October 30, 2012

Snow in October

Yes, it's still October in Ohio.  And yes, it snowed this morning.  Kim, the almanac was right!  Thanks, Sandy.


A great website for facts and stats on abortion, and pro-life plans of action, too.

October 29, 2012

Sermon Series: Gospel Portraits (or, Pictures of Jesus in the Old Testament)

We recently completed our second installment of what I've called Gospel Portraits - various (mostly Old Testament) characters, events, and objects that picture for us the work of Jesus on behalf of sinners.  I've thoroughly enjoyed seeing Jesus portrayed all throughout the scriptures.  I hope you will, too.

1 Samuel 17 - The People's Champion
Hosea 3.1-2 - "So I bought her for myself"
Leviticus 16 - Yom Kippur
Philemon 1.18 - "Charge that to my account"
2 Kings 13.20-21 - The Bones of Elisha

Also, here is the list of sermons from the first installment:

Exodus 16 - The Manna from Heaven
Genesis 6-8 - The Ark of Noah
Jonah 1-3 - The Sign of Jonah
Song of Solomon - The Lover of my Soul
Genesis 22.1-14 - The Ram in the Thicket
Exodus 12 - The Passover Lamb
Exodus 25-30 - The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
Numbers 21.1-9 - The Serpent on a Pole

The first series of sermons was also turned into a book, which may be ordered here.

Current Sermon Series

October 28, 2012

Reflecting on Ten Years

As I mentioned in the previous post, this past weekend marks ten years since I assumed the role as pastor at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church.  Below is a copy of the corresponding letter I wrote our congregation ...

Dear PRBC family,

Thank you so much for the surprise gift, cake, and chorus of thanksgivings last Sunday. No one let the cat out of the bag, and Tobey and I really were surprised! Of course, when I saw Jason Skidmore at prayer meeting, I wondered if maybe something was up. When Allen and Heather came for Sunday School, I was pretty sure. And when Andrew and Kimberly were in the pews at 11:00, the game was up! But before 9am Sunday, I had no idea. So thank you … to those of you who gave, those who spoke, those who planned, and those who have quietly prayed for us these last ten years. Each of you is a blessing to our family in ways that are hard to calculate.

Upon anniversaries such as ten years as pastor, one gets to thinking, reminiscing, and taking stock. I’ve been doing some of that in recent days and weeks. I don’t have space, in this little column, to say everything that comes to mind … nor would you want to take the time to read it all! But here are a few thoughts that come readily …

1. Being a pastor is harder than I thought. I don't want you to hear any violins to play plaintively in the background while you read this, but I must say that I had no idea what I was getting into ten years ago!  More than anything else, the task of preaching Christ as He truly ought to be preached is a more daunting a responsibility than I ever realized.  No preacher, no matter how seasoned, is ever sufficient for such a calling.  Beyond that, no seminary training can prepare a young man for the death of a church member; for recovering himself when he makes really foolish mistakes; for all the struggles that come with shepherding real, live people who are sinners just like their pastor. So yes, there have been times when I have said to myself: ‘What on earth did I sign up for?’ And, because I often had no idea what I was really getting into, I have made a good many blunders along the way. Some of them laughable. Some of them truly hurtful. Many who read these lines are the very ones I’ve hurt. Thank you for sticking with a twenty-five year-old who was – and often still is – in over his head.

2. Being a pastor is better than I thought. Again I start with the preaching task.  Who can fully describe what a privilege and joy it is to spend the week studying the love of God in Christ, and then getting to herald such a message week by week to God's people?  I feel most at home standing behind 'the sacred desk', boasting in Jesus!  And that task is far more satisfying than I ever knew it would be!  I can say the same about the relational side of pastoral ministry.  Just as no seminary can adequately prepare a future pastor for all the various twists, turns, sins, and surprises that take place in a local church … neither can the classroom give him any idea how much his people will become an inseparable part of his life. You all have become our family in every real and possible way (sometimes including sharing living space together!). And Tobey and I wouldn’t have it any other way! This is much more than a job for us. You are our family … and you have worn that mantle well. How many other professions are there where a man is so appreciated by those alongside of whom he works? How many other churches, to take it a step father, have been as good to their pastor as you all have been to us? From all the meals you’ve given, to watching our kids, to mowing our grass, to repairing our home, to giving us clothes, to providing needed accountability, to supporting my mission travels, to umpteen other things … you have been a true family to us. Thank you!

