But Now


I did not grow up in the thick of the racial divide that created separate schools, that required black people to ride on the back of the bus, that prohibited black people from drinking from the same water fountains as white people and using the same bathrooms, that painted black people as less than human. The very idea of such a society is unthinkable to me—yet it existed, not too many years ago.

I could not imagine our worship services without people of all colors of skin and socioeconomic backgrounds. I’m so glad you’re here. Why do I begin by talking about that? Because it is the closest I can get to understanding the divide that existed in Paul’s day between Jews and Gentiles.

And I must say that the divide wasn’t created by God. It was created by an exclusive understanding of the law. Yes, God chose Israel. Yes, they were his people. But he clearly said for them to love and care for the orphan, the widow and the foreigner.

God promised that, through Abraham, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. By Jesus’ day, the leaders of the Jewish faith had taken those promises and created an exclusive class that excluded anyone but them. Listen to how Paul describes the plight of Gentiles—non-Jews.

The divide was also created by the Gentiles. They did not seek after God. They worshiped their own gods. As a matter of fact, Paul is writing to the Ephesians who had the massive temple for the worship of Diana.

Who was Artemis The supposed goddess of fertility
Who worshipped her? She was probably the most worshiped deity in Asia and perhaps the world during Paul’s time.
What was worship like? Hundreds of eunuch priests, virgin priestesses, and religious prostitutes served her. Worship rituals were quite erotic.
By what other names was Artemis known? “Queen of Heaven”, “Savior”, and “Mother Goddess”
What role did Ephesus have in Artemis worship? Ephesus was considered neokoros for Artemis, which meant the city was the center for Artemis worship and responsible for maintaining the cult’s purity of worship.
How did Ephesus benefit financially from the worship of Artemis? The cult brought great wealth to the citizens of Ephesus because the temple of Artemis became the world’s largest bank during that time.
What were Artemis festivals like? Devotees came from all over the world to worship and celebrate during her festivals. Huge processions honored her statues. Celebrations were held with music, dancing, singing, dramatic presentations, and chanting of allegiance.
What were Artemis statues like? They portrayed Artemis as having many breasts–a symbol of her fertility. The main statue in her temple may have been a black meteorite because she was said to have fallen from the sky.
What was the Artemis temple like? The temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
What attracted the people to Artemis? The promise of fertility, long life, sexual fulfillment, and protection during pregnancy and childbirth; the seductive sexuality of her worship.


Who we were.

Paul describes the condition of Gentiles, all non-Jews, with five different terms. None of them are hopeful.

  • Separated from Christ—at least the Jews had the promise of a Messiah
  • Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel—estranged; no possibility of relationship
  • Strangers to the covenants of promise—Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic
  • Having no hope
  • Without God in the world—Gentiles in Paul’s day believed in all kinds of gods.

The absence of hope is a powerful thing. I will share two stories, one that illustrates hope’s presence, the other that shows its disappearance.

Elmer Bendiner tells the remarkable story of a B-17 bomber that flew a bombing mission over Germany in the latter days of WWII. The plane was hit several times by shells and flak, with some of the hits directly in the fuel tank. Miraculously, the bomber did not explode. When it landed, eleven unexploded 20mm shells were taken out of the fuel tank! The shells were dismantled, and to the amazement of everyone, all were empty of explosives. Inside of one shell was a note written in Czech. Translated, it read, “This is all we can do for you now.” A member of the Czech underground, working in a German munitions factory, had omitted the explosives in at least 11 of the 20mm shells on his assembly line. That worker must have wondered often if the quiet work he was doing to subvert the Nazi war effort was going to make any difference whatsoever to the outcome of the war.

On Decmeber 12, 1927 an S-4 submarine was rammed by a ship off the coast of Massachusetts. It sank immediately. The entire crew of 40 was trapped underneath. Every effort was made to rescue the crew. In the awful December weather, crews made heroic efforts to get to six known survivors. Near the end of the ordeal, a dee-sea diver, who was doing everything in his power to find a way for the six survivor’s release, thought he heard a tapping on the steel wall of the sunken sub. He placed his helmet up against the side of the vessel and realized it was Morse Code. The message being tapped from within: Is…there…any…hope?”

Someone has said, “We can live forty days without food, eight days without water, four minutes without air, but only a few seconds without hope.”

Before Christ we were without hope.

What Jesus did

But now.  I know what your tendency is. Your past life plays through your mind like a broken record. You can remember the ridiculous things you did, the people you hurt, the disappointments you caused.

The prevailing word in the middle of this section is “peace.” Notice what Jesus did. You who once were far off have been brought near.

The same phrase “far off” describes the boy who was a long way from his father.


For he himself is our peace. Peace is well-being in the widest sense; harmony between individuals; wholeness, particularly within human relationships.

