Sunday, July 29, 2018

It's Sunday morning, and I have the privilege of preaching today at Valley Springs Presbyterian Church. I was assigned the task of presenting an overview of the letters of the New Testament--in 30 minutes. In the middle of the sermon I am inserting the following, a reminder of how the letters exalt Jesus Christ as Lord of all, explaining his true nature and work. I'm posting it here for future reference!


In Acts, Luke’s letter about the history of the beginnings of the church, Jesus is the ascended Lord sovereignly overseeing the spread of the gospel and the establishment of his church among the nations.

In Romans, he is the resurrected giver of righteousness to those who believe, the intercessor and advocate before the throne who, with the Father, freely gives us all things in a divine love from which we can never be separated.

In I Corinthians, he is the power and wisdom of God, the foundation stone for the church, the resurrected one who is the model of our promised resurrection, and the sole pathway to our victory over death.

In II Corinthians, he is the Lord over the sufferings of his people, the giver of all-sufficient grace, the focal point of the glory of God, in whose image we are being molded step by step.

In Galatians, he is the redeemer who alone sets us free from sin, condemnation, and a futile life of rote obedience to the Law; he dwells within each of us by the Spirit he has given to us so that we might legitimately live for him, the one who loved and gave himself up for us.

In Ephesians, he is sitting in the place of ultimate authority at the right hand of the Father, who is bringing about the submission and fulfillment of all things at his feet.

In Philippians, he is the exalted name above all names, who had emptied himself to purchase our salvation, but is now resurrected and glorified, and in that place of ultimate authority, every knee will eventually bow and every tongue will eventually confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

In Colossians, he is the fullness of Deity in bodily form, in whom are all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge; he is the preeminent one who created all things and reconciled all things to himself by bringing peace though the blood of the cross.

In I Thessalonians, he is the Lord who delivers us from wrath, who will himself – personally – descend from heaven with the shout and voice of the archangel and with the trump of God and raise from the dead all who have fallen asleep in Jesus.

In II Thessalonians, he is the Lord Jesus who is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon his enemies, yet even now he comforts our hearts and leads us in every good work and word.

In I Timothy, he is the one and only mediator between God and man who came to save even the greatest of sinners.

In II Timothy, he is the one who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. He remains faithful even when we are faithless, and knows perfectly who does, and does not belong to him. With this knowledge he will judge the living and the dead, while rescuing his own from every evil attack.

In Titus, he is out great God and Savior, our blessed hope, who gave himself to redeem us in his abundant mercy and poured out his Spirit on us to regenerate us and secure our position as joint heirs with him.

In Philemon, he is the ultimate master deserving of every good thing, who turns human traditions upside down, making brothers of all who trust in him and flooding grace and mercy into the world through his redeemed and repentant people.

In Hebrews, he is the radiance of the glory of God, the creator and sustainer of all things; he is both the merciful and sufficient eternal high priest AND the perfect sacrifice on the alter, the author and perfecter of salvation, and the immutable, impeccable, eternal God worthy of all glory forever and ever.

In James, he is the Lord of Glory, whose every teaching is worth repeating, and every word is worth hearing and obeying.

In I Peter, he is the resurrected Lord through whom we have a living hope in times of multicolored sufferings and trials. He is not only the one who redeemed us by suffering, but set the pattern for us to follow as we endure suffering, and do so for his glory and our ultimate joy in him.

In II Peter, he is the patient Lord who wishes none to perish, but will in time come in fiery judgment on the world.

In I John, he is both the advocate who pleads our case before the throne, and the propitiating sacrifice that paid the penalty on our behalf. He is the sole object of our faith, and the guarantor of our final victory.

In II John, he is fully man, the historical Jesus, without whom no one can be saved.

In III John, he is the truth in which we walk, and the name under which we serve.

In Jude, he is the one who delivered Israel from Egypt centuries before, and will deliver us as we wait for his coming and the mercy we will yet again experience at his holy hand.

