Posts Tagged ‘christianity’

Preaching the Whole Counsel

This post was originally written and published as a guest post on the Preaching blog propreacher

When I was 16 years old and still a babe in Christ, I once remarked that I didn’t need to read the Old Testament. I didn’t think you could find Christ in the Old Testament. How wrong I was!

I can blame my ignorance, in part, on not being raised in the Church and never hearing the Bible stories. I couldn’t distinguish Noah from Jonah. I was a functional Marcionite, long before I knew Marcion’s name.

Bible and shadow of Cross

Photo Credit: damianeva cc

A little history lesson: Marcion was an early church father, who served as the Bishop of Sinope and lived in the late first century until the middle second century.  He would be condemned by the other early Church Fathers. Why? He viewed the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament as competing deities. There was no grace to be found in the Old Testament.  He called the OT God by the name demiurge, a mere tribal deity of the Hebrews. This led to his rejection of the Old Testament Scriptures.

Unfortunately, our pews are full of many functional Marcionites. They just don’t see any use for the Old Testament. They don’t see Jesus.

We must lay the blame for that at the feet of pastors who consistently avoid preaching the Old Testament. I get it. It’s hard and there are many passages that create difficulties. How do we handle the annihilation of the Caananites, for example. But Jesus, on the Road to Emmaus gave us the big picture. He told us all of the Scriptures speak and lead to Him.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Luke 24:45-48, ESV

Keep in mind that the New Testament had not been written yet!

So, we have our marching orders. We cannot ignore the Old Testament. How then do we find balance in our preaching, so that we preach the whole counsel of God’s Word? Commit to preaching both Testaments.

I do this by alternating my preaching series between the two. I learned this from the pastor I worked under out of seminary and I am grateful for that leading. I preach expository series, but this can work with topical series too. Just make sure you draw on the full teaching of Scripture.

Even with special series, I try to alternate my preaching. So, at Advent I will preach the promise of the Coming of Christ one year and then the Reality the next. In so doing, I point my congregation to the full teaching of Scripture. I am committed to drilling Marcionism from their hearts.

Additionally, books by Biblical Theologians, like Graham Goldsworthy and Sidney Greidanus may help the preacher connect the redemptive story of Christ together.

Preacher, commit to preaching the whole counsel!

The Voice of Despair

I have been thinking about something in a sermon that I preached quite awhile ago that I remembered recently.  Something I need to hear and be reminded of right now.  From my sermon on 1 Samuel 27 (if you want to see the Scriptural context), I made this bit of application <in italics below> in one of the main points:  

      The voice of despair speaks into our lives, as well.  If you think about it, you will realize that we are always speaking to ourselves.  We have conversations with ourselves about our lives.   I’m not talking about hearing voices, nor am I trying to psychoanalyze here.  I’m talking about the inner monologue or even dialogue (if we get to arguing with ourselves) that takes place in our heart.    One commentator said that “all of us propagandize our souls”.   And if the propaganda is something other than the truth of God’s Word, His Character, His Sufficiency, His Promise, then we are in trouble and might begin to look to Philistia for our salvation, than to the Lord.   

    Who would you say is David’s greatest enemy?  The easy answer is Saul.   And certainly Saul has been a great enemy of David.  But the reality is that David is his own worst enemy at this very point.   And we are our own worst enemies.   We too look for heavenly comfort from earthly sources.  We buy into the idea, telling ourselves this lie, that “if only” I had or I was  __________, then everything would be okay.   And those lies then shape our decisions and the direction of our lives.    David is the fainting king.  And we’re just like him – not kings mind you – but full of fainting, faltering faith.

What does the voice of despair say to you?  What do you say to yourself in dark moments?  Where are you tempted to run instead of the Lord?  And what does God say to you, about you and about your circumstances?  My guess is that they are quite different, if we actually get around to seeing what God’s Word has to say to us.  I know that that is my need. I need a different voice in my head and you probably do to.

Clean Up on Aisle Life

Life is messy.

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I wish it not were not so.  In fact, I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding messes.  Which is foolish, because you can attempt to avoid or plan your way around them, but things have a way of getting spilt all over the table of your life.  This is what happens when we sin and others sin and we live in a world full of fellow sinners.  And it is what happens in a world wrecked by sin.  We get tornadoes and cancer and death.    

 

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 And I hate tornados and cancer and death (among other things).  They leave messes behind.  Messes that can’t be quickly mopped up with the “quicker picker upper” or whatever the best brand of paper towels happens to be right now.  It takes time and help and hope to deal with such things.

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But in the mess we also find Jesus.  Right there in the middle of it all.  Picking up debris and sitting in an infusion center or holding your very heart when you feel it might break into a thousand little pieces.  Jesus is there.  In the mess. With you.  

And He promises that one day there will be no mess (Revelation 21).  For now, cast all your “messes” or anxieties upon Him, because He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7, also Philippians 4:4-7).  Messes, yes. But Jesus too.
 