Peace is not simply getting along with someone else. That’s tolerating someone. Peace is overwhelmingly positive.

So how is Jesus our peace? Notice his actions. Jesus did something to bring us peace.

  • Jesus broke down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.The dividing wall was the ceremonial and moral law that we could not keep. It was thrown up in our faces.
  • Jesus annulled the law. Jesus certainly did not abolish the moral law as a standard of behavior; but he did abolish it as a way of salvation. Whenever the law is viewed in this light it is divisive. For we cannot obey it, however hard we try. Therefore it separates us from God and from each other. “But Jesus himself perfectly obeyed the law in his life, and in his death bore the consequences of our disobedience.” John Stott
  • Jesus created a new humanity. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11, ESV)Racial, religious, social and cultural barriers have been abolished in Christ. A new human race.
  • Jesus reconciled both Jews and Gentiles to God. “Christ in his death was slain, but the slain was a slayer too.” Armitage Robinson
  • Jesus preached peace. Post resurrection appearances (Peter!)

Who we are

  1. We are citizens of God’s kingdom
    • So then you are no longer aliens but you are fellow citizens with the saints. (Ephesians 2:19, ESV)
    • We no longer live on a passport, but we really have our birth certificates, we really do belong.”—D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones
  2. We are children in God’s family.
    • And members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19, ESV)
  3. We are stones in God’s temple. 
    • built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22, ESV)
    • Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets—foundation is most important; teaching role. You cannot worship who you do not know.
    • Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone—a cornerstone holds up two walls, Christ joins both Jews and Gentiles and keeps the building in line.The temple had massive cornerstones. One excavated stone measured almost 39 feet! Jesus Christ is essential to both the unity and the growth of the church. Unless the church is constantly and securely related to Christ, the church’s unity will disintegrate and its growth either stop or go wild.
    • Into a dwelling place for God—a habitation; an abode. A temple. The temple in Jerusalem had for nearly 1,000 years been the focal point of Israel’s identity as the people of God. Now the focal point is the people of God.

God is not tied to holy buildings but to holy people.


God Has Never Written a Bad Poem

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)

Yesterday I shared in the sermon how the word workmanship is where we get our English word “poem.” As a follower of Christ, God is writing the poem of your life. You are his masterpiece, his work of art. If we truly believe that, we must understand that the poem does not determine its own direction, the lines do not write themselves. That is the work of the poet.

This is where we sometimes stumble. We don’t understand the lines God writes. We don’t see the last line of the poem. Some days we just feel incomplete, unfinished, in process. That’s because we are. God is always writing. I love this old poem from John Oxenham:

He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife-–
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this–

His way was right.

God has never written a bad poem. You are no exception.

Saving Face

Psychology Today says “The phrase to save face has been around a long time. Saving face signifies a desire — or defines a strategy — to avoid humiliation or embarrassment, to maintain dignity or preserve reputation.”

In Psalm 42, the Sons of Korah, part of the temple worship team, talk about saving face. Their strategy to avoid humiliation or embarrassment isn’t what you might think. It is found in a refrain repeated two times in Psalm 42 and again in Psalm 43:

Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:5,11; Psalm 43:5, ESV)

The Sons of Korah are in a predicament. We don’t exactly know what it is but we do know that they have cried “day and night.” They look back with fondness on how they used to “go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.” (Psalm 42:4) The throng has turned into a tumult. Songs of praise have become shouts of insult. Faith has been supplanted by doubt. “Where is your God?” the people shout.

Verses 5, 11 and 43:5 represent what counselors call “self-talk.” In fact, the Sons of Korah are talking to themselves. They have been talking about the problem; they now talk to themselves.

What you say to yourself may be the most important thing you say all day.

In the middle of the taunts, surrounded by enemies and flooded by their own tears they remind themselves to hope in God. Biblical hope requires definition. It is not anxious anticipation; it is confident expectation. Some of you are hoping your marriage will work, your dream job will come through, your son will come home or your friend will come around. Don’t stop praying for that. God can answer your prayers. But don’t put your hope in them. Put your hope in God who never fails, who always comes through. Hope in the God of the outcome, not the outcome.

Biblical hope requires definition. It is not anxious anticipation; it is confident expectation.

The Sons of Korah describe God as their salvation. The word salvation in these verses literally means “the salvation of my face.” In other words, God is the one by whom they avoid humiliation or embarrassment. He maintains their dignity and preserves their reputation.

If you have trusted Christ, this is true of you too. God’s most embarrassing moment–hanging naked between two criminals on a cross, beard plucked from his face, sword thrust into his side, blood and water gushing out–is your most dignified. His blood covers your sin, makes you righteous, tears down the dividing wall between God and you and ushers you into the very throne room of God Himself.