In Revelation 1-3, he is the glorified Lord, burning in holiness and perfect knowledge and righteous judgment who is walking sovereignly among his churches, ministering through his pastors, purifying his people, and sustaining their faith with endurance. He is no longer emptied and suffering. He is not still hanging on a cross. He is the fullness of God in visible form, and when we see him, we will fall at his feet.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

New Songs (for us!)


An open note to Valley Springs Presbyterian Church where I lead worship on Sunday mornings:

“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings with loud shouts!” Psalm 33:3

As I prepared for this year’s Easter services, I was reviewing my music files and rejoicing over the number of new songs we have learned over the past year. A few of them have been around for a while, but they were still new to many of us and provided fresh opportunities to reflect on the truth. I commend you all as a congregation: you are willing to learn and you give yourselves to wholehearted worship; indeed, listening to your voices echo back genuine praise Sunday after Sunday is a highlight of my week.

Here’s a partial list of the new tunes we’ve added to our repertoire this year:

 These last two were written in house by our own Luke Grant. In addition, we’ve incorporated some new settings to favorite hymns, including “Be Thou My Vision” and “All Hail the Power.”

Perhaps you have noticed an intentional direction to our worship ministry. We have chosen to incorporate more songs that are saturated in the truth—music that hopefully blends memorable, singable melodies with clear affirmations of sound doctrine. If we’re successful, we will provide through the lyrics of each song enough fuel for our own hearts’ praise and enough affirmation of the truth to make the song a fitting tool of edification to those around us. We will then be fulfilling God’s instructions to us in Ephesians 5:19 – “...singing to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

It’s my belief that doctrine is not detached orthodoxy, but life-giving and heart-changing truth. That truth is worth every note, every voice, every crescendo, and every moment in time we commit to proclaiming it in song.

All that to say, thanks for singing along. It seems to me that I can hear your voices a little louder each week. May God bless our unity in worship and our continued commitment to proclaim the truth in song!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Speak Comfort to Me

“Speak comfort to me, Jacob!” wails Ebenezer Scrooge as he stares fearfully at the ghost of his former partner. He sees the ghastly chains and the anguish on Jacob Marley’s decaying face, recognizes his own future fate and cries, “Speak comfort to me!”

How do you comfort a scrooge? What do you offer a man who is not a victim, but a perpetrator? What do you say? “You made your bed; now lie in it.” “Didn’t you think there would be consequences for your actions?” “Comfort? You?! What comfort did YOU ever give?”

What if it wasn’t Scrooge begging for comfort? What if it was a man recently arrested for torturing a disabled person live on Facebook? He stands before you begging for comfort. What do you say? “Thug. I hope they throw the book at you. I hope you get tortured in prison. I hope you get to see what it feels like to be the victim of merciless, heartless, conscienceless human dreg.”

My own heart hurts as I consider this. Here’s why: I, who have been wonderfully comforted by Christ, stop short of offering that comfort to others, in much the same way that people were short to offer me that comfort when I was overwhelmed by sorrow.

Think this through: Jesus taught that those who mourn would be comforted. The context of his words (Matthew 5:2-12) helps define that mourning. It is a personal sorrow over the condition of being poor in Spirit. It is weeping that comes from hungering and thirsting for righteousness yet experiencing sin and crying with the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24). It’s not necessarily the mourning that comes from being a victim or suffering loss. Such sorrow calls for comfort, to be sure, but the spiritually mournful man that Jesus speaks of is a victim of his own actions. He has wounded himself with his sin. He is the recipient of his own just consequences, and he has no good merit by which to call for comfort. He is like the tax-collector in the temple, kneeling at a distance, beating his breast and crying out, “Be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:9-14).

And Jesus says that this man and those like him, the ones brokenhearted and saturated with remorse, will be comforted.

By whom? Who would extend assurance, blessing, companionship, peace, and a measure of rest, hope, and unconditional love to a tax-collector, a pathetic miser, a thug, a woman caught in the very act of adultery, a persecuter, and a betrayer?

