Double Spout

Sprouting on Dry Ground

(This poem is a tribute to my patient wife in blues form, which has roots in the African-American oral tradition and typically expresses, per Ralph Ellison, “the agony of life and the possibility of conquering it through sheer toughness of spirit.”)

Your water can’s got a double spout
Drippin’ sad tears to make me sprout
Your water can’s got a double spout
Cryin’ sorry drops to make me sprout
‘Cause you bin waitin’ it’s overdue

To break my harsh and arid pout
And moisten dry and hardened flout
To break my harsh and arid pout
And soften mean and stubborn flout
Baby keep goin’ and don’t you rue

When you’s over and under, done bottomed out
Your can’s got nothin’ but airs of doubt
When you’s over and under, done bottomed out
Your can’s bin emptied and full of doubt
Mix your drops with heaven’s dew

-ssw (11/20/2015)

Loving God and Neighbor

Loving God and Neighbor

The sermon I preached at King of Grace Church (Haverhill, MA) on November 1st, 2015.

“The love of Christ enables our love for God and neighbor.” LISTEN

Mark 12:28-34
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Sooner Count the Stars

Sooner Count the Stars

Sooner Count the Stars: Worshiping the Triune God, Sovereign Grace Music, 2015.

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This is my favorite Sovereign Grace Music album ever, which is saying a lot, since SGM has been making beautiful, singable, doctrine-infused music for longer than I have been alive.

Here are some of the highlights:

Sooner Count the Stars (Track 1)

The first track, “Sooner Count the Stars” is a poetic number that extols the goodness of God. The verses employ a series of unconventional images to convey the immeasurable depth of one’s indebtedness and gratefulness toward God:

I could sooner count the stars than number all Your ways … | I could sooner drink the seas than fathom all Your love … | I could sooner turn back time than turn Your heart away.

In climactic praise, the Chorus piles on superlatives that befit the infinitely gracious God: “No praise is high enough, no thanks is deep enough | No life is long enough to tell of all You’ve done | No shout is loud enough, no words are strong enough | No song is sweet enough to sing Your love.” Doug Plank and McKenzie Kauflin’s vocals blend seamlessly, and the harmonica adds a buoyant touch that captures the overflowing joy and gratitude of the worshiper.

Your Name is Matchless (Track 2)

“Your Name Is Matchless” is another great track. Sometimes the mixed Biblical metaphors can be a little jarring, e.g. “For we were enemies, not pilgrims, prodigals at heart,” but if you look past these foibles, the song has a pleasing melody that carries a compelling theological message:

Glory to the name of Jesus, glory to the only name that saves | Ransomed the captives; Your name is matchless.

This Is Our God (Track 4)

The Intro, Interlude, and Verses of “This is Our God” undulate meditatively as the words of the Nicene Creed are lifted from the pages by the music. The Chorus sings fittingly like a profession of faith. It is articulated carefully and deliberately, with the passionate refrain, “This is our God,” soaring above the rest and reaching the highest note of the song.

Blessed Assurance (Track 8)

In “Blessed Assurance,” the driving bass drum and climbing riffs of the baritone guitar create a sense of a powerful, ineluctable march toward a destination, recalling the assurance of salvation that God provides by “put[ing] his seal on us and [giving] us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 1:22). Kate DeGraide’s vocals pierces the soul in this anthemic declaration of faith, and the folky guitar strumming pattern and choral accompaniment in the Bridge resound like a testimony of the cloud of witnesses in heaven:

This my story, this my song | Born of Spirit, washed in Blood | This my story, this my song | In my Savior I belong.

Lamb of God (Track 10)

“Lamb of God” is a magnificent, Biblical-theological hymn that traces the activities of the second Person of the Trinity as the pre-incarnate Word of God in creation, the incarnate Son of God in redemption, and the glorified Lamb of God in the consummation.

Hallowed Be Your Name (Track 12)

The album concludes with “Hallowed Be Your Name,” where the keys and baritone guitar create an ethereal backdrop to Kate DeGraide’s soaring vocals. The song seemingly transports the listener to the very presence of the Triune God in the heavens.

