A Canary in the Coal Mine

(May 23rd) Note: A previous version of this post was flawed, sinfully so.  Repentance demanded the following rewrite. 

There’s a canary in the coal mine, and it’s gasping for air.  The death of this poor bird doesn’t bode well for the viability of the mine, nor for those working to make it prosper.  If the mine is the otherwise “orthodox” church in the Santa Cruz area – meaning, churches who still hold to the true Gospel according to Scripture – then the canary is our understanding of how men and women should live in marriage and in the body of Christ.  Christians who depart from Scripture in this matter weaken the body of Christ in Santa Cruz.

Why is this matter worthy of attention now?  I’m prompted in part by the prevalence where I live of something called “egalitarianism,” which stands in contradistinction to the biblical standard of “complementarianism.”  Egalitarianism, in short, is the assertion that there are no essential, God-given distinctions between men and women when it comes to their roles in life, especially as those roles pertain to life in the family and in the church.  Men and women are equal, not only in their standing and value before God, but also in matters of authority and ministry.  So says egalitarianism.  Contrary to this position, but faithful to God’s Word, is complementarianism.  To my knowledge, the term complementarianism originated in the early 1990’s with a response to what was then called evangelical feminism (see Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem). Complementarianism is simply the effort to say well what Scripture teaches; namely that men and women are equal before God, and yet different.  We have different God-given roles and responsibilities in life that complement each other, both in the church, and in the family.  Christians who depart from this standard of equal but different, equal but complementary, do a disservice to themselves, their families, and the church as a whole.

Three Critiques

Because I’m writing here as a critique, I will not take time to state the positive case for biblical complementarianism.  That case will become clear, I hope, in the critique itself.  At the end of this post, I’ll mention a few resources that might prove helpful for those who want to learn more.  I’ll also mention, right now, several sermons I’ve preached in the past that directly address aspects of this question.  The first (available here) has to do with gender roles in the body of Christ, especially as these roles pertain to the ministry of a pastor-elder-overseer (all the same New Testament office).  The others (available hereherehere, and here) have to do with gender in general, based on God’s creation of Adam and Eve as male and female.  Let me encourage you to avail yourself of these resources, even as you consider what follows.

Those who teach contrary to Scripture with respect to God-given distinctions between men and women make at least three errors.  Wanting to be charitable in my critique, I’ve couched these three errors as things such teachers “misunderstand”:

Egalitarianism misunderstands the revelation of creation order across time – The fact that men and women are radically equal, and yet beautifully distinct before God, with distinct roles and responsibilities, appears on the pages of Scripture from the very beginning of creation.  I won’t belabor the point, but for a moment hear the words of God himself: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18, ESV).  The result of this resolution on God’s part is Eve.  She is not Adam’s equivalent (though she is his equal in terms of worth and value before God).  She is his helper.  Even the manner in which God creates Eve – out of Adam’s rib, versus out of the dust of the ground – makes this role beautifully clear.  Again, I refer the reader to the sermons noted above.

It is folly to suppose that sin, in Genesis 3, destroyed this “radically equal, beautiful distinct” standard for men and women.  God’s response to sin alone, at the end of Genesis 3, maintains the distinction, not to mention the rest of Scripture.  On multiple occasions, the Apostle Paul reaches back to creation when he teaches about manhood, womanhood, and their expressions in the church and family.  Consider, for example, his words in 1 Corinthians 11, when Paul deals with a matter of role and authority: “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God…For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.  For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.  Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:3, 7-9, ESV).  Clearly Paul thinks there are important, God-given distinctions between men and women.  That these aren’t a distinction in value becomes clear in verses 11-12: “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.  And all things are from God.”  Paul wasn’t a misogynist.  He was a biblicist.  Egalitarianism doesn’t hold the same biblical fidelity that the Apostle Paul displays.  Thus, it concerns me deeply when a pastor-preacher-teacher in the body of Christ articulates an egalitarian understanding of Scripture.

Egalitarianism misunderstands the clear, repeated teaching of the New Testament – In making this point I’m not setting aside the Old Testament, not at all.  But, for the life of Jesus’ church, the New Testament interprets and applies what the Old Testament prepares us for.  Over-and-over again, the New Testament insists on distinct roles for men and women in the family and the church.  These roles have to do with responsibilities of headship and submission; of leadership and following; of speaking (of a certain type) and silence (of a certain type).  I won’t deal with these points and passages extensively, but consider the following:

Jesus came as a man. Why? If my answer is simply, “Well God accommodated himself to the culture of Jesus’ day,” then I’m missing the point (see Romans 5), and I’m also constraining God in a way he will not be constrained.  Again, I’ll refer you to one of those sermons referenced above.

Jesus chose men as his apostles (Matthew 10:1-4, etc). The apostles themselves chose a man to replace Judas in his office, following his betrayal and self-murder (Acts 1:15-26). Please don’t charge Jesus, nor his radical, earth-overturning disciples with merely accommodating themselves (and the church) to culture when they did so!

When the apostles and elders met in Jerusalem in Acts 17, it was a meeting of “brothers” (Acts 17:13).

Paul addresses questions of gender roles in the church and family repeatedly. Consider Scriptures like: 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, 11:1-16, 14:33b-35; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Timothy 2:8-15; 1 Timothy 3:1-13 (5:17-20); 1 Timothy 5:3-16; Titus 1:5-9; Titus 2:1-8.

As with Paul, so with Peter, who also considers gender distinctions pertinent to his pastoral exhortation in 1 Peter 3:1-7.

Consider Hebrews 13:7, where the author of Hebrews speaks of leaders in the masculine.

Consider the Apostle John, and his noteworthy manner of address in 1 John 2:12-14.

My purpose in noting the above is not to exalt manhood.  It’s just to demonstrate the biblical distinction that egalitarianism sets aside.  It concerns me when someone isn’t willing to hear, consider, and obey the New Testament standard of “radically equal, beautifully distinct” for men and women – particularly in the church and family.

Egalitarianism misunderstands the history of the church and the horrific record of apostasy – My comments here are less well-informed than anything above, but there’s a reason I started with a canary in a coal mine.  I’m convinced that churches and denominations who compromise Scripture’s teaching on gender in the context of the home and family will eventually compromise the entire biblical idea of gender and sexuality.  In short, egalitarian churches prepare themselves to become churches that deny the very idea of gender, affirm wicked sin with respect to human sexuality, and even deny the Gospel proper.  This progression (pun intended) may not happen right away.  It may even take a generation or two (though I suspect in today’s cultural climate a generation or two is too long an estimate).  But it will come, almost inevitably, that a church who ignores Scripture via “egalitarianism” will eventually ignore Scripture in things that stand beneath the egalitarian worldview.  Indeed, we’ve already seen this pattern work itself out in the secular word.  Just ask the traditional feminists of the 60’s and 70’s.  Why would we think things will be different inside the church?

There’s a reason for this slide.  If I interpret Scripture in such a way as to authorize an egalitarian position, then I have no logical recourse for holding an orthodox standard in fundamental questions of gender and sexuality.  If I won’t understand the Bible when it clearly addresses men and women in the context of church and family, then why would I understand the Bible when it clearly addresses homosexuality, or gender as a creational reality, or sex as God’s purpose for a man and woman in lifelong marriage?  Unbiblical compromise breeds apostasy.  That’s how sinful human nature works.  That’s how the Deceiver works.

Again, while I’m not enough a student of history to prove my point here well, let me offer one piece of evidence in this regard: The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), also known as the PCUSA.  The PCUSA today is a denomination that disregards God’s Word regarding things like gender and sexuality.  One need look no further than the denomination’s official documentation to verify this characterization.  But how did the PCUSA arrive at such a point?  I’ll simply observe that well before it turned against God’s Word pertinent to transgenderism and sexuality, the PCUSA turned against God’s Word in the matter of God-given roles for men and women.  The PCUSA ordained its first woman “minister” in October 1956, and its first woman “teaching elder” in 1965 (see the article available here).  Someone may respond at this point, “Yes, but correlation is not causation.”  In other words, just because a denomination begins to allow women to serve as pastor-elder-overseers, or to teach and preach in public mixed-gender settings, doesn’t thereby mean it’s ready to swallow all the LGBTQ+ revolution.  By way of rejoinder, reread the first two paragraphs of this section.  Then consider the story of the American Episcopalian Church, or the British Anglican Church, the United Methodists, and so on.  I’m confident their history will look much the same as the PCUSA.

Dangerous Ground

For just a moment, let me enter dangerous ground.  It’s dangerous because it’s fraught with landmines of pride and self-deception.  While trying not to impugn motives, for a moment I’m going to be directly critical of pastors who teach egalitarian thinking.  I mean what follows for men who are true brothers in Christ, and yet for some reason depart from Scripture in these important matters.  Why do they do it?  Of course, I don’t know for sure.  The reasons are undoubtedly as varied as the pastor in question.  I can imagine reasons, but instead let me note words and warnings from the Apostle Paul:

Some pastors walk contrary to God’s Word because it’s popular.  Paul says in 2 Timothy 4:3 (ESV), “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 

Some pastors set aside the Bible because they’re captured by worldly arguments that are not sound, and worldly logic that is not godly.  Paul writes in Colossians 2:8 (ESV), “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elementary spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” 

Some pastors deny Scripture because they’ve become puffed up with conceit (which relates to the two warnings already given).  Paul exhorts Timothy, “Teach and urge these things.  If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” (1 Timothy 2:2b-4a, ESV).

Now, I need to be charitable to my brothers whose lives and testimonies don’t otherwise warrant words like these from Paul.  Some preach and teach an egalitarian message because they’re truly convinced it’s consistent with the Word of God.  In this they’re mistaken, but perhaps with the best of intentions.  They’re mistaken not because I say so, but because God’s Word is clear, and it’s clearly not consistent with egalitarianism.  In such cases, I hope these men might receive the sort of correction that Apollos received from Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18 and turn in response.  I hope where my life and doctrine run contrary to Scripture, I too will receive and hear such correction.  It’s a beautiful thing when our lives are reformed and transformed by the truth of God’s revelation.  When we don’t listen, it’s sad.  The words of James are apropos to all of us: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1, ESV).

Since I’m on dangerous ground here, let me end this section with a prayer for myself from Galatians 6:1 (ESV): “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.  Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”  Lord, help me to keep watch over myself; my life and my teaching (2 Timothy 4:16).  

