Justice (Isaiah 1:17)

(NOTE: This sermon was prepared and delivered for the first “Dirty Church Conference.” Hosted by OneGen Away at Strong Tower Bible Church in Nashville, TN on September 15, 2018)



What do you hear when you hear that word?

“Justice” is one of those words that is loaded with meanings and different interpretations. Definitions of “justice” divide people, political parties, countries, and even churches. Add the word “social” to the word “justice” and you may start a holy war. Change the phrase “social justice” to “social gospel” and you may be labeled a “heretic,” or even worse, a “liberal.” Just over a week ago, a popular conservative evangelical mega-church pastor wrote a treatise entitled, “The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” (published on September 4, 2018, see section IX Heresy). While some of it is good, the treatise lays a foundation where social justice becomes heresy; an extremely serious charge. Over 5,500 people—mainly pastors, almost entirely white males—have already signed the treatise. One of the more troubling statements in the treatise reads, “We deny that political or social activism…constitute a central part of the church’s mission…” Continue reading

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A Call to Repentance (Malachi 2:1-9)

After His baptism, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news! (Mark 1:15). It is easy to “believe.” Doing so doesn’t really cost you anything, at least at first. Turning that belief into true faith, is a process that could take time and could require sacrifice. But overall, to “believe” is easy. However, to “repent” is extremely difficult! Repenting requires you to admit you were wrong and the offended party was right. Repenting requires humility. Repenting also requires a change of actions. If you don’t stop doing what you repented of, you have not really repented. Repenting requires obedience.

If you want to catch a monkey in the jungle, drill a hole in a coconut and put food inside. The hole must be large enough for the monkey to get his hand in, but small enough that he cannot get it out once he grabs the food. Chain the coconut to a tree. Once the monkey grabs the food, he is stuck. Refusing to let the food go, he is in bondage to the coconut. Now all you have to do is come and collect the monkeys who, by their own choice, are bound. Repentance requires letting go. Continue reading

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All Show, No Substance (Malachi 1:6-14)

After attending church one Sunday morning, a little boy knelt at his bedside that night and prayed, “Dear God, we had a good time at church today. I wish you had been there!”

We laugh because we know the truth behind the little boy’s innocence. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is worship?
  • Does what we do at church really make a difference?
  • How would my Sundays be different if I did not come to church?
  • What are my expectations of worship every week?
  • Do I have any expectations?
  • What should worship be like?
  • Is our worship pleasing to God?
  • Is what happens on Sunday all show and no substance?

Continue reading

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You Are Loved (Malachi 1:2-5)

Once upon a time there were two twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. Technically Esau was older, but just by a few minutes. From the very beginning, in fact, while they were still in their mother’s womb, the two boys did not get along. While Esau was born first, from inside the womb, Jacob grabbed Esau’s heel as Esau was exiting the womb. As the boy’s grew, Esau became close to his father, Isaac, while Jacob became close to his mother, Rebecca. Esau was athletic and outgoing. Jacob preferred to be alone and enjoyed cooking. It was a sibling rivalry at its best, or worst.

One evening, after a long day of hunting, Esau came home famished, while Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau asked for a bowl. Jacob said he would give him a bowl in exchange for his “birthright.” The “birthright” was a special privilege enjoyed by the firstborn son. Among other things, this “birthright” gave the eldest son a double-portion of the father’s wealth once the father died. The firstborn’s “birthright” was both a societal and an economic advantage. For some unknown reason, Esau “despised his birthright,” and gave it away for a bowl of soup. Continue reading

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Don’t Shoot the Messenger (Malachi 1:1)

Imagine with me a battlefield scene among ancient warriors. Both sides are lined up with their infantry, archers, horses, spears, shields, and swords. It will be a bloody fight. Hand to hand combat at its worst. Many men will die. Behind the two armies, in full armor, sitting on beautifully strong black stallions, are the respected kings of the brave warriors. Before the battle begins, in a final effort to avoid bloodshed, each king sends a lone rider to the middle of the battle field for one last act of diplomacy. Each rider has a message for the other king. Each rider holds the fate of thousands of soldiers. Both sides completely understand the universal rule of warfare: Don’t shoot the messenger! It doesn’t matter if the message carried by the messenger is positive or negative. It doesn’t matter if the outcome, and receptiveness, of the message is good or bad. Under no circumstance do you shoot the messenger. Continue reading

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The Aftermath (A Slippery Slope)

This past Thursday the State of Tennessee did something it had not done in over nine years. They executed an inmate. What’s strange is that this inmate, along with others on death row, have a lawsuit that is waiting for a ruling from the SCOTUS. The lawsuit is about the “cocktail” of drugs used to end his life. It’s quite possible that he will win the lawsuit posthumously.

On Friday, after the execution, I visited the rest of the guys on death row. We prayed together and talked about what might happen next. Another execution is scheduled for October, and the guy scheduled to die is a good friend of mine. His name is on the lawsuit as well. We are praying for a stay of his execution.  Continue reading

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A Pastoral Prayer for Execution Day

Dear God,

I know You are a holy and just God;

a God full of grace, compassion, and mercy.

I praise You and give You all glory and honor.

Great is Your name in all the Earth.

You alone are sovereign, omniscient, omnipresent,

and all powerful

But, LORD, this morning my heart is heavy.

Today, in Tennessee, more violence will take place

that is supposed to teach us,

as a society,

that violence is wrong.

This makes no sense.

Forgive us, oh God, for our own sins.

Forgive me for the many ways I have failed You.

Grant us, as a people, the same grace and mercy

we are so unwilling to grant others.

Today, I pray for Paula Dyer and her family.

What happened to Paula should never happen to anyone,

especially a child.

I pray Your eternal presence will continue

to surround Paula with eternal love.

I pray for Paula’s family, especially her mother.

What she has had to endure for 30 years is unthinkable.

I pray You will grant her peace and closure.

Surround her with Your love, mercy, grace, and compassion.

Give her the strength she needs to live each day without her child.

And, LORD, I pray for Billy Ray Irick.

I pray he knows You and has received Your forgiveness.

I pray You will welcome him into Your presence with loving arms.

My prayer is that, as You said to the thief on the cross,

you will say to Billy,

“Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

LORD, I pray for the Warden and for the guards

and for those who will administer the drugs

that will take another person’s life.

You have told us, “There is none righteous, not even one…

for all have sinned and fall short of (Your) glory…

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is

eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:10, 23, and 6:23).

Yet, You demonstrated Your love

for us in such a way that

“while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”

(Romans 5:8).

I pray for all the administration at

Riverbend Maximum Security Institution.

And God, I pray for all my friends on Death Row.

I pray Your Spirit will continue to be with them

and guide them

and protect them

and strengthen them

and encourage them.

Father, I pray for the abolishment of the death penalty

in my state and in my country.

LORD, I pray for my state and country.

I pray for revival, and I pray it begins with me.

And so, LORD, lastly, I pray for the Church in the United States.

We have lost our way.

We are in desperate need of corporate repentance.

Forgive us of our arrogance

our racism

our immorality

our compromise.

Restore to us our prophetic voice.

Give us the courage to speak out and stand up.

May we gladly give our lives in the

never-ending fight for justice.

I pray all these things in the wonderful name of Jesus,

who was executed on our behalf,

and whose state sponsored execution

should have been the final execution.

It is in His holy name I pray.


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