The Ashes of Our Praise

A few nights ago we gathered at Red Door Church for our annual Ash Wednesday service.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent,  a 40 day season (not counting Sundays) of preparation leading up to Easter.

Every year I’m overwhelmed with the sheer number of potential Lenten themes.  As a pastor, my mind races here and there as I think about what direction the Lord would have us go each year.  The possibilities seem endless.

Of the many threads woven into the garment of Lent, one stood out to me this year as we approached Ash Wednesday: the ashes.  Each year I gather up the palm branches used during Palm Sunday from the year before and burn them to make the ashes that are later placed on the foreheads of worshippers who come to our Ash Wednesday service.

But why burn the palm fronds from the year before?  What is the significance of placing those ashes on our heads?  Why not just employ regular ol’ wood ash from my stove at home?  Those ashes are certainly in abundance this time of year and it would be easier to take a few spoonfuls of those out of the stove rather than creating new ash from the palms.

The answers are not immediately obvious but are profound and worth contemplating for a moment.

Palm Sunday

A week before Easter on Palm Sunday Christians remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, mounted on a donkey (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19).  The crowds welcomed him with palm branches and shouted a short portion of Psalm 118:25: “Hosanna!”1  The symbolic use of palm branches has a long and interesting history.   In ancient times palm branches were a symbol of praise and victory.  They were used to welcome military leaders when they would come home from battle victorious.  They were used on coinage alongside pictures of emperors and gods, on Jewish ossuaries, and to this day can be found on flags.

Maybe most interesting of all, however, is that just five days later after welcoming Jesus in kingly fashion into Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem, the same crowds that praised him with great passion and asked for him to “Save us!” (which is what “Hosanna” means), were complicit in crucifying him with equal passion.  One minute they loved him and the next they scorned him.


Now, what about the ashes?  In ancient Jewish culture, ashes were used as a symbol of grief, mourning, or penitence.  For example, we read of Tamar, after being raped by her brother:

“Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.” (2 Samuel 13:19, NIV)

Or in the story of Jonah, we find the people of Nineveh repenting at the preaching of Jonah:

“And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” (Jonah 3:5-6, ESV)

Examples of this could be multiplied (see for instance Esther 4:1-3; Job 2:8, 42:6 or Jeremiah 6:26).2

Combining the Two

The combination of the palms of praise and victory with the symbolism of ashes has a significance that should not be lost on us.

The reason we use the ashes of the palms and not just any ashes is to remind us of how frail our praise is.  That we, just like those joyous crowds that day in Jerusalem, would have been calling for Jesus’ condemnation just a few days later.3

The ashes on our heads are a mark of our mourning of that fact.  We grieve that our praise is half-hearted.  We mourn that the flame of our devotion can be blown out with the slightest breeze of temptation or trial.  We grieve that our sins are so great, that only the crucifixion of the Son of God could wash them away.

Let the ashes of the palm fronds on our foreheads be a constant reminder of these things.

  1. For a great discussion on the meaning of the word “Hosanna” see the article “Hosanna” at
  2. Ashes can also have other meaning in Scripture. See Isaiah 44:20.
  3. Bryan J. who writes at Mockingbird helped me to see this connection. Read his article “Burning Palm Sunday: An Ash Wednesday Reflection,” here.

My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.

Why We Need John the Baptist

If you’re like me, you pass by your intended destination from time to time.  Just the other day I was taking my second daughter to the eye doctor for an appointment and drove right past the entrance.  Why?  Because I’m so easily mesmerized by everything else.  The Christmas lights, the clouds, the song playing on the radio, or even just my own thoughts.  My mind often wanders.

So I need a sign.  I need a big sign that says, “Turn here!”

In Vermont, this is a rather unfortunate struggle to have because there are strict laws about signs.  Vermont was the first of four states to ban billboards altogether.  So big signs like the ones I need are in short supply.  While this is nice for viewing the beautiful natural wonders all around me up here, it doesn’t help me when it comes to not missing my destinations1.

My need for signposts helps me to understand the importance of a guy like John the Baptist.