Concluding Thoughts and Resources

I’ll close with seven statements, and then a list of resources.

When a husband isn’t actively loving his wife in worship of Jesus Christ, he’s not being faithful to the Bible’s complementarian truth.

When a wife isn’t actively submitting to her husband as unto the Lord, she’s not being faithful to the Bible’s complementarian truth.

When qualified and called men fail to serve the body of Christ as pastor-elder-overseers, they disregard the Bible’s complementarian vision for the church.

When gifted and called men fail to faithfully preach and teach God’s Word in the body of Christ, they disregard the Bible’s complementarian vision for the church.

When women function as pastor-elder-overseers (or anything equivalent), they disregard the Bible’s complementarian vision for the church.

When women exercise authority over men, especially in the public preaching and teaching of Scripture, they disregard the Bible’s complementarian vision for the church.

When the spiritual gifts of women and men alike aren’t fostered, appreciated, and mobilized, the local church disregards the Bible’s complementarian vision for the body of Christ.

For those compelled to consider this issue further, I’ll end with a few helpful resources you may want to consult in addition to your Bible (because they’ll help you as a hearer of God’s Word):

The website of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The Danvers Statement. This statement was first published in 1988. Notice the sobering last words: “We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.”  Hasn’t history since 1988 proven this statement, tragically, correct?

A book by Kevin DeYoung titled Men and Women in the Church: A Short, Biblical, Practical Introduction. I haven’t read this book personally, but I trust DeYoung. He’s biblically sound, pastorally kind, and accessible as a writer and thinker.

If you want the heftier response to egalitarianism, consider the classic work already referenced: Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism.  Or, pick up a copy of Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth.

May God bless you as you seek to faithfully follow Jesus.

In Christ,


SLVUSD Board Triples Down in Prejudice

Yesterday evening a group of concerned people appeared at the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District’s (SLVUSD) Board of Trustees’ meeting.  We attended in order to register our objection over the Board’s intended decision to again fly the Rainbow Flag – the LGBTQ+ Pride Flag – over the SLVUSD’s public school campuses.  Displaying this flag, in this manner, is a gross violation of conscience for some students, teachers, and administrators of religious conviction, not to mention an otherwise inappropriate action for an elected civic body.  My last blog post will give you more of the background to this matter.  If you scroll through the posts in 2022 and 2021, you’ll find the issue addressed on several other occasions.

Regrettably, the Board’s decision last night was as expected.  They voted unanimously to repeat their prejudicial action.  That wasn’t surprising, though it was disappointing.  Once again, I, and others with me, felt as if we were shouting into the wind.  That makes me grateful to be in the boat with the One who controls the wind; a position I did not earn and do not deserve.

From my perspective, worse even than the Board’s repetition of this inappropriate action was their complete disregard of all those present to express concern.  Here some background might be helpful.  I first began addressing the Rainbow Flag with the Board in 2021.  I won’t describe all the details, but over the course of two years, through multiple letters, emails, and appearances at meetings, the Board has failed to engage me, or anyone I know, in substantive conversation over this matter.  They’ve simply ignored it.  The most substantive response I’ve received was a three-paragraph email, in April 2022, from the SLVUSD Superintendent, Chris Schiermeyer.  Needless to say, Mr. Schiermeyer’s response did not answer the objections I raised, not by a longshot.  My rejoinder to Mr. Schiermeyer specifically asked for the Board to continue the conversation and respond in writing.  All of this you can see via the linked documents in my last post.  What did I receive back?  Radio silence.  Last night that radio silence continued, and not just with respect to me.  More on that in a moment.

During the meeting yesterday evening, it became clear that the Board is indeed able to respond to those who petition it.  Even individual members of the Board can respond to matters brought to its attention.  Multiple persons appeared to express their thanks for the Board’s engagement with the district’s music program.  It seems that the Board, even individual members, actively communicated with those seeking to boost the district’s music education.  I commend their doing so.  Why then has the Board found itself unable to engage with me and others on the serious issue of flying the Rainbow Flag in violation of religious conscience? Doesn’t this issue warrant at least as much engagement as the question of instruments for music students?  Don’t the students and parents concerned in this matter warrant the same consideration and respect from the Board as those seeking to help the music program?  I would think so.  Apparently, the Board does not.

I’ll tell you why I know they don’t.  When it came time to speak yesterday, I rose and addressed the Board first.  You can read my statement (delivered essentially as written) here.  When I spoke, an entire group of individuals stood in support.  Following me, a second man also spoke in opposition to the Board’s plan to fly the Rainbow Flag.  Later, when it came time to vote on the resolution regarding the flag, the Board unanimously affirmed the measure, as it has done for the last two years running.  They did so with many of us still present, not twenty feet away, watching and listening.  In the process of voting, not one of these elected individuals even showed the courtesy of acknowledging our presence and concern.  They could have done so.  After the motion was seconded, before the vote was taken, one of them could have acknowledged us and the issue we raised.  They didn’t.  They acted as if we did not exist, and our words were never spoken.  That’s profoundly disrespectful.  Worse, it’s cowardly.

