Humble yourselves and Let There be Tears

These are verses that are probably not heard very often in sermons on Sunday. This is an exhortation that is both challenging and needed, however.

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. (James 4:7-10 NLT)

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Lessons on Suicide Prevention from Rich Van Pelt

(cross-posted from Moving at the Speed of Creativity)

This evening the four eldest members of our family attended a presentation about suicide prevention by Rich Van Pelt, a church youth leader from Colorado who has authored several books on helping teens in crisis. I’m not sure how many people were present in the sanctuary at Crossings Community Church in north Oklahoma City, but I’d guess over 1000.

Attendees listening to Rich Van Pelt speaking at Crossings Community Church in OKC

Quite a few members of our church‘s youth group attended, along with parents, elders, and Sunday School teachers. Our community has experienced a series of teen suicides in the past year, and the ideas Rich shared are both timely and needed.

Rich Van Pelt speaking at Crossings Community Church in OKC

I did not have my laptop at the presentation tonight, so I used my iPhone to live-tweet it. Unfortunately I didn’t see a tweet from Crossings Church about the hashtag they’re using (#Cultivating) for this spring speaker series until after the event. I created a Storify to chronologically archive the tweets I shared from the event. Many thanks to Rich Van Pelt for sharing this information and these strategies to pro-actively address teen suicide, and thanks to Crossings Church for hosting this event for our community. Since these issues are relevant to a wide audience and not strictly theological / faith focused, I’m posting this here in addition to my Christian blog, Eyes Right.

Learn more about Rich and his ministry career serving kids in crisis in this four minute video from June 2012. His books and other support resources are available from Zondervan.

Remember Hebrews 13:20

Hebrews 13:20-21

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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More Notes from Philip DeCoursy

These are my notes from Philip DeCoursy’s evening sermon at our church today. He is a special guest pastor for a series of messages. The George Whitfield Society here in Oklahoma City brought him in and our church is hosting his sermon series.

CS Lewis warned us about the two extremes regarding prophesy
– some ignore it
– some become fanatical about it and opt out of their responsibilities in life

Loving, living, and laboring

On loving:

But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Mac-e-dōni-a. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; (I Thessalonians 4:9, 10 NKJV)

The world and the culture is marked by lust
– the church should be marked by love

Lust is selfish, it consumes, it devours, it takes and leaves nothing in its place
Love is about serving others, thinks about what is best for others
– love enriches and adds

If there is no change in someone’s life when God enters their life something strange is going on

We had two choices on going to church in my house growing up, you can go willingly or unwillingly!

You don’t need to be an identical twin to be a brother, do you?

This weekend could be a springboard

Value your faith like a Presbyterian, share your faith like a Baptist, organize your faith like a Methodist, enjoy your faith like a Pentecostal

Where love is absent it doesn’t matter what is present, where love is present it doesn’t matter what is absent

Loving and living
– love is a verb, it is deliberate action

Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to a more “rooted and responsible life”
– live a quiet life that does not neglect responsibilities here and now
– those who do the most in this life are thinking the most about the next one

Work feverishly to be at rest

But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Mac-e-dōni-a. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing.
I Thessalonians 4:9-12 NKJV

“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” movie with Denzel Washington and John Travolta

The real heroes are the ones who bring home the milk to their family

With fanatics you can’t get them to change their mind or the subject

You have to avoid the temptation of going around and trying to fix everyone
– here we are talking about busybodies and people who act as a pain in the neck
– revisit your hermitology, this world IS broken and out of shape
– come to terms with the fallen condition, you can’t fix everything and God hasn’t called you to do that
– this doesn’t mean let the world go to “hell in a hand basket”
– don’t be in everyone’s business as a nuisance, this is what Paul is saying

There is vanity all around us
– in a fallen world we have a tendency to see the faults of others with greater clarity than our own

Matthew 7 message
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5 NKJV)

Dwight Moody was the Billy Graham before Billy Graham

Aspire to live a quiet life

Work with your own hands

Paul says if a man doesn’t work he shouldn’t eat
– this not address those who don’t have the capacity for work
– work isn’t a 4 letter word in the bible
– certainly frustration has been added to work because of the fall
– work existed before the fall

God is presented as a craftsman or a laborer, a potter, a metalsmith

You and I are called to be good employers and good employees
– punctual and passionate in all things we do

Are you working for The Lord each day?

