I invite you to look at--

My Website where you will find: ordering information and chapter summaries for The Beauty of God for a Broken World; audio sermons; a few poems and hymns; and some other essays.

My Videos where you will find a few two-minute videos on various subjects related to The Beauty of God for a Broken World.


Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Christmas Refugee

In churches across the country, children put on simple Christmas pageants. Angels with floppy wings and floppier halos announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds wearing grey or tan bathrobes. Perhaps the shepherds bring a small, stuffed sheep to the Baby as He lies in a bed of straw. Then three wise men in kingly robes arrive holding brightly wrapped gifts. The children sing Away in a Manger; the congregation holds lighted candles as they sing Silent Night; and the program is over.
But the Christmas story is not really over. The gospel of Matthew tells us that after the wise men left, God warned Joseph to flee with Mary and the Baby into Egypt to escape the murderous rage of Herod. After the death of Herod, Joseph brought his small family back to Israel. “This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son’” (Matthew 2:15). The passage Matthew quotes is Hosea 11:1, where the prophet says that God called the nation of Israel out of Egypt
In the Old Testament, Israel is God’s national son (Exodus 4:21-23). In the New Testament, Jesus is God’s eternal Son. During their four hundred years as refugees in Egypt, the family of Jacob became the nation of Israel. Then God sent Moses to lead them back into the Promised Land. So when Jesus took refuge in Egypt, He (the eternal Son of God) was recapitulating the history of the Israel (the national son of God).
God used Israel’s refugee experience to exhort them to be kind to aliens. “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34). Similarly, Jesus commanded His followers to be kind to strangers.
Do you remember the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37)? A Jewish man who had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead was rescued by a Samaritan. The Jews despised Samaritans. Furthermore, the robbers might well have been lingering the vicinity, so the Samaritan was risking his own life to help the injured man. Finally, the Samaritan paid an innkeeper to care for the man until he recovered. Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “Go and do the same.” In other words, be willing to help people who don’t like you even if there is some risk and some cost involved.
That is what Jesus did for us. The Bible says that Jesus died for us when we were ungodly sinners, enemies of God, and subject to His wrath (Romans 5:6-10). Those who put their faith in the crucified, risen Christ are healed of sin’s curse and enter into a peaceable relationship with God (Romans 4:25-5:1).
Therefore, those who have been befriended by God ought to befriend the friendless, even those who might be our enemies. At this Christmas season, we need to remember that Jesus was a refugee Himself, and we ought to be willing to help refugees, even if there is some risk and some cost in doing so.
Some Christian leaders, whom I greatly respect, have opposed settling Syrian refugees in the United States. The Lehigh Valley, which hosts a large Syrian community, has been in the national news lately because the Syrians who live here are divided over the refugee issue. Some of them fear that the very Syrians who murdered their relatives might find a home here. Some fear that ISIS might deliberately smuggle its operatives in among genuine refugees.
I understand those fears. I really do. There are some genuine (though very small) risks involved. In recent years, my wife and I have hosted five refugee families in our home for two weeks at a time. Three were Muslim; two were Christian. We have loved all of them. Our health would not permit us to take another family right now, but perhaps in a few months we would be able to do so. And we would welcome a Syrian family as willingly as we have the rest.

(Published in the Allentown Morning Call 12/19/2015)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Fear Not

“Fear not” said the angel to the shepherds, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10). Fear not. Angels seem to have a habit of saying that. The angel Gabriel who appeared to Zacharias told him not to be afraid. The same angel said the same thing to Mary.

I suppose most of us have assumed that the sudden appearance of the angel is what frightened Zacharias and Mary. The glory of the Lord shone around the angel that spoke to the shepherds, and a sudden light on a dark night must have been frightening.
But what if the angels themselves were scary creatures. Angels don’t have bodies as we do. They are spirit creatures. They can take on bodies from time to time in order to appear to human beings, but the bodies they take on may not always have the same form. Sometimes they look like normal men, as when two angels and the Lord dropped by Abraham’s tent for dinner. By the way, in the Bible, angels never appear as women or children. Angels are never gentle and soft. Sometimes angels appear with four wings or six wings. The angels Ezekiel saw had four wings and four hands.
As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle (Ezekiel 1:10).