The SLVUSD Board of Trustees has tripled down on its decision to prejudicially ignore the conscience of those within its care for whom the Rainbow Flag represents an affront to their religious convictions.  If you need to understand the logic to this point, please read the document from 2022 linked here.  Mind you, I’m not saying the Board can’t express its support for persons holding an LGBTQ+ worldview.  If it discerns a need to do so, it may.  But it should not, it must not, take such action in a manner that coerces the conscience of students and staff who otherwise need to access SLVUSD campuses.

How should we whom the Board again ignored respond to yesterday’s events?  How should we respond to this multi-year saga?  There’s a definite temptation to anger, frustration, and helplessness.  I’d love in the future to see the Board manned with people who will listen to, and respectfully engage with, parents, voters, and students who year-after-year address a serious matter.  I’d love to see another viable alternative education option available in the SLV (that’s a matter for another post).  But how do we respond this morning to the disrespect and frustration of yesterday?  The Lord gave me an answer from his Word, namely Psalm 4.  Listen to the words of God, and consider them in light of what I’ve expressed here:

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!  You have relieved me in my distress; Be gracious to me and hear my prayer.

O sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach?  How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception?

But know that the LORD has set apart the godly man for Himself; The LORD hears when I call to Him. 

Tremble, and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And trust in the LORD.

Many are saying, ‘Who will show us any good?’  Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O LORD!  You have put gladness in my heart, More than when their grain and new wine abound.  In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety.’” – Psalm 4 (NASB).

Praise God for words such as these!  I won’t give you my personal rumination on each verse, but perhaps you can see why they’re so apropos this morning.  I read them and I’m encouraged.  The SLVUSD Board of Trustees should read them and take warning.  As I concluded my remarks to them last night, “You will answer for your decisions one day.  Not to me, but to the one true judge.  That should give you pause.”  It should give the Board of Trustees pause to year-by-year treat people they’re charged to serve with such disregard.

I close with a prayer for myself.  “Oh Lord, give me a heart of compassion and mercy for the members to the SLVUSD Board of Trustees.  I need it!  Change their hearts and forestall their actions with regard to this flag.  Amen.”

SLVUSD Board Violates Conscience (Again)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District’s Board of Trustees is about to do it again.  They’re about to again authorize display of the “Rainbow Flag,” the LGBTQ+ pride flag (as some would call it), over all SLVUSD schools from May 8th-12th (see Board agenda here).

This action by the Board is highly inappropriate for several reasons, the last of which is (in my book) most important:

  1. Display of this flag represents an inappropriate assertion of authority.
  2. Display of this flag is a matter of official bias.
  3. Display of this flag is unnecessary and divisive.
  4. Display of this flag is a violation of the SLVUSD Board of Trustees’ policy.
  5. Display of this flag is a violation of the religious conscience of some of the district’s students, teachers, and administrators.

You can read a fuller treatment of these objections in the document linked here.

For two years I’ve addressed this matter with the Board.  I’ve asked them to engage my concerns in a substantive way.  If you’d like to see documentation of that engagement, click here.  Thus far, the Board has effectively ignored me, with their most substantive response being a three-paragraph email sent on 18 Apr 22.  It angers me that elected public servants can respond to these concerns with such callous indifference.  Just this evening, I’ve again reached out to the Board (click here).  Perhaps this year they’ll choose to give this matter its due attention?

If you’re a parent of students attending an SLVUSD school, I encourage you to keep your students out of the classroom from May 8th-12th.  I know of no other way to impress upon the Board the inappropriate nature of its actions.



Sigh & Groan at Wicked Foolishness

The U.S. Senate yesterday passed the deceitfully named “Respect for Marriage Act.”  You can hear more about it via today’s “The World and Everything in It” podcast, to mention just one.  I say, “deceitfully named,” because this law mocks marriage as God himself designed it to be.  The institution of marriage belongs to God, and we insult our maker when we presume to redefine it in our own image.  What should God’s people, what should Jesus’ people, do in such a moment?  We can give multiple answers to that question, but one we must give is this: “sigh and groan” over this latest “abomination” in our land.

Those words – “sigh,” “groan,” and “abomination” – each come from Ezekiel 9 (English Standard Version; all quotations that follow come from the ESV).  In Ezekiel 9, we find the prophet Ezekiel amidst a vision in which he interacts with a divine figure who is “the glory of the God of Israel” (vs. 3).  I understand this divine person to be none other than the Son of God himself; Jesus in his pre-incarnate glory.  While the vision is majestic, it’s also horrific.  In Ezekiel 8, the divine figure shows Ezekiel absolutely horrific idolatry underway in Jerusalem; idolatry centered on the Temple no less!  How can this be?  How can people, even the people of Israel, be so wicked as to worship idols in the middle of Yahweh’s house?  It’s unthinkable!  It’s horrendous.

All that Ezekiel sees in chapter eight explains what happens in chapter nine, as the divine figure calls forth seven men (probably best understood as angelic beings).  Their approach is ominous for Jerusalem and its wickedness.  Six of these men are executioners.  To them, the divine figure gives this command: “Pass through the city…and strike.  Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity.  Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women…” (from vs. 5-6).  The worst is about to happen.  Yahweh’s divine vengeance is about to break over Jerusalem with awesome ferocity and disastrous results for those who dwell within.  But, there’s one important caveat.  The executioners must not do their work until the seventh man first accomplishes his own.  The seventh man is a scribe.  To him Yahweh says: “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it” (vs. 4).  These people the executioners must not touch.  They are preserved in the midst of judgment.  Why?  Because of their grief, their lament, over the sin done in God’s place, even in God’s Temple.  Their grief evidences their faith; it is fruit of their genuine worship of Yahweh; it is evidence of their living relationship with him.

