Death by Tradition

Each week our church has a part in the service where the congregation is exhorted (an urgent reminder) to remember and cling to the gospel. Below is my exhortation for November 20, 2016.

Grace Church, the exhortation is the part in our service whereby we remind ourselves that we are acceptable to God and forgiven of our sins only because of our trust in Jesus, and him alone. This part of the service is meant to remind you of your need for the gospel, your need to confess your sins before God, and the joy we have in right relationship with God because of the gospel.
Yet there is a danger here. The danger is that which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of in Matthew 15. They were obeying God’s commands and even doing right things yet they made void the word of God. You could write a check to me for a million dollars, but if you write “void” across it, the check is worthless. What they were doing didn’t matter because it was voided out by their cold hearts.
The danger is that you can see this exhortation as a voided tradition. You can see it as just something we do every week and miss out on the riches of it. You can do and say the right things yet have them mean absolutely nothing if your heart is far from God. If you are feeling coldness or numbness right now, in this exhortation, ask God to change your heart. The Pharisees didn’t care that their hearts were cold. They preferred their dead traditions over the living God. Don’t be like them!
If you heart is cold or numb this morning, that is bad news. The good news is that you can’t change it on your own. Come before God and ask him to set your heart on fire with a renewed passion and love for the gospel. I can’t do any better than reading to you Titus 3:4-7. Take this into our time of confession and plead for God to plunge you deeper into the truths of God that abide still.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”


A Mighty Prayer

One of my favorite hymns is Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God. The strength and power of the lyrics make me want to love God more deeply and hold this life more loosely. I took the song tonight and turned it into a prayer to share with my church on Sunday morning.

O God, you indeed are a might fortress. You are an everlasting bulwark that has never failed and will never fail. You help us amidst the floods of battling sin, job loss, financial hardships, miscarriages, marriage discord, and a thousand other dark times in our lives.
There is no enemy like Satan. He is armed with cruel hate and no military might compares to his power. So we can’t confide in our own strength this morning, but thanks be to you O God that the right man is on our own own side. The man that you chose- Christ Jesus. It is he! The God who is Lord over earthly and heavenly armies. You King Jesus, will win the battle.
Now, though we are embattled against sin and Satan which threaten to undo us, we have no need for fear. Your will God, is to have your truth triumph through us. That is incredible. Through us! Even though our enemy is this dark, grim prince, we have no need to tremble or fear. His rage we can endure because his doom is sure. Your word in your time, heavenly Father will cause him to cease his work in this world.
That little word is greater than all earthly armies, kings, and nations. Your Spirit and the gifts we have through your Spirit are ours. In response to this may we joyfully let money and possessions and family and friends go. May we hold loosely our very lives. Because our bodies may be killed by cancer, car crashes, bullets, heart attacks, earthquakes, hurricanes, or old age. Yet when our hearts beat their last breaths, your truth abides still. Your kingdom will never end, and this is our inheritance. We will see your glory.


A Talladega Type of Night

I opened the door to the backseat of my squad car and what I saw required every ounce of restraint I had to remain professional.

It all started with a response to a trailer park for an argument between a boyfriend and girlfriend. It was the average, run-of-the-mill, everyday back and forth that cops deal with so frequently. We respond, break up the argument, try to mediate a solution, leave, and return again later that night. Sometimes it’s the next day, sometimes it’s the following week, but we inevitably go back. We can count on it like the afternoon delivery of the mail to our houses.

Two hours later we received a call from a neighbor saying that these two were arguing again in the street. It was around 12:30AM on a warm, summer night. These are times when the beer flows freely, the heart acts boldly, the lips speak freely- and people go to jail for it. I was less than a mile away from the call and told dispatch I’d respond to it. I navigated my squad car through the trailer park and as I came around the corner, I found what I was looking for.

The boyfriend was walking down the middle of the road in cartoon, fleece pajama pants while sporting off his skinny chest and torso. A smattering of people were standing in the yard watching the drama unfold. The price of admission was free. As I got out of my car, my sense of smell was hit with the pungent odor of burned out rubber. I could see a haze of smoke wafting across the road, as if I had just stepped into a five car pile up at Talladega.

Not knowing what had happened, I quickly patted the pajama man for any weapons, and put him in the backseat of my car. I began speaking to his girlfriend and bystanders to get the full picture of what had happened. The lovers had revivied the argument that night, with alcohol and stubbornness being the kindling for their spat. He finally decided to hit the eject button and leave, while she realized he was in no condition to be driving a 5,000 pound object on wheels. However, he would have none of her objections to him leaving in his truck.

