our community, to provide an opportunity for increased
awareness and understanding, in the hopes that we can continue to work to become a hospitable community for

Theologian Abraham Kuyper, 1837-1920
Theologian Abraham Kuyper, 1837-1920

Spiritual Power for the Crushing Contradictions


The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made.
Psalm 145:9


In his introductory comments on this passage, Abraham Kuyper, the 19th century theologian (who also served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands 1901-1905) writes, “Our heart is continually inclined to rebel against the Lord our God … that oh so gladly – were it even for a single day – we would take from His hands the reins of His supreme rule, imagining that we would manage things far better and direct them far more effectively than God.”


Nearing the end of my sabbatical in St. Louis and my return to Los Angeles, I’m grateful to my good friend and colleague, Pastor Ron Lutjens, for bringing Kuyper’s message on Psalm 145 to my attention. I was preparing to write again on Psalm 51 but then so much happened. I felt the force of Kuyper’s observation. The senseless and horrific murders in Atlanta have stirred a timely and much needed correction in our tolerance for the denigration and mistreatment of Asians and Asian Americans. But was there no other way for this national examination to begin? Here, in St. Louis, Michelle and I attended a vigil for the slain. Then there was yet another mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado.


Closer to home, all our hearts are traumatized by the death of our sister in Christ, Colleen Wong. She was a true servant of the Lord, a wise counselor, and a true friend of our fellowship. If we could, who among us would not be tempted to take last Friday out of God’s hands?! We must acknowledge that we have no way to understand these dreadful events nor skill to interpret their meaning. Only then can our faith in Jesus Christ truly be faith in Him. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Faith in Jesus is the most vital when we really cannot possibly understand or explain this life and so must completely rely on Him. After listing all of the kinds of injustices and wrongs and troubles that confront us in this world, Kuyper writes,


Never say, therefore, that the way God does things justifies itself to you, as being all-wise and all-good. This can only be said by someone who does not think deeply, who pays no attention to what goes on around him, and who is so used to the contradictions of life, that they no longer affect him. But if you have still remained young and fresh of heart, and love inspires you, and what you see happening around you grips you, leaves you no rest and compels you to think, then never say that the common course of life teaches you God’s wisdom and God’s love.

It is rather as though a thwarting power goes through all of life, and as though intentionally God does otherwise than we honestly think it ought to have happened; that in the face of what we see, it is by faith alone, that we should hold ourselves to God, and in spite of every experience of life, should confess that God is good to all.

As to why [God works this way] we literally know nothing. But this much is certain, that he who pays attention to things at large and observes what goes on around him, can only and alone hold on to the wisdom and goodness of God by faith. The psalmist puts it this way: “The Lord is good to all and His tender mercies are over all His works.” But no, we do not see this, and life does not show us this. It can only be witnessed to by the Holy Spirit in your innermost self.

But if alone, you come to the one true viewpoint [of the psalmist] and you have a testimony concerning your God which neither want nor death can tear out of your heart, then your faith in God’s goodness is a conquest, which you have won with spiritual power upon the crushing contradiction of reality around you. Then the song that God is wise and good is no longer a child’s exercise to you, which you have sung imitating others, but it becomes to you a psalm of life, welling up from the inward address of your soul. And then if it goes through fire, and though the waters of the most bitter reality threaten to engulf you, yet you triumph, and in the face of trouble and anguish of soul, of want and suffering, of death and grave, yet you sing of the goodness of God.

And then you do not try to explain this difficulty, in which you cannot succeed anyway; and then you do not reason about it, as though to hang your confession of God’s goodness on the cobweb of your reasoning. No; instead you have the high courage to look in the eye cold-bloodedly the bitterness of your suffering, and to drink the cup of your suffering to the dregs. And then you do not hide it, that you do not understand God, that of His love you see the contrary, of His wisdom rather the reverse. But yet you hold yourself immovably fast to what your faith testifies, and with the psalmist you continue to exult: “The Lord is good to all” and good also to me.