Forget about your wages, the raise comes later- we are all working for God! – Philip DeCoursy

Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things. (Titus 2:9, 10 NKJV)

If we can’t win the acceptance of non-believers today, lets at least win their respect
– lots of postmodern thought and beliefs today

There should be no defrauding of the church’s money

Burdens are to be shared and shouldered

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For each one shall bear his own load. (Galatians 6:1-5 NKJV)

Paul Powell’s book “Looking Back”

When we know Jesus is coming back we need to get urgent about loving each other

Comfort one another with these words:

“But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. ”
I Thessalonians 4:13-18 NKJV

The gospel causes Christians to approach death differently

Death is the black limousine which leads us to the gates of glory

Martin Luther left his dear 14 year old daughter, Magdalena

Christians die well in the hope of the gospel

Paul and the gospel writers were expecting Jesus to return in their lifetime

The grief, the relief, and the belief

John Piper: You can never question God, but you can ask Him questions

Get up in the morning and talk to yourself before your self talks to you

Paul challenges us to grieve within limits
– temper our grief with the knowledge that Jesus is coming again

It’s not goodbye in death, it’s only goodnight and you’ll see them in the morning

The belief aspect: We do have hope in the resurrection
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
I Thessalonians 4:13, 14 NKJV

You can’t be a Christian and deny the bodily resurrection of Christ

Forget the Joel Olsteen’s of the world and the prosperity gospel preachers
– when you choose to follow Christ you will suffer and lose friends for Christ

John Stott: Paul had an antipathy to ignorance (theological imprecision)
– idea that “ignorance is bliss” is balderdash

Ignorance is a blight

I hope you are Bible moths, eating up scripture each day (from John Wesley)

Sound doctrine has a way of setting us at ease in the struggles of life

Rapture, resurrection and reunion

1 Corinthians 15
“Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by CÄ“phas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore, whether it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
I Corinthians 15:1-11 NKJV

Acts 1:11
“And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” ”
Acts 1:10, 11 NKJV

Are we each living with our bags packed, ready to go when God calls?

The second death is the separation of the soul from God forever, a terrible thing…

The body which God will raise will be fully filled with His Holy Spirit

“Laugh Again” by Charles Swindoll

Death can hide but it cannot divide

Luke 7:15

So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. (Luke 7:15 NKJV)

Voting to Leave PCUSA and Join ECO

Last night our congregation voted 815 to 55, with 1 abstention, to leave the PCUSA denomination and join ECO. This is a panoramic photo of our sanctuary while we were waiting for the vote results. This is the fullest I’ve ever seen our church!

Waiting for the vote results

I’ve posted a 21 minute edited video from last night’s vote to YouTube. The announcement of the result starts at 12:17, which you can view directly using this link.

Unfortunately the local media coverage (both in last Friday’s Daily Oklahoman / on NewsOK and this morning’s local NPR radio report) have focused almost exclusively on the issue of gay ordination. As I explained in my public comment on the NewsOK article (and others at our church have continually done) this is one element, but not the main issue which led to this historic congregational vote and decision to leave our denomination for ECO.

To learn more about the reasons our church decided to follow this path, I highly recommend Mateen Elass‘ March 30th editorial printed in the Edmond Sun newspaper, “First Presbyterian Church seeks new path.” Mateen read most of that article Sunday prior to his sermon for our congregation.

NewsOK / The Daily Oklahoman posted an article today about the results, “Edmond congregation votes to dissolve denominational relationship.”

