Reflections on Jessie Davis’ Life and Death

It’s been a little over two years since Jessie Davis’s murder. The news of her murder went nationally here in the USA and
also, I believe, internationally. This blog entry (Jessie Davis’ murder – One year later) appeared in the print edition of the local newspaper, and there’s also a link to the local coverage of the murder at the time.

Though I’ve never met any of those involved, this murder interested me for several reasons. First, the place where her body was found was in an area which was familiar to me — it was near a road where I regularly commuted some years ago. There are also two Boy Scout camps nearby (one of which was where my parents met when they were on staff), and I was afraid when I first saw the aerial shots of the area on the first news reports that her body may have been found by a group of hiking Boy Scouts — thankfully, it wasn’t. Second, the pastor of the church where that her family attended she grew up has been a family friend for about 35 years.

According to the accounts of Jessie Davis’s life, she had a number of dreams when she was in high school that never materialized. She seems to have had a dream of being a missionary nurse, and went to college with that dream. But what happened? Apparently she got caught up in the party culture when she went to Kent State University, and her life became a downward spiral from there. How did she so easily and so quickly become a party girl?

As I’ve looked at the accounts of her life, and have shaken my head in wonder at the dreams that she had but apparently never learned how to set and attain goals in her life so that at least some of her dreams could have become reality. I’ve also wondered how she could have become involved with an abusive, exploitative loser like Bobby Cutts. I wonder if anyone ever told her anything to the effect that her heart is something too precious to be given away too easily and to the wrong person.

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Three Questions for Each Sermon

In listening to a number of sermons from other preachers over the years, I think that many of them could be improved markedly by asking three questions during preparation. Most certainly these questions are the kinds of inquiries that are going through the minds of the congregation as they listen. Many listeners are more sophisticated about the preaching that they hear and the interpretation of the passage than many pastors understand, and they are more sensitive to when a passage is being misinterpreted or misapplied than many pastors realize. Many are also left feeling empty when the sermon is overly academic, more in the manner of a Bible school lecture.

“So what?”

What is the significance of the passage for a modern day believer? Why should I care here in the twenty first century what was being said or done in this Biblical passage which is the subject of the sermon?

The sermon needs to go beyond any academic background on the passage and deal with its timeless theological significance and its current application. Too many preachers get stuck in the background and do not go on to tell what the passage teaches us about the God of the Bible, the salvation he has provided, and what it means to me today. The impression that this gives is that the preacher has spent more time in learning about the Bible and too little time in learning how to live the Bible. The sermon comes off more as an academic lecture than a heart felt exhortation to trust and obey God and follow his Word.

This problem tends to happen more with pastors who preach through a whole book at a time. What comes up on the preaching schedule for next week’s sermon is the next passage in order in the book. The problem with this approach comes when the passage does not enter into the pastor’s life significantly enough to be able to bring out much more than an academic lecture. In this case the pastor would do best to do a lot of praying over the passage and seek to get what God is saying through the passage much more beyond the background and interpretation. It’s a good rule of thumb that each sermon needs to be preached by the preacher to himself and through himself before he preaches it to the congregation.

It needs to be said that preaching through a whole book at a time is a comparatively recent practice in preaching. As far as I can tell, it was practically unknown in evangelical circles until the 1950’s. It does leave the preacher and the congregation with a definite expectation of what will be the subject of the sermon from one week to the next. It does leave a sense of continuity between one sermon and the next. I don’t think that it necessarily tends to build a more Biblically literate congregation, though. What would tend to build a more Biblically literate congregation from the pulpit tends to be a greater demonstration of accurate interpretation and reasonable and workable application of the Bible during the sermon. But a stronger Sunday School for adults and children and small group Bible studies in conjunction with Biblical preaching from the pulpit tend to build a Biblically literate congregation.

“How can you say that?”

What is the basis for your interpretation and application of the passage that you’re preaching on? How did you come to that conclusion?

The more sophisticated listeners, especially those with a modern study Bible, are sensitive to when a sermon takes a passage out of its immediate context, its context in the Bible as a whole and its context in terms of its linguistic and historical background. Many can pick up on the non-sequiturs of misinterpretation of a passage. The problem with this approach is that the hearers understand instinctively that a misinterpreted passage of scripture does not command their belief, trust and obedience. Misinterpretations from the pulpit leave them with little profit from the sermon and a diminished view of the scholarship, if not the character, of the preacher.

I would encourage pastors to read or re-read a work on interpreting scripture at least once per year. One which I recommend is D. A. Carson’s Exegetical Fallacies. James Sire’s Scripture Twisting is another which I would recommend. It’s directed against the cults but there are a number of their methods that evangelicals fall into when they misinterpret scripture. For example, one of the most common ways in which pastors misinterpret scripture in the pulpit is overspecification. This is where a passage is made to say much more than it actually says. The cults do this very often to support their doctrines, and congregations instinctively understand when this overreaching of the passage takes place.

