Salt, Light and Cities on Hills (Book Review)

"Salt, Light and Cities on Hills: Evangelism, Social Action and the Church -- How Do They Relate to Each Other?" by Melvin Tucker succinctly addresses the two sides, two expressions, two manifestations, or two applications of the gospel: evangelism and social action. Historically, churches have generally emphasized or predominantly practiced one side, often at the expense of the other by minimizing or neglecting its importance.

Though this is a rather broad generalization, so-called "conservative" churches incline toward evangelism, while so-called "liberal" churches incline toward social action. Churches that emphasize preaching and the importance of Scripture and the Bible (generally traditional conservative churches) incline toward evangelism, while churches that emphasize living out one's faith (generally emergent or liberal churches) incline toward social action. Thus, there tends to be discipleship churches and activist churches. Yet, as Tucker repeatedly points out--using history and exegesis of various biblical texts--the church should be doing both.

Slandered, Opposed and Attacked (Psalm 7)

Psalm 7:1-17; 8

"The Lord judges the peoples; vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness and my integrity" (Ps 7:8, HCSB).

What do you do when you feel misunderstood, maligned and marginalized? Psalm 7 is a lament, petition and prayer by an innocent person who was slandered, opposed and attacked by those who wanted to discredit and dishonor him. Psalm 7 is titled by three different commentaries as follows:
  1. A Cry for Justice (Ps 7:8-10). [Derek Kidner]
  2. The Blessing of a Good Conscience (Ps 7:3-5, 9-10). [Alec Motyer]
  3. Surviving Slander (Ps 7:1-2, 6, 14; 4:2; 5:6, 9). [George Zemek]
Justice. David's primary concerns and motivations were not just for his own personal vindication, but for universal justice before a Righteous Judge who examines each person's thoughts and emotions (Ps 7:8-10).

Conscience. Despite being slandered, opposed and attacked, David checked his conscience before God (Ps 7:3-5), instead of retaliating with the spirit of vengeance and revenge.


Only Ending the Old Way Produces a New Way

Yearning for a new way will not produce it. Only ending the old way can do that.

You cannot hold onto the old all the while declaring that you want something new.

The old will defy the new; the old will deny the new; the old will decry the new.

There is only one way to bring in the new. You must make room for it.


The Deceptiveness of Sacrifice

Jesus sacrificed himself for us. So we Christians often think that we ourselves should sacrifice, and that others better sacrifice like us! But such thoughts, as well intentioned as they may be, block our path to truly seeing the way to life because of the deceptiveness of our own selves (Jer 17:9). The following quotes are by Richard Rohr in his excellent book, Immortal Diamond, from chapter 2, What is the "False Self"?:

"Sacrifice" usually leads to a well-hidden sense of entitlement and perpetuates the vicious circle of merit, a mind-set that leads most of us to assume that we are more deserving than others because of what we have given or done.

When you sacrifice, you always "deserve." Sacrifice, much more than we care to admit, creates entitlement, a "you-owe-me" attitude, and a well-hidden sense of superiority.

Jesus knew that most notions of sacrifice ... are almost always manipulated and misused by people, most institutions, and warring nations.

Jesus was criticized because he was not ascetic like John the Baptist (Mk 2:18)... Ascetic practices (and various forms of self-sacrifice) have far too much social and ego payoff, which is why Jesus advised against anything pious or generous being done publicly (Mt 6:1-4, 16-18): "Don't even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing," he says. External religion is also dangerous religion.

Jesus, along with Buddha, had a much more foundational death to walk us through than mere personal heroics or public grandstanding. They point to an eventual and essential "renouncing" of the False Self, which will always be the essential death. It is at the heart of the spiritual journey.