Commenting Publicly About Our Church’s Congregational Vote

This afternoon I left the following comment on the January 25th NewsOK article, “First Presbyterian Church of Edmond set to take historic vote.” This comment went on the NewsOK article comment thread and also cross-posted to my Facebook page. These are contentious but important issues. Please keep our congregation in your prayers tomorrow as we take this historic vote, and the deliberations of our Presbytery in the week to come on whether or not they will “graciously dismiss” us.

As highlighted in this NEWSOK article, our congregational vote tomorrow at FPCE has to do with the authority of scripture, the central tenets of our Christian faith, and church discipline. Members of our church have been working for over a decade to reform our denomination from within, and after long study (and work) determined that is not going to be possible. Our vote tomorrow is the culmination of YEARS of work and study.

One of the core beliefs of our congregation which we are standing firm on, for example, is that faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the unique path to salvation. We are not universalists or Unitarians. This is one of several core faith issues about which there is dissension in the PCUSA denomination. The Evangelical Order of Presbyterians (ECO) denomination is a new Presbyterian denomination founded in 2012 which will offer many opportunities for our congregation to focus more on evangelism, mission and discipleship rather than denominational differences.

As to the issue of “being afraid of gays and lesbians” or “hating” the LGBT community, I can assure you we are not a congregation of fear or hate. I deeply regret and mourn the hateful behavior and words of some people using the title of “Christian” who have made the term “evangelical” regrettably associated with “anti-gay” in many contexts. As Tim Keller has pointed out, “Being a heterosexual doesn’t get you into heaven.” Being gay certainly does NOT condemn someone to hell either. As individuals and churches, these are issues we need to understand better as well as communicate more clearly… and with love.

First Presbyterian Church of Edmond has a wonderful Wednesday night class this semester, in fact, discussing Andrew Marin’s excellent book, “Love Is An Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community.” This class is providing a challenging and needed opportunity for us to grapple with the complex and difficult questions which surround the LGBT community and Christian churches. Anyone is welcome to attend, as well as chime in our online discussions about the book (and DVD series by Andrew) on

ECO - A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians

Session 2: Love is an Orientation

These are my notes from session 2 of our Wednesday night study at church based on Andrew Marin‘s book, “Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community” on January 16, 2013.

Andrew sees himself as “a regular guy trying to love and love in real time”

Billy Graham’s response when challenged about why he was associating with Billy Graham: “the Holy Spirit’s job is to convict, God’s job is to judge, my job is to love”

affirmation: the dignifying and
– very different from the cultural definition of affirming

Marin Foundation seeks to VALIDATE everyone
– validation is our goal: we must validate and dignify and legitimize everybody’s story…

People seem to be bent on “invalidating” the stories of others
– agreement and disagreement must be secondary issues to what is being presenting

What does reconciliation look like?
2 types in our culture
1- cultural version: similar to affirmation (when you drop what you believe and come over to my side, so we agree on everything political and social)
2- Biblical version: Jesus reconciled as the hinge: humans to God, and humans to humans
– we should be seeking reconciliation to people most different from us
– story of the Roman centurion shows this

The definition of reconciliation for Andrew is “fidelity and the intentional pursuit of others”
– what is an ‘enemy’ (one that is antagonistic to another)

It’s easy to say “love your enemies”
– that preaches well on Sunday, but it’s VERY hard to do today

Proverbs 16:7

When the Lord takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them.

1 Timothy 4:15

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.

Progress is relative to what you’re comparing to

Progress is a pioneer advancing into new territory

-Warren Wiersbe

God brings order to chaos
– it’s our job to be those pioneers, to have love as an orientation, so people remember us because of our LOVE

Key we need: To start releasing self-imposed burdens so we can be free to love, to learn, to build bridges

Other notes:

Practicing gays and lesbians can’t separate their sexual behavior from their identity

Later we will hear from some a physician who has worked with LGBT AIDS patients
– don’t lie to me, and don’t leave me

Heidelberg Catechism question 52: The one who will sit on judgement for me is the one who went to the cross to justify me for my sins
– there is no sin beyond the G

