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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Jewels of the Egyptians in Service to Christ

The last time I really leaned on a film to illustrate a sermon was three years ago.  Why would that be memorable?  I was teaching Hosea in the Spring of 2008, and used a scene from the film adaptation of Somerset Maugham's novel The Painted Veil to convey what it might have been like for Hosea confronting Gomer's infidelity.  I was trying to get my congregation into the emotion of the text and would use that scene again if teaching Hosea over.

Some preachers make too much of movies; I likely make too little of them.  Movies are, after all, our common cultural language.  But a few weeks after the Sunday on which I used The Painted Veil clip, a gentleman in our church took me aside and questioned my judgment in showing it.  He took me to be tacitly endorsing the picture and rented it to watch with his wife.  They were offended by a sex scene (the movie, PG-13, tells the story of a broken marriage in repair).  We argued about how I could be at fault for his deciding to rent the movie.  But, according to him, as his pastor I led him down a wrong path.

That dissatisfying exchange in 2008 is not why I rarely reference movies in my sermons.  I expect someone will not like what I'm saying or doing from behind a pulpit most every week.  Preachers cannot and will not (and should not!) please all.  But I rarely reference movies in my sermons because I just don't see that many movies on average.  I've always had a tender conscience concerning movies, still probably subconsciously heeding the warnings of my Baptist youth leaders of the past: "You wouldn't want Jesus to return and find you watching a movie you shouldn't be watching, would you!?"  Alas. 

But if a film's storyline is redemptive I'm usually interested in seeing it, even if I may have to risk some bothersome material.  A friend was recently recounting to me over dinner his conversation with a California friend of his who is an actor-friend of Denzel Washington's.  Washington is a Christian and his standard for taking roles in films is that his character has to end up on the side of good.  Whatever else is included in the film (language, adult situations, violence, etc.) good must unambiguously win or Washington wants no part in the production.

This Sunday I will draw upon the storyline of the film Little Miss Sunshine to punctuate my opening message in 1 John.  I confess to being a little nervous about it.  I'm nervous first of all because I'm always afraid a powerful illustration can sweep away the text.  People go away remembering what I said about Steve Carell more than what the apostle John said.  And I'm nervous secondly because Little Miss Sunshine, R-rated, has a lot of vulgar language.  But I was put onto the film by a Reformed scholar who found a redemptive storyline within it that I think parallels what John is getting at in his epistle. (Interesting: I was able to briefly recount that storyline with the server at the restaurant where the aforementioned conversation with my friend-of-Denzel-Washington's-friend happened.  Our server overheard me mention Little Miss Sunshine, volunteered enthusiastically that it was "a great movie!" and then I shared with him a Christian interpretation which he certainly had not considered.) 

Utilizing cinema is a calculated risk in a church like mine due to differing sensibilities and standards of what constitutes worldliness.  I have in my church those who will be impressed, even glad, that I've seen Little Miss Sunshine.  And while I know this means they're grateful I'm not a Pharisee (in their view), celebrating one's pastor being conversant with an R-rated movie doesn't seem to me indicative of a mature spirituality (or a 1 John-informed spirituality).  And then there are those in my church who will conclude I am not very mature spiritually for choosing to view "such a film as that," and even less to broadcast it in a sermon.  Some of them will find it tragically ironic that I'm doing so in service to a passage within an epistle that warns so stringently about love of and friendship with the world.

But I take as my standard-bearer for this Robert Murray M'Cheyne, a Scottish pastor in the nineteenth century of whom Andrew Bonar wrote, "that he found himself able to use the jewels of the Egyptians in service to Christ."  Bonar was euphemizing the experience of Israel leaving Egypt (Ex. 12:33-36) to compliment both the breadth of M'Cheyne's learning and his depth of love for Jesus.  (I once used that Exodus passage to correct a brother who nonsensically believed missionaries shouldn't bring artifacts home from idolatrous cultures as the artifacts were thereby tainted and dangerous for a Christian home.)