Coming up for air…

           I’ve never been scuba diving.  Snorkeling one time as a child in the Dry Tortugas, which was incredible, but never scuba diving.  I do know that if you dive really deep and then come to the surface too quickly, you can end up with decompression sickness.  I saw on it TV and read about it on the internet, so it must be true.  Seriously, decompression sickness can lead to some serious physical and neurological effects  (you can google it if you want to know more). Thankfully, the sickness can be treated with oxygen and time in a hyperbaric chamber, usually resulting in no long term effects of decompression sickness.  

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        I’ve never been scuba diving, but I’m quite sure that I spent most of last year diving in the abyss of cancer.  The depths of suffering and pain that we have explored are overwhelming at times.  Sometimes the deep was so deep that no light could be seen.  Thankfully, the abyss did not swallow us and we have returned to the surface.  But I realize that my return to the surface has been quick in many ways. It has much to do with my desire to return to ministry in a full-time ministry.  And normal life.  Whatever that means.  

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         So, I’m in a strange place.  Maybe there is some decompression sickness.  It’s really nice to be on the surface.  Life is really good, but there are still many challenges that I face on a day to day basis.  On the positive side:  my strength, energy, and endurance are returning in a great way.  I would say that I am back to working full-time – which means some long days and weeks.  That’s not a complaint – the water’s nice.  I am so glad I can make hospital visits, focus on serving my family and our church family, seek God’s wisdom for the future, and continue to preach and teach week to week.  But I also feel overwhelmed, frustrated, and discouraged.  Out of place or out of step.  Disappointed by my mistakes and my need to make frequent apologies for my foibles.  The waters can still be troubled at times.  So, I have to try to remind myself regularly that I am first and forever a child of God.  That I am forgiven.  That, though I am weak, He is strong.   I need the oxygen of God’s grace.  And the  hyperbaric chamber of His steadfast love.  And day by day I find new mercies – which is more than I deserve.  I’ve come up for air and I am so glad – even of my ascent was too fast in some ways.  I have to trust God with that too.

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Letters to My Sheep: Halloween Discernment

Monday’s Thought…

A thought on Monday?  Tuesday and Wednesday, sure, but Monday?  Yep, for this week, at least.

I have been thinking a lot about Halloween this year, maybe a little more than usual, for a couple of reasons.  First, with Halloween falling on a Wednesday this year, we had to make a decsion about whether to have our normal Wednesday activities or not (we’re not).  And, Halloween is increasingly becoming big business in our country – with increasing amounts of money on merchandise related to Halloween.  Finally, every year Halloween seems to be a relatively big topic of discussions among Christians  – for and against, if you will.  And increasingly churches are offering alternatives to Halloween: Reformation Festivals, Fall Festivals, or Trunk or Treats (lots of these this year).  My intent here is not to wade into the waters of debate, but instead to dip my toes in the waters of discernment.  To ask some questions and encourage your thoughtfulness, not necessarily a change in your practices.  I am sure in our congregation, we have a diversity of views and levels of participation, and I hope whatever we do is done in a thoughtful way and with a desire to honor Christ. So, here are some thoughts/questions to think about:

  • Are our practices, either to participate or not, a result of what we were raised with (or even against what we were raised with)?  For example, because I was raised in a non-Christian home, we never asked spiritual questions about the holidays.  That makes it easy to just do what I grew up with, but not necessarily with Christian discernment.  The opposite could also be true.
  • If we are participating, how much are we just getting sucked into the materialism and consumerism of the whole thing?  Does our child have to have the best costume (or maybe ourselves)?  Have we bought candy 2 or 3 times already, because we’ve already consumed all of the candy long before October 31st?
  • Speaking of candy…how does this holiday play into our natural proclivities for more and more?  What about gluttony and greed?  I know it’s just candy and I like it as much as any kid, but how much do we really need?  And is there a way to develop generosity and attitude that counters that lust for more?
  • If we are not participating, what is our level of non-participation?  Will we turn off the lights, close the blinds, and allow our homes to be dark, rather than a source of light in the darkness?
  • Are we giving into darkness and evil, allow it a foothold, or otherwise fail to take seriously spiritual realities?
  • What does it mean to love our neighbors?  Does that command have any impact on what we do or don’t do?
  • Along the lines of last Sunday’s sermon, what does it mean to be “in the world, but not of the world” when it comes to Halloween?

These are just a few questions that come to mind.  Regardless of where we fall, I hope that we will be gracious towards brothers & sisters with whom we disagree, desire to honor Christ, and love our neighbors well.

If you wanted to read more/better thoughts, you might try these: Al Mohler (more to the against participation side); a PCA pastor (very much in favor), Tim Challies (somewhere in between?) and one from David Mathis on being missional on Halloween.  These are provided for your discernment.  I may agree or disagree with them in part, but they do provdie good thoughts.

