A Slice of Ancient History for Our Situation

Ambrose of MilanThe Church needs to know what battles to fight and what battles to let go. Toward that end, we can learn much from Church history. Or …, we could ignore the lessons of the past and just repeat the same mistakes? 

Let’s not do that.

Here’s a lesson from the past for the modern Church that we would be well to heed in our politicized and secular culture.

The following is from the Kairos Journal.

To God, What Belongs to God—Ambrose & Valentinian (385)

In the spring of 385, Milan stood on the brink of anarchy. Valentinian, the fourteen-year-old Roman Emperor, was trying to seize control of a church called the Portian Basilica. Supported by his Arian1 court, he wanted to establish a heretical church. Yet in the face of peril, Bishop Ambrose would not give in; too much was at stake. He was willing to be martyred if necessary, but he would not give up a church to the emperor.2

Emperor Valentinian reigned for a number of years alongside his half-brother Gratian, whose basic beliefs were soundly Christian. But when Gratian died in 383, royal support for orthodoxy collapsed. Arians increasingly dominated Valentinian’s court, and eventually they goaded him into demanding the Portian Basilica.

Bishop Ambrose rebuffed him, so the emperor made another request—that he be given the newly built cathedral instead. Ambrose again refused, and on Palm Sunday, things came to the boiling point. As the bishop was celebrating the Eucharist in the cathedral, he heard that the emperor’s functionaries were installing imperial hangings in the basilica. Ambrose carried on with the service, but a group of protesters soon formed in the city square. They seized a passing Arian priest and would have killed him had not Ambrose intervened by sending several deacons and priests to save him.

That night the emperor fined and imprisoned many of the leading orthodox citizens. The next morning the faithful responded by occupying both the Portian Basilica and the cathedral. The military encircled the basilica, but Ambrose and his flock stood fast. Citing Mark 12:17: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” they insisted that the basilica was not one of “the things that are Caesar’s.” Soon even Valentinian’s troops began joining the congregation in worship. Frustrated by the populace’s defense of their bishop and the Church, the emperor withdrew his troops.

Valentinian should have anticipated Ambrose’s resolve since this churchman had earlier excommunicated another emperor, Theodosius, for atrocious behavior in office. Bishop Ambrose did not take ecclesiastic prerogatives lightly. Neither should twenty-first-century Church leaders, whether the government sends in troops or mere bureaucrats.

God’s people must pick their battles; confrontation is not always the answer. But a Church which picks no battles, one which never finds confrontation the answer, is likely to be a puzzle, a disappointment, and an embarrassment to brothers and sisters in the fray and to “the great cloud of witnesses,” including Ambrose, who have gone before.

1 Arians denied the deity of Christ.
2 St. Ambrose, “Letter 61,” St. Ambrose’s Letters 1-91, in The Fathers of the Church, vol. 26 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1954), 365-375.

Why Christians Don’t Read Their Bible

I ran across this video by Skye Jethani and had to pass it along. In the years since I came to Christ in January of 1974 one of the major changes in my life is simply this–I read my Bible. One of the first things that occurred in my life after my conversion was that I suddenly wanted to read the Bible. I wanted to understand it. I wanted to know the storyline and theme of each book in it and how each book fit into the whole story of God’s plan to redeem mankind.

In the years since I came to Christ in January of 1974 one of the major changes in my life is simply this–I read my Bible. One of the first things that occurred in my life after my conversion was that I suddenly wanted to read the Bible. I wanted to understand it. I wanted to know the storyline and theme of each book in it and how each book fit into the whole story of God’s plan to redeem mankind.

I didn’t know then, but that hunger to know more was fueled by the Holy Spirit working in my heart to draw me into deeper intimacy with Christ. I became a Bible reader and over the years have read through the entire Bible probably more than 50 times and the New Testament, many more than that.

Both at New Song, the church I planted, and Trinity Church I have sought to encourage strong Bible reading plans for the whole congregation. At New Song, it was because I couldn’t imagine starting a church that wasn’t built on a sound knowledge of God’s word and at Trinity because when I first came I found a lot of good people who loved Jesus but who had a lack of Bible knowledge and understanding. They were trying to survive in a world bent on destroying their faith on a verse a day or only opening their Bible on Sunday morning–if that.

(Side Note: one of the reasons non-Christians won’t listen to Christians is that when Christians talk about their faith they simply don’t make much sense because they don’t read their Bibles!)

So, in the interest of helping my readers change their habit patterns and begin to truly sit under the authority of the Word of God, here’s a short video to help you understand why you may have a problem reading your Bible regularly and some suggestions on what you can do about it.

Special Note:  Skye also comments on one of the most misused and misquoted verses in the Bible which I have also written about here.

Now, I have to get back to my study of Galatians.

What is the Value of the Kingdom?


They are two of the simplest, shortest, and most profound of Jesus’ parables.

The text comes to us in a chapter filled with parables of the kingdom. In these three verses, two parables hinged together by a common phrase appearing in both. Read it again.