Recommended reading from Curt: Go to and read:
Justin: What I Believe
Ron: Love that Does Not Count the Cost

These are the discussion questions we addressed at different tables, when we divided up / moved around the room:

Questions for Discussion: Love is an Orientation

homosexual is ok to use as an ADJECTIVE but not as a noun
– it’s best to use LGBT or GLBT as a noun

Love is an Orientation: Session 1

These are my notes from the first evening of our new Wednesday evening adult study class at church, “Love is an Orientation.” We are principally using the book the book “Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community” by Andrew Marin as our discussion text. We are using the videos and discussion guide which is also available for this book. We’ve setup a website,, to use as a space for conversations and discussions about the book and the issues it raises.

Tonight we started with a video interview of Tim Keller, evangelical pastor in NYC

What do Christians have against Homosexuality? Tim Keller at Veritas

Some Christian churches are ignoring what the Bible says about homosexuality to engage with homosexuals, others

Some Christians will love and befriend their Hindu and Muslim neighbors, but hate their homosexual neighbors

Heterosexuality doesn’t get you to heaven, so how could homosexuality send you to hell?
– Jesus talks about greed 10 times more than adultery
– you know when you’re committing adultery, but almost no one thinks they are greedy because they are comparing themselves to others

Will greed send you to hell? No. Self-righteousness will, believing you don’t need God.
– what does get you to heaven is a personal relationship with Christ and confessing your sins / your need for him

Of course homosexuality is a sin, greed is a sin too
– unfortunately many Christians hear this and think “if you’re a homosexual you’re going to hell” and that’s wrong

What sends you to heaven or hell is not just “I’m a homosexual” or “I’m a heterosexual”
– you can’t be your own savior through your own actions and good works
– sin underneath the sin which is “I am my own savior” will send people to hell

Thoughts from John on where he’s been with these issues:
– finally started reading the Bible in his late 20s, looking for how he can justify himself in those pages
– my wife pointed out I was reading the Bible as a medical journal and trying to get it to conform to me
– when I started letting the scriptures shape me, looking for the meaning life
– it was a challenge for what the kingdom of God looks like
– what justice looks like is not fighting just for your own way, it’s submitting to others

1991 in General Assembly had a report on human sexuality
– was a culmination of the first phase of this battle in PCUSA
– all about “justice love” (anything is ok as long as it’s between two consenting adults and justice is involved)
– I remember thinking that this has nothing correlated to what I’ve been reading in the Bible

When I was called to Austin Seminary the pastors said, “Why?”
– my answer was I wanted to read the theology that was stimulating the other side of this conversation
– I tried to approach the issue with an open mind in seminary

Entire time I was in professional ministry these issues kept coming up and distracting both sides of the church from doing anything productive, in my view
– so I lost interest in the conversation
– I never heard anything new
– I am always open to hear new ideas, read a new book
– I came to this class hoping maybe there is a way to elevate the conversation, to be more Christian and converse on a better level

Matt’s perspective
– I’ve had gay friends all my life
– my first best friend was gay, he didn’t know until he turned 30 but I knew it when he was 6
– something wrong with me? I always seem to attract gay people!

I am about introducing God’s big plan for people
– that is often about restrictions
– that’s about all I learned

Curt’s perspectives
– John went to a liberal seminary and came back
– I was one of the token liberals at my evangelical seminary because I was middle of the road
– I find myself drawn to the liberal-progressive arguments because they have heart, but when I examine them closely they don’t stand up to rational analysis

Robert Gagne’s book, very scholarly and authoritative
– his book doesn’t have heart

I am really tired of all the factionalism

Keep thinking of Gamaliel, Acts 5
– sitting on Sanhedrian, reminds others we’ve seen uprisings before
– if it is not of God, it will fail
– I wish our big church could wait and see what unfolds: 50 years, 100 years
– it may be a long time

I would like to live in the tension
– I see liberal / progressives cutting all kinds of corners in their interpretation of scripture
– on the conservative side, we see very rigid interpretations that is all ‘head stuff’ where they are not thinking with their hearts