There’s a folksy intimacy in this album that effectively conveys the fellowship of Christians and their communion with the Triune God. The stated goal of the album is to make listeners delight in the Triune God. It succeeds with flourish.

Buy Sooner Count the Stars HERE.

The Shepherd’s Love

XKH141034 The Highland Shepherd, 1859 (oil on canvas); by Bonheur, Rosa (1822-99); 49x63 cm; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg, Germany; French, out of copyright

The sermon I preached at Crossway Church (Franklin, MA) on August 23rd, 2015.

“Christ’s consuming love compels us to prioritize Christ’s mission to seek and save the lost.” LISTEN

Luke 15:1-7 

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The Lost Sheep

lost sheep

The sermon I preached at Grace Community Church (Souderton, PA) on August 2nd, 2015.

“Christ’s consuming love compels us to prioritize Christ’s mission to seek and save the lost.” LISTEN

Luke 15:1-7 

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” 3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Atonement Fully Made for Us


The sermon I preached at King of Grace Church (Haverhill, MA) on July 9th, 2015.

Christ made full atonement for the sins of His people.LISTEN

Ephesians 2:4-10

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Servants of the Gospel


The sermon I preached at King of Grace Church (Haverhill, MA) on May 17th, 2015, when I was ordained as a pastor.

“God makes gospel ministers according to His grace, to prepare the church, by preaching Christ crucified.” LISTEN

Ephesians 3:7-13

7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages inGod who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

Shadows in the Night

Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Night

Shadows in the Night, Bob Dylan, Columbia, 2015
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Shadows in the Night is Bob Dylan’s 36th studio album, and consists of ten covers of Tin Pan Alley standards that were popularized by Frank Sinatra.

The emotive orchestra and Sinatra’s silky crooning are gone, but the weeping pedal steel and Dylan’s sandpaper vocals embody the haunting loneliness of this rueful reminiscence.

The first track, “I’m A Fool To Want You,” is a lament of a foolish lover who loves someone who will not remain faithful. The mournful modulation of the pedal steel guitars, the gentle caresses on the acoustic, and the softly bowed string bass convey the despondency of the song.

Similarly, “The Night We Called It A Day” and “Autumn Leaves” are melancholic odes to the lover who has left. Heartbreak and loss are overarching themes of this album.

My favorite number on the album, “Stay With Me,” is a heartfelt prayer, sung with confessional solemnity. The wistful tone of Dylan’s voice, infused with his trademark rasp, blend perfectly to express the regretful yearning of an old man who has both softened and hardened with age.

Should my heart not be humble, should my eyes fail to see | Should my feet sometimes stumble on the way, stay with me | Like the lamb that in springtime wanders far from the fold | Comes the darkness and the frost, I get lost, I grow cold | I grow cold, I grow weary, and I know I have sinned | And I go seeking shelter and I cry in the wind | Though I grope and I blunder and I’m weak and I’m wrong | Though the road buckles under where I walk, walk along | Till I find to my wonder every path leads to Thee | All that I can do is pray, stay with me | Stay with me.

It recalls one of my favorite hymns, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:

Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come | And I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home | Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God | He, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood | O to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be | Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.

Like a child trying to pronounce all her syllables, Dylan’s intonation and rhythm are measured and deliberate, even as he strains to rein in his faltering vibratos and wandering pitch. His vulnerable vocals is a picture of the wandering sheep in the song, groping in the dark and stumbling along to God. I have never heard a more poignant song from this wearied bard, an embattled soul, who knows that he has not stayed with God, but desperately hopes that God has stayed with him.

“Some Enchanted Evening” and “Full Moon and Empty Arms” feature an electric guitar with strolling blues licks, which intertwines beautifully with the seesawing string bass to strike a slightly more hopeful tune.

But the album returns to its doleful trajectory with the following tracks, “Where Are You?” and “What’ll I Do”: “What’ll I do with just a photograph to tell my troubles to? When I’m alone with only dreams of you that won’t come true, what’ll I do?”