Jesus, the friend of sinners.

And by extension, the people who follow Jesus. We should be ready to forgive (a thing that most of us are willing to do judicially) and comfort (a thing that most of us are not the least bit ready to do personally).

Why is it so hard to offer comfort to a wretch? What makes it so difficult to put our arms around the person who sinned against us, assure that person everything will be alright, and love that person as a friend? Hasn’t Jesus done that for us?

Here are some potential reasons…

1. To be honest, we hardly ever see that kind of mourning! We seldom witness people having overwhelming remorse. Instead, we see people justify themselves, express sorrow over getting caught, minimize the weight of their actions, and expect light or no consequences. It’s like we’re toddlers in the nursery, fighting over toys and pointing the finger of accusation, “He did it!” It’s so rare to see genuine contrition. Rare, but not extinct.

2. We forget that people who sin are, to a degree, their own victims. The Bible even says it, “The immoral man sins against himself!” (I Corinthians 6:18). Sin results in death (James 1:15); the sinner is committing eternal suicide with each rebellion against God. The sinner has many victims, but he himself is on his own list; his actions harden his heart, rack up judgments, and sear his conscience. He (or she!) is pitiable, not just in spite of sin, but because of it.

3. We forget that we were under judgment until true sorrow led us to repentance. We have been broken over sin and rejoiced that God’s judgment was absorbed by Christ on the cross so we could have grace. At least, I hope that’s true about you. I hope, before you ever need to comfort a sinner who has been crushed by the weight of his own sin, you have been crushed by the weight of your sin and cried out to God for mercy and experienced the comfort only He can give through the Gospel.

May the Lord crush us, comfort us, and use us to comfort others. How sweet will be the day when we are face to face with him, and his presence is our final perfect comfort. No wonder his appearing is called "The blessed hope!"

I wish the ghost of Christmas Present had come back to Scrooge for a short post-vision meeting. Or maybe Marley could have done it. As Scrooge clung to his curtains with the vision of his own grave melting away from his sight, someone could have been there to put an arm around the old skinflint and say, “You know, it’s going to be alright. You’re forgiven.”



Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Word of Thanks

Friends,

I've been reviewing the stats on this blog and have been pleasantly surprised by what I see. In the four years I've been sporadically posting, I've had over 11,000 page views. I'm sure some of those hits were bots or misdirected clicks, but according to Google, most came from Facebook, Twitter, or direct searches for my name or Achilleshealed. I don't have a Twitter account, so that means other people posted a link to one of my posts on their feeds, and that's cool. Maybe I should be Tweeting?

The post that garnered the most views is about dealing with disabilities as a married couple and is titled "What Happened to My Wife?" Number two is the moody tribute I wrote to our old green Dodge, "Ode to a Dead Van."

Not many people leave comments, which to me is fine because I don't need to moderate any discussion! I know you're visiting...

And to all who have dropped by to do some reading, thanks! Thanks for investing a few minutes of your day. I hope what I wrote encouraged you or entertained you. I appreciate your time and interest.

As I continue with this little project, I pray God is honored by it; I hope more and more my love for Jesus is evident as I continue to seek real joy in Him and chronicle some of that pursuit here.

I've got a list of topics yet to come, and a ton of things that I find wonderfully interesting (and yes, I realize I have failed terribly at writing about food [he says in a pathetic run-on sentence]) and I've got a few other permanent pages to post, so I'll keep at it.

Again, thank you all!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Spoiled Lot

Recent news: pastors resigning from burn out, moral failure, conflicts and personal blunders in leadership, etc.

Because ministry is hard. Because we all struggle, but pastors struggle more, and they can’t ever admit it. Because vocational ministry is tough on marriage and family, and publishing books takes so much out of us and multiple services beat us down and leave us lonely and exhausted. Yeah, yeah.

Been there, done that. Sorry for my lack of compassion. But I’ve got a beef about all that—and I’m going to say it, once, here, then not bring it up again.