I’d like to encourage for people to live in the tension until we can discern together what is God’s will in this matter
– that’s where I am and why I put this class together

Andrew Marin is a very interesting guy
– very conservative, evangelical Christian
– was shaken to the core when 3 of his closest friends came out as homosexual within 3 months of each other
– moved with his wife to Chicago, has lived for 10 years in Boys Town living with LGBT community learning what things are like for them, and what the church has been like for them

Watching these videos makes me realize I’m a homophobe
– this is like discovering I’m a racist environmental

We have many stereotypes that are wrong
– not all LGBT are out, loud and proud, and want to have nothing to do with Christians

Laura teaches human anatomy and physiology, and is the sponsor of the “Equality Club” at her school which is the LGBT club
– I asked her to come as a resource to this class

Now sharing our names and 1 thing related to these issues that we’ve wanted to hear addressed. Here are the questions we shared together:

– Why is it hard to be honest and open about these issues?
– Why is this such a big deal?
– What’s the church’s response to homosexual actions?
– Are people born with their sexuality defined?
– What happens to unrepentant homosexuals?
– Why as a society are we singling out this one issue?
– What are heteros so afraid of?
– Are there any gray issues here?
– Can we explore the complexity of sexuality and sexual identity?
– hOw can we be on the compassionate side and act against hate?
– What does ‘living in the tension’ about this issue look like?
– How does God want ME to address this?
– Could we welcome people into our church community who are gay and support gay lifestyles?
– Why do we spend so much time talking about the gospel of Jesus determining if you go to heaven or hell, rather than what it looks like to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ / in his kingdom?
– How can we reclaim our brothers and sisters who we (in many cases) have pushed aside our out (even of our churches)?

I mentioned Google’s project “It Gets Better” and in my question asked how we can be on the compassionate side of this project, which is (I think) an outstanding project. It’s seeking to give hope to kids to not give up and commit suicide in their teen years if they are gay and struggling in their school / family / community. As Christians we (I think) need to be on the COMPASSIONATE side of this discussion, NOT on the (or a) HATEFUL side.

It Gets Better Project - YouTube

John’s point: We should keep all issues of sexuality in our minds
– all the colleagues I’ve known who have lost their positions in the church, and in 1 case even their ordination, have been over heterosexual behavior

money, sex, power: all of these things have a lot of control and influence over us

Discipline In The Church & Our Relationships

Discussion of these verses led to a lot of comments today in our Sunday School class. As Amy Schulke pointed out, this passage does NOT say “If your brother or sister sins, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector.” There are many things Jesus calls us to do when it comes to situations involving discipline.

I added that my experiences as a parent and father have really illuminated my own understanding of discipline and the ways God asks us to approach discipline in our relationships. As a parent I should never discipline my children with a heart filled with condemnation and punishment. My heart in enforcing discipline should always be filled with love. I discipline my children not because I am angry or want to bring them pain: I discipline because I want their behavior to change and come back in line with what is expected. If I did not love my children I would not discipline them. Instead I might ignore them or punish them.
I am called as a parent and follower of Jesus to discern right behavior and act properly in response to those behaviors. Sometimes this means making hard choices and doing difficult things which would be MUCH easier to avoid.
Matthew 18:15-17 NIV
“”If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”See it at

Confess Sins Regularly

James exhorts us to normalize our confession of sins, and to confess our sins to each other so we can lift each other up in prayer. He reminds us that our prayers to God are powerful when we are “living right” with Him. I think this reminder that our prayer life and prayer power are different if we stray from God’s path for our lives is needed. God always listens to our prayers, but the effect of our prayers on ourselves as well as in the world changes depending on the course of our lives.


James 5:16 MSG
“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.”

See it at

Clear Teaching on the sin of homosexual behavior

These verses from the apostle Paul are clear and unequivocal concerning the sin of homosexual behavior.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

See it at

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