Now, there’s a principle here in this vision of Ezekiel, a principle of spiritual life.  Grief over sin, sighing – even weary sighing – over sin, is a fruit of faith produced in a person by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  It’s evidence of a heart alive to God.  You won’t see this particular piece of fruit explicit in Paul’s Galatians 5 list, but you will see it repeatedly in the New Testament.  You’ll see it as Jesus deals with the Pharisees in Mark 8:12, or as he weeps by Lazarus’ grave in John 11, or when he clears the Temple courts in Matthew 21.  You’ll see it when Paul’s spirit is provoked over the Athenians’ idolatry in Acts 17, or when he grieves with tears in Philippians 3.  It’s a faithful thing to sigh over sin and cry out to God, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10).

To be clear, faithful sighing over sin doesn’t devolve into despair.  Despair is navel-gazing.  It’s another manifestation of idolatry in fact.  Faithful sighing, faithful groaning, rejects despair because it knows that God has an answer to the sighs.  He hears the groans.  His answer begins with Jesus crucified (praise God!) and it ends with Jesus conquering (Amen!).  The beginning is sovereign grace.  Sinners can become “sigh-ers” because Jesus died.  The end is sovereign justice.  Unrepentant sinners will become eternal “groan-ers” because Jesus will judge.  If you want to know what judgment looks like, just read Ezekiel’s vision.

Before I close, one final point.  We shouldn’t miss that the idolatry Ezekiel observes happens in the very heart of God’s place among his people.  The church of Jesus Christ is not theocratic Israel with its physical temple, but shouldn’t we, Jesus’ church, take warning here?  In Ezekiel 9 the divine figure tells his seven men to begin their work “at my sanctuary” (vs. 6).  We can’t help but remember the words of the Apostle Peter who writes of God’s judging fire (1 Peter 4:17): “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?”

It’s a good thing to sigh and groan in faith over the latest example of wicked foolishness emanating from the halls of Congress.  Do so, and then press on in joy because God has an answer to your sighs.  He hears your groans.  Wickedness will murder itself (Psalm 34:21); Jesus will judge (Revelation 21); and, if you’re a worshipper of Christ by grace through faith, you’ve been marked by God’s Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).  Amen.

Commending Ryan Lipert

In the past two years I’ve become more attuned than ever before to the important of local school boards.  Such boards are one essential way for voting parents to exercise influence for the good of their own children, the good of their neighbor’s children, and the good of an entire community.  In short, school boards matter.  As the school board goes, so goes the public school system.    

With that said, permit me then to commend Ryan Lipert to your consideration.  If you’re a voter in the San Lorenzo Valley, it’s important you know that Ryan is a candidate for the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District (SLVUSD).  I had the privilege to meet and interact with Ryan this morning, after first becoming aware of his candidacy and viewing his website.  Our meeting was truly a privilege.  I found Ryan to be a reasonable, clear-thinking individual.  As a father with young children, one of whom will soon begin in our SLV schools, Ryan has a vested interest in the future of the SLVUSD.  Please consider supporting Ryan with your vote.  

When the Skies Roar in Justice

Yesterday the President of the United States, President Biden, reported to America the death of al Qaeda notable Ayman al-Zawahiri in a “precision strike.”  To be clear, I welcome this as good news for which I am thankful, though I hope not gleeful (Proverbs 24:17).  And yet, in reading about this development I cringe at President Biden’s language, and, frankly, at his stunning hypocrisy.

In his remarks given yesterday, President Biden stated, “Now justice has been delivered…”  I wonder what he meant exactly by that phrase?  On the one hand I agree with the President.  Indeed, Zawahiri’s death was a thing of justice.  And yet, by what standard (to borrow a phrase)?  To what standard of justice does President Biden appeal?  The standard can’t merely be the sovereign determination of a nation-state (the United States) to act in its own security interests and conduct an extra-judicial lethal strike in another country.  If that were the standard of justice that justified killing Zawahiri, then we ought not expect anyone outside the United States to affirm this action as a good thing.  No, the “interests-based” determination of the United States to kill Zawahiri may have been the means of administering justice, but it isn’t the thing itself.  President Biden’s statement, “Now justice has been delivered,” reached for something higher, something greater, something more determinative than the mere exercise of national power in the national interest.  It reached for a standard that President Biden hopes, at least rhetorically (if not in reality), every thinking person can intuitively recognize; a standard that makes it right and good for the commander-in-chief to order the exercise of deadly U.S. power against a murderous terrorist bent on harming others.  But the question remains: Is President Biden right to appeal to such a standard, and if so, what is it?