I’m tired of the whimpy, life-is-so-hard-in-ministry, self-pitying complaining I hear a lot from vocational pastors.

I was there. I spent 23 years in full-time pastoral ministry. I was ready at any time to tell people how hard it was, how burdened, how consuming, and how privileged I was to be called.

And it WAS hard. I don’t want to minimize that reality.

But in other ways, I had it EASY! And so do all of you in pastoral ministry. Well, most of you.

I had control of my own schedule. I could cut out time for whatever I thought was important. I could meet, study, plan, retreat, confer, and write AT WILL. And if I was having a hard day, I could call my secretary and say, “Cancel my appointments and hold my calls. I need time away.” And the church gave it to me. They loved me. They wanted me to succeed as a pastor in every way. I had real support. I don’t have any of that now. I’m at work, on a clock. I can’t just shut my door and study. I have a real job. Boy, was I spoiled.

I had budget to buy books. Fly to conferences. Take mission trips. Speak at retreats. Eat meals with people and buy THEM books. I had a comfortable office in which I hung up my collection of vintage fly rods because they made good conversation starters. I could play music while I worked, and I could take time to stop and talk to anyone who dropped by, and could even meet with people on the golf course. Can’t do that now. I don’t even have room in my house to shelve all the books I collected, and I don’t have time to read them.

Back then I could take time to study, hours if necessary, ON A SINGLE WORD. Not now. I’m doing well to have time in the Word every day. Like I said, I was SPOILED! I would love to have unfettered time to study, time to prepare, time to pray. REAL time to pray.

Yes, dimensions of ministry were difficult. But to be honest, not THAT difficult all the time. Sure, moments of tears and heartache, but days filled with the glorious privilege of seeing God at work in the lives of people. What wonderful days those were.

Pastors, quit complaining. You’re blessed beyond measure. Maybe if you start seeing things that way, you’ll stop burning out.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Meaty Parable for the Discerning Steak Lover

Going through old files I recently found this article I wrote back in 2000 for a church newsletter. Seems to me to be just as relevant today. Shared here for fun...

I am a steak-lover. Nothing beats a good New Yorker hot off the grill, rubbed with garlic, chili powder, onion salt, and a mix of other spices randomly chosen from the cupboard. Such a prize is best seared over high heat on both sides and served medium rare with a baked potato. I get hungry just thinking about it.

I even have my share of steak stories. Like the time I are at a ranch house restaurant in the middle of west Texas where they offered a free 32-oz. steak to the man or woman who could eat the whole thing in one sitting. The price was $29.99, charged to the customer only if the meal wasn’t finished within a reasonable time. Since it was my birthday, I bought into the deal and was served the toughest, rarest sinew riddled chunk of beef I had ever seen. At least I think it was beef. I almost finished the edible parts, but had to relinquish the 30 bucks when I couldn’t cut the final shreds off the bone. Big bone, tough meat, dull knife, stupid Californian – you know how it is.

The best steaks in my life have included one I ate at McClintock’s, one at the Basque restaurant in Los Banos (though the water on the table sure had a funny taste), and the ones I enjoyed with Deanna on our honeymoon (maybe it was the the locale?).

On to the parable. What if I treated this love of mine – the steak, not Deanna – as many believers treat the truth of God’s Word? What kind of testimonial would I write?
_________________________

I love steak. It has become my reason for living. There is nothing so victorious as a tri-tip on a Friday  evening, or a fillet mignon served on a special occasion. I would surrender to the grave if I didn’t have the strength and joy that comes from eating steak.

I remember the time I first discovered steak. I had been living on vegetables and oatmeal in a commune in Marin County back in the days when the health food elite eschewed all processed food and red meat. Euell Gibbons reigned supreme. Though I followed the rules as best as I could, I was never truly satisfied.

I was introduced first to tri-tip by a fellow member of the commune who had returned from a trip to Santa Maria. He smuggled a small portion to me after the evening meal, and though it was a few hours old, and a bit cold and tough, I knew I had discovered real food.

