August 2010

“You will know them by their fruits…. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:16a, 21).

…if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

I attended a funeral recently in a nearby town. Preachers of two denominations–one fundamentalist, the other old mainline–were handling the service. I was saddened to hear the minister from the latter actually having to defend the religion Jesus taught and practiced, namely love God, love your neighbor, against the rigid doctrinal orthodoxy of his local colleagues and their parishioners, one of whom had also spoken.

But if I felt sad, I also was proud of the man. It could not have been easy being the lone voice for the true gospel in a town of truncated faith where apparently most people equated believing the right thing with being a Christian.

How did we get in this fix? How is it that so many think assent to an idea is all it takes? Jesus’ clear call was not to doctrinal purity, but to faithful discipleship that does what he did. He focused on relationships, meeting needs, reaching out to the unwelcome and left out. It was his enemies and critics that insisted on strict adherence to rules and regulations and forgot about serving people whom God loves.

I think I know at least one reason why so many favor credal orthodoxy over engaged faith. (Ironic that those who claim to have no creed but the Bible are actually the ones most tied to credal statements!) It’s a way to hold God at arm’s length rather than truly opening ourselves to him in Jesus Christ. It’s the same as reading a book but never meeting the author, liking the idea of marriage without ever popping the question to your beloved. It spares us vulnerability and demand and suffering. And it makes us feel superior to know the right answers, according to us; we can exclude all those who don’t measure up.

Nothing could be farther from the faith Jesus taught and lived! Saving faith engages us with the world God loves and for whom Jesus died. It sends us out to do what Jesus did.

Saving faith is not merely knowing something about the Bible, such as its claim that the stone was rolled away on Easter morning, and the tomb was empty. Nor is it even assent to a statement interpreting that event, such as that Jesus was raised from the dead. Saving faith is saying “Jesus was raised for me.” It’s trust in a person, not the affirmation of an idea. And such trust sends us out to bear fruit for the kingdom.

So I say to that brave colleague among his self-assured, misguided brothers: “Preach on!”

© 2010 Tom Cheatham


Dr. Steve Hayner, the president of my alma mater, Columbia Seminary, has a wonderful site called “Steve’s Stuff” ( with all sorts of “missional material,” as he calls it, which he has “mined” from the Internet. I invite you to check it out frequently or subscribe.

From his site, I discovered Moot, a resource from Britain. Listen to this wonderful wide-ranging podcast interview with Brian McLaren entitled “Church, Mission, and Saintliness”:

The McLaren interview sent me to Google to find a video by Jonathan Haidt (pronounced “Hite”) on the difference between liberals and conservatives. The talk was done during the Bush presidency, but still has a great deal of value. If anything, the divisions between liberals and conservatives have gotten deeper. The talk is aimed at liberals, by the way. Here it is:

As if it needed saying, what a great treasure trove of resources is the Internet!

© 2010 Tom Cheatham


This Sunday, August 15, is Higher Education Sunday in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Those of us who care about campus ministry may have some reasons to celebrate a little as we think about the church’s ministry in institutions of learning.

My colleague Jerry Beavers notes some exciting developments in our denomination’s collegiate ministry in a recent blog. He writes: “As a result of the actions of the PC(U.S.A.)’s 219th General Assembly, Collegiate Ministries has some new opportunities:
(1) The Office of Collegiate Ministries will return as a stand-alone office.
(2) A higher education strategy will be developed to be presented to the 220th General Assembly in 2012.
(3) A Presbyterian Student Organization will be formed.
(4) The Presbyterian Student Leadership Team will be rejuvenated with funding.
(5) There was significant support across the Assembly for Collegiate Ministry.”

But Jerry notes as well some very real challenges, mostly to do with funding. I invite you to visit the July 24 post on the blog for Presbyterian Association for Collegiate and Higher Education Ministries (PACHEM) for details (

For my part, I’ll be preaching on campus ministry this Sunday and the whole service will be focused on the theme of higher education. Here, though, I simply want to share as a poem a song I wrote in 1995 and revised in 2005 in honor of all emerging and young adults. Entitled “Today, Tomorrow (The Journey)",” it acknowledges both the challenge and the hope in the lives of college students and young adults.

“Today, Tomorrow (The Journey)”

We are one, we are many/ strangers on a journey/ lookin’ for a friend to share these loads we bear. We’re today/we’re tomorrow/frightened of the future/we’re trav’lin’ on a road to only God knows where.

Bridge/chorus: One day the journey will be done/and we will find our way back home./But for today: we cling to each other!/For though we dare to go, we dare not go alone!

We are one, we are many/friends along the journey/strengthened by the bread from the Feast we share./We’re today, we’re tomorrow/ready for adventure/we know not where we go, but we know God is there.

Repeat bridge/chorus.

We are one, we are many/friends along the journey/gladdened by the wine from the Feast we share./We’re today, we’re tomorrow/ready for adventure/we know not where we go, but we know God is there.

We know God is there.

Post © 2010; song © 1995, 2005 by Tom Cheatham


Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Recently Susan’s brother, his wife, their granddaughter, and their miniature chihuahua Molly visited with us. Our miniature dachshund Chloe usually only has Susan and me for playmates, so she was excited to have a little girl and another dog in the house, even for a weekend. It was funny to watch Chloe try to provoke Molly, who’s three years older, to play. She pawed at her, barked in her face, and chased her around. Molly was mostly not interested; her body language and occasional growl said clearly: “Get away, kid; you bother me.”

Chloe’s attempts at provoking Molly to running, jumping, and wrestling reminded me of the text cited above. The author’s use of the term “provoke” with “good deeds” seems a bit unusual, doesn’t it? We typically think of provocation as a negative thing. We keep on with some hurtful words until somebody argues with us or is reduced to tears or slaps us. We provoke a confrontation by aggressive behavior. We make someone get up and leave the room because they become annoyed with us.

But a quick check of the dictionary shows that “provoke” may mean simply “rouse” or “stimulate.” That’s the intended sense in the text. Sometimes we get lethargic, lazy, and apathetic. We watch the news and become desensitized. We hear our neighbors’ stories of grief over and over and tune out. We become wrapped up in our own concerns and no longer pay attention to anyone else. We begin to believe that our little good deeds won’t make a difference, so why bother?

That’s when we need someone to provoke us, to rouse us, to love and good deeds. To stimulate that impulse in us that was once so strong to serve our Lord by caring for our neighbors and our sisters and brothers in the community of faith.

The author doesn’t give us but one idea of how to do that. He suggests that meeting together is an important way to rouse each other to action. That could be in worship, small groups or one-on-one, as we share ideas and hold each other accountable. I suppose we’ll just need to use our imaginations to come up with other methods and contexts.

Maybe we could take a cue from an energetic little dog.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham