A strong word from University Presbyterian Church (Derek & Rebekah go to church continued…)

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

– Sunday morning in Chapel Hill

Sometimes – and I know we all have this feeling once in a while – everything just feels “right.” At least that was the case this Sunday morning, gathering for worship with another local Presbyterian congregation. Rebekah and I showed up, we slipped into a pew halfway down the left hand side, we opened up our hearts, and we were fed.

I want to reiterate that I am not some kind of a “secret shopper” in the pew, I am not a critic, and I do not intend to review or evaluate “performance” as we visit various church sites. I very much understand that the worship experience is more contingent on my own “heart preparation” than it is anything else.

That said, the fact remains that while last week Rebekah cried because she wasn’t at church, this week she cried because she was.

Chapel Hill:

We decided to venture over to Chapel Hill, making our way to University Presbyterian Church. The campus is right in the middle of the town, and the church is deeply engaged with both the community and the university.

We could sense the vital life of the congregation as soon as we entered.

I have talked about this before and I recognized it immediately. The “buzz” of electricity in the building was not because of the sermon (even though the preacher was most excellent), not due to the music (though it was sublime), and not from the friendliness of the congregation (though they obviously are)… But, the place was vibrant and alive in response to of all the outreach, mission, education, small groups, children’s ministry, prayer, Bible-study etc. that happens during the week. All of that, all the enthusiasm and faithfulness and life in action from day to day, gathers together Sunday morning for worship and celebration, and it is palpable.

The Message:

Okay. So we got all that in the first couple of minutes. This has been our consistent experience over four decades of ministry, and we recognize it.

– Rev. Jarrett McLaughlin

We were not surprised, then, when it turned out that the music was indeed wonderful, and the children who helped lead worship were full with life, and the preaching was exceptional.

Rev. Jarrett McLaughlin, who serves as co-pastor along with his wife Meg, preached on the Ephesians 3:14-21 passage sampled above. His message covered a lot of ground and is worth listening to on line (video below), but I want to hone in on one of the themes because it echos a lot of my writing over recent years, and I believe it is important we keep this truth in the front of our thinking.

The real power of God:

Jarrett made a strong point of contrasting the message of what he calls “Christian Nationalism” (I often refer to it as “Lightly christianized religious nationalism“) with the clear and consistent message God offers through Jesus Christ.

What I am talking about is the difference:

  • between domination and love,
  • between coercion and compassion,
  • between bullying and leading,
  • between putting down and lifting up,
  • between militia and mission,
  • between insurrection and invitation,
  • between riot and peaceful protest…

The power of God – the creative, amazing, transformational, eternal power of Emmanuel, God with us, is made evident in the kind of love that serves and cares and heals and comforts and encourages – because “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

I know, I am throwing around a lot of scripture here, but it just keeps coming to mind. The evidence is too strong. The tenets of Christian Nationalism take root in theological illiteracy, but the truth about the Gospel is the power of love, and a deep knowledge of the scriptures leaves no doubt as where Jesus stands.

Derek Maul

Do you want to confuse nationalism with following Jesus? Do you want to dominate and intimidate, and have Jesus stand in front of a national flag? Do you want a well-armed “Christian” militia? Do you think that is what God is calling the church to do? If so, then read this:

Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.

Isaiah 9:5-7

This is getting long for a blog post. Suffice it to say that my spirit resonated with the good word preached by pastor McLaughlin Sunday morning; Rebekah’s too.

May God continue to bless the ministry of University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill. I know that you will see us again.

In love, and because love is the power of God – DEREK


  1. I bet that was an amazing sermon! I love the opening of your post when you said, ‘We could sense the vital life of the congregation as soon as we entered.’ I wish God’s people everywhere could feel that sense of “Vital Life.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andy… I’m so conscious that it is my heart that needs to be prepared when I enter a church for worship. But your point is well taken – it’s also a cumulative, community, sense of preparedness too

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You continue write quite graciously. I don’t know how many Christian nationalists read your blog, but I’ve known a few well respected Presbyterians who seemed pretty cold on the love of God and awfully drawn to the way of power. Maybe some of them will read your blog. Because you are spot on! The way of Jesus is the way of love. That love that surpasses knowledge. That love is on display not in demonstrations of might.
    God’s power is still made perfect in weakness. Amen!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Jesse.
      My sense is that quite a few Christian nationalists read me – including many who haven’t thought it through enough to realize that is where they have landed! You’re right, no-one is immune from being drawn to power over love, so it’s something we must all guard against.
      Rebekah kicked off her “top ten Bible verse” sermon series with Paul’s power in weakness passage.
      Peace and blessings


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