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Monday, March 4, 2024

Science and Faith - the Conversation Matters


I begin by encouraging you to learn as much as you can about Biologos. Start here -

Why would I direct you to learn about this organization? It is where excellent scientists and committed followers of Jesus gather in cooperation to explain the natural phenomena of the world and to glorify God in the process. When I became the pastor of Hillside Church in 2006, I realized I would be preaching a few miles from one of the top research institutions in the country. Would I be able to intelligently explain faith in Jesus to a scientist who understood the natural world better than me?

My attempts to answer that question drew me down a path of learning. I have read works from atheist/agnostic scientists and philosophers who deny God’s existence. I have studied extremely conservative Christians who, from their interpretation of scripture, reject established scientific truths like evolution and a universe that’s billions of years old. The God-rejection and science-rejection are extreme viewpoints.

Apart from these extremes we can find true scientists who are also true believers in Jesus. How does this all fit together? One must do a lot of reading to answer this question. There are many podcasts and YouTube videos that also help.

Of course, a believer could just say, “I believe in Jesus and that’s it. I don’t know about evolution and am not interested in learning. I don’t know how old the earth is or how old the universe is, and I don’t care.” You have the freedom to take this type of approach. But, if you get into conversations with people, and they say, “Well, I don’t believe in God because I understand science,” how will you respond?

The Bible tells us, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). We are commanded to love the Lord our God will all our … mind (Matthew 22:37). How will you explain your faith to someone who knows science in detail, and based on that knowledge, rejects all faith? We are called to be informed about the Gospel. We also compelled by God to explain the gospel intelligibly in our context. Readers of this blog who live near me in Chapel Hill share a hometown with some of the most knowledgeable scientists in the world. We must be ready to share the gospel in a way that makes sense to our neighbors.

Our neighbors still might reject God. We know from 1 Corinthians 1 that the wisdom of God seems likes foolishness to the world. We can’t control what people will choose to accept or reject. That’s between them and the Holy Spirit. We can, though, control how much we know. If we were witnessing in Cuba or Mexico, we better learn Spanish. If we are sharing the gospel in a rural setting, we can’t just be blithely ignorant about farming. It is imperative that our testimony be understandable. In the world UNC and the Research Triangle, it helps that we recognize that science is a gift from God.

That’s why I find the science-faith conversation so important. I will continue to read works by scientists and believers of different persuasions, and I invite you into the conversation. Discover God’s majesty as it is revealed in the natural world He has made. Scientists are the ones working to understand that natural world. Appreciate their work and help them see how their work can glorify the Lord.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Resolve to be Kind


            It is included in one of Paul’s so-called “virtue lists” (2 Corinthians 6:6). It is the way God will give grace when are gathered to him in his eternal kingdom (Ephesians 2:7). It is fruit produced in us when the Holy Spirit fills us, works in our lives, and through our lives (Galatians 5:22).

            Kindness. The United States of America desperately needs a tsunami of kindness to overwhelm us.

            The United States is beginning a presidential election year. Our politics have always been contentious, but the divisions of the past decade rival any from the most bellicose times in our nation’s history. Many of your neighbors are apolitical, but those who have political feelings hold them stridently and in the extreme. And if you are among the masses who would rather avoid politics, you will inevitably be pushed into political conversations by your aggressively partisan neighbors. It’s never a nuanced discussion respecting those who hold different perspectives. It’s always a vicious fight.

            What can followers of Jesus bring to these fractious times? Kindness.

            In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, “We have commended ourselves … by kindness.” In other words, for Paul and his missionary colleagues, kindness is a job requirement. He can’t adequately travel and represent Christ without it. In Ephesians, we read that God has “raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places …, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness. The heavenly eternity we long for is defined by kindness and unintelligible without it. “The fruit of the Spirit is … kindness” (Galatians 5:22).

            Some Christians are determined to be bold in their witness. I agree. We are called by God to courageously testify that Jesus is Lord. We are called to this proclamation no matter how much it costs us. However, boldness cannot be claimed as the forfeiture of kindness. In Christ, we can be both: bold and kind. We must be. To make a difference in a militantly polarized day, we have to insist that to follow Christ is to commit to kindness.