Months later I was kicked out of the commune when I was found in possession of a kilo of top sirloin which I had been cooking over a small fire behind the well. I took the rejection well. I was ready to be out on my own, freed from the bondage of bran and broccoli.

I spent many years growing in my affection for steak. I joined a club of steak-lovers. I could travel hours for a good feeding, having heard about some new chef or restaurant. When not eating out, I would feed myself, and even though I didn’t have the gifts of the master grillers, I could still be full and satisfied.

I bought books about steak. I collected pictures of steaks for the walls of my home. I listened to cooking shows on the radio and watched food TV, anxious to hear anything about my favorite meal. I put bumper stickers on my car to tell the world about my first love; “Honk if you love steak!” and “Steak lovers aren’t perfect, just full!”

After all those years, I can say I had truly arrived. I had become a steak connoisseur.

But I noticed that my love was not shared by many others. In fact some openly criticized my affection for beef, and claimed it was doing me harm. But I knew better. Still, how could they be convinced? The question perplexed me at first, and I found no good answer apart from giving them steak to try for themselves. But this only worked with a few. Many still rejected. The problem became an obsession for me.

I knew how a good steak is cooked, and how it is served to a true steak-lover. What I didn’t know was how to win over struggling vegetarians in the market place.

I embarked on a personal study of the kinds of things the other side was embracing. I spent time in salad bars, coffee bars, sushi bars, and tofu bars. I collected some statistics, analyzed the results, and reached some startling conclusions. And I am now ready to offer my services to restaurants around the world as a consultant and evaluator. Here’s what I would advise:
  •   Stop serving such big portions! People can only handle so much steak. If you give them too much, they’ll get turned off to red meat altogether and spend their time and money on coffee. Serve no more than one or maybe two morsels with each meal. Fill up the plate with lots of French fries. People can digest French fries. Just don’t give them too much steak.
  •  Only serve steak once a week! It’s too much to think that steak can be digested properly when served too often. One meal a week is sufficient. People are busy. They commute and work and play and can’t take the time to sit down to a real meal but once every seven days. That should hold them over.
  •  Spend more time on ambience! Steak is nice, but what really makes it fun is when it’s served in a great setting. Get some hot music for the restaurant, comfortable seats, a cool lighting scheme, and some bubbly waitresses. In fact, if you can disguise the place as a coffee bar, all the better. Then people may not even know they’re getting steak!
  •  Find new steaks! I, like many other steak lovers, have already eaten top sirloin, cross-rib, fillet mignon, center cut, and New York steaks. Why would we want to eat the same steaks again and again? Try finding new cuts, new meats, new forms. This will hold our interest and show the vegetarian world that even steak lovers can have variety and fun.
  •  Stop criticizing vegetarians! They have their own way, and though we don’t think much of it, they’re content, so let’s let them be. such criticism only drives them farther away.
Recently, I visited a restaurant in another town. One of the members of my club took me there. I was so unimpressed. The place looked like a steak house; sawdust on the floor, bench seats, smoky interior, and decorations that looked like they had come from a cattle ranch. I was served a huge slab of beef. I managed to eat only half of it. It was too rich. And it reminded me of a cut of meat I had already tasted. I couldn’t understand why my friend raved about the place. He seemed satisfied, but I was missing all the other side dishes and attractions.

I found the manager and complained. I gave him my five pieces of advice. He thanked me kindly, and then asked if I was mistaken when I called myself a steak-lover. Of course I am a steak-lover! I am just concerned about the non-steak-lovers.

They’re welcome anytime, he replied.

But what if they don’t want steak?

He smiled pityingly and directed me to a coffee bar down the street.
_________________________

I don’t mean to be simplistic with my analogies. But true Christians are truth-lovers. They hunger for it, even when they have heard it before. They long for others to experience the truth. And when they try to make the truth palatable to unbelievers, they run the risk of losing their own hunger and love for the very thing they are trying to promote.