3. Pastors need prayer. I am much more vulnerable to temptation, to discouragement, to fear, and to laziness than I ever thought possible ten years ago. Twenty-five year olds arriving at a new charge often think they have the world by the tail. They don’t. Neither do 35 year-olds with twelve years experience. All that to say that I desperately need your prayers. Tobey does too. None of us can be who God wants us to be without His strong support. And He loves to give that support in answer to His people’s prayers! So, “brethren, pray for us” (1 Thessalonians 5.25). Let us also remember that, wonderful as it is for us to be a family … we are more than a family. We are God’s family – the only church in Pleasant Ridge proclaiming the message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone. O, how serious a responsibility we have – as pastor and people! So let us pray that God’s kingdom would come in this place, and more and more people be brought into His family!

October 23, 2012

10 Years in Ohio

This past weekend marked the 10th anniversary of our coming to Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church.  We were surprised, after the worship service, with a very generous gift from our church family, and with a long time of their giving God thanks for us during our monthly fellowship meal.  They've also been bringing us gobs of food all month long, for Pastor's Appreciation Month.

Having lived with myself for these past ten years, I can honestly say that I wish I was as good a man and pastor as our congregation makes me out to be.  But, having lived with Tobey for those same ten years (plus three), I can also say that she is every bit the marvelous wife and mom that they praised.  In both cases, it is good to be loved and appreciated (and well fed!).  Thank you, PRBC!

October 18, 2012

Our New Looks

Tobey and I both have new looks for the fall ...

She'll be keeping hers until mid-April.  Me, probably not so long.

October 8, 2012


Did you know that late summer and early fall is a great time for catching grasshoppers? If not, don’t feel bad. Neither did I! But my children have been catching them by the handfuls in recent weeks – lime green, light brown, and other shades in between. Apparently they are all over the place in our little yard, but I’ve scarcely noticed them all these years. Small as they are, and hidden by the long blades of grass, they’re virtually invisible if you’re an adult, and have places to go and people to see.

And, as I think about the hundreds of grasshoppers that live right under my nose, perpetually unnoticed … I get a little glimpse into the meaning of Isaiah 40.22:

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.

You don’t have to know much about grasshoppers to get the basic gist of that verse. The point is that we, the inhabitants of the earth, are exceedingly small compared to God, just like grasshoppers are to us. We can all see that meaning plainly on the page. But it has been helpful, recently, to realize just how small and insignificant grasshoppers really are. Even though there seem to be hundreds of them living in my lawn; and even though I walked past (and perhaps over!) numbers of them every late summer’s day … they were so small and insignificant, I didn’t even realize they were there! It’s not that I noticed them, and said to myself: ‘Wow, look how small they are!’ It’s that they are so small, and so hidden, and so unimportant to me … that, until recently, it barely even occurred to me that the grasshoppers were out there at all!

According to Isaiah 40.22, that’s how small we human beings are, in comparison with our God. Small enough that, were God not all-seeing and all-knowing, we’d scarcely be noticeable in the wide world of His creation. Just think of the pictures you’ve seen of our planet, taken from outer space. If you did not know that you yourself lived on that little ball of water and clay, you’d have no idea that, beneath the canopy of the trees, there might be little two-legged homo sapiens running around like grass-hoppers. That’s how miniscule we are in the grand scheme of things! Whole nations, says Isaiah 40.15, are no more than specks of dust on God’s scales. And we must never, ever forget that. God, and God alone, is the great One!