Excerpted and adapted from In the Shadow of Death (Chapter 19, “The Lord is Good to All: Resting in God’s Appointment,” by Abraham Kuyper [Dutch ed., 1893; English ed., 1929])


I did not know Colleen as well as some of you, but I was a committed “fan” and frequently sought her counsel on matters of our church fellowship. We had made some plans just recently, and I had complete confidence in her gifts and wisdom to help me carry them out. I was depending on her. There is no one I can think of now who can replace her. I will have to go to Jesus! She would tell us plainly in her matter of fact voice that the spiritual power we need to face the end of her life and ministry on earth is in Him. I think Kuyper’s words would make sense to her. Faith in the goodness of God is a conquest we win only in Him, and a song we can, and must, sing now through tears springing from truth so that the ancient wisdom of Proverbs 3:5 for all of us and for all of life rings loud again: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”


King David Enthroned, by Jerry Harston
Image: King David Enthroned, by Jerry Harston

His Best for Our Worst


Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare Your praise.
Psalm 51:15


After at least nine months, when David finally acknowledged his guilt, the prophet Nathan told him, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” (2 Samuel 12:13-14) The “utter contempt” indicates an unintended consequence of David’s plan to do away with Uriah. He had told Joab, “Put Uriah in the front line … then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” (2 Samuel 11:15) David’s sin had not only struck down Uriah and shamed Bathsheba, but struck at the honor of God, too. His sin was compounded by a kind of sacrilege. As the appointed representative of God over His people, he had misused Israel’s army for his own ends. The name of God was now dishonored, and Israel’s enemies felt empowered.

The parallel between Israel and the church or David and ourselves, is not exact, but it is helpful for us to think of our fellowship and ourselves in this light. The Apostle Paul says that God’s “intent was that now, through the church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Ephesians 3:10-11) Do we grasp that we are His appointed representatives, bearing His name for the sake of His kingdom? How do my sins, my decisions or my plans, effect the spiritual battle in which the church is now engaged? What is my working view of our church fellowship’s significance? The sense, sorrow, and shame of his sin had completely shut David’s mouth. Do any of our sins or the decisions we have made ever cause us to just shut up? They should!

David was a great sinner and so are we. And yet he clings to God, and so should we. The Apostle Paul gives hope to great sinners: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.” ( 1Timothy1:15) David prays, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare Your praise.” If God convicts us and shuts our mouths, it is so that He might open them by His grace. In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” In Psalm 51 David has an “apart from Me you can do nothing” realization. In the book of Psalms such a realization is the sure and certain prelude of praise. It can be so in our lives, too. Consider the opening lines of Psalm 16: “You are my Lord; apart from You I have no good thing.” Apart from God, I am lost. Apart from Him, I am miserable. Apart from Him, I have nothing good. No one but the Son can help me! Let all His fainted and fallen people say it on their knees, “Apart from You, I have no good thing! I have done my worst for You, but You have done the best for me, O Savior. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare Your praise!”


Coming Back from the Gray Exile. Happy Mid-Lent!


Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.
Psalm 51:12.


As we noticed last week, David’s sin was pardoned, but God required the life of the king’s son. In a way, the same is true for us. If we repent and believe the gospel, we are pardoned, too, but at the cost of the King’s Son (John 3:16-17). Like a favorite hymn says,

What can wash away my sin? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus. 
What can make me whole again? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Yet we can read or sing these words without experiencing the joy of the Lord. I assume that David was involved in Israel’s regular worship during the time of his transgression. There must have been a lot of singing without joy. At least nine months passed between Uriah’s death at end of Samuel 11 and Nathan’s confrontation of David in Samuel 12. It must have been a joyless time as he lived with his conscience troubled over what he had done. Nevertheless he was settled on continuing with the cover-up and keeping things as they were. Day after day, week after week, month after month, he kept going, until Nathan confronted him and he repented.