He had jumped into his truck while she jumped into his way. As she was standing in front of the truck he thought it a good idea to put a little fear of a Ford F150 engine into her soul. With the brake depressed he pushed the gas pedal down causing the tires to do a brake stand. As smoke began churning underneath his rear tires they were not able to withstand the force of the message pajama man was trying to send to his girlfriend. The rear tires blew out. His plan to leave was now as deflated as his back tires which had just given up the ghost. Chunks of tire were scattered throughout yards in the area.

After gathering the story I went back to my squad to place pajama man under arrest for domestic assault and driving while intoxicated. I opened the backseat of my squad and found a very sweaty and dirty man wearing my sheriff’s office jacket. As anger swept over my face I saw fear come over his. I yelled, “What do you think you’re doing?” Apparently going from the climate of a warm summer night, to the cool air conditioned back seat of a squad car was too much for him. He had found my jacket in the backseat and naturally put it on for warmth. The combination of a smelly, dirty, sweaty suspect wearing my sheriff’s office jacket put me over the top.

After yelling at him I paused. I took a breath and collected my faculties. After composing myself I removed the jacket from him and replaced it with a set of handcuffs and off to jail we went.


The Grand Tetons and The Gospel

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Exhortation for Grace Church

“By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established mountains, being girded with might…so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.” Psalm 65:5-6, 8

A couple of weeks ago our family went on a two week road trip to Oregon. As we drove across 3,700 miles of our country we saw national parks, historical markers, rivers, gorges, woods and all sorts of animals. Yet one of the experiences that stands out to us the most is the Grand Tetons.
Our first glimpse of the their peaks was when we camped near them in Wilson, Wyoming. We could just see them over the treetops as the sun was setting. The next day, we packed up our campsite, and started driving towards them. As got closer, we could see more and more of their towering beauty. We could see more details about the mountains, and the closer we got, the greater we realized they actually were. They towered over the prairies and wildlife and trees and everything else around them.
Something happened to all of us in that van as we got closer and closer to these rocks that were 13,000 feet in the air. We were overcome with a sense of awe. No park ranger had to tell us that we should be amazed or stunned by their beauty and majesty. The closer we got the more realized we were in the presence of something awe-inspiring.
And so it is with the salvation of our God. His deeds are awesome. His signs are awe-inspiring. And just as our Honda Odyssey was the vehicle by which we were able to be brought to the base of these mountains, so church is one of the vehicles by which we see the awesomeness of God’s salvation.
We aren’t only receiving instruction today, or meeting friends, or any number of things that happen when we gather together. We are being shown the awesomeness of God’s salvation. He is the hope for the ends of the earth. So as we move into a time of confessing our sins, spend 30 seconds seriously thinking about your sins. Be sober-minded about it. And when you are done, lift your heart and voice in the praise and thankfulness to God for what he has done for you.
The reason you are able to stand in the towering presence of the One who girded the mountains with might is only because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection is the way in which we have access to fellowship with him. This doesn’t come through good works but comes through the Spirit wrought work in our hearts of being able to see and savor the awesomeness of the God of our salvation.


Between Two Worlds

On Wednesday of this week an officer with the St. Anthony police department did a traffic stop on a car in which Philando Castile was in. We know hardly any of the details about what happened on the traffic stop, other than it ended with the officer shooting and killing Philando. The following evening as I was getting ready to go to bed and my news alert sounded on my phone. It said that 3-6 officers had been shot in Dallas while providing security at a Black Lives Matter rally. I couldn’t sleep, so I watched the news come in on TV as it turned from cops shot to cops killed. I woke up the next morning to the news that a total of five cops were killed.

As a cop who has a family pursuing an adoption of a black child, Johanna and I find each other living in two different worlds. The adoption world tends to be skeptical at best and hateful at worst of law enforcement. The law enforcement world tends to be skeptical at best and hateful at worst of Black Lives Matter or other organizations or people who criticize them in these officer involved shootings.

There’s so much I could say on this, but here’s briefly what I want to say to you this morning Grace Church; you who are my people. A couple of years ago I started reading books that pushed me outside of my law enforcement comfort zone that were written by people that loved the gospel. What do people who love Jesus yet disagree with me have to say about their perspective on these types of racial divides?

I think most people in this church tend to fall on the side of supporting law enforcement. I am thankful for that. However, there are people who really love Jesus and the Bible that disagree with me and aren’t so trusting of cops. I’ve intentionally read blogs by Thatbiti Anyabwile or John Piper and the book Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson to try and learn from them. These are men who love Jesus and the gospel and think black men are being shot unjustifiably. At times their writings have frustrated me. At times I’ve learned from them.

