Archive for October, 2022


October 30, 2022

At the break of day every Saturday morning 20 men gather for food, fellowship and Bible study at my church. Beneath the cross high atop the church steeple, bathed in the light of the rising sun, we immerse ourselves in gospel light. As the rising sun illumines the darkness of the night, just so, in Fellowship Hall, the gospel illumines the hearts and minds of 20 sinners. Post tenebras lux—after darkness, light.

More famously, that phrase was the motto of a turning point in the history of western civilization—October 31, 1517—when a Saxon monk and college professor named Reverend Doctor Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the castle church door, the bulletin board in those days, in Wittenberg Germany. The announcement, written in Latin (ordinary parishioners did not read Latin, and few anything else), of his desire to have an academic discussion with his fellow monks exploded into what is known as the Protestant Reformation, an extraordinary spiritual awakening when “God poured out his Holy Spirit in great abundance on ordinary men” (John Knox) and changed the world.

It was a dark age, pervading even the church. Luther contended the church’s primary mission was to proclaim the good news of the Son of God’s atoning death on the cross for us and for our salvation, not priests peddling “indulgences,” an extra-biblical scheme. Luther strongly affirmed that the true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God. (#62 of the 95 theses). But money spoke louder than the gospel among the church hierarchy in need of cash in those dark days, and man-made rules and rituals were trumping sola scriptura—scripture alone—as ultimate authority for faith and practice. “The righteous shall live by faith,” as Paul told the Romans in 1:17, was the hinge that swung open the gate of heaven for Luther, the key verse of God’s Word that sparked the fires of Reformation. That faith is in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone as revealed in scripture alone—the gospel.  It is the possession of faith, not just the profession. It is trust in Christ’s dying, not man’s doing that saves sinners. It’s had wide ranging effects on Christianity and western civilization to this day. There are now between 800 million and 1 billion Protestants and 1.2 billion Catholics in the world.

It’s been a contentious 500 years. Salvation of one’s soul is the most important consideration that can occupy the mind of man, and being right or wrong in what is necessary has eternal consequences. The most careful Bible study and prayerful self-examination are of critical importance. If you could but glimpse one thousandth of the wrath of eternal damnation…

At the Diet of Worms in 1621, when Luther was confronted with papal authority and all the heads of state of the Holy Roman Empire and commanded to recant his writings, he said, with his life in the balance, “ … my conscience is captive to the Word of God … Here I stand.  I can do no other.  So help me God.” Five centuries later darkness is descending again, and here I stand, a stooped old man in the shadow of that cross high in the light of dawn, my soul warmed by the heat of gospel light, my heart captive to God’s Word, confessing my own unworthiness—a debtor in default claiming Christ paid my debt in his infinite love and mercy—and proclaiming the grace and glory of my Savior. O Lord, in your infinite mercy, shine your gospel light into our darkening age. We desperately need a Post Tenebras Lux Redux. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

See you in church.


October 23, 2022

Following my blog about Van Gogh this morning a good friend sent me the following link. I have heard the song before but I never knew the story behind it. Don McLean wrote and recorded this song in 1971 and it appeared on the flip side the 45 RPM record of “American Pie.” It is a song about and dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh. Here it is presented with a slideshow of his artwork. It will… blow… you… away.


October 21, 2022

Feeling like a failure…disappointed with how little you’ve accomplished of real significance in your life? Does that “coarse instrument, [your] neurotic and confused brain,” fail you more and more these days?

At age 27 Vincent Van Gogh was a failed missionary in the eyes of his sending church. He left the ministry.  He was a failure in the eyes of the love of his life who rejected his marriage proposal. He never married. He was a failure as an artist in the eyes of his contemporaries—he painted 900 pictures and sold 1 in his lifetime. Van Gogh battled mental illness all his short life—some of his greatest works were painted in an asylum—and committed suicide in 1890 at age 37. “At Eternity’s Gate” was painted two months before his death. He once lamented, “A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm himself by it.”

They do now, Vinny! And they pay unconscionable sums to do so. Over a century after his death Van Gogh is considered one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of western art. His literary efforts, in the form of hundreds of letters to his brother and a few friends, are also extraordinary.

Van Gogh wrote, “One cannot do better than hold on to the thought of God through everything, under all circumstances, at all places, at all times, and try to acquire more knowledge about him, which one can do from the Bible as well as from all other things. It is good to continue believing that everything is more miraculous than one can comprehend, for this is truth,” he wrote. “It is good to remain sensitive and humble and tender of heart.”   