Barely Able To Pray (Psalm 6)

Psalm 6:1-10, 2-3a

"Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony" (Ps 6:2, NLT). "...my whole being is shaken with terror" (Ps 6:3a, HCSB). "...my soul is in deep anguish" (Ps 6:3a, NIV).
From reading several different commentaries on Psalm 6, for some reason numerous (similar and different) titles for this sermon came to my mind that all seemed proper and appropriate to this psalm:
  • Crying in Helplessness.
  • Praying in Weakness.
  • Grieving Prayer.
  • Agonizing Prayer.
  • A Troubled Conscience.
  • Feeling Helpless and Hopeless.
  • Shaken by Weakness.
  • Broken and Shaken.
  • Overwhelmed, Yet Triumphant.
  • From Defeat to Defiance.
  • From Desperate Need to Great Assurance.
  • From Depression to Elation.


Joy Among Liars (Psalm 5)

Psalm 5:1-12; 11

"But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy" (Ps 5:11, NLT).

Cry out to God in your distress. Psalm 5 is a lament and a prayer petitioning the Lord in the midst of distress. Why was the psalmist distressed? The psalmist's distress is caused by liars and deceitful speech. However, the psalmist also expresses trust and finding refuge in the Lord's protection.

Lies hurt. The devil is the father of lies (Jn 8:44). The destiny of all liars is the second death (Rev 21:8). James understood how destructive lying words can be (Jas 3:5-6). We have all experienced that when lies are spread about you, it wounds, disheartens and devastates you. David experienced devastating lies said about him (Ps 4:2; 5:6, 9). If he allowed the words of liars to get to him he would become bitter and crushed. He would have retaliated in anger and rage. But when he took refuge in the Lord, he found joy amidst the scathing lies (Ps 5:11).


Peace Amidst Discouragment (Psalm 4)

Psalm 4:1-8, 7-8

"You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine. In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe" (Ps 4:7-8, NLT).

From Psalms we learn about the manifold emotional life of the psalmist, who is a believer and a person who has faith in God. So far, the following were considered:
  1. The Happy (Ps 1:2): A happy person knows how to live and what to think about (Ps 1:1-2).
  2. The Sovereign (Ps 2:6): The sovereign God rules despite the constant opposition from the rulers of the world (Ps 2:1-3).
  3. The Confident (Ps 3:6): People who pray are confident and fearless, even when the odds are heavily stacked against them.
In Psalm 4, we consider The Peaceful. We learn how the psalmist experienced peace and joy in the midst of different types of discouraging people. Consider this psalm in two parts:


Fearless Before Many Adversaries (Psalm 3)

Psalm 3:1-8; 6

"I am not afraid of the thousands of people who have taken their stand against me on every side" (Ps 3:6, HCSB).
  • Do you feel confident when the odds are stacked against you?
  • Do you live with no fear or anxiety in your heart when you are uncertain about your future?
  • Can you sleep peacefully when there are troubles all about you?
Outline of Psalm 3
Despondency: What he knows
Complaint: Many enemies
Dependency: What he does
Confession: God is my shield
Deliverance: What he experiences
Consolation: Sleep & confidence


God's King Rules (Psalm 2)

Psalm 2:1-12; 6a

"I have installed my king..." (Ps 2:6, NIV). For the Lord declares, "I have placed my chosen king on the throne...." (Ps 2:6, NLT).

From Psalm 1, we learn the "secret" of happiness, which is really no secret at all, since it is self-evident and freely accessible to anyone and everyone. For anyone to be happy, we simply need to be prayerful and watchful about how we live (Ps 1:1)--who we hang out with (including on the internet), and what we entertain and desire in our hearts (Ps 1:2)--what we delight in and meditate on, which God sees and knows (1 Sam 16:7).

In Psalm 2, the psalmist declares, "God's King Rules!" God's king will rule, regardless if the kings and nations of the world oppose and rebel against Him. A longer title would be "The world rebels, yet God's King still rules." The four natural parts of Psalm 2, each with three verses, are:


The Secret of Happiness (Psalm 1)

Psalm 1:1-6; 2

"Instead, his delight is in the Lord's instruction, and he meditates on it day and night" (Ps 1:2, HCSB). "But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night" (Ps 1:2, NLT).

(Alternate titles: Happiness. True Happiness. True Blessedness. The Blessed Life. A Truly Happy Person. A Truly Happy Man. Gateway to Happiness. Two Ways to Live. What Do You Think About? Prosperity as a Problem.)