In order to get to my point, let me simply assert that President Biden was right to appeal to justice, and that the standard – whether he recognizes it or not – is the character and holiness of God expressed in the law of God.  Among other things, God’s law says, as an expression of his character, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13, ESV).  Zawahiri broke God’s law, and it was an appropriate exercise of government power to call him to account, even at the cost of his own life (Romans 13:3-4).  But now consider this (and here’s where the stunning hypocrisy comes into play): Does President Biden realize that he stands under the same standard of justice?  If so, how does he not shudder in fear?  With one side of his mouth he directed an airstrike targeting a murderous terrorist, while with the other he is hell-bent (I use this phrase intentionally) on supporting murder on an industrial scale, namely the murder of children in utero.  In his statement on Zawahiri, President Biden said: “After carefully considering the clear and convincing evidence of his location, I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all.”  Has the President applied the same care to consider the “clear and convincing” biblical and biological evidence for life in the womb?  I’m reminded of these words of Jesus to his hypocritical hearers in Luke 12:54-56 (ESV): “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’  And so it happens.  And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens.  You hypocrites!  You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”  The subtext to these verses is simply this: They couldn’t interpret the present time because they were sinfully unwilling to do so!  The President can rightly understand justice so as to kill a man half-a-world away.   And yet, he also remains willfully blind to justice, and thus actively supports the murder of millions right here at home.  That’s hypocrisy.

This morning I read in Jeremiah 25 these words of prophecy spoken against all the nations of the earth:

“The LORD will roar from on high, and from his holy habitation utter his voice; he will roar mightily against his fold, and shout, like those who tread grapes against all the inhabitants of the earth.  The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD has an indictment against the nations; he is entering into judgment with all flesh, and the wicked he will put to the sword, declares the LORD.  Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, disaster is going forth from nation to nation and a great tempest is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth!” – Jer. 25:30b-32

Last weekend, American missiles roared from the sky against a house and a man in Kabul, Afghanistan.  While the strike against Zawahiri accomplished its purpose, in light of what’s coming it sounded, sounds now, and will sound like the faintest “twirp” of a sparrow uttered at dawn.  One day soon Yahweh will roar from the heaven of heavens over all the earth.  In that day President Biden will answer before God just as Zawahiri has done.  May he not be left in defenseless hypocrisy.  May he find himself covered by the blood of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone can save Joe Biden from the wrath of God.  May he repent of his hypocrisy and rest in the justice of Golgotha.  Such is my prayer for the President of these United States.

Open Letter to Santa Cruz Bible Church

Dear Reader,

Insomuch as this post reaches beyond the normal consumers of this occasional blog, it may elicit strong emotion – even anger perhaps – on the part of some.  Please know, stirring up anger is not my purpose in posting.  Rather, I’ve written in order to make public an open letter to Santa Cruz Bible Church (SCBC) attached here .  I invite you to read it and consider its contents.  Here’s why the letter was written:

Back in February and March of this year, the leadership of Santa Cruz Bible Church preached a series of sermons establishing a new direction for the congregation.  The series, titled, “Where are We Going,” culminated in a final sermon on the word “Inclusive.”  In it, lead pastor Matt Roden established inclusivity as a characteristic that must define SCBC in the future.  Regrettably, both the content and the nature of this sermon were so egregiously contrary to God’s Word that I, joined by two other local pastors, felt it necessitated a response.  Accordingly, we sent the letter referenced above to the elders and pastoral staff of SCBC (Note: The copy at the previous link does not include our names/signatures).  In an attached cover letter, I expressed our concern, welcomed clarification, and stated our availability to meet in person.  The response back from SCBC was a one-line email (other than the introduction and signature block) that said this: “On behalf of the Santa Cruz Bible Church Board of Directors this email is to acknowledge that we have received your letter and have determined that no action is needed.”

Now, while I’m grateful that SCBC took the time to actually respond, it’s sad that the church seems committed to its present course.  I believe SCBC has compromised sound doctrine, and thus Christian unity.  I believe that if it stays this course it will eventually lose any modicum of true Gospel witness.  I pray that won’t happen.  What’s more, I pray that my words here, and those in the attached letter, will prove consistent with Proverbs 27:6 – “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…”

In Christ,


Reject California Senate Bill 871

Dear Reader,

This evening I began an online petition effort urging the rejection of California Senate Bill 871.  If you live in California, please take two minutes to read the petition and consider adding your name/signature.  This is a serious matter, and it’s important to speak clearly to our representatives in Sacramento.  Please share the petition link with any and all.  Thank you in advance.


Lord, We Want to Grow…

If you’ve been a part of Felton Bible Church during the past ten years or so, undoubtedly you’ve heard the word “growth” mentioned more than once.  The demographics of FBC skew decidedly older in terms of age, and we are by no means a large church, at least not in our own limited self-conception.  Let me be the first to praise and thank God for a smallish group of people graciously endowed with the wisdom of age in Christ.  “Young” and “large” does not necessarily equal “faithful” and “good,” and I love the long history of faithfulness here at FBC.  Many of you are part of that history.  I praise God for you!  Nonetheless, as we’ve articulated to one another, and as we’ve persistently prayed, we long to be refreshed for present and future ministry.  It seems to us that refreshment has something to do with growth, and so “growth” is a word never far from our thoughts.