Using the jewels of the Egyptians in service to Christ is what I'm trying to do with any cultural reference in my sermons.  Granted, some of the jewels adorn pig's snouts and I don't need to bother with retrieving those lest it require wallowing with the pig.  It is a discernment call.  Not everything in culture is redeemable or serviceable to a gospel sermon.  But I think what I'll use Sunday is.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

On the Mount, Darkness

I was delighted today to receive this poem by one of my church members, Greg Thompson, written after he listened to my last sermon in Exodus 20.  Thank you, Greg, for permission to post your outstanding work!

On The Mount, Darkness

For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. John 1:17

Revelation of law on tablets of stone,
written with the finger of God, holy, true;
glory given, Glory concealed
behind thick clouds on the mount,
the sun obscured and Darkness over all.
The people trembled at a distance.
“You need not be afraid, but learn to fear.”
And that great Time-lessness Who transcends time
said to Himself in His eternal present,
“I know the price I will pay to make a people holy.”

Revelation of grace on tablets of hearts,
written with the finger of God, blood-stained,
in glory given, Glory concealed beyond thick clouds, on the mount, the cross;
the Son revealed and Darkness over all.
And the people trembled at a distance.
“You need not be afraid, I have come near.”
And that great Time-lessness said to Himself,
“I know the price I have paid to make a people holy.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sunday's Coming: Sermon Preview

This Sunday (March 27, 2011), I'll conclude our series "Ten Lords A-Leaping: The Ten Commandments as a Way of Joy" with Jesus' preaching in Matthew 5:17-20.  Next Sunday (April 3, 2011) we'll begin a study in 1 John I am tentatively calling "The Gospel as Relational Hygiene: Love is Lather, Rinse, Repeat."  Sermons can be accessed at

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

As The Ruin Falls

All this flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love--a scholar's parrot may talk Greek--
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are precious than all other gains.

C. S. Lewis

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Have A Pulpit

This used to be my reason for not having a blog, that I have a pulpit.  Of all communication mediums in existence the pulpit uniquely perseveres, always rising up to outlive its pallbearers who pronounce its irrelevance. 

The pulpit is my communication priority.  It is why I live with creative deadlines most every week of my life.  It is why I have a sobering level of influence with more people than I would otherwise.  The pulpit simultaneous elevates and cuts me down to size.  I've gone home on Sunday afternoons with diametrically opposite responses to the same sermon colliding in my mind: some thought it was brilliant, others thought it was boring; some had their confusion clarified, others had their clarity confused.

The pulpit is a source of exhilaration and depression, joy and pain.  It is authoritative vulnerability.  It is both public and personal, glory and folly, a privilege I get to do and something I have to do.  "Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ" (2 Corinthians 2:16b-17).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sunday's Coming: Sermon Preview

This Sunday (March 20, 2011) I'll be putting some finishing touches on our Ten Commandments series, taking Exodus 20:18-21 for my text.  Below was sent to me today by a pastor-friend.  These words convey what I hope my preaching accomplishes:

"The Grand Doctrines of eternal truth are frequently treated as venerable non-entities, and have no effect whatever upon the conduct of those who profess to receive them, because they do not realize them as matters of fact, or see their solemn bearings. It is shocking to reflect that a change in the weather has more effect on some men's lives than the dread alternative of heaven or hell.  A woman's glance affects them more than the eye of  God.

"We cannot, however, be content with this; we labor that those around us may savingly believe by putting their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the grand saving act: the man brings his soul and commits it to Christ for safe-keeping, and that entrusting of the soul to Jesus saves him. He makes the Saviour trustee of his spiritual estates, and leaves himself and all his eternal interests in those dear hands which once were nailed to the cross. Oh, how we long to see the Holy Spirit bringing men to this, that they may believe in Jesus Christ by resting in Him and trusting upon Him. For this we live, for this we would be content to die, that many might believe."

Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Preaching at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London
Lord's Day Morning, March 5, 1876

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patty and the Prayer

I keep "St. Patrick's Shield" prayer on a note card on my desk and have prayed it many times:

I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, the One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever by power of faith Christ's incarnation, His baptism in the Jordan River, His death on the cross for my salvation; His bursting from the spiced tomb, His riding up the heavenly way, His coming at the day of doom I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead, His eye to watch, His might to stay, His ear to hearken to my need, the wisdom of my God to teach, His hand to guide, His shield to ward, the Word of God to give me speech, His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me; Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the name, the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, the One in Three, of whom all nature hath creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word; Praise be to the God of my Salvation; salvation is of Christ the Lord!

St. Patty and the Snakes

A St. Patrick's Day post by my mom.  I am the herpetophobic 13-year-old son with her in the story:

God and Disasters, God and Suffering

My weekly post is up at Faith in Memphis:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Hatchling is Tweeting

Below will appear as an article in our church's newsletter in April.  If you attend First Evan, think of this as an advanced copy.
A couple of years ago I was asked by a friend in another city if I was on Facebook.  “No, I don’t exist,” was my chuckling reply and we laughed together about my intentional digital vagabondery.  E-mail and our church website served as my virtual homeless shelters—addresses for anyone seeking me in cyberspace and proof I wasn’t a total Luddite.   
I’m still not on Facebook.  But for a month now I have been blogging (, and for The Commercial Appeal at, and tweeting (@colehuffman or  I also established a profile on LinkedIn after years of trashing their invitation e-mails, and established a second e-mail address for my iPad.  I’m even an Amazon Associate, meaning they’ve given me permission to link my blog to their site so my readers can buy books directly through Where Is The Fourth? Now if I can just figure out how to do that!  One of my kids will know….
“What a breach you have made for yourself!” (Gen. 38:29), Tamar’s midwife exclaimed as Perez emerged from his mother even though his twin brother Zerah extended his arm out first.  I am a social media hatchling (Twitter’s logo is a bird), and no doubt some friends in my church and abroad are surprised.  But I waited full-term before “making a breach” for myself with social technologies.  Even five years ago I fear I’d have been a rather immature Twitterer.  The immature Twitterer will often succumb to the temptation to be a snarky twit.  Hey, I ought to tweet that!
For many, social media seems about as redemptive as the relationship that begat Perez and Zerah (see the story in Genesis 38).  I understand those concerns, when people say blogs are for gestating vanities and tweeting for incubating inanities.  Many believe Facebook gives birth to a kind of Rosemary’s Baby as its users capitulate to the radically self-absorbed spirit of the day, sacrificing decorum and sensibility for social success and popularity.  It’s not quite the Whore of Babylon (Rev. 18), but users might as well go ahead and stamp 666 on themselves! 
But in the spirit of the Genesis 38 family’s mention in Matthew 1:1-3, social media can certainly be redeemed.  Yes, people do like to tweet where and what they ate for lunch or ramble on in their blogs about things not worth the time and effort to read or write.  But social media opens avenues for the gospel as well.  I’ll bet Solomon, as fond of writing proverbial sayings as he was, would have had a Twitter account (@Qoheleth).   
We’re told now that having a digital identity in the marketplace of information is equivalent to establishing a credit line for yourself, which renders you identifiable to lenders in the marketplace of goods and services.  The analogy may be overdrawn but the point is the world continues to digitize and lends goodwill to those who follow (“follow” being the operative word of Twitter).  Facebook and Twitter may phase out eventually, giving way to newer or trendier connectivity tools.  I imagine hearing my children tell me a decade or two from now: “Dad, your blog is like so 2011!”
Eventually, I’d like to do a short sermon series on the intersections of technology and faith because Christians either unthinkingly adopt social media in an attempt to be just like everyone else or resist it just so they will not be like everyone else.  Neither pole is a wise perch.  As I said, my breach into the pixelated world came after a full gestation period of pondering and observing the usefulness of these tools.  I’d seen enough to know I didn’t want to use a blog for sharing vanities or Twitter for tweeting inanities, although I do like to have some fun with it: quirky observations, lighthearted links, etc.—stuff that makes one smile as well as think. 
When my wife Lynn learned what Twitter was and read my initial tweets, she said, “This thing was made for you!”  She knows how I love words “fitly spoken” (Prov. 25:11).  I love pitching in the small verbal strike zone of 140 characters max.  For the longest time I believed an e-mail account was sufficient for me.  But slowly I realized there was ministry opportunity in social media outlets, and the familiar gospel call of “follow me” took on a new connotation. 
So in the same spirit of Paul who wrote, “Follow me, as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), I invite you to join me along my digital way as I try to use these mediums and forums “to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).  Borrowing from Apollo 11 (and as an old Eagle Scout), I often use the phrase “the eagle has landed” when my plane lands to announce my safe arrival to family, friends, and hosts.  Now I add “the hatchling is tweeting” to announce my safe arrival in what can be a rather strange cyber-land, admittedly.  But I’m glad to finally be here.

The DJ Vault

Not a collection of my old records, but four articles I published in Discipleship Journal, the now defunct Navpress magazine to which I contributed pieces from 1997 to 2007.  Be edified:

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sunday's Coming: Sermon Preview

This Sunday's message (March 13, 2011) continues our series in the Ten Commandments: "Ten Lords A-Leaping: The Ten Commandments as the Way of Joy."  I'll be in Exodus 20:17, the Tenth Commandment about coveting.  What is coveting and why do we do it?  What do we do about it?  See you Sunday.  (If you miss Sunday, find the message here by Tuesday, March 15:

"Tsunamis Everyday"

John Piper, Pastor of Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, did an NPR interview in early 2005 following the tsunami that hit Thailand.  That interview deeply affected the interviewer, and remains incisive counsel for pondering people:

I Miss Back When: Christianity Yesterday

("I Miss Back When" is one of my favorite Tim McGraw songs.)  Have you ever heard of LeRoy Eims, Warren Wiersbe, John Walvoord, or Vernon Grounds?  How about Ray Stedman, Richard Halverson, Earl Palmer, or Dawson Trotman?  These names were well-known to the evangelical church of the late twentieth century.  I and other church leaders today stand on the shoulders of these pre-blog, pre-Twitter, pre-podcast servants of Jesus. 
You can find recordings of these and other teachers of yesteryear here:

Blog readers are usually interested in what's new and current, considering ourselves rather contemporary and cosmopolitan.  But this site opens to you and me some gems from the past, voices we don't need to forget.  Beware of what C.S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery": believing those who deeply impacted and nurtured our parents' and grandparents' faith don't have as much to say to us as today's preachers and leaders.  They do.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One Year Later: In Memory

My mother-in-law, Gloria Simpson, died one year ago today.  Below was my church newsletter article for March, 2010:

With every “Gloria in excelsis Deo” I heard and sung during Christmastime I thought of my mother-in-law, Gloria Simpson, and that she would soon hear angels singing this refrain-with-her-name in the very presence of God.  Preferably to flute music, the instrument Gloria played and taught for years.  Diagnosed with inoperable, incurable brain cancer in August of 2008, the mother of my wife and grandmother of my children has been slowing dying in stages.  In December the family was told there was nothing more doctors could do about her cancer, and Hospice nurses now make regular visits to my in-laws’ Alabama home.

This is the first time Lynn and I have faced the death of one of our parents.  Gloria turned 70 back in November.  We assumed she would live into her nineties as did both her parents.  That cancer had overtaken her was harsh news to a woman who lived a healthy lifestyle.  And that it was brain cancer only compounded the frustration for all of us because Gloria’s was a vibrant personality.  Though she is now completely bed-ridden and cannot speak, she can sometimes smile when spoken to, especially when prompted by the voices of her daughters and grandchildren.

Stereotypically, the mother- and son-in-law relationship is supposed to be strained.  It was never so for Gloria and me.  I called her my “mother-in-love” (my dad gave me the term).  The only strain in my relationship with Gloria was my fault and came back when Lynn and I were brand new parents.  We’d read some popular-at-the-time books on how to parent babies and were determined (me more so than Lynn) that we would be “parent-centered” rather than “child-centered.”  Caleb was born to us in 1996, Gloria’s first grandchild, and she instantly adored him.  Gloria loved the company of children anyway, spending most of her working career as an elementary school counselor.
With Caleb in arms, I wanted everything done by the books we’d read: he goes to sleep when we put him down and if he cries well-then-he’ll-just-have-to-cry-it-out; he’s fed when we want to feed him as opposed to on-demand; he’s held when it’s “hold time”; etc.  I was well-intentioned but a total new father jerk.  The parenting theory we initially bought into has since been widely discredited, thankfully.  But to her praise, Gloria was patient with me as I learned to relax and let babies be babies, not little emerging adults respecting my schedule.  I know I exasperated her in the first couple of years of her grandmotherhood, but still she trusted and affirmed me.
We took Gloria on a family trip with us to California in June of 2006.  We went there to serve at a mission organization’s global conference, and Gloria signed on to—what else!—take care of the missionaries’ kids.  I don’t know what it was about that particular time together, but I experienced a consciously deepened love for Gloria during that trip. 
I’d always welcomed her visits to us before, even though she was going to keep our kids up an hour or two past their bedtimes and leave half-full coffee mugs around the house—that I refer to them as half-full rather than half-empty is a tribute to Gloria’s bubbly optimism.  But after our California trip I was no longer aggravated by such little things.  In fact, I wanted her to visit as often as she could, valuing the time not just for Lynn and our kids but also for me.  During quite a few of those visits we would sit around in the evening and talk about all kinds of things.  I was truly comfortable with Gloria and Gloria with me.  I carry no regrets about our relationship.
Gloria loved fun and fun places.  She planned a Disneyworld trip for the whole family in March of 2008.  It had long been her desire to take her grandchildren there.  To me—sorry about this, Disney lovers—Disneyworld is volunteer larceny.  But if I’d known it was to be our last vacation with Gloria I wouldn’t have groused over the cost of tickets and travel and everything in the park.  I’m not a tightwad, but I remember suggesting we should wait a couple years to go because Colson was too young to enjoy it, hoping the urge to empty my wallet on her grandkids would pass Gloria over.  Gloria had waited long enough, however, and I decided not to resist her but shell out the bucks.  Now I know that if there was ever a God-ordained trip to Disneyworld we made it two years ago.  I’d gladly pay double—triple—for everything again if she could just go with us once more.
Each visit now she seems to be slipping closer to Heaven.  Soon, perhaps even as this newsletter is printed, we’ll have said our last goodbye to a praiseworthy woman with a praise name.  Gloria in excelsis Deo, Gloria Simpson!  The symphony of Heaven anticipates your joining them, flute in hand, accompanying angels’ praise in the throne hall of Jesus.  You are the best mother-in-love a guy could ever have.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sunday's Coming: Sermon Preview

This Sunday's message (March 6, 2011) continues our series in the Ten Commandments: "Ten Lords A-Leaping: The Ten Commandments as the Way of Joy."  I'll be in Exodus 20:16, the Ninth Commandment about bearing false witness.  The obvious way we do this is lying about someone.  But there's a less obvious way too.  Want to know what that is?  See you Sunday.  (If you miss Sunday, find the message here by Tuesday, March 8:

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Faith in Memphis Contributor

I am contributing each week to the Commercial Appeal's Faith in Memphis Question of the Week. Follow the link to It is a diverse panel and our responses to each week's question begin appearing on site on Thursdays. If I'm not up immediately on Thursdays, check back as I plan to respond to the Question of the Week most weeks.  They're still working some bugs out of their system.

Welcome to "Where Is The Fourth?"

I had this name in mind for a blog long before it's pixelated birth today: Aslan's question to the Pevensie children about their brother, Edmund. Aslan knew where Edmund was, of course. It was a grace question.  It was a resolute intention stated as a question: that Aslan would not leave Edmund behind in his rebellion but retrieve him and reconcile him to his family, but at ultimate cost to Aslan. I think of Jesus and His intention not to leave me behind in my rebellion, and at ultimate cost to Himself. "But where is the fourth?" expresses succinctly my appreciation for a resilient savior and grace that endures.