It’s a good idea to give sufficient basis for the interpretation of the passage in the sermon. Make your case for why you believe it means what you say it means. This does not have to be long, but it can be made brief and accurate. I personally avoid going into Greek and Hebrew beyond saying things like that the passage can be better translated in such and such a way, or that the original language has such and such an implication. That way, the congregation can understand the scriptural basis for living out the application of the passage that the pastor gives.

“Who are you talking about?”

One of the difficulties in applying the scripture is that it can become the pastor taking surreptitious potshots at individuals within the congregation. There are times that I could tell by the descriptions given which individuals the pastor was addressing. Sometimes when congregations see this tendency in the pastor they can tell who has irritated the pastor in the past week or so, or they can tell which individual or individual the pastor is addressing. This in turn grieves the people in the congregation that see this happening, and diminishes their opinion of the character of the pastor who does this. C.H. Spurgeon once mentioned that the pulpit in his day for pastors who did this was called the “Coward’s Castle.”

The best way to address this is to write out the application of a scripture beforehand and avoid trying to improvise it from the pulpit. This will avoid this kind of ‘emotional leakage’ of personal irritations during the sermon. Also be sure to address individual problems with individuals in the congregation outside the pulpit. Use the time in the sermon to feed, correct, and instruct the whole flock and not to go after one individual sheep. Usually, when a pastor does this, the application of a passage will apply to other believers and other churches, and the pastor can preach the same sermon in other churches with the same blessing without having to rewrite the application for each congregation.

The Christian and Affliction: Part I

Over the next several weeks I plan to do some postings on the purpose of affliction in the life of the Christian. It seems to me that, with the past two and a half decades of pretty consistent prosperity in the USA, the evangelical church has lost some of its scriptural and historical understanding of affliction. Yet Jesus himself said, “ . . . in the world you will have tribulation . . .” It’s in the daily following of Christ through affliction that a believer demonstrates that his or her life has been truly transformed and that his or her changed life is more than a mere change of opinions. Even more, it’s in the standing together with brothers and sisters in Christ when they are undergoing hard times and bearing their burdens that the church of Jesus Christ demonstrates that it is more than a gathering of religious spectators.

First, here are some resources which have meant a lot to me over the years. The first two deal more with the philosophical reasons.

The next resources deal with the day to day living in affliction. I can remember Ravi Zacharias once saying that the problem that he had, once he realized the philosophical sufficiency of the Christian message, was now existential: it was living the life of Christ in the midst of affliction. These resources will give more direction in that area.

Trusting Christ As My Provider

“During the days of the depression, hundreds of men came to my office for a handout, or a shakedown or the night. Many a time I asked them this question: ‘When you were earning money, did you square with God? Did you give to God that which belonged to him?’ Never once did I have that question answered in the affirmative. Every man who came for a handout had to admit he had not squared with God in the years of prosperity.’
Oswald J. Smith


I came up with the following outline back in 1992 when I was serving as the pastor of a church in the Appalachians. I emailed it out to a number of people, and it has since been used by some others. In the current economic hardships, understanding what it means to trust the provision of God through Jesus Christ is no longer an option but a necessity.


Trusting Christ As My Provider

I. God provides of my daily needs

A. God promises to provide as I seek his kingdom and his righteousness: Matthew 6:33.

God promises to provide sufficiency, not extravagance: I Timothy 6:6-8, Matthew 6:25-32.

God wants us to pray for our daily needs: Matthew 6:11.

II. God normally provides for me through employment.

A. Working for our living ensures that we are dependent on no one else: I Thessalonians 4:11-12, II Thessalonians 3:7-10.

B. The believer is to work as if the Lord Jesus were his personal supervisor, and to be respectful of his employer: Ephesians 6:5-8, Colossians 3:22-25 (substitute employee for slave in these passages; the relationship between employer and employee is of mutual advantage and mutual choice, though, and not permanent legal coercion).

C. The believer increases his income through diligence and skill: Proverbs 10:4. (See also Ecclesiastes 10:10, Proverbs 22:29, Deuteronomy 8:17-18)

III. God provides so that I can give to support the work of the gospel and the needs of the less fortunate.

A. Giving is to be through the local church on a weekly basis: I Corinthians 16:2 (a tithe is a good beginning).

B. Giving is to be of our own free will, in response to the grace of God: II Corinthians 8:6-11.

C. Giving demonstrates that our true treasure and Master is Christ: Matthew 6:19-21, 24.

Challenge: begin to give this week with a tithe.