Of Christ he said, “He lived serenely as an artist, as a greater artist than any other; for he despised marble, clay, and the palette, and worked upon living flesh. That is to say, this marvelous artist, who eludes the grasp of that coarse instrument – the neurotic and confused brain of modern man – created neither statues nor pictures nor even books; he says so himself quite majestically – he created real living people, immortals. That is a solemn thing, more particularly because it is the truth.” 

And of the hope of heaven he wrote,“… we may be allowed to retain a certain amount of good spirits in view of the possibility that we shall be able to paint among higher conditions and in another and different life, and that we shall reach that life by a process which perhaps is not more incomprehensible or surprising than the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, or of a grub into a beetle.”

Writer Jason Landel said of Van Gogh’s letters, “Far from mere mad rantings, they reveal a depth and intelligence, a search for truth. He reminds us that in a life lived with passion for the gospel, weakness and failure are not the last word.”

There’s no such thing as failure if you are in the family of God. You have won the Great Divine Lottery by the grace of our Sovereign God. You are his adopted child, worth more than all the treasure in the world … and no one can snatch you out of his hand. Rejoice with grateful praise for your Father.  You never had it so good, and wait till you step through that heavenly portal …

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29).

See you in church.


October 16, 2022

In 410 A.D., after more than “eleven hundred years of growth and triumphant progress,” Rome was overrun and sacked by the Goths under Aleric I, an act thought impossible. Marcus Dods, English translator of Augustine’s classic, City of God, written in the aftermath and a “best seller” for centuries, said in his preface, “It is difficult for us to appreciate, impossible to overestimate, the shock which was thus communicated from centre to circumference of the whole known world.” Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible, said from his cave in Jerusalem, “A terrible rumor reaches me from the West, telling of Rome besieged … life and property perishing together. My voice falters, sobs stifle the words I dictate; for she is a captive, that city which enthralled the world.”

In spite of the legend of barbarians at the gate, Aleric was a Christian and he issued orders to his troops that no one found in a church in Rome was to be harmed. Somehow the word got around and all churches were jam-packed with true Christians, foxhole Christians, and fake Christians and all were spared.

Dods added, “But as Augustine contemplates the ruins of Rome’s greatness, and feels in common with all the world at this crisis, the instability of the strongest governments, the insufficiency of the most authoritative statesmanship, there hovers over these ruins the splendid vision of the city of God ‘coming down out of heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband [Revelation 21:2].’” 

The economic, moral and cultural decline of Rome actually made the city a walkover for the Goths. The world would be equally shocked today if the USA fell, but the similarities—economic, moral, cultural, instability of government and insufficiency of authoritative statesmanship—between Rome then and the USA now are sobering in the extreme. But over the chaos of a Christless America there still hovers the splendid vision of the City of God coming down out of heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband. It is very much alive, earnestly anticipated and prayed for in a dwindling minority of the churches of America that still preach the whole gospel of Jesus Christ undiluted, uncompromised, unyielding to the cultural fads and deviant fantasies of the age—scripture alone as the only rule of faith and practice. Dear friends, I hope I have just described your church. God has always preserved a remnant against whom the gates of hell will not prevail. Should America, beset with foes without and within, fall, a thought that has ceased to be preposterous, the true church will prevail as in ancient Rome. And when the City of God arrives true Christians will be welcomed in, but the fake and foxhole variants will hear, “I never knew you.” Dear reader, do you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength? (Mark 12:30) Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, when he returns as Judge, will be infinitely more discerning than Aleric.

“Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

See you in church.


October 8, 2022

In the latter part of the last century, my family lived for over a decade in a serene Garden of Eden called Siesta Key, a sleepy-in-the summertime barrier island off Sarasota on the Gulf Coast of Florida. One full moon night my sunshine-deprived cousin from Portland, Oregon, and I paddled my canoe around the mesmerizing smoky mirror that was Robert’s Bay—our backyard—escorted by friendly dolphins periodically blowing abeam us. My cousin rested his paddle, pondered a moment and said, “You know, if your kids grow up here and never leave, they’ll never know what the real world is like.”