The Apostle Paul reflects on this with his own self talk in Romans 8:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32, ESV)

What shall we say? To ourselves and to others? God is for us! And if he would give you his only Son (which He did), will he idly watch as you wade through the difficulty of divorce, the disappointment of unmet expectations, the sadness of grief, the pain of a wandering child, the unthinkable diagnosis? Not at all.

God is for you. Let that echo in your mind today as you sit in the classroom, the waiting room, the courtroom or your living room.

Hope in God. God is for you.

Sticks and Stones

sticksstonesIt is a lie, a bald-faced lie. Your parents may have taught it to you. Even if they did, it doesn’t make it any less of a lie. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Words honestly hurt more often than sticks and stones break bones.

Yesterday morning I was struck by the Psalmist’s instructions on how to “fear the Lord.”

Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good?
Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:11-14, ESV)
David’s first admonition is to keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit! If I fear the Lord, it appears that my tongue will be the tell-tale indicator. In Psalm 15, David characterizes those who will dwell in God’s tent (a metaphor for living in God’s presence). His answer:
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart, who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, or takes up a reproach against his friend. (Psalm 15:2, ESV)
In a day where words fly faster than Boeing 747s and are as plentiful as the rain has been here lately, we have underestimated both the power and the priority of the tongue. Ministry leaders publicly destroy one another–in the name of God. Pastors throw barbs across the theological war zones of convictions and preferences, while unchurched onlookers are confirmed in their suspicions of a divided church.
James put the tongue in its proper place:

For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.  If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:1-12, ESV, emphasis mine)

Stop and listen to yourself…and to Jesus’ words:

 For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:34, ESV)

Sticks and stones may break your bones, and words can really hurt you…and others too. What is your mouth telling you about your heart?


Hope Hangs High

IMG_0340On Monday when we showed up in the flooded home in Beulaville, we found this picture tucked in the 2x4s. This home had four feet of water inside. Everything lost…or so it seemed.

Hope is only as good as what we hope in. If you hope for a sunny day in Marion, NC today, you will be sorely disappointed. Misguided hope always disappoints. But there is a hope that never disappoints. Paul writes about it in Romans 5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5, ESV)

Did you notice the object of our hope, what we hope in? It is the glory of God. We anticipate a day where God’s glory will be on full display. But until then, as followers of Jesus, we do some things that cause others to shake their heads and wonder.

We rejoice in our sufferings. We don’t rejoice because of our sufferings. We rejoice in our sufferings. What is the basis of our rejoicing? We know (not necessarily feel) what suffering does. Suffering produces endurance. Endurance isn’t the ultimate end–endurance produces character. And character brings us full circle and produces hope.

Hope does not put us to shame. Hope in the glory of God will never disappoint. Never. What causes us to hope above and beyond our circumstances? To rejoice in our sufferings? The love of God. And notice. It hasn’t been sprinkled or dripped into our hearts–it’s been poured into our hearts. Overflowing love. Abundant love. Extravagant love. Spilling over kind of love. Jesus crucified on the cross, in our place, for our sins kind of love.

Yesterday, sheetrock went up in this home. Hope hangs high on a once flooded wall. Hope hangs high in a once deluged house. Hope hangs high in a once uninhabited living room.


And if you have been justified by faith, if you have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, hope can hang high in your heart too. It will hang high on the wall of suffering. It will hang high in the living room of pain. It will hang high in the house of disappointment–but it will never, oh never, disappoint.

Hope in the Aftermath

Things clamor for our attention. At the best they are distractions, at the worst they are devastations. We are sometimes drawn away by our wants; at other times our worries dominate our thinking.

We are in Beaulaville, NC where the remnants of Hurricane Florence litter the landscape like wind-driven snowdrifts. FEMA trailers sit alongside empty houses as people anxiously anticipate returning to normal life. 165 days have passed since Florence came ashore.

Just like people here must do, you and I must determine where our focus will be. David faced the same dilemma.

Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. (Psalm 26:1-3, ESV)
David chose to focus on the steadfast love of the Lord. You can too. We walked into the house yesterday to begin work. Not far from the door, tucked in between the 2x4s, was this:
Are you trusting in the Lord without wavering? Is his steadfast love before your eyes? Or do your problems loom so large you can’t see Him? Perhaps you’re wondering how, in the middle of the trouble you’re facing, you can put “his steadfast love before your eyes?” David explains:
I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O LORD, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds. (Psalm 26:6-7, ESV)
Take a few moments to…
  • Confess any sin (wash your hands in innocence)
  • Thank God (out loud!)
  • Tell somebody (all God’s wondrous deeds)