But one of the things that makes Him so great is that, when it comes to us grasshoppers, our God is a good deal more like our children than He is like us busy adults. He’s not too big or too busy, in other words, to notice the grasshoppers! No! He loves us grasshoppers – and carefully combs through all the corners of this planet, knowing the name of each and every one of us, and even the numbers of the hairs on our heads! Moreover, like my children with their grasshoppers, He loves to track us down and bring us home as His own peculiar people! Indeed, He sent His Son into the wild grasses of this world to do just that!

So yes, we are exceedingly small and, in many ways, as insignificant as the grasshoppers in the parsonage lawn. And, thus, we must never overestimate ourselves. But neither should we underestimate the love and the persistence of our heavenly Father. He loves finding grasshoppers!

October 3, 2012

Election Season

Fall has officially arrived. The trees have begun their annual fade from green to gold and orange. And the lawns are making their usual transition to blue, red, and the occasional bright yellow … the colors, of course, of the campaign signs! Will you vote for Obama or Romney? Ryan or Biden? And what about all those local politicos you’ve never heard of? It can be an alternately exciting, confusing, and exhausting time of year! But it’s also an important time of year for our country. And, as Christians, we find ourselves right in the middle of it all. But what should we think about the election season? How important are politics, really? And what does it mean to vote Christianly? Here are a few biblical principles:

First, let us remember that we are called to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5.15). God’s people are to be the preservative of their culture – the ones whose gospel proclamation, personal example, social engagement, and sometimes government policy-making keep a society from moral suicide. And, as one of our elders recently reminded me (quoting Wayne Grudem), one of the ways we can be such salt is by exercising our vote in such a way as to be the preservative of our nation. There are other ways of being salt in the culture – many of them perhaps more personal and hands on. But praise God we have a chance to affect national and local policy through something as simple as our votes. So let’s be the salt of the earth this election season.

Now, as we think about exactly how we’ll vote, let’s notice the Bible’s emphasis on kings ruling righteously (see, for instance, Proverbs 16.12 and 20.28). In other words, there is more to being president, governor, or city councilman than who can make the land economically prosperous. Far more important is that a ruler, and his policies, be morally upright. So we should ask questions like: Is this candidate honest? What sorts of sexual and political ethics do his policies promote? What are his commitments to the least of these – the elderly, the unborn, the disabled, the poor? Many times we set these things to one side and choose our candidate largely based on what he can do for my bottom line. But what is pleasing to me is not nearly so important in a ruler as what is pleasing to God!

In the third place, the Bible also affirms that every government is established by God (Romans 13.1-2). Sometimes He gives us wonderful, wise, good leaders. Sometimes (perhaps often because we deserve it) He allows us to be accursed with poor, ungodly ones. But, whoever wins the various elections this fall, each of our leaders will be in office for no less a reason than that God determined it should be so. “There is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13.2). So let’s be done with crying in our oatmeal on the Wednesday after an election that doesn’t go our way … and with the four years of bellyaching that often follows. God knows what He’s doing, even if we get who we think is ‘the wrong guy.’ And we should take what our wise God gives us, even if it’s four years of moral or economic famine rather than plenty.

Along those lines, let us also remind ourselves that governments aren’t gods. Yes, they hold a great deal of power. Yes, a lot can go wrong (or right) in a four year span. But neither Obama nor Romney is the messiah. Neither of them holds our future in his hands. Neither of them can take away the things that are dearest to a true Christian. And neither of them is going to save the world, or even our little corner of it. Only Christ can do that! So let us not make the mistake of being too elated if ‘the right guy’ wins, or too ready for doomsday if he doesn’t. The world will neither end, nor be made new, by anything less than the return of the true King!

Finally, let us remember that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3.20) … and that we will live there much, much longer than we live in this American democracy. Shouldn’t that affect how much emotional and financial capital we invest in this thing we call government? Yes, earthly government is important. God says so! But it’s also very, very temporary. We’re just passing through this Vanity Fair. So let’s make sure that, more than anything else, we store up our hopes and our treasures where moth and rust – and national debt, and Social Security scares, and housing crises, and unemployment, and even the rulers to whom God calls us to prayerfully submit – cannot destroy!