In the wake of recent events that profundity sounds like so much hyperbole. God only provides glimpses of heaven on earth for those who have eyes to see. He also sends wake-up calls, even catastrophic wake-up calls to remind us that this sin-stricken world, for all its magnificent beauty and bounty, is not our abiding place. If God wills the sun could dawn one day on Roberts Bay filled with shattered extravagant playthings and debris from every man-made structure surrounding it, as happened last week in a neighborhood a little further down the Gulf Coast. One fall day in the pleasant interlude between the summer season, when cooked human flesh obscures the sand, and the sky-darkening arrival time of migratory snowbirds, a Sovereign God ordained from all eternity a ruinous Noahic flood and whirlwind of biblical proportions. The day after the whirlwind we watched with wet-eyed sorrow the drone footage of Sanibel Island and Fort Myers Beach, our wonderful winter playground in our RV days. The islands looked like the work product of my whole squadron of bomb-laden F-100’s. At the risk of sounding like Bildad, Zophar, and Eliphaz lecturing Job on his ash heap to those now weeping on the ruins of their homes and livelihood, life is all about choices and those choices have consequences. We made the choice for island life for a delightful decade, and faced, with varying degrees of trepidation, the seasonal flee-or-stay decisions, but chose to retire near family in Ohio, and if the Lord wills, we could be awakened in the night to the sound of our house crashing down upon us from an unannounced tornado. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

Hobbs said life is nasty, brutish and short, and so it probably appears to many Gulf Coast pagans ruined by hurricane Ian. Holy Writ instructs otherwise, that life indeed has meaning, and the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, even through the hard times.

Brothers and sisters in Christ on the Gulf Coast, I feel your pain in deep soul-searching ways. It was God’s angel that drove that whirlwind as it spun across Florida. Your distraught unbelieving friends ask, “Where was your loving God in all of this?” God has an answer in Job’s profoundly painful lesson in theodicy—the justice of God in human suffering. Having lost his estate and all ten children in a day, he responded to the devastating news, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” And later, in response to a demand by an exasperated wife to curse God and die, he replied, “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil?”

That reply takes an extraordinary measure of God’s grace to say and sincerely mean, and that was just the beginning of Job’s travail. After seventeen unremittingly miserable chapters filled with well-meaning, even flawless logic woundingly applied by three friends, Job still expressed his conviction:

 “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

Several chapters later Job’s patience did appear to wear thin. He asked God, in effect, why me? There followed the most sobering reply that any Christian could hear in the midst of suffering. God did not answer the question. Instead he answered out of the whirlwind:

 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38: 4-7)

He asked Job dozens more questions whose answers only God knew. Job got the point. The finite mind of the creature cannot comprehend the infinite wisdom of the Creator. Job replied, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth … I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know…therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job had grown to realize through his horrendous trials that he did not, could not understand the infinitely higher thoughts and ways of God (Isa. 55:8-9) in the titanic spiritual struggle of the ages between God and the devil, “things too wonderful” to wrap his small mind around, but his trust in that Sovereign God who wins in the end was unswerving.  Old Testament Job may not have realized it, but that superhuman trust, that indefatigable faith was a gift from his Sovereign God. Then Job prayed for his inconsiderate trio of sideline theologians and the LORD restored his fortunes and blessed his latter days more than his beginning (Job 42:12).

Pastor Jeramie of Sanibel Community Church, now homeless, isolated from what’s left of his church and seeking refuge on the Southeast Coast of Florida, was talking with some mall shoppers this past week when another listening stranger asked, “Why are you so calm? You’re losing everything and yet you seem so nonchalant.” Pastor thought it an odd perception, as he did not feel that way at all, and replied, “Well, I’m a Christian and I pastor a church…” The man’s face lit up and he interjected, “Of course! You have God. I got it! It all makes sense.” And he walked away smiling.

Oh, merciful God, please grant a similar measure of Job and Jeramie’s trust and peace that passes all understanding to the rest of your suffering Gulf Coast children. Through it all may they grow in faith and every grace and find their all in thee.

“But I trust in you, O Lord; I say you are my God. My times are in your hand …” ­(Psalm 31: 14-15a).

 See you in church.

A Sunday School Synopsis

October 2, 2022

NO ONE can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3).
NO ONE can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:44).
NO ONE comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).
NO ONE takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord (John 10:18).
NO ONE can snatch them [true Christians] out of my hand (John.10:28).
NO ONE will take away your joy (John 16:22b).

The Doctrines of Grace in Jesus’ own words are six truth declarations by the Son of God that are so simple a child can understand them … and so profound they boggle the most brilliant mind. They all begin with a universal absolute, two simple words that emphasize God’s sovereign grace over every aspect of our salvation. Jesus is saying in his first no one quote that no one can even glimpse ultimate reality until he is given spiritual rebirth. Just like our physical birth, our spiritual rebirth is a miracle initiated by God. Until he acts man neither sees nor seeks God (Romans 3:11). Then and only then does he have eyes to see God’s truth and a heart inclined by the power of the Holy Spirit to accept it on faith. That is the “drawing” that is meant by his second no one saying—“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” We are drawn by the omnipotent power of the Holy Spirit working within us to incline our wills to want what he wants for us. “….for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Third, when Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” he was saying that ONLY through faith in the Son and what he has done for us can we know God the Father. Yes, that gets us in trouble in this fallen world, where “tolerance” is used as a cudgel to intimidate believers, but it is God’s truth and we cannot, we must not deny it (Mark 8:38). As Luther said “Peace if possible, but truth at all cost.” A long line of martyrs, beginning with Jesus’ disciples and extending to this very day, have gone to horrible deaths clinging tenaciously to this unshakable truth, and what an eternity they are having.