I would say John was something like a living, breathing signpost, pointing to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel (not John the Baptist, another John… I know, it’s confusing), when John the Baptist first sees Jesus he shouts out:

“Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)

You have to close your eyes to imagine this guy in his camel skin outfit and scruffy beard (with a little locust juice running down it), shouting loudly and pointing at Jesus, saying, “There He is!”2

Signs Change Our Focus

When we first moved to Vermont, we were surprised to see these signs along the roads here and there that said, “MOOSE.”

For a while, we would kind of look around, wondering if we would catch a glimpse of one of these rarely seen beasts (we’ve still yet to see one).

Those signs, however, get your attention–they change your focus.  You might have been thinking about that pizza you were about to tear into when you got home and suddenly you are thinking about moose.

If John were such a sign, it would say, “Messiah, up ahead.”  Or, “Stay alert, Christ up ahead.”  He pulled people out of their daily distractions and said, the Messiah is coming, pay attention lest you miss him.

A Good Working Sign

When Jesus finally arrived on the scene and others were flocking to him, John did not fret.  He knew that was the way it should be.  For John, it was only solid evidence that he had fulfilled his ministry; that the signpost of his life was working.  When his disciples came to him and said:

“Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan–the one you testified about–look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” (John 3:26).

John simply replied:

“He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

When people went to Jesus, John rejoiced, for his entire ministry was one of preparation, to make the people ready for the Lord who was coming (see Mark 1:1-8; John 1:19-28).

The Signpost Is a Gift

John was a gift.

God sent John so we wouldn’t miss Jesus.

We were all on the highway to destruction, distracted by the lusts and cares of this world.  Were it not for loud, scruffy signposts like John, pointing us to the exit, we would all miss it.  At least, I know I would have.

Is there a John the Baptist in your life right now?  Is there someone pointing you to Jesus?

These signposts are precious gifts.  Thank God for them.


  1. I’m speaking hyperbolically here–Vermont does a good job at providing travel signs, exits, popular destinations, etc.
  2. Yes, the Bible says that John lived in the wilderness, was dressed in camel’s skin, and ate locusts and honey.  See for yourself in Mark 1:6.

My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.

Why Celebrate the Reformation?

wooden letterpress blocks

October 31st of this year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing his “95 Theses”1 to the All Saints Church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  David Mathis’ writes:

“It’s no accident that October 31 is both Halloween and the day remembered for the start of the Reformation. Both key off November 1, All Saints’ Day — or All Hallows’ Day (Hallows from the Old English for saints or holy ones).  On All Hallows’ Eve, October 31, 1517, the Roman Church received the world’s most memorable trick-or-treater at its door — though barely noticed at the time — when a lowly priest named Martin Luther approached the threshold of the Wittenberg branch in Germany and posted his 95 measly theses (they aren’t nearly as impressive as you would expect). The coming All Saints’ Day seemed like an excuse for sparring about the Church’s deplorable sanctioning of indulgences, and Luther was angling for some good-spirited debate.” 2

Some people may be asking what the Reformation was about. Who was Martin Luther? What are these things called “indulgences?  If those are the sort of questions you are asking, you can read about those things herehere or here.  But others who may already have some knowledge about the Reformation may be asking question: “Why should we celebrate?”

For the average person today such events feel like distant memories, relics of an era long passed by.  The move by Pope Francis last year to attend a joint commemoration of the Protestant Reformation with Lutheran leaders, suggests to the world that the Reformation is water under the bridge and that maybe all the arguing and division back in the 16th century among Christians was nothing but bluster.

But truth be told, the Reformation was more than a bunch of stodgy Christians fighting about irrelevant theological details.  The significance of the events can not be overstated and it’s marks upon our world are indelible.

If these marks were undesirable, that would be one thing, but the marks of this movement are ones absolutely worth celebrating.3  So we intend to–on Saturday, October 28th of this year.

But why?  What are some of the reasons we will celebrate what Luther and other Reformers did some 500 years ago?

Reasons to Celebrate

(1) The Five Solas.4  The Five Solas were five principles that emerged out of the Reformation.  They were originally Latin phrases that each began with the word sola.  They are Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Gatia, and Soli Deo Gloria.  In English they are Scripture alone, Faith alone, Christ alone, Grace alone and to the Glory of God alone.  In the Christian church Luther put the Bible back at the center, saying that it was our only final authority (contra the Catholic Church at the time, which said it was the final authority, even over holy scripture).  With the bible back at the center, this brought other long forgotten, or at best, neglected, Christian beliefs like grace, back into focus as well.  The Christian no longer needed the church to make one right before God, all she needed was faith in Christ.