David prays to God to give him back his joy. Eugene Peterson renders the verse, Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails!  We don’t need to sin in the extreme as David did in order to experience this “gray exile”, do we?

I brought Tim Keller’s book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God with me on this sabbatical. I was feeling some of that gray exile and knew that I needed to do some heart work. Michelle and I met Tim early on in our ministry many years ago. By God’s grace, he has done so much for Christ in America and globally with his gift for preaching and writing and because he really pays attention to his own spirituality. Even now as he is facing death, he stays focused on these matters of prayer and his own spiritual life.[1] My point is that God does not want you to go on — whether you are a king or a Keller or whoever you are — in a funk. Get some help!

At one point in his book on prayer, Keller offers a three-point outline used by Jonathan Edwards for setting our hearts right when they are burdened and joyless. Here it is.

  1. Our bad things will turn out for good (Romans 8:28)
  2. Our good things can never be taken away from us (Psalm 4:6-7), and
  3. The best things are yet to come (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Thank you, Pastor Keller. I’ll study those Scriptures. Our bad things will turn out for good, the good things we have can never be taken away, and the best is yet to come. You study these passages, too, dear friends and make sure to listen to the joyful video offering of praise included today!

[1] Use this link to read Tim Keller’s recent article in The Atlantic

Happy Mid-Lent!



"David and Nathan", Matthias Scheitts, 1672
Image: David and Nathan Matthias Scheitts, 1672

Finally Treating God as God

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion … Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of Your righteousness.
Psalm 51:1, 14

According to the law, David’s “bloodguilt” placed him under the sentence of death. His seduction of Bathsheba, and the subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah, as he ordered carried out in the guise of battle, is perhaps the most infamous transgression in all the Bible. Adultery and murder were capital crimes in Israel under the law of Moses (Deut. 22:22, Num. 35:16-41). For such wrongs there was no possible restitution. David could not give life back to Uriah. He could not give purity back to Bathsheba. God spares his life but the prophet Nathan tells him the son born to you will die (2 Sam 12:14).

The season of Lent invites us to consider our similar plight. I cannot really make up for what I have done. Because of sin’s irreversible course, we are all criminals in God’s cosmos and under the sentence of death. What should we do? What does David do? He prays. In his book, Prayer, Tim Keller helpfully notes that prayer is the way we know God, the way we finally treat God as God (p.18).

David prays to God as He has made Himself known: Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion (Ps.51:1). Here again is the influence of Moses. In Exodus 34:6 when God passes in front of Moses, He is declared The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. David knew he stood condemned by God’s law, but he also knew he was not without God’s love.

The same is true for us. The Apostle Paul writes, You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom.5:6,8). We cannot undo things. I cannot give back to God what I have taken from Him. No meaningful restitution is possible but according to the gospel, God has pardoned us but taken the life of His own son for our punishment.

The Path of Lent


Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. … Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me. … Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You.
Psalm 51:1-3,9-10,13


In What Are We Doing Here? Marilynne Robinson describes the large segment of our nation who know nothing about religion at all, except what they hear from its very loudest voices, and who are therefore, understandably, secularists (p.54). The loudest voices are rarely the most thoughtful voices. Midway through my sabbatical, and thinking about Robinson’s comment on this first day of Lent, I am pondering Psalm 51. The season of Lent is a time to contemplate the mercy of God and our personal need of it. But what David demonstrates in this psalm of repentance is that honesty before the Lord is not only what I need but it is also the path to helping others know His grace. He envisions teaching “sinners” the ways of God’s mercy and unfailing love and seeing them turn to the Lord but cannot unless he first repents and experiences God’s grace and creative power in his own life. In The Heart of Evangelism, Jerram Barrs sums up the beginning of outreach to others:  Humble prayer will be our starting point (p.131). If we want others to experience the grace of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, this must be our starting point, too. Self-critique in the presence of God is the first step towards renewal by God so that through our voices, others might hear Him speaking.