What is growth and how does it happen?  We ask questions like these because we care about the growth of Jesus’ kingdom.  Insomuch as FBC is a faithful embassy of that kingdom (to borrow an allegory championed by another pastor), then we also care about the growth of FBC.  I want to offer two basic thoughts: First, a definition of growth, and second, a brief consideration of the words attractional vs. attractive:

Here is my working definition of growth: Growth, in the context of a local church, is the process whereby disciples of Jesus progress in sanctification; that is to say, they progress on the path of being truly conformed, by God’s Spirit, to the image of Jesus Christ.  Notice that this definition has nothing to do with numbers, though, as I suggest below, it also has everything to do with numbers.  Growth in a local church is not first a matter of how many people attend worship, how big the membership roll happens to be, how many programs are underway (we should all be allergic to the word “program” with reference to ministries of the church), or how big the budget is in terms of dollars.  Growth is first a matter of increasing faithfulness and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, both on the part of the church corporately, and on the part of each individual believer within.  Here we must pay close attention to the New Testament.  It’s crucial to note that while we read of the church growing numerically, particularly in Acts, nowhere does the Bible prescribe how big a congregation should be, how much it should progress year-by-year in terms of numbers attending, or any other such measure.  The concern in Scripture, and especially in the apostolic letters, is always for godliness.

Having said the above, let me now offer a caveat.  While my definition of growth has nothing to do with numbers, as I said, it also has everything to do with numbers.  What do I mean by that?  I mean three things.  First, I mean that we shouldn’t expect God to grow FBC if our perspective on growth isn’t the Bible’s.  If our perspective on growth isn’t first a matter of discipleship – if we’re fascinated by numbers and not faithfulness – then we shouldn’t expect that God will add to our number.  Indeed, we should pray that he doesn’t!  A sizable church built on a hollow foundation is a disaster waiting to happen.  Second, I mean that God often works to increase the size and impact of faithful local congregations.  We see it in Acts, and we’ve seen it in the history of the church across time.  Let’s be clear, it isn’t a rule that good and faithful churches must grow numerically.  God isn’t bound by our expectations, and larger does not mean better.  Sometimes the largest churches are the most unfaithful, looking a lot more like the congregations of Sardis or Laodicea than those of Smyrna or Philadelphia (Revelation 2-3).  Sometimes the smallest are the most faithful, punching far above their weight in terms of kingdom impact.  Still, it’s worth noting that often it pleases God to increase the size and influence of faithful local congregations (Matthew 25).  If such should ever be the case for FBC, may God mercifully protect us in humility.  Third, I mean that there is a certain logical connection between faithfulness and growth in a local church.  Again, I’m speaking proverbially here, and not definitively.  A proverb makes a general statement about life, and not a definitive pronouncement for all cases.  What’s the logical connection between faithfulness and growth in a local church?  Simply put, it’s the matter of attractiveness.  Faithfulness after Jesus Christ is attractive.  It wafts the aroma of Eden-restored into the world.  Who among those God has called, or is calling, to himself can ignore that scent?  This last point brings me then to the matter of attractional vs. attractive. 

Sometimes in discussions of church growth, conversation will turn to the question of how we attract people into our doors, as if we’re a business seeking customers.  Where, from Scripture, did we get the idea to conceive of Jesus’ body, an embassy of his kingdom, as a business?  Often such conversations are well-intended.  Sometimes they’re even appropriate.  But, I venture to say, more often discussions of church growth informed by the word “attract” tend to confuse the ideas of attractional and attractive.  It’s a dangerous point of confusion, and potentially lethal to a local church.  What’s the difference between attractional and attractive?  Nothing less than the difference between what’s fake and what’s real, or between what’s hollow and what’s solid.  An attractional church doesn’t major on discipleship, it majors on numbers in attendance, or external metrics of effectiveness (like number of programs, or dollars in the budget, or community reputation, etc.), or lowest-common-denominator Christianity.  Do such things as numbers, or metrics, or “mere Christianity” (to quote C.S. Lewis) have their place in the church’s consideration?  Yes, sort of, but only as questions of faithfulness in making mature and maturing disciples of Jesus Christ.  On the other hand, an attractive church – a church that is attractive with the image and aroma of Christ – majors on matters of discipleship.  It takes the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:7-8) in its fullness seriously.  Think of the attractional vs. attractive difference as the distinction between a made-up television model and a bride about to walk down the aisle.  The model feigns attractiveness (with make-up, fine clothing, and the like) in order to sell something.  Hers is the attractiveness of commerce, not covenant.  In contrast, the bride is truly attractive in her beauty, her purity, and her readiness for the sober joy of marriage.  The bride doesn’t try to attract anyone.  She already has the groom!  She simply glows, publicly, with the radiance of anticipation as the moment of pronouncement approaches: “You are now husband and wife.”  Jesus’ church is his bride, not his model.  We are to be attractive as the people of Christ, not attractional.

Everything I’ve said above is important because how we think about the church and its growth – attractional vs. attractive – will directly impact how we live as the church.  Are we more interested in selling ourselves, or in being the bride and publicly pointing others to the groom?  Needless to say, I’m convinced we must be the bride.  Scripture commands and demonstrates as much.  I’m also convinced that attractive (not attractional) churches attract people.  Who do they attract?  Precisely the people whom the Chief Shepherd sends them.  Some of those people are not yet followers of Christ and need to meet him.  Others are already believers who, for one reason or another, need a new expression of the universal church with whom to fellowship.  Regardless, attractive churches will attract Jesus’ sheep; the not-yet saved and saved alike.  Because this is true, even as faithful churches must think about growth, they need not worry about numbers.  We may pray about numbers, we may desire a certain critical mass in terms of church membership and age demographic, but we need never worry over that which God, and God alone, determines.