(2) America. America’s founders were overwhelmingly Protestant, the branch of Christianity that was created by the followers of Martin Luther and other Reformers.  The emphasis on democracy in America was a direct result of the emphasis on individual, private interpretation; that a person should be free to obey the dictates of the conscience, formed by their understanding of Scripture, and not by the powers that be.  The principles of freedom of religion, assembly, and speech are all close relatives of the ideas born out of Luther’s Reformation.5

(3) Language.  Just prior to the Reformation came what is known at the Renaissance.  During the Renaissance a renewed interest in original sources proliferated throughout Europe.  The development of the movable type printing press in the mid 1400s made this possible.  One of the popular phrases of the time was ad fontes, which means “to the sources” (or “to the fountains”, literally).

“The phrase [ad fontes] epitomizes the renewed study of Greek and Latin classics in Renaissance humanism.  Similarly, the Protestant Reformation called for renewed attention to the Bible as the primary source of Christian faith. The idea in both cases was that sound knowledge depends on the earliest and most fundamental sources.” 6

Out of his own study of the original sources, Erasmus, a Catholic theologian and scholar, published the first copy of the Greek New Testament in 1516. This allowed Luther and many others to more easily go back to the original sources of the bible and begin to see for themselves some of the deviations of Catholic teaching.  The eventually led Luther to publish his own bible in German, so that the people could access the holy scriptures for themselves as well.

(4) Conscience. Luther is famous for his “Here I stand” speech at the Diet of Worms in 1521.  Though there is some disagreement about whether or not he actually said those famous words,7 one thing he did say was with regard to the conscience was this:

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.” 8

In Luther’s actions that day and in his campaign to reform the church of the time, we see a man fighting for the freedom of an individual to be allowed to obey the dictates of one’s own conscience over against the heteronomy of the church and state.  This was one of the foundational pillars that would lead to the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights in America some 250 years later (mentioned above).

(5) Democracy.  The Reformation drew a great deal of attention to the problem of having the state and the church in bed together.  The 30 Years War was a direct result of inappropriate relationship between church and state.  The birth of America and the popularization of the concept of democracy would likely not have happened were it not for the revelations that were born out of the Reformation.  Today Americans take it for granted that the church and the state should not function as one; that the state should protect religion and not prevent it or promote any particular faith.


  1. You can read an English translation of Luther’s 95 Theses here. They were originally posted on the door of the church in Latin, but then were quickly taken down by students, translated into German, and distributed throughout Germany (Luther did not intend any of this to happen, though).
  2. Taken from
  3. That is not to say that everything about the Reformation was desirable.  The political turmoil and conflicts that stewed for decades following the Reformation were bloody and are still a black-eye upon Christian history.
  4. Here is an excellent summary of the Five Solas if you want to do further reading.
  5. Read more about this here.
  6. Info pulled off of Wikipedia.
  7. Here is an interesting article about whether or not he actually said those famous words, “here I stand.”
  8. Taken from “What Luther Said” in Christianity Today, August 2008.

My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.

4 Ways God’s Kingdom Does Not Meet Our Expectations

tall grass at beach

Expectations are things that need to be adjusted once in a while. For example, I have a wife and four young children. If I expect to get out of the door on Sunday morning as fast as I used to when I was a single man, I am in for a world of frustration. There are four other little people in my home who need help getting ready and I am called to play a role in helping. Tying shoes, brushing teeth, buttoning dresses and shirts. Time and practice have helped me adjust my expectations–getting ready for church is no longer a 20 minute ordeal, but more like an hour or more ordeal.

For every one of us, our days are overflowing with expectations, many of which develop naturally. I expect traffic to be a certain way and the weather to be a certain way. When early May rolls around every year I expect the temperature to go up and the flowers to begin poking through the snow. I expect my alarm to go off at a certain time and my car to start. I expect my mom to be a loving and kind when we speak on the phone once a week, because that’s the kind of person she is. When it snows I expect to have to shovel off my porch and driveway. And there are a thousand other expectations we make week in and week out that don’t need much adjusting except when something major in our lives changes (we move, get married, have kids, change jobs, etc.).