What if the angels who appeared to the shepherds looked like that? While our granddaughter Meghan was staying with us, I loaned her a word burner and gave her a piece of wood. This is what she produced in an afternoon. It is one of Ezekiel’s angels with four wings. Two of his hands are visible and three of his faces – the lion, the eagle, and the man’s face. The bull’s face would be out of sight in the back. Over the head of the angel some wheels within a wheel, and as Ezekiel says, its rims are full of eyes. Underneath the angel are the words, “Fear Not.”
If one of these angels appeared surrounded by a blindingly bright light, you or I would certainly be terrified. I don’t know what the shepherds saw when the terror of the Lord fell upon them. Perhaps they looked like men without wings. Perhaps they looked like Ezekiel’s angels. In any case, the words of the angel were certainly necessary, “Fear not.”

When angels appear, they frequently display some of the glory of the Lord, and when they do, they are awesome and fearful to behold. God uses these servants of His to impress upon us the fact that He is great and terrifying. No human being is able to stand in His presence.

BUT God is also gentle and kind. When He sent His Son to the earth to save us from our sins, how did He have Him appear? He came as a tiny, helpless baby who had to be cuddled and carried and clothed. He had to be nursed at His mother’s breast. He had to learn to sit up, and then to crawl, and then to toddle back and forth between Joseph and Mary.

You and I would not feel comfortable walking up to a scary angel for a casual chat, but we can draw near to a baby in a bed of hay. The angels teach us that God is powerful and terrifying. The baby Jesus teaches us that God is approachable. He is approachable through Jesus. If you come to God through Jesus, He will accept you. If you try to come to God on your own, watch out lest an angry angel cast you out of heaven before you get anywhere near the throne of God.

You don’t have to fear the angels if, like the shepherds, you are going to Jesus. The brightest, scariest angel would say to you, “Fear not, go to Bethlehem and see your Savior. Fear not, go to Calvary and see the Lamb slain for your sins. Fear not, go to the empty tomb and confess Jesus as your risen Lord.”

Monday, June 29, 2015

Loving Homosexuals

Love compels me to oppose homosexuality.

Homosexual and transgender people often accuse Christians of hating them. Unfortunately that is sometimes true. Christians often accuse LGTB people of hating them. Unfortunately that is also sometimes true. Setting aside the loudest voices in both camps, probably most Christians and most LGTB people are not hateful.

Having said that, I must insist that followers of Jesus, who love all of their neighbors, have an obligation to oppose homosexuality. Love requires them to do this.
If my car were the first to arrive at a bridge that had just collapsed, love would compel me to do everything possible to keep others from tumbling into disaster. If those leading a homosexual lifestyle are driving ninety miles an hour toward the edge of a cliff, love has a responsibility to warn them.
The issue is not whether homosexual couples are better or worse parents or citizens than others. The issue is not whether the institution of marriage is being devalued. Sociological issues are important and need to be debated, but for my purposes now, they are beside the point.

God has said that homosexuality is a sin, and like other sins, it keeps people out of heaven unless they are forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Christ. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Love requires me to warn all sinners that they are rushing toward the gaping pit of hell.

Love compels me to treat homosexuality differently from other sins.

I’m pretty sure that a homosexual couple in a loving, life-long, committed relationship will be judged less severely than a serial killer. I don’t have an inside track on divine judgment, but that is my guess. Nevertheless, the current moral climate of western civilization compels me to denounce homosexuality vigorously.

The reason is this. Everyone, including the killer, knows that murder is wrong. Everyone acknowledges that lying and stealing are wrong. (Well, almost everyone, except for a few rabid relativists.) A man who refuses to admit he is sick can still die of the disease he denies. He may only be cured if he goes to a doctor and submits to his treatment. Love compels me to urge all sinners (including myself) to submit to the Great Physician. Because our culture is loudly insisting that homosexuality is good, healthy, and normal, I must insist loudly and lovingly that it is not.

Love compels me to reject what feels normal.

We need to stop telling children, “God made you, and He likes you just the way you are.” The truth about all of us is this: “God made you, but you are broken because of sin. You need God to fix you.” Sin entering into the world has twisted our minds, our affections, and even our bodies. God’s good creation is no longer good.

It makes no difference whether nature or nurture is a stronger influence in producing homosexual desires. I suspect that both may play a part. To some people those desires feel normal, and if they feel normal (so the argument goes) they must be right for those individuals. However, God’s word says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Love compels me to say to homosexuals, “What feels right and normal to you can kill you.”

Love compels me to sympathize with homosexuals.

In this broken world, all of us have many legitimate desires which cannot be satisfied. We want good health, an adequate income, respect, happy children, and so on. If we can get what we want in a lawful, honorable way, we may do so. If we cannot get what we want by doing the will of God, the Lord commands us to bear our disappointments patiently and to trust that our loving heavenly Father will give us some other good thing (Matthew 7:7-11).