What other questions might we ask?  (Not looking for a debate here)

Wedding Homily: Welcome One Another

This is a wedding homily I gave this past Saturday:

[Intro]
One of the joys of working outside the home is the gift of returning home.  Not just because it’s nice to be home or because I get to kick my feet up to relax, but because of the welcome that I receive.  My children are especially good at making me feel welcomed back home, whether it’s them running to greet before I have even gotten out of the car or the giant hugs that I get from them.  There is a particular joy that comes from their delight in my return home and that helps put the troubles of each day in perspective.  Also important to me are the words of welcome from my wife – each brings me into that place we all long for: home.  Paul speaks of welcome at the end of the passage from Romans 15 that we have already heard.

(ESV) Romans 15:7 – Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Paul addresses these words to the Christian community and it is appropriate to consider these words in light of the smallest, but very important community that exists in a marriage.  In this verse, there is a Command, a Connection, and a Consequence. I want to consider these briefly in light of this wonderful of occasion of your two lives being joined in marriage today.  First, the command…

[Command]
Paul says, “Welcome one another”.  It is a simple command.  At least it’s simple to understand, maybe less simple to apply. The word here that is translated as “welcome” is much deeper than a greeting or anything merely on the surface.  Paul is not describing a casual greeting, but the kind of reception or acceptance for someone else that is rooted in our hearts.  It refers to our opening our hearts to another person.  And in marriage, we are welcoming another person into the most vulnerable and sensitive place in our lives – our hearts.  C.S. Lewis recognizes the inherent danger in this, as he says: to love at all is to become vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safely in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless space, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. But you are opening your hearts to one another today.  The challenge in marriage is to see this kind of opening of our hearts as something that is done not just today on the wedding day, but rather everyday.  Especially when we become frustrated or annoyed with our spouse.  Especially when we have hurt or been hurt.  Especially when the pressures of finances or work intrude into the peace of our home.  You fight to welcome one another, because to do so is to fight for your very marriage.  This might be through a welcoming word, a welcoming touch, or a welcoming sacrifice of service for the other.

Paul understands the difficulty in this command.  So, Paul offers not just a command, but also a connection to Jesus Christ.

[Connection]
This is the pattern of the New Testament Epistles, especially in Paul’s letters.  The commands of Christianity are always connected in some way to Jesus Christ because we are not able to keep them in our own strength.  So, the command to welcome one another is connected to Christ’s welcome of us:  “just as Christ has welcomed you.”
This leads to us naturally to a question:  How has Christ welcomed us?  Scripture does not pull any punches in describing our lives prior to faith in Christ.  We need only go back in the book of Romans to see this:  in Romans 5:6-10 we get a picture of who we were:  “weak and helpless, ungodly, sinners, enemies” – these are the words used to describe us.  The picture of our lives without Christ is not pretty, but the testimony of Romans is that we were not chosen for salvation because we deserved it or had earned it.  The weak, the ungodly, sinners, and enemies of God actually deserve something far different than the welcome that we receive in Christ.  It can be hard for us to see ourselves in this light.   What becomes clear from Scripture is that Christ does not welcome us because we deserve it, but rather because grace and mercy are at His very heart.  

Just as we have to keep the command to welcome one another alive in our marriages, it is also crucial to keep the connection with Christ alive in it as well.  Again, this is not easy and there will be a hundred other things (many of them good) that will challenge your connection with Christ.  The question then that we must ask is this:  to what or whom should I connect to help me grow in love and welcome for my spouse.  There is no greater help that I know of than a connection to Christ.

Both our keeping the command to welcome one another and our connection lead to a consequence.

[Consequence]
How might you describe the dating scene across America these days?  To me it seems that it is largely about figuring out how one person can present their most attractive qualities and minimize their flaws to another person who is doing the exact same thing.  Too often the flaws aren’t revealed until after the wedding.  Unfortunately, this is the poor foundation upon many marriages are built.  And the consequences are often severe.  But to welcome one another recognizing the welcome we have received from Christ leads to a far different consequence – the glory of God.   There is no greater thing for us to do than to give glory to God. And here we can see the purpose that our marriages may serve within the greater community that we live – giving glory to God.  I found in my own marriage that what galvanizes our relationship more than any other, is for us to both to be focused on something much greater than ourselves or our desires.  As a result, this consequence strengthens our marriages and helps us to grow deeper in the difficult work of an ongoing welcoming and drawing each other into our hearts.

[Conclusion]
A simple message:  welcome one another…But not always easy to apply.  So, we look at the little ways and build from there.

  • Words of welcome for one another.  The kinds of words that go beyond the surface and touch each other’s hearts.
  • A welcoming touch:   a hug, a kiss, or just remembering that physical proximity matters.
  • Being quick to listen, and slow to speak
  • Being quick to apologize and quick to forgive
  • Living in light of the welcome of Christ, so that you learn what the welcoming heart is and does

[Prayer] Pray with me….

Group Blogging Project: Simple Church

I am participating in a “group blogging project” on Thom Rainer & Eric Geiger’s Simple Church.  Essentially, a group diverse group of bloggers will each take turns hosting a discussion on a chapter of the book over the next two weeks.  I will be hosting the discussion on chapter nine eight, next Wednesday.  To read more about this and to see the schedule (with links to the other bloggers) go here.  And to read or join the discussion on the first chapter go here.