Addressing Special Needs

1. Government assistance (welfare, SSI): For the believer in Christ, there have been some problems with the acceptance of government financial support without being employed by the government. It has encouraged laziness among the able bodied; it has encouraged dependence on the government instead of God; it dissociates income from work; it discourages marriage and stable families; and it supplants the financial support ministry of the body of Christ. Therefore the able bodied unemployed and the employable disabled need counsel and encouragement to become employed wherever possible for their own support, witness and obedience to God. Care should be taken not to abuse those in genuine need or to expect an immediate transition out of a state of dependence.

2. Restitution: Whenever a person has stolen or defrauded from an individual, a business or the government should receive restitution as a matter of honesty and as evidence of genuine repentance (Proverbs 6:31, the example of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10). Usually this can be taken from luxury and entertainment spending for a short period. A person who has been living a parasitic and exploitative lifestyle (stealing in the Biblical sense includes fraud and deceit for financial gain: Leviticus 19:12 is an expansion of Exodus 20:15) needs to be directed to work and giving (Ephesians 4:28, I Thessalonians 4:11-12).

3. Debt: Buying on credit can produce debt which is an unwise use of money; the interest on the credit increases the cost of the purchase and leave the borrower in financial bondage (Proverbs 22:7). Generally, excessive debt results from extravagant, unnecessary and premature purchases. The new believer should be referred to a Christian financial counselor — preferably one who is a volunteer.

4. Homemakers: Stay at home mothers with preschool children already have a full time job on their hands. It is financial wisdom for a husband to seek to improve his income so that they can survive on one income during the years of childbearing and during the years the children are preschool. During the school age years of the children, starting a home based business might be wiser than returning to work for an employer. There is good scriptural precedence for this in Proverbs 31:24, and it would be in accord with Titus 2:5. Generally a homemaker with Christ as her Lord and Supervisor will plan her day so that there are no significant times of idleness during the day, and so that she may use the evening for relaxation, entertainment and family devotions. She can also plan for significant times of personal ministry during these hours, and certainly time for her personal Bible reading and prayer.

5. Prosperity theology (the ‘health and wealth’ gospel: Believers who are still new to Christ can be deceived by this unbalanced application of the scriptures. Christ promises sufficiency, not material riches. Scriptures such as I Timothy 6:9-10, Luke 6:24, 12:13-21, and 18:23-25 should adequately address this teaching that substitutes wealth for sufficiency. Contentment with what we have from God is his will for us (Hebrews 13:5-6, Philippians 4:11-13, Exodus 20:17).

6. The stockholder mentality of giving to a church: Some have had an unfortunate tendency to use their giving, which is to be to God, to attempt to influence the direction of the church according to personal preference. In the New Testament, the funds that were given to the church were put at the disposal of the leaders whom God had called and appointed for the uses that they announced and decided (Acts 4:35-37: “at the apostles’ feet” means “at the disposal of the apostles”). This is less of a temptation for those who are unable to give large amounts, but the general principle is that we give to support God’s work in God’s way, and not our personal preferences.

Self Defense: Biblical Guidelines

Theodore Roosevelt: “No greater wrong can be done than to put a good man at the mercy of a bad, while telling him not to defend himself or his fellows; in no way can the success of evil be made surer or quicker.”

There’s a great deal of purchasing of guns for self defense going on right now, according to a number of stories on the national news. Over a year ago I went through the scriptures to see what the Bible had to say about self defense. Most of what I’ve heard in the past has tended to be an overemphasis on ‘turning the other cheek,’ and in many cases this leaves professed brothers and sisters in Christ unrebuked and uncorrected, who are engaging in deliberate provocation, falsehood, and verbal and physical intimidation and abuse. Moreover, it does not leave much guideline for a believer who is seeking to avoid becoming the victim of a civil crime. Certainly the Bible gives a lot of teaching on trusting God as one’s defender, but a closer examination shows that one of the ways of his defense is through civil authorities and reasonable precautions and self defense for which the believer himself is responsible.

Here is some of what I’ve found.

The believer is not to make decisions based on fear and intimidation from others.

  • There is no need for the righteous to flee like the wicked (Proverbs 28:1).
  • The man of God is not to be intimidated by the aggressive looks of the wicked (Ezekiel 2:6, 3:9).
  • The believer does not have a spirit of fear, to be cowed by the intimidation of others, but of power, love and a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7).

The believer can make a legitimate defense and protest of innocence before a civil court and civil authorities when faced with false accusations and unjust punishment.

  • Jeremiah protested his innocence often before the kings of Judah (Jeremiah 26:12-16).
  • Jesus protested his innocence before the Sanhedrin when unjustly struck (John 18:22-23).
  • Peter and John asserted their innocence before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8-13, 5:23-29).
  • Paul asserted his innocence before Felix, Festus, the Sanhedrin and Herod Agrippa II (Acts 22:23, 24:10-21, 26:1-23).