Don’t Quit: You Shall Not Be Moved

Psalm 21 is a royal Psalm, a classification of Psalms written by or for a king. King David wrote the Psalm from a king’s point of view. And lest you think the Psalm only applies to King David, I would encourage you to consider the apostle Peter’s words:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9, ESV)

Since you and I are royalty (wow!) consider the prayer of Psalm 21:1-7…and make it yours. Where you see the word “king” put the personal pronoun “I.” Here’s how that prayer would go:

O Lord, in your strength I rejoice, and in your salvation how greatly I exult! You have given me my heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of my lips. For you met me with rich blessings, you set a crown of fine gold upon my head. I asked life of you, you gave it to me, length of days forever and ever. My glory is great through your salvation; splendor and majesty you bestow on me. For you make me most blessed forever, you make me glad with the joy of your presence. For I trust in You Lord, and through your steadfast love, the steadfast love of the Most High, I shall not be moved.

“Has God really done for me what he did for King David,” you might ask? He has, and more. The New Testament mentions five crowns!

The Crown of Life  Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12, ESV)

The Imperishable Crown Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:25, ESV)

The Crown of Righteousness  Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8, ESV)

The Crown of Glory  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:4, ESV) This crown appears to be for faithful pastors.

The Crown of Rejoicing Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 4:1, ESV) This crown is those you lead to the Lord, those you disciple.

So don’t quit. Years ago, in college, I came across this poem and memorized most of it. It’s worth the read.

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all up hill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns
As every one of us sometimes learns
And many a failure comes about
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell just how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far;
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

John Greenleaf Whittier

The Day of Trouble

Psalm 20 doesn’t avoid reality. David opens the Psalm with these words: “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble.” He doesn’t say if the day of trouble comes–it is sure to come. The day of trouble is an untimely death, an unexpected job loss, the disappointment of a wayward child, the devastating news that your husband or wife is cheating, a bill you never saw coming, a diagnosis that stopped you in your tracks, the unwelcome depression that crept into your life, your unrelenting boss.

Whatever your day of trouble, Psalm 20 is for you. Pray it for yourself. Pray it for someone you know.

May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah
May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the LORD fulfill all your petitions!
Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.
O LORD, save the king!
May he answer us when we call. (Psalm 20:1-9, ESV)
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. There isn’t enough blog space to recount all his names, but consider these.
When you struggle with the meaning of your life, he is Elohim, the God who created you.
When today seems like the worst day you’ve ever experienced, He is Jehovah, the Great I Am.
When you are weak he is El Shaddai, God Almighty.
When you need healing he is Jehovah Rapha, the Lord your Healer.
When you are in the valley, he is El Elyon, God most High.
When you are battling he is Jehovah Nissi, the banner flying high.
When your needs outweigh your resources, he is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord your Provider.
When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he is Jehovah Raah, the Lord your Shepherd.
When your life seems out of control, he is Jehovah Shalom, the Lord your Peace.
When you cannot defend yourself, He is Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts who fights for you.
When you don’t measure up, he is Jehovah Tsidkenu, the Lord your Righteousness.
When your tomorrow seems more daunting than today, he is Jehovah Shammah, the Lord who is There.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

I Once Was…But Now I

John Newton’s famous hymn includes the well-known line, “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” Paul encourages us in Romans 12:2 to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice in view of “the mercies of God.” Newton never lost sight of God’s mercies. We shouldn’t either.

So I’m wondering, how would you fill in the blanks? I once was ____________, but now I _______________.

I once was drunk,  but now I’m sober.

I once was greedy, but now I’m generous.

I once was an adulterer, but now I’m faithful.

I once was self-centered, but now I’m compassionate.

I once was addicted, but now I’m clean.

I once was a cheater, but now I’m honest.

I once was angry, but now I’m content.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, warned them about indulging in unrepentant sin. Those who do will not experience heaven here…or in the life hereafter.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, ESV)

And then he makes an astounding observation!

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11, ESV, emphasis mine)

And such were some of you. He’s writing to reformed idolaters, homosexuals, adulterers, thieves, greedy, drunkards, verbal abusers (revilers) and cheaters. They once were _______, but now they are ___________.

Live today in light of God’s mercies. We all need a gracious memory of the sin from which God has saved us.

I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.—John Newton

Amazing Grace

As promised here are notes to accompany this morning’s sermon. If you’d like to watch the sermon go to our Facebook: (https://www.facebook.com/gracecommunitymarion/).

Here is the link to the four benefits of the mercies of God from Robert McGee’s book, Search for Significance. Meditate on these. God will use them to remind you of who you are in him. Performance Trap

I also highly recommend Paul David Tripps’ Devotional, New Morning Mercies.

The video I was going to share from the movie Amazing Grace is attached here. Enjoy. What a changed life!