Fourth, “No one takes my life, but I lay it down of my own accord.” Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, a key part of his plan of salvation for sinners, was designed in the throne room of God before time and the world began. Jesus told Pilate at his trial, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” In the Garden God’s infinite wrath condemned mankind to an eternity in hell because Adam and Eve ruined his heaven on earth by their cosmic treason. But God, out of his infinite love for his creatures made in his own image, sent his Son incarnate to die a horrible death on the cross to redeem his chosen out of that human race. Only a perfect sacrifice—the Son of God himself—could meet the holy perfection required for admittance to heaven. The Son of God suffered the punishment they deserved and the Father credited their account with the Son’s costly payment. Amazing Atonement!

Fifth, having done such a costly thing on your behalf, rest assured that God never changes his mind, never quits mid-plan. Such a blessed soul as a redeemed sinner can never be lost again…ever—“No one can snatch them out of my hand.” Our repentance (our change of ways), our faith, and our blessed assurance are the gifts of a Sovereign God!

Sixth, if you reside secure in the palm of God’s hand, then yours is a joy, a God-given joy that no one can take away, an unshakable certainty, an eternal truth, a solemn promise guaranteed by the highest level of authority. You can be having a terrible no good horrible very bad day, but no one will take away your joy in the Lord. Your salvation is all of God from first to last in every detail. A glorious eternity awaits as a joint heir with the Son of God who died for you and drew you to himself as a brother, an adopted child of the Living God. Joy! What manner of love is this, that we should be called children of God?

… “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

See you in church.


October 1, 2022

Twenty-one years ago my wife and I packed up all our belongings and moved to a modest little gatekeeper’s cottage in the magnificent tree-covered mountains of North Carolina. At age 57 I gave up the rat race to accept a position as resident manager of Ridge Haven, a Presbyterian (PCA) Camp and Conference Center. As my wife and I convoyed northbound from our home in Gulf Coast Florida, she in the family car and I in my pickup truck, both loaded to the gunwales with our belongings, I had an extended conversation with God. My life to that point had been a frantic race for success as the world measures it. I prayed to God that he would enable me to focus my mind and energy on his kingdom from that point on. He had been my co-pilot (in my mind) far too long and I asked him to please take over the controls, I had made a hash of it for long enough. Answered prayer. The Lord’s Mountain Vineyard at Ridge Haven could not have been a better place to start. Within a few years listening to a multitude of great preachers in a heaven on earth environment, I was inspired to write a little book entitled “No One…,” whose message has become the consuming theme of my codgerhood–the gospel story of the Sovereign Creator God of the Universe, the only hope for every human who ever walked this earth, as he gave me the light to see it. The inspiration was all his, the errors are all mine. Some excellent editors at Christian Focus Publications kept me on track, as did a number a number of pastors and theologians listed in the book, for which I am profoundly grateful. Tomorrow I will lead a concluding discussion of the book in my Sunday school class, probably for the last time. I discovered last Sunday that my recall no longer responds well in front of a group. Former slave ship captain turned Anglican priest/hymnwriter John Newton spoke for me in his old age: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.” That is the bottom line of my little book, my life, and the message of my Savior Jesus Christ. To God be the glory!

In the manner of John Newton’s hymn, Amazing Grace:

A gospel hymn
by JD Wetterling

No one perceives Eternal Truths,
The dead don’t comprehend.
Unless by Grace rebirth ensues,
When a hard heart He’ll mend. (John 3:3)

No one comes to Immanuel
Nor does he even try,
Unless there’s wrought a miracle
By Him who dwells on high. (John 6:4)

No one by guile gains Abba’s side,
Of ways there’s only one.
Works righteousness will not abide,
Trust in His Son alone. (John 14:6)

No one cut short Christ’s ministry.
He died by God’s own plan.
He shed His blood upon a tree
To save this sinful man. (John 10:18)

No one for whom the Savior died
Can ever lose His love.
In Christ’s own palm I will abide
Till home in heav’n above. (John 10:28)

No one can steal my great delight,
It’s for eternity.
Tho devil try with all his might,
Christ is my surety. (John 16:22)

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