The believer is called to rebuke and correct wicked words and actions before the church and the world, and not to have any part in them (Matthew 18:15-17, Ephesians 4:15, 5:11, I Thessalonians 5:14, Hebrews 3:13). The limit would be that one’s own defense should not become falsehood and therefore sin in denial of facts.

The believer is not to allow personal hurt and injury to become a grudge, personal payback or a vendetta, but to allow for the justice of God and legitimate earthly authorities (Leviticus 19:17-18, Proverbs 24:29, 26:27, Romans 12:17-21, I Thessalonians 5:15, I Peter 3:9). This is actually the context of Jesus’s command to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to ‘love your enemies’ (Matthew 5:38-48). And this did not extend to putting oneself negligently in danger from one’s enemies. The actions encompassed in his commands are more mild insult, humiliation and exploitation rather than danger of being maimed or killed from the reckless, abusive and murderous.  For example, Jesus legitimately avoided physical harm and false arrest until his time had come (John 8:59). Moreover, prudence means avoidance of danger in Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12.

In the civil law of Israel, there were provisions so that the community and the individual Israelite to avoid becoming the victim of or participation in another person’s violations of the Ten Commandments. Many of the actions of King David can be understood in light of the commands of the civil law of Israel (for example, his refusal to kill Saul: Leviticus 19:17-18, the delayed execution of Joab: Exodus 21:14, I Kings 2:5-6, 28-34). This gives an example for believes of the righteous requirement of the Law which is fulfilled in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-4). The general principle is that there is a civil and personal responsibility not to participate in the sins of others and to avoid becoming the victim of the sins of others. For instance, it is easily arguable that respect for oneself and others as being made in the image of means protection of oneself and others from murder.

  • Israelites were to avoid any kind of false testimony and biased judgment in the legal system (Exodus 23:1-9).
  • A night burglar could be killed in self defense (Exodus 22:2).
  • The community was called to enforce capital punishment against those instigating idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:1-18).

There’s much more that can be found in the scriptures. Certainly the commands in the Sermon on the Mount need to be understood alongside what is taught and exemplified throughout the scriptures, and more discussion among brothers and sisters in Christ would be appropriate.

Finney on Being Filled with the Spirit

Another classic chapter in Charles G. Finney’s Lectures on Revivals of Religion is ON BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT. It bears reading in its entirety, after reading his previous chapter on HOW TO PROMOTE A REVIVAL. It’s worthwhile to see the reasons that he gives for believers not being filled with the Spirit:

  • Pride.
  • Hypocrisy.
  • Worldly mindedness.
  • Shallow confession of sins.
  • Neglecting known obedience.
  • Resistance of the conviction of the Holy Spirit.
  • Not wanting to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
  • Not praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

If we wonder why there seems to be so much conformity and superficiality among many in the modern evangelical church, we can say that many are not filled with the Spirit and walking in the Spirit daily. It bears re-reading Finney again. His chapter is convicting, of course, but more than worth the time to read and consider what he had to say.

Revival Starts with Yourself

Charles Finney, in his classic Lectures on Revivals of Religion, had a chapter on HOW TO PROMOTE A REVIVAL. It was not about public relations, or promoting your church with the ‘awesome power of ADVERTISING’! (Yes, there was once a circular to pastors that did promise that). Rather, he pointed out the need for believers to get themselves right with God, and into a path of consistent obedience and abiding in Christ.

Many believers today wonder why their personal growth is stunted and why their church is continually being fractured and losing people to other churches. Too many focus on the outward conformity of churchianity, of attendance and participation in church activities, and even seem to think that they are earning some kind of ‘extra credit’ with God if they hold an office or participate in some upfront ministry. They usually reply, when confronted with the need for cleansing of their lives to experience the fullness of God’s presence in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, that they are doing all that they know. Perhaps they should look further at what Finney had to say. Here is his list of what keeps a believer from experiencing personal revival.

SINS OF OMISSION

  • Ingratitude.
  • Want of love to God.
  • Neglect of the Bible.
  • Unbelief.
  • Neglect of prayer.
  • Neglect of the means of grace.
  • The manner in which you have performed those duties.
  • Your want of love for the souls of your fellow-men.
  • Your want of care for the heathen.
  • Your neglect of family duties.
  • Neglect of social duties.
  • Neglect of watchfulness over your own life.
  • Neglect to watch over your brethren.
  • Neglect of self-denial.

SINS OF COMMISSION

  • Worldly mindedness.
  • Pride.
  • Envy.
  • Censoriousness.
  • Slander.
  • Levity.
  • Lying.
  • Cheating.
  • Hypocrisy.
  • Robbing God.
  • Bad temper.
  • Hindering others from being useful.

It would be best for anyone who wants to know more to read what Finney actually had to say: HOW TO PROMOTE A REVIVAL. He himself often came back to his list regularly, every time he started to feel his heart grow cold. It’s an idea worth consideration.