44The Kingdom of heaven is like the treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field 45Again, the kingdom of God is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

—Matthew 13:44-46

These are easy pictures, aren’t they?

A farmer, plowing a rented field, unearths a treasure of unspeakable value, bigger than anything he has ever seen, bigger than he imagined any treasure could ever be and so he goes and he begins to make plans to make the treasure his. The law of the land says, “finders/keepers,” as long as the land belongs to you.

So he buries the treasure again. He makes sure no one has seen him. Then he goes and sells all that he has to purchase the field. His joy is so great, he can’t think about anything else.

He has spent his life in this blue-collar job, slaving away at a job that exacts its toll in shortened years, arthritic hands and an aching back and now a treasure of unspeakable value is his.

While those images are swirling around in the disciple’s minds Jesus starts into a second, similar parable.

45Again, the kingdom of God is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

If the first parable blue-collar written all over it this one is the white-collar version of the same point.

Here’s this white-collar guy, a merchant of pearls, going from town to town, looking for the best deals he can get on pearls.

One day he finds the best deal of his life. All he can think about is the value of that pearl and what his life would be like if he owed that pearl of great price. He can’t think of anything else so he goes and sells all that he has so he can own that pearl and maybe someday, sell it to the highest bidder.

It is hard to know all of what must have gone through the minds of the disciples when they heard this parable for the first time. Jesus seems to have told his parables in such a way that their truth was apparent to those who had open hearts, but veiled to those who were not serious about doing the will of God.

Perhaps some people thought of the farmer in images of disappointment and dashed hope. They saw in the image of the farmer all those who barely eke out an existence and whose entire history has been a series of disappointments.

These are one-point parables with an infinite number of implications for life. Each hints at one probing question for our lives. So what was Jesus trying to drive home? 

In both parables, something is found and then valued so highly that everything is sold to obtain what was found. So let’s pull the parables apart so we can put them back together with understanding.

First, let’s eliminate some things.

This parable is not about buying salvation.

                  It’s not about buying the kingdom.

                  It’s not about selling everything and giving it away.

                  It’s not about hiding valuables in the ground.

                  It’s not about going out and buying a metal detector.

                  It’s not about investing in real estate, or becoming a pearl merchant.

Look for what is common in the parables as a clue to Jesus’ point. None of those things have anything to do with what Jesus is trying to get across to us.

Look at the end of verse 44 and 46.

Goes and sells all that he has and purchased the field.
Went and sold all that he had and purchased the pearl.

In both cases, the finder values the commodity they find more than anything and everything else they possess. More than the sum total of all they possess. Nothing keeps them from exchanging all they own.

                  All that they know

                  All that they are familiar with

                  All that they have worked to accumulate

                  All that they have trusted in

                  All that they had been given by others

                  All that they had inherited

                  All that they have previously desired

All of that stuff is counted as unworthy of possessing any longer when the two finders, find the real treasure, the pearl of great price. That’s what the kingdom of God is like to those who find the kingdom.

As you look at the simple phrasing, and the stark, bold, brute reality of what Jesus says, you can’t help but come to the conclusion that something really big and worthy is going on here—something that demands our attention.

Don’t get hung up on how the two finders come to their prize. The farmer is surprised by his great discovery. The merchant is filled with the joy of a search fulfilled. But in both cases, the men are mesmerized by the great value of the discovery they have made.

One pastor put it this way:

“The climax in Jesus’ stories of the man finding the buried treasure and in the merchant finding the pearl of great price is the eagerness with which each possessed their discoveries. Each, when he made the discovery ‘went and sold all that he had.’ Each did it joyfully. Neither felt he was making any sacrifice because the treasure he was possessing was worth so much more than what he had to offer for it that they did not hesitate.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like that. Once we see what it is worth to have God in our hearts, to have His spirit empower our lives, to follow His will, we realize that no matter what the cost, we want God above and beyond all things else.”

                                                                                (Charles L. Allen, When the Heart is Hungry, 19)

These are parables about the value of salvation, not the means of obtaining it. Jesus seems to be making a telling point:

If and when you do find the treasure, its value to you will eclipse everything else in your life. Everything.

Does the Kingdom mean that to you?

Let me suggest two implications of what Jesus is saying and try to apply it to our situation:

If the Kingdom of God has an incomparable value …

  1. Does your attitude and activity toward others reflect that incomparable value?Sometime, read Romans 12:9-21 and it’s list of imperatives about how the people of God are supposed to live. It is “a blizzard of commands” (not my phrase but an apt description) that the apostle Paul expects Christians to embrace with joy. Then ask yourself this question, “Who lives that way?”Answer: No one lives that way. It is certainly not what you see in media and entertainment venues. No one lives this way unless they are convinced of the value of the Kingdom.But, if you know the value of the kingdom, you are committed to growing in every one of those areas that Paul mentions.In fact, to not desire to live out this kind of lifestyle is to devalue Christ and His love. It is a slap the face of Christ and to devalue the sacrifice for sin that He made on your behalf.
  2. Does your attitude and activity toward stuff reflect the incomparable value of the kingdom?

Are you using your talents for Christ?