The final track, “That Lucky Old Sun,” is about the toil and trouble of life, and a labor-worn man’s desire to do nothing but “roll around heaven all day [like that lucky old sun].” The pace slows on the last line, and Dylan bellows it out at a higher octave with elongated syllables, soaring together with the swelling horns as if to lift himself up to heaven.

As songs like “Stay With Me,” “Why Try to Change Me Now,” and “That Lucky Old Sun” show, the heartsick lover in this album is a metaphor for brokenness of life itself. In a culture where love is treated like a commodity for exchange rather than a binding covenant, Dylan bemoans humanity’s unfulfilled longing for true love. This covenantal love, as Ephesians 5 reveals, is a glimpse into eternity itself, and points to Christ’s love for his people.

Shadows in the Night is thus a deeply spiritual album that correctly diagnoses the human plight. It ought to leave us weeping for God, always true and faithful, who loves an adulterous people who have forsaken their Creator and turned to other gods (Hosea 3:1).

Buy Shadows in the Night HERE.

The Love of Christ

Romans 5:8. Christ Died For Us

“Forgiven much, you will love much; loving much, you will live to the service of Him whom you love. This is the grand master-principle of which we spoke; this is the secret spring of all the holiness of the saints.

The life of holiness is not what the world falsely represents it, a life of preciseness and painfulness, in which a man crosses every affection of his nature. …

We are constrained to holiness by the love of Christ; the love of Him who loved us, is the only cord by which we are bound to the service of God. The scourge of our affections is the only scourge that drives us to duty. Sweet bands and gentle scourges! Who would not be under their power?”

from “The Love of Christ” by Robert Murray McCheyne

Islam and Christianity, = or ≠?

Islam vs. Christianity

At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, President Obama denounced the barbaric acts of terror perpetrated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In this context, he warned against blaming Islam and Muslims in general:

“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

This statement ignited a firestorm of criticism from Christian leaders and conservative politicians. In hindsight, it was probably unwise to use a complex and divisive example like the Crusade in a short speech that precludes historical and theological nuance.

I agree with Ross Douthat, “The deep problem with [President Obama’s] Niebuhrian style isn’t that it’s too disenchanted or insufficiently pro-American. It’s that too often it offers ‘self’-criticism in which the president’s own party and worldview slip away untouched.” For this reason, his exhortation “not to think of [ourselves] more highly than [we] ought, but rather [to] think of [ourselves] with sober judgment” (Rom. 12:3), instead comes across as a self-righteous criticism of the “rest” of America.

This fact does not, however, justify the harsh reactions of many conservative Christians. President Obama’s illustration was infelicitous, but what he said was, nonetheless, true. Christianity is not immune to radicalization, nor is Islam incapable of civility.

Admitting this is not the same thing as conceding that Christianity and Islam are morally equivalent or equally valid. I believe wholeheartedly that Christianity is true and that Islam is false. Nevertheless, I recognize, as Obama said, that “there is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.” Sin is the real issue here.

The fact that the Bible, rightly interpreted, does not endorse violence is not the point. It does not matter whether the Qur’an, rightly interpreted, promotes violence or not (I address this issue in another post). We know from the very beginning of human history that Satan is capable of distorting even God’s Word for his depraved purposes (Genesis 3:1-5). He can incite Muslims to violence even if the word “jihad” never appears in the Qur’an.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Islam is not the enemy, sin is, Satan is, and he is an equal opportunity offender.

If we single out and categorically denounce Muslims as our adversaries, we will be fundamentally impaired from loving them. We will become fearful of Muslims and feel threatened by them. We will harden ourselves against them and relinquish our ability to love and bless them.

We must not let that happen. Muslims are the Samaritans of our generation (Luke 10:25-37). We must love them, pray for them, and share the good news of Jesus Christ with them.

Precisely because the real battle is spiritual, precisely because the real battle ground is the sinful human heart, Christ crucified for our redemption is the only ultimate solution to our universal, human problem.