Jesus said He is the truth. He said the truth sanctifies us and sets us free. He calls us to speak the truth in love. He tells us His Word is truth (John 17:17). And of unbelievers, the Bible says, “…they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (II Thessalonians 2:10).

May God make us to be truth-lovers. And may He protect us from becoming so full of ourselves that we have no hunger for Him.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Gentle, self-controlled thoughts about WHY I NEED MY AMP!

My blog is usually more spiritually bent than this, but a recent conversation provoked the following response...

Dear Soundman,

I need my amp. I really do. I know, it makes your job harder. It creates a lot of sound on stage. It’s hard to mic properly, and you would much rather make me go into the system directly. And yes, I concede, there are plenty of stomp boxes out there designed to replicate the sound of my amp. I SHOULD be able to run my signal into the system. But I can’t, and I hope you will bear with me while I explain why.

First, I am a musician. I’m not a recording, a machine, a patch, a signal, a pad. I am a musician. I create music in the now. I play nuance. I play dynamics. I play articulations and improvisations. I play melodies that lead and harmonies that support. I play rhythms that blend and accents that don’t because I plan them to intrude and punch and hit hard. I play sustained notes and chords that live and die naturally, with resonance and touch and taste. I want them to sound like a warm scent clinging to the air long after the beauty left the room. I can’t answer for other guitar players. But for me, I need every ounce of freedom I can get so I can sound as good as I’ve worked to become.

That means I need to hear myself and every nuance of my playing. And I can’t do that through a monitor, especially in-ear monitors. I can’t! I’ve tried. But as soon as I give my signal to someone else to control, I end up in a losing battle. I play out. The sound guy turns me down and never turns me back up again. I counter with a signal boost. He counters with a cut. Soon I’ve lost all my headroom, I can’t hear the fine touch of my guitar, and then I’m over-playing, looking for my signal and losing tone. Tone! That thing I spent so much money and effort to get! And now it’s lost because I can’t finesse any notes.

Mr. Soundman, I appreciate how hard your job is. But you still have to let me do my job, the job of being a musician. When I can hear my sound in balance with the other instruments, I can play like me.

Second, I need my amp because it’s actually a part of my sound. I’m sort of a purist. I don’t much care for digital re-creation. I want analog. I want my guitar to go through the tubes I bought with the speakers I use because the whole system is warm, and sweet, and rich, and the digital stuff, in my humble opinion, is just never as good. It’s missing something. So putting a mic on my amp allows me to sound like I want to sound.

Finally, I know you don’t trust me. I don’t take that personally. You think I’m an egocentric diva. You think I want to hear me because I LIKE hearing me and the rest of the band can just take a back seat to all my self-absorbed solos. And, yes, I know a lot of my fellow guitar players have earned that reputation.

But know what? I’ve met some sound guys who are real jerks. They’re worse divas than the musicians I’ve worked with. They want all the control, and they have lots of attitude about it.

So seriously, let’s start by respecting each other and we’ll get along fine. Let me be free to be a real musician, even if I’m not a great one, and I’ll listen to you as we try to get the best placement on stage for amps and mics and stands and lights and all that stuff. We’re really on the same team, and I’m willing to say you know what you’re doing at the board if you’re willing give me the same level of respect.

If you don’t want the volume level that comes with a guitar amp, don’t ask me to play. I’m not offended. I’d rather sit out than be frustrated. If you need to keep the sound down, go acoustic. Tell the drummer to use brushes. Explain to him what brushes are and how the great percussionists have used them in the past. Get a bass player who does the upright thing. And use a real piano. Use condenser mics. Unplugged is cool. Enjoy it. Live it. But don’t ask me to play plugged at unplugged levels. And stop asking me to use in-ear monitors on small stages. We’re not in a stadium, for crying out loud. Let me blend like a musician should.


Because if you want my sound: me and my Gibson playing through my Fender Deluxe amp (and that alone is SUCH a winning combination!!!), then let me play at the volume such music needs. We’ll all have a lot more fun at the gig, and that includes the audience!