            I’m not recommending you make resolutions as we step into 2024. Neither am I recommending against resolutions. I have my own list of resolutions I hope will make me a more likable, helpful person. If the practice of keeping New Year’s resolutions helps you recenter and refocus your life, go for it! Just be sure and keep the resolutions you make!

What I as a pastor, charged with guiding souls in the way of Christ, do commend is the pursuit of kindness; all year! When the fighting around you gets loud and ugly, change the temperature by being an agent of kindness. Disorient your neighbors by meeting their intensity with your gentles, inviting spirit. Make it your 2024 goal to pursue kindness in your relationships, in the world around you, and in your own heart.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Words of Advent


Hope, Peace, Joy, Love

When did these become the words of Advent?

Life is right for one who has these, but what else is needed? What more comes?


What about Faith, Grace, Mercy, and Justice?

What about Truth, Holiness, Resurrection, and New Creation?

Are these subsumed under Hope, Peace, Joy, Love?

The words of Advent


Do prescribed scripture readings walk in step, languidly with the words of Advent

or do they bump into one another and step on one another’s toes?


‘In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.’ Hope?


‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire.’ Peace?


‘He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.’ Joy?


‘You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.’ Love?


As we wait for the coming of the King,

I bless you with the words of Advent

Justice, Truth, Grace, Laughter, Surprise, Holy, Faith, Mercy, Eternity, Direction, Purpose, Forgiveness, New Creation, Revelation, Resurrection, Hope, Peace, Joy, Love, Light

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Those Who Trust in Themselves


The professional basketball player doesn’t sign a contract extension but instead plays his final season, intending to be so incredible, he’ll get a new, bigger contract worthy of superstar.

            He bet on himself, they say.

The boxers square off, two heavyweights with thunder in their hands.

            They faced off wearing nothing but their courage, the writer waxes rhapsodic.

            If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will.

            Jesus told a parable to listeners who trusted in themselves.

            The basketball player, betting on himself.

            The boxer, wearing nothing but his own courage.

            The motivational poster telling you, believe in yourself.

            The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable,

O God, I thank you that I am not like other people, thieves, rogues, adulterers or even this tax collector.

This tax collector. I actually met him, the tax collector from Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:9-14. I was on a three-hour drive and the tax collector was riding shotgun. And, there was a guy in the back on his cellphone trying to save the world one reconciled relationship at a time, but that’s another story.

How did I recognize my passenger-seat passengers as Jesus’ publican? He was so keenly aware of his own brokenness before God, he kept apologizing.

Hey Rob, what do you think of … and then before I can answer, O sorry, I shouldn’t have asked that.

Days after our trip, he calls me and I say, ‘hello,’ and he says, ‘So sorry for calling.’ Always apologizing.

He knows he needs God’s forgiveness, but doesn’t know how to ask for it. When God forgives, my new friend doesn’t know how to receive it. Not knowing how to connect with God, he does the best he can. He goes around apologizing for himself, especially if he’s talking with a preacher.

To some who trusted in themselves, Jesus told a parable about two men who went up to the temple to pray, a Pharisee and a tax collector.

O God, I thank you that I am not like …  this tax collector.

I won’t spoil it for you. It’s in Luke 18, verses 9-14. Read it. Are your someone who trusts in your own self? Jesus told this for you.

I fear the 21st century is going to be a painful, painful lesson in what Jesus wanted to teach in this parable. Of course, it doesn’t have to be painful. Of the Pharisee and the tax collector, one of the two left the temple justified. Read it. You’ll know who. And you’ll know what you need to do before God.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Exploring Scripture

            Read the Bible. This is the theme of my newsletter articles quite often because the Bible is there and it doesn’t change. Styles of communication change. Styles of dress and hair and cars all come and go. Ways of talking evolve over time. Just read a novel from 1900, and then from 1945, and then 1995. How politics function changes over time.

            The word God is constant, always true, and always relevant. Recently, we heard Erin Stratton preach on Genesis 3 (July 30), and then Amy Brown preached on the same passage (October 1). Go back and listen to both sermons. The links are at the bottom. Amy’s message had some flaws in the video, but you can hear her entire message. Both preachers delivered strong messages that will edify your soul.