Are you using your time for Christ?

Are you maximizing your days for Christ or for yourself?

Every week there are people in your worship services, wherever you went to worship this week, who do not yet believe. They are looking to see if you are authentic. They are looking to see if there is any substantive reality to what you say you believe. Let me ask you a question.

“What are you doing differently as a result of last week’s message?”

Are you becoming a doer of the word or are you deluding yourself into thinking that merely hearing the word on Sunday is enough but applying it Monday through Saturday is optional?

The great John Chrysostrom, an early church expositor, was so eloquent that people would applaud his messages.  One day he stopped their applause with this comment.

“Stop your applause. You think that when you have appreciated you have applied. It is not your applause I covet but your application.”

Remember this, we invest in what our heart values most. What are you investing in?

You know what I think a legitimate question Jesus might ask Americans if He were to come back today? I think He might ask, “What are you doing with all that stuff? I blessed you with what you have to be a blessing to others. Why are you stockpiling it yourself?” 

Is it fair for me to ask readers these questions based on just these three verses?

Remember how parables are constructed. They are primarily about one thing and they should not be used to judge others but ourselves.

So if these parables are about the gospel of the kingdom being so valuable that no sacrifice is too great, then the probing question that is suggested by Jesus’ words is this:

“Do the exertions of my life reflect the surpassing value of the Jesus and His Kingdom?”

Does your attitude and activity toward God’s kingdom reflect the incomparable value of the kingdom?

You see, “spiritual poverty can be taken away at once.” (Allen 20).

Two young men in the Scripture:

                  Stephen (Acts 7:55,59)                 gave his life to gain the glory

                  Result:                                                             sees the glory of God

                  Rich Young Ruler (Mt. 19:22)     held on to what he had and left emptier than ever

                  Result:                                                             went away sorrowful        

What is it that will cause …

                  convenience seeking,
                  experience driven,
spiritually apathetic Christians

to embrace the incomparable value of the forgiveness offered in the gospel of the Kingdom?

“… a treasure so valuable, that at any price
(even the price on one’ life, it would be a gift.”

—(Robertson, EBC, 74.)

That is the superlative worth of the kingdom.

“The kingdom of heaven is worth infinitely more than the cost of discipleship, and those who know where the treasure lies joyfully abandon everything else to secure it.”

Expositor’s, vol. 8, 328

The disciples left all to follow Jesus. Paul said he counted all the things he left behind to be rubbish (Phil 3:); actually, he used a much less polite word.

Have you discovered the treasure in the field?

Have you discovered that Jesus, a relationship with the God of the Universe is worth everything you ever hoped for, and everything you have, and everything you might have?

Your life is wasted if you don’t embrace the glory of the gospel. Here’s how Jesus put it: “What does it profit a man or a woman, if they gain the whole world and lose his soul?” (Luke 9:25)

You have a good answer to that question?

No. You don’t.

Because nothing, nothing is more valuable than what Jesus offers to us in the gospel of the Kingdom. 


Why God Humbles After He Exalts

A simple and wonderful story of God’s faithfulness and what He has done and continues to do in Russia. Listen patiently. Listen expectantly. Listen without distractions. Then spend a few moments in prayer for the work of God in difficult places and for the servants who take the gospel there.

A Babylon Bee-ish Post (Satire)

Middle Aged Pastor Bucks Hipster Trend and Shaves Beard

Norman Church TowerFree Church pastor, Mortimer Johnson, boldly defied a national trend and shaved off his bushy, full beard and found out he was still relevant. When reached, pastor Johnson, who now desperately needs a tan, said, “I was afraid at first, what with all the young and not so young hipsters sporting beards and taking selfies that I might be considered irrelevant if I didn’t have one myself. But in the end, I decided to risk it.”

What he discovered he says is that the gospel and the Christ he preaches “is still the hope of the world and capable of changing lives.” Not only that, he also discovered that underneath all the tangled mess that use to hang below his jaw was a young man still in the prime of life. 

When last seen pastor Johnson, who goes by the name “pastor Mort,” was seen mounting up with wings like an eagle, hard at work in his study waiting on God and working to understand the faith that had once for all been delivered to the saints (Jude 3). A local group of bearded-pastors was considering an intervention to help pastor Mort return to the conformity of their cultural expression of relevance.

P.S. In support of Pastor Mort, I have also shaved.

Privileged for a Purpose

Here’s the article that EFCA TODAY MAGAZINE asked me to write. I hope it encourages you to live passionately for and like Jesus. They gave it a different title and formatting. You can see the final version by clicking on the link above.

Privileged for a Purpose

Why did God choose you? Why did he draw your heart to himself? Why were you placed in a family or a situation where you heard the truth of the gospel and bowed your …

Source: Privileged for a Purpose

New Article Published

PriesthoodEFCA Today contacted me back in February and asked me to write an article for the Summer edition. Here’s the link to the article that they titled “Commanded to Function as Priests. http://efcatoday.org/story/commanded-function-priests
The bio lists me as the pastor at Trinity Church. I left Trinity as Senior Pastor in June.