I’ll close with three practical considerations for FBC as we seek to be attractive, not attractional:

1. In order to grow and be attractive let’s concern ourselves with being the church, faithful to our groom. At heart, this means giving close attention to God’s Word in every aspect of our corporate life (not to mention our individual lives); in our worship (praying, singing, preaching, and teaching), discipleship, ecclesiology, doctrine, evangelism, service, etc.

2. Let’s pursue excellence in communication. I’m thinking here of the testimony we give to those outside of FBC about whom and what we value, and why. I’m also thinking of the person, who isn’t a part of FBC, and yet walks in our doors on a Sunday morning, or a Wednesday evening, or any other time and place we gather.  Let’s be ready and able to welcome that person with joy, and to clearly point them toward the groom for whom we wait.

3. Let’s not put unnecessary barriers, roadblocks, in the way of those who need to meet Jesus through the life and ministry of this church. What are we doing (or not doing) that isn’t a matter of faithful discipleship, and which might otherwise hinder someone from encountering Christ among us? Are there things we should let go of, or should begin doing (according to gifts and opportunities), in order to be a more winsome bride?

May the Lord grow this congregation, and may he mercifully sustain us in humble faithfulness.  Amen!

“I’ve Touched the Face of God”

I’m an Air Force guy…or at least a part of me is.  I grew up wanting to fly fighters, though, toward the latter half of my time at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), that ambition changed.  As it turned out, the only aircraft I’ve ever soloed was a stodgy, stalwart glider that probably would have flown itself.  Still, while not a zipper-suited sun god (read “fighter pilot”) myself, my life has nonetheless been profoundly shaped by the U.S. Air Force, and thus in some measure by an interest in aircraft and flight.  

So what?  Why is that worthy of comment in a blog post?  Here’s why…

Recently we began a preaching series at Felton Bible Church intended to take us through the first eleven chapters of Genesis.  In pursuit of this series, I’m presently working through Genesis 1 rather closely.  If you read Genesis 1, it’s striking how many times the text refers to “an expanse,” which God calls “heaven” (Genesis 1, English Standard Version).  The Hebrew word for “expanse” shows up nine times in Genesis 1, and the word for “heaven” another ten times (sometimes paired with the word “expanse).  This “expanse,” or the “heavens,” refers especially to what we would call in English the “sky.”  

Now, here’s something interesting…at least it is to me.  As you read Genesis 1, it’s clear there’s no break, as it were, between the “expanse” (or “heaven,” or the “sky”) and earth.  Yes, they’re different domains (to borrow a military term), but there’s an inherent link between the two.  They’re contiguous, but more than contiguous.  In fact, what exists in the sky exists with special reference to the earth.  So, for instance, the sun, moon, and stars exist not only to mark out “signs” and “seasons” and “days” and “years,” but also to “give light upon the earth” (Genesis 1:14-15, ESV).  Even in their role of marking out time, these heavenly lights do this particularly for the sake of human beings created in God’s image.  What’s the point?  The point is that things of the heavens, the sky, exist with special reference to things of the earth, especially human beings.  

Okay, so what?  What’s the significance of that observation?  While there’s much I could say in answer to that question [consider, for starters, that the sky is the medium linking God’s dwelling place in heaven-beyond-the-heavens (2 Cor. 12:2) with his dwelling place on earth alongside humanity (first in Eden, then in the Temple, now in the church, soon in the new Jerusalem)] – think about this: The essential continuity between earth and sky, and the earth-centered, man-serving focus of things in the sky, makes our fascination with this domain goodnatural (in the truest sense)…instructive.  Even in our fallen state as rebels against God who violently suppress his truth (Rom. 1:18), we nonetheless retain a fascination with the sky that testifies to its God-given purpose, its beauty, its splendor, its direct relevance to life on earth as we know it.  No wonder we, for millennia, wanted to explore this domain!  No wonder that we maintain a fascination with flight, with flying machines, and even with the heavens beyond the “sky.”  Ultimately our fascination with the sky, with the heavens, is a response to the glory of God in creation, even if we sinfully deny it! 

Let’s go back then to the Air Force Academy, which some of us lovingly refer to as a “small technical school at the base of the Rocky Mountains.”  There’s a poem I learned at USAFA during my days as a cadet.  I’m pretty sure it was one of the many pieces of literature – useful and useless – branded on my brain during those heady days as a “Doolie,” a fourth-classman, a freshman in civilian parlance.  The branding works well when it happens while you’re in the “front-leaning rest” (push-up) position, sweating onto the hallway floor, waiting for a slug classmate to “get the lead out.”  The poem, titled “High Flight,” was written in 1941 by John Gillespie Magee Jr, an American flying in the Canadian Royal Airforce.  Gillespie was killed in a midair crash not long after writing this and sending it to his parents.  As you read the poem (or listen to it sung here), do so thinking about Genesis 1, and appreciate how these words capture something of truth Moses wrote: 

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth 

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; 

Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things 

You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence.  Hov’ring there, 

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark nor ever eagle flew-

And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space, 

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God” (text available here

The next time you get on an airplane, rather than white-knuckling the take-off and landing (ahem…Mom), relax and consider how humans’ presence in the air domain reflects the goodness of our good God in his good creation!