            Amy invited us to ‘explore scripture.’ I echo this. In a sermon on Genesis 3, she succinctly wove in references from 1 Kings, Proverbs, and 1 Peter. None of these allusions were forced. They all fit her overall point that when we come to God with honest questions and ask them, we grow closer to God’s heart. She did not promise God will answer every question; God won’t. There are things we aren’t ready to know. However, we are invited to seek.

            Thus, I return to my original point. Read the Bible. Make Bible-reading a life-long pursuit and practice. Be in the word. At other times, I’ve explained various approaches to Bible reading. Whether you read chunks of scripture, entire books in one sitting, or spend considerable time meditating on just a few lines of one or two verses, prayerfully, thoughtfully, attentively consume scripture. Be so driven to meet God in the word that it might feel impossible to live without it.

            If you do this prayerfully, if you read scripture in tandem with seeking God, you won’t have deleterious outcomes. You will be blessed and you will grow in your knowledge of God. I thank both our preachers who treated Genesis 3 for calling us to this most Christian of activities; the motivated reading of scripture with the motive of knowing God.


Erin -

Amy -


Monday, July 31, 2023

Christian Distinctives?


Why should someone become a Christian? What makes Christianity distinct or unique? What is the appeal of the Christian faith?

            Hillside Church family, I need your help answering these questions. I am in a group of pastors and academics that meet biweekly to discuss theology. In one of our discussions, a women said she found herself perplexed by a question an unbeliever asked her. “What makes Christianity special?” She was tongue-tied.

            This is an intelligent woman. She’s a philosophy professor at a major university. She is a regular church attendee. She is very active in her church and in her faith. Yet, when pressed by unchurched person to give an account of her faith (1 Peter 3:15), she lacked confidence.

            How would you answer? Are you ready, as 1 Peter instructs, “to make your defense to anyone who demands an accounting for the hope that is in you?” We must be ready. Church attendance is in sharp decline across denominations in the United States. A scrutinizing public might ask those of us still committed to Christ, why bother? No one cares about church or believes in God anymore! Why do you?

            Here’s what I want you to do. Email me your answer; It can be a couple of sentences or a couple of pages. Write a book if you want to. How ever you interpret it, answer this series of queries –

Why should someone become a Christian?

What makes Christianity distinct or unique?

What is the appeal of the Christian faith?


            I hope to get at least 30 responses from you in the Hillside Church family by September 1. I’ll share my answer in my September newsletter article.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Sacred Spaces, Innovative Places

July 5, 2023

            The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has published two volumes of the short book Sacred Spaces, Innovative Places: Reimagining Church Property and Facility as Assets. Hillside Church is featured in the last chapter of Volume 2. You can pick up a copy as long as they last. Or, you can download the booklet -

             The simplest explanation for why our church might be featured in a publication intended to inspire other churches is our willingness to say “Yes,” or “Let’s pray about this,” when new ideas for ministry arise. We never just shoot down a proposed idea with an abrupt “No!” Sometimes after prayer and discernment, God leads us to decline ideas or opportunities, but even then, it’s not necessarily a hard “no.” It’s closer to, “not at this time.” For example, I had announced we would be doing a short Vacation Bible School in August. After consideration and prayer, we decided that’s not a ministry we’re ready for in 2023. We’ll do VBS again, just not at this time.

            More often, we pray, then we give it a try. God opened the door for us to host a preschool. God made a way for us to work more cooperatively with both the Boy Scout troop that meets in our building and the Karen Baptist Church that shares our space. Solar panels? God led us to say “Yes.” And, we’ve seen one of our biggest ministries (in terms of people needed to run it and people blessed by it), the food pantry, continue to evolve. Some of our ministries do generate income for the church. Others are purely the church blessing those who come. Hopefully all ministries are an opportunity for our members and attendees to embody the love of Christ.

             While it’s cool to say ‘we’ve been written up in a CBF publication’ and it’s fun to describe these ministries – it is essential that our members and attendees participate! You can’t grow in discipleship by attending a church that runs a really proficient food pantry unless you help by volunteering. As you read this, pray about where God is calling you to jump in. Food pantry? Bible Study? Helping Hands Counselor? Music Ministry? We want to expand what we do. It can only happen if our members get involved. Many already are, but here, I specifically mean those of you who aren’t actively participating. Give up some time to love people and serve God through these innovative ministries our church offers.