When it comes to the kingdom of God, things are no different–we all have expectations. But sadly, on this front, many of our assumptions about the kingdom are wrong. Here, we all need to fine tune our expectations.

Jesus was not ignorant of this fact so he taught frequently about the kingdom. In the second half of Matthew 13 he gives us several parables that begin with the phrase “The kingdom of heaven is like…” I think these short teachings are one of the many ways that Jesus sought to reshape our expectations about the kingdom and to correct common misconceptions. In the parables of the Mustard Seed (verses 31 to 32), the Leaven (verse 33), the Hidden Treasure and the Costly Pearl (verses 44 to 46), and the Dragnet (verses 47 to 50), four things about the kingdom are revealed to us that do not meet our natural expectations. What are they?

First, in the kingdom of God, very big things come from very small things. In our world we expect big things from people of noble birth or with great intelligence or with great wealth. But this is not the norm in God’s kingdom. In fact we see the opposite (see Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31). God chose Israel, the smallest of the nations to be his chosen possession (Deut. 7:6-8). God reduced the army of Gideon to a mere 300 men to defeat the many thousands in the Midianites army (Judges 7). God chose King David, the youngest and smallest of Jesse’s sons to be Israel’s greatest king (1 Samuel 16). And in the Parable of the Mustard Seed God says that kingdom of heaven will grow from very a small and insignificant size to something very great, starting with a common carpenter and some fishermen in Galilee.

Second, in the kingdom of God, change begins where it cannot be seen, namely, in the heart. The world wants to believe that it’s biggest problems are external. We commonly hear:

“If I only had more money,” “If only the government would…”, “If only my husband would start…”, “What we need is a better educational system.”

While these things may help relieve some stressors in our lives and may promote general welfare to a point, all of these common mantras betray the false belief that our problems are outside of us. Jesus says, that it’s what comes out of a person’s heart that defiles her, not the external things that we do or consume (see Matthew 15:11). We see this in the Parable of the Leaven as well. The large lump of dough is completely changed by the tiny amount of yeast placed where it cannot be seen. The transformation (the rising of the bread) happens mysteriously and invisibly. We cannot see it happening with the naked eye, but in the end the change is stark. So it is with a person. Change happens in the invisible places of the heart and the result is a completely changed life.

Third, in the kingdom of heaven, it only takes one thing to satisfy us completely: Jesus Christ. The consumer culture in which we live preaches to us that we need many things to be happy. A bigger TV, more followers on social media, the latest iPhone, good looks, personal freedom. More of this and more that. But in the Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Costly Pearl we see the reverse. What satisfies is less of the world (selling our worldly goods) and owning the one field with the treasure in it or the one costly pearl. What is the treasure? We needn’t guess. The apostle John tells us clearly:

“Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).

Jesus Christ is the treasure. Jesus is the costly pearl. He is life. If we have Him we will never be thirsty forever (John 4:14).

Fourth, in the kingdom of God, only the clean will be kept. In Jesus’ day, there were many Jews who believed they would be saved simply on the grounds of their ethnicity. The Pharisees and Sadducees boasted that they were descendants of Abraham and were therefore secure (Matthew 3:7-10). And today, the broader culture of our time believes that anyone and everyone who dies and lived a sincere, decent life, will be accepted by God. Jesus teaches in the Parable of the Dragnet that just as a fisherman only keeps the clean fish (i.e., those that conform to Jewish kosher seafood laws, see Leviticus 11:9-12, fish that have fins and scales are permitted), God will only receive people that are clean by God’s standards. Race, color, age, intelligence, goodness, badness, religiosity, wealth, are all irrelevant. God shows no impartiality on the basis of worldly standards. What matters is whether or not a person is clean. Heaven is squeaky clean and no dirt is allowed inside (Hebrews 12:14). So how can sinful, dirty, unholy people like you and me be made clean? Only by the blood of Jesus Christ:

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

These four principles are not what we might expect. In many ways, these four principles are contrary to the commonly accepted wisdom of our age. But simply because they do not meet our expectations, that does not therefore falsify them. Jesus wants us to be ready for the kingdom. He wants us to receive the kingdom. Let us therefore adjust our expectations that we may have this abundant life that he offers us. 1

  1. This article was originally published by Josh Moore on LInkedIn. You may view it on LinkedIn here.

My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.

What You Already Know

Times Square

As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”  –1 Thess. 4:1-2

Our culture is fascinated with the new.  Old stuff doesn’t sell.  New stuff does.  We like it “fresh” and disposable.  American culture today is “progressive.”  Many want progress just for the sake of progress.  Out with the old and in with the new.

So when churches focus on a message that is 2,000 years old, they’re called “regressive.”  When the values and the positions and perspectives and worldview that we propagate sound the same every year, every month and every Sunday, many scratch their heads and wonder what our problem is.

Even within the walls of the church, the infatuation with the new has taken serious hold.  The folks in the pew desire something fresh and entertaining every Sunday.

But the writers of the bible did not share that infatuation.  In fact, as we will see from this neat little passage in 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul thought that we needed to hear the same things over and over again–not something new and fresh.

We Have No Need to Write You 

In this passage to the church in Thessalonica, Paul gives this young church instruction on how to “live in order to please God.”  He starts by encouraging them: “I see you” he says.  “I see your good works.  Keep it up.”  No doubt an exhilarating thing to read from the pen of God’s apostle.

What follows from there is interesting.

“You know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord” he writes.  You know them.  Your life reflects the fact that you know them–you’re living right.  Then, contrary to what we might expect, he repeats the instructions again.  “Maybe, just maybe,” Paul thought to himself, “they forgot.”

Nope, that’s not it–for he just said–“You know the instructions.”  If they know them, then he’s not repeating himself because they had forgotten.

Read on down a few verses and we find the same thing again in verse 9:

“Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other…”

He affirms their lifestyle and their love.  He says, “we do not need to write you” about this!  You get it!

But then… Paul goes ahead and repeats himself anyway.

Let me get this straight.  The Thessalonians are living godly lives, they know the instructions God gave them, their love for one another is evident, yet, Paul says, I’m going to give it to you one more time.  Am I reading this right?

Yes, that’s exactly what Paul is doing.  You couldn’t ask for a better way to get ignored in today’s world.

In fact, this whole section here (verses 1 through 12) is focused on the idea of repeating what they already know about pleasing God.

Not Because You Sinned

We tend to think that you repeat an instruction or a command when a person fails.  Right?  When a person goofs up, we tend to think they need to hear it again.  “Now I told you not to do that, remember!”

But there’s nothing here in this passage that indicates that the Thessalonians have sinned in some major way.

He’s just spent three chapters encouraging this young, fledgling group of converts.  They imitated the apostles (1:6), they received the word even when it brought intense persecution (1:6), they were an example to all the churches in Macedonia (1:7), they turned from idols (1:9), and how they’ve put their hope in Christ’s return (1:10).

Seems like their faith is pretty solid to me.

But maybe Timothy brought some information to Paul that there was sexual sin taking place in the congregation?  Maybe this explains the call to sexual purity in verses 3 through 8 of chapter 4?  Maybe.

No doubt the world they lived in at the time had extremely low moral standards with regard to sexual sins.  Prostitution was everywhere.  It was not uncommon to use mistresses, concubines, and house slaves for sex.  Many of the pagan religions of the culture would have had religious ceremonies that involved sexual activity.  Temptation was great in that world (not unlike our own today).

So maybe there’s something going on in the Thessalonian church that Paul is responding to, but we can’t be certain.  Most likely, I think, he is just giving general warnings and exhortations here to this church that he would have given to any church in the Graeco-Roman world of the time (a part of the instructions they “already know”).

There are two reasons why I think this:

Well, as we’ve already pointed out, Paul says: “to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.” (Not to mention all the high praise he gives them in chapters 1 and 2!) Would Paul offer up such general praise if they were living in overt sin?  Probably not.

Secondly, Paul makes no explicit mention of sin in the passage (as he does in other letters to churches: 1 Corinthians 5 and Galatians 1:6-10 come to mind).

What other reasons could there be then for Paul’s repetition?