It is really, really, really easy to dig our heels into our own camps when a Philando Castile shooting happens or when cops are shot. What is really, really hard is to mourn with those we disagree with that are hurting. For my brothers and sisters in Christ, mourn with the mourning. Not just with those you agree with.

Pray for Philando’s family. Pray for the cop that shot him. Pray for the families of the cops that were killed in Dallas. Who does this except for those who love Jesus? This is the aroma of Jesus Christ to a world that is perishing. Mourn with those who mourn. Don’t just mourn with those you agree with or those who have not done anything wrong. In humility, count others more significant than ourselves. Thank God, that Jesus Christ emptied himself by taking the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. He didn’t save us after we got our lives fixed up. He saved us while we were still enemies to him.

The world can’t do this. They can’t in humility pray for those that they disagree with. We can though because we are being transformed into the image of the one who left heaven and took on the likeness of men- Jesus. The gospel is the only remedy that is the cure for this mess we are swimming in. “We are neither Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Col. 3:11).”


As A Runner, Look To The Forerunner

Grace Church, the exhortation this morning is from I Corinthians 9:24-27. I love that God’s Word uses visible things and experiences to communicate invisible truths. How kind of God to do that. He makes this world to declare his glory and we can learn more about who he is and who we are by observing it and reading his Word. That’s massive.
Here Paul uses the visible experience of running to communicate how we should live out our Christian faith. Use self-control. Remember that it is an everlasting reward you are running after. Don’t run aimlessly. Discipline in the Christian life is critical.
Running is on my mind because Pastor Dave and I ran a race yesterday. The sun was out, the humidity was high, and the heat was fatiguing. At each mile marker there were water and aid stations where volunteers would hand out cold water, ice, and sponges soaked with water. At each water station I would stop running, walk through them, get refueled, and start running the next mile. I couldn’t have finished the race without that.
Your following of Jesus is like a runner in a race, but the prize is infinitely better. This exhortation, the songs, the sermons, and your fellowship with the saints is meant to help you run a disciplined, self-controlled race. You need the proclaiming of the gospel week after week to cascade over you like those water sponges did on my head. You need to drink from the refreshing streams of God’s Word through the preaching and singing on Sunday mornings.
So don’t go through this morning as just another morning. Take stock of your week. Where did you run your race well and where did you blow it? Come this morning and drink from the pools of God’s grace and go into this week, by his power, to run your race well.
Jesus was our forerunner who ran his race perfectly. Where you ran well this week, thank him. Where you failed, ask for forgiveness and grace and strength for the future. For we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf (Hebrews 6:19-20).


Disappointment and All-Sufficiency

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73:26, 28)

My flesh and my heart may fail. There is not much life that needs to be lived before you discover that things begin to fail. When you’re a child the new toy that you’ve been wanting for such a long time breaks. When you’re a teenager the friends that you thought were there for you let you down and even hurt you. As an adult, your spouse doesn’t live up to your expectations and disappoints you.

This past week you’ve walked through a world that has and will always fail you. It lets you down. It disappoints you. It will never and can never measure up to expectations. This past week I was hoping to get a job assignment at work that I had been waiting three years for, but it was given to someone else. I was disappointed about that.

On a bigger scale, at some point your heart will fail too. That muscle inside your chest beats 100,000 times a day, 35 million times a year, and on average 2.5 billion times in a lifetime. It is amazingly reliable but at some point in will stop beating and you will die.

Consider this- not only were you disappointed this week but you were also probably a disappoint to someone else. You didn’t live up to or measure up to someones expectations of you. I’ve failed this week in doing things I should have done as a follower of Jesus and have disappointed others.

This can be crushing. But God. Two of the most wonderful words in Scripture. God is our strength and our portion forever. The reason you can come into his presence this morning amidst all the disappointment swirling around is because of the all-sufficient work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus purchased the promise of Psalm 73:26 for you through his death, burial and resurrection. If there was no cross then there would be no “but God.” He never disappoints, never fails and will never disappoint or fail in the future. He is our portion forever.

It is good for you to be near God this morning and look to him for a refuge, through the never-disappointing, all-sufficient work on the cross.

Father, I can come to You
And boast of deeds I’ve done
In my pride I strive to earn
The favor Christ has won
He alone pleads my acceptance
All my works aside
So I come with empty hands
And I cling to Christ