Marriage and sex are good things, but we cannot demand them as though we had a right to them, any more than we all have a right to be millionaires. God commands heterosexual people to abstain from sex until they are married. Even married couples may be called to do without sex if an injury or disease makes physical intimacy impossible. Men and women with homosexual desires may never be able to develop a healthy, normal desire for the opposite sex, but they can live satisfying lives, pleasing to God as they submit to His will.

Love compels me to sympathize with all whose natural desires are frustrated, but that same love compels me to say to myself and to others, “Now get over it, and get on with the business of living for Jesus.”

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Choose Life

The tragedy of suicide is ever with us. High profile cases like Robyn Williams or Brittany Maynard may grab our attention, but nothing grips our hearts like the suicide of a dear friend or family member.
Reactions to suicide run the whole gamut of opinion. On one end, we have the seemingly obligatory pablum, “Now she’s at peace.” At the other end, is the decision of the medieval church that a suicide should not be allowed a Christian burial. As late as the 1600s in England, suicides were treated as criminals. Their property was confiscated, and they were buried face down at a crossroad, with a stake driven through their bodies.
The church has historically regarded suicide as self-murder. More recently, we have come to realize that not all instances of self-destruction are the same. Some involve a deliberate defiance of God’s right to determine the length of our lives. In other cases, the suicide’s reason may be clouded by pain, grief, or prescription drugs. When the reason is impaired, responsibility and guilt are diminished.
Regardless of how responsible a person may be for his death, suicide does not change his fundamental relationship to God. A man who was not at peace with God in life will not be at peace after death. On the other hand, those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can say, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
If a child of God will not lose his place in God’s family through suicide, why should he choose to endure suffering rather than taking the shortest route to his heavenly home? Scripture points us to God’s purposes for our pains.
First, God has ordained the suffering of His children as the means by which the power of Christ in their lives may be revealed. “For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:11). God says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness,” so we may respond, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Second, suffering borne for the sake of Christ is turned by the grace of the cross into heavenly gold. “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,  while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
Third, God is good. We ought not to “be surprised at the fiery ordeal” we face. Rather, “those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:12, 19). Suffering may come at the hands of evil men; it may come from our adversary the devil; it may come because we live in a fallen, broken world. Ultimately, however, nothing can touch the child of God apart from the loving purpose of God.
 If you belong to Jesus, you do not live for yourself. You live for Jesus. You don’t live for your family or for your work or for your plans and pleasures. You live for Jesus. He defines the purpose of your life, of your suffering, and of your death. Entrust your life to Him because He is faithful.

(This essay was first published in the Allentown Morning Call on April 25, 2015. I preached a longer version of this message on April 19th. It is located at  http://godisbeautiful.com/Sermons%20for%20Various%20Occasions.htm.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Pastoral Response to Fifty Shades of Grey

Although  not an iron-clad rule, men’s pornography is primarily visual; women’s pornography has a story line. Give a man a picture, and his mind jumps into bed. Give a woman a passionate, romantic, erotic story, and she is hungry for more than she’s getting. With Fifty Shades of Grey coming out this week in movie theaters, you have both images and a story—a deadly combination.

Sadly, this movie is being marketed at Valentine’s day as an alternative to candy and flowers. The book and movie depict perverted sexual practices—bondage and sadomasochism, in which the dominant person in the relationship ties up the willingly submissive one and inflicts pain.

According to a recent radio broadcast by Focus on the Family Christian women are being encouraged by their friends to read the book in order to spice up their sex lives. And Christian women are falling for this lie.

Pornography, whether directed at men or at women, stimulates sexual desire, but it implants unrealistic fantasies in the mind. A real man or a real woman can never live up to the fantasies indulged in by a porn addict. For that reason porn is exceedingly damaging to marriage relationships. One Christian woman mentioned on the Focus program became so addicted to erotic novels, that they consumed her whole waking moments. The Holy Spirit literally stopped her as she was headed out the door, suitcase in hand, planning to leave her family in search of the lifestyle that had captured her heart. The Spirit stopped her, and He turned her heart around.

Now the devil may say to you, “You really won’t know what everybody is talking about unless you see/read Fifty Shades of Grey. You owe it to yourself to find out so that you can decide for yourself.” That is exactly the line he used with Eve when he told her that the forbidden fruit would enable her to really know good and evil.

The devil may also say to you, “You’re strong. You can handle it. It won’t hurt you.” Again, that is exactly what he said to Eve: “You shall not surely die.”

I urge you not to fall for the devil’s lies, and if you have already fallen for them, seek help. I will be glad to support you in your quest for spiritual freedom, and I can point you to some other resources. Jesus is the only one who gives freedom to sin’s slaves (John 8:31-36).