Repetition Is An Aspect of God’s Love

When you consider the great love that both God and Paul have for these Thessalonians we begin to see that repetition is an aspect of that love.  The apostle’s repetition of what they already know is not scolding the group because they have fallen, but love–because it’s good to hear it again.

God loves these people.  Paul loves these people.  Over and over again Paul expresses his affection for these people.

“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8).

Because we are so dear to the Father, he communicates the same things to us over and over again–wonderful, exhilarating, beautiful things about Himself!

And since He doesn’t change (Heb. 13:8) , why should we expect a “fresh” message?

Really, when you boil it down, I’m afraid our obsession with the new is really more of a boredom with the “old” truth.  Truth doesn’t change, but sometimes our appetite for it does.

I pray God would restore to the Christian church an appetite and passion for what they already know.

My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.

The Return of Jesus Christ

The overwhelming hope shared by the authors of the New Testament is the hope of Jesus Christ’s return.   When things are bad, the New Testament points us to a future hope, not an earthly one.  This emphasis started with Christ’s own teaching:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)

At Jesus’ ascension at the beginning of the book of Acts, we find two men dressed in white telling the disciples:

“’Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:11)

The apostle Peter writes of the rewards of suffering for Christ that will come at his return, when his glory is revealed fully to us:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

Paul too speaks of the Lord’s return, answering in this case some of the concerns of the young Thessalonian church:

“For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

All those in Christ, whether living or dead, will be with the Lord when he returns, Paul teaches–none will be lost–and the return of the Christ will ensure that.

Encourage One Another With These Words

Notice Paul’s words at the end of the above passage from his first letter to the church in Thessalonica: “Therefore, encourage one another with these words” (verse 18).

Why is the return of Jesus not just a eschatological fact but an immediate source of hope for believers? Why should we encourage and be encouraged by these words?

There are many reasons the New Testament gives us.

First, as the passage above suggests, those that died “in Christ” will rise again and we will be reunited with the other believers and the Lord (verses 16 and 17).

Secondly, our flawed, perishable bodies will be done away with and we will be given new, incorruptible, immortal bodies:

“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Cor. 15:50-53)

Thirdly, death will be finally defeated.

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:54-57, also see earlier in this chapter verses 20 through 28)

Fourthly, all the wrongs of history will be righted:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19)

God’s vengeance towards those who wronged his people is depicted clearly in Revelation 6 as well:

“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” (Rev. 6:9-11)

The martyrs are told to “rest a little longer” implying that soon their blood will be avenged.  This is final answer to the prayer of the Psalmist in what are known as the “Imprecatory Psalms” (see Psalms 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 79, 109, 137, 139).  These Psalms contain prayers of judgment or cursing over the Psalmist’s enemies.  The desire for the many injustices of life to be righted is one that will ultimately and finally be satisfied at the return of Jesus Christ to the earth at his second advent.

Fifthly, and maybe most importantly, the return of Christ is a source of hope because it means we will eternally dwell with God.  For the believer, the greatest reward of Heaven is God himself.

The apostle Paul, speaking of the many troubles of a life of ministry says that death is gain because it means he will be with Jesus:

“I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” (Phil. 1:23-24)

And the Lord Jesus himself says that the very essence of eternal life is to know him:

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Come Lord Jesus, come quickly.

My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.

Baccalaureate 2016 at Red Door

At significant moment’s in our lives it is appropriate and even expected to take time to reflect upon the past and the future, and to celebrate achievements.  At the same time, it is right and good to ponder the changes that lie ahead and to remind ourselves of what is most important.

On June 5th, at 4:00 p.m. at Red Door Church in South Royalton we will have one of those significant moments as leaders in business, education and spirituality from our local area will gather to surround and support South Royalton’s graduating senior class.  Our goal is to propel them into the next chapter of their lives and to give them a positive vision for their future.

In the past it was customary for schools to put together a religious service to give space to spiritual leaders (and students) to address the graduating student body as they prepared to enter the world.  At the university level, because most schools were originally founded for the education of ministers in the propagation of the Christian gospel these services would have been a normal part of the ebb and flow of university life.  Schools like Dartmouth, Lafayette, Wake Forest, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and many, many others all have Christian roots and their graduation ceremonies in the past would have reflected that.