A theme for each year. Happy New Year. At the end of 2014 I reviewed our six year story at West Loop, 2008-2014. Over the last few years, I chose a yearly theme for West Loop: gospel, grace, sanctification, the whole council of God, remembrance. For 2015 the theme is faith: "The righteous by faith will live" (Rom 1:17c). We do not become righteous by living by faith, but because we are righteous by faith in what Jesus has done for us, we live confidently with our heads held high.


Gospel Blessedness (Romans 5:1-11)

"Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:1, NIV). "Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us" (Rom 5:1, NLT).

"In the whole Bible there is hardly another chapter which can equal this triumphant text." Martin Luther.

So far in Romans, Paul writes convincingly that the only way of salvation is to be justified by grace, through faith. Now in Romans 5, Paul tells us what the practical benefits of this are.

Gospel fruits or blessings are:
  1. Peace with God (1).
  2. Standing in grace (2a).
  3. Rejoice in hope (2b).
  4. Rejoice in suffering (3-8).
  5. Saved through Christ (9-10).
  6. Rejoice in God (11).
Benefits of Being Justified Through Faith: Study Guide for Romans 5. David Guzik.


Dualistic Thinking

In Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation, Franciscan monk and national bestselling author Richard Rohr writes:

Dualistic thinking is operative almost all of the time. It is when you choose one side, or temperamentally prefer one side, and then call the side of the equation false, wrong, heresy, or untrue. It is often something to which you have not yet been exposed, or it threatens you or your ego in a way, or is beyond your education. The dualistic mind splits the moment and forbids the dark side, the mysterious, the paradoxical. This is the common level of conversation that we have in the world. Basically, it lacks humility and patience, and it is the opposite of contemplation.


Martin Luther and Pope Francis' Articulation of the Gospel, the Kerygma

Both Martin Luther and Pope Francis understand the need of all people to hear the gospel, not just initially for our salvation, but repeatedly, in all ways and in countless ways throughout our days.
"The law is divine and holy. Let the law have his glory, but yet no law, be it never so divine and holy, ought to teach me that I am justified, and shall live through it. I grant it may teach me that I ought to love God and my neighbour; also to live in chastity, soberness, patience, etc., but it ought not to show me, how I should be delivered from sin, the devil, death, and hell. 
Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law,) but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me : to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth.
Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually."
–Martin Luther, St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.


Invitation to James: Persevering through Trials to Win the Crown (Review)

Invitation to James: Persevering through Trials to Win the Crown, Biblical Preaching for the Contemporary Church (Wooster, OH: Weaver, 2014), Donald R. Sunukjian.

Biblical Preaching for the Contemporary Church made the Bible come alive. This small book of just 123 pages is not a technical commentary on James, but a very practical pastoral guide through James. Its intention is to help preachers learn how to effectively preach through James. Sunukjian's preaching style--which is slightly edited for the book in order to preserve its oral style--is amicable and relevant to our modern day experiences. His elaborate and interesting introductory stories and illustrations that starts each of the 14 sermons (see list below) make this already practical letter very relevant and relatable to the issues that all of us encounter in life and especially in the church.

A free PDF can be excerpted here.I received a free copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews on behalf of Weaver Book Company.

  1. A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (James 1:1–4)
  2. Knowing What’s Going On (James 1:5–12
  3. Keeping the Trial from Becoming a Temptation (James 1:13–21)
  4. The Mirror (James 1:22–27)
  5. Impartial Love (James 2:1–13)
  6. Living, Loving, Lasting Faith (James 2:14–26)
  7. Tongue in Check (James 3:1–12)
  8. Wise or Otherwise (James 3:13–18)
  9. He Gives More Grace (James 4:1–6)
  10. Not Thy Will but Mine Be Done (James 4:7–12)
  11. Don’t Leave Home without It (James 4:13–17)
  12. Money Talks (James 5:1–6)
  13. The Moment of the Lord’s Mercy (James 5:7–12)
  14. The Prayer of Faith (James 5:13–20)