While I had trouble finding an authoritative source on the subject, it seems that Baccalaureate services began during times when graduating oratory students would deliver sermons in Latin as part of their training.   The services were times to celebrate and worship God for lives dedicated to learning and the pursuit of wisdom.

Today, it is mainly the responsibility of churches and the students themselves to put together these services.  The services themselves have evolved quite a bit.  Our service is intended to be a time of celebration, inspiration, motivation and enrichment involving peoples of various backgrounds and traditions. Through video, music, song, prayer, speeches, and gifts we hope to put wind in the sails of graduating students as they embark on a new chapter in life.

We are honored to be working with the students of South Royalton school and other community leaders to put together a service that will be a treasured memory in the lives of the students, their friends, and family for many years to come.

We hope to see you there!

My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.

Baccalaureate Service at Red Door: June 5th

Don’t miss it!  Our church will be hosting the annual baccalaureate service for South Royalton School’s graduating seniors.

Local leaders in business, spirituality, and education will gather to support and encourage these young men and women as they enter into life’s next chapter.

There will be music, poetry, and speeches delivered by both students and leaders.  It should be a wonderful time together.

The service will start at 6:00 p.m.

My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.

Creation Care, Why Care?

God Loves the Cattle

One of the interesting sidelight points to the book of Jonah is God’s care for non-human aspects of his creation.  At the end of this great book where God clearly manifests his love even for the lost, pagan, backwards, Gentile world and where God exposes the pride of one of his prophets, 1 we find a God who loves cattle.

Jonah was bitter because God had mercy on Nineveh when they repented (Jonah 3).  After leaving Nineveh like a child in mid tantrum stomping his feet, Jonah plops down to the east of the city and just watched, maybe hoping that fire would fall from Heaven as it did upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19).  God kindly

“appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort.” (Jonah 4:6)

But then God appoints a worm to destroy the plant.  And Jonah grows even more bitter than before.  Finally, God asks him:

And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11)

After all this business with Jonah, God takes a moment to point out that he loves the cattle.  He wanted Jonah (and us) to know that He spared Nineveh, in part, because of his love for the cattle.  The cattle were the innocent bystanders to Nineveh’s great evil, but God loved them and just like during the great worldwide flood of Noah’s day, God chose to spare some of them (see Genesis 6 and 7).

All of Creation Bears Witness to God

Creation manifests to everyone God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power, and divine nature (Romans 1:20).  Just as the heavens declare God’s glory and the skies proclaim his handiwork (Psalm 19:1), so too all of God’s created order.  Over and over throughout Scripture God calls upon the creation to praise him!  In Psalm 148 the sun and moon, stars, and heavens are all called upon to praise their maker (verses 2, 3, 4).  In 1 Chronicles 16:32-33 the sea and the trees of the forest are summoned to sing praises to their king:

“Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the LORD; For He is coming to judge the earth.”

In Isaiah 55:12,

“the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

And in Luke 19:40 Jesus responds to the Pharisees suggesting that he rebuke his disciples for singing praises to him as he enter Jerusalem:

He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

When searching for something to liken the beauty of his wife to, King Solomon cites nature:

1 Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young.
3 Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil…
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies. (SOS 4:1-3, 5)

God Delights in His Glory Revealed in Nature

And because God delights in his own glory, God delights in all of his creation which reveals that glory. 2  One of the most sobering (and beautiful) passages that reveals God’s love for creation is Job chapters 38 through 41.  Verse after verse, these chapters reveal a God not only in absolute control of nature, but a God that delights in its diversity, complexity, beauty, and power.  In this section God cites creation as evidence in his case against Job, who was too hasty to question God’s providence. 3

In the Bible, all of creation is a part of the symphony of praise to God.  And for that reason, all of us who love God, will also love the creation.

  1. Jonah was a prophet from Gath Hepher according to 2 Kings 23:25.  His attitude may be representative of Israel in general at the time?
  2. Many Scriptures reveal this.  For a helpful list see “Biblical Texts to Show God’s Zeal for His Own Glory” at  Accessed on 3/3/2016.
  3. Job finally repents at the end of the book (see Job 42:1-6).

My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.