Monday, December 08, 2008

Advent Sermon 12/7/08 When Jesus Comes to Town Part One: "Preparing Our Home for Christmas"

“Preparing Our Home for Christmas”

Luke 10:38-42

Everyone knows the song, “Santa Claus is coming to Town.” In the song, we are given certain instructions on how to prepare ourselves for Santa’s arrival. We are told that Santa is making a list, checking it twice and he is going to find out who is naughty or nice. Therefore, we have to make sure not to pout, or cry and that we better be good for goodness sake.

As we gather together to worship during this season, we are preparing, not for Santa’s arrival, but for the arrival of Jesus. Over the remaining Sundays in Advent, I want to talk about how we prepare for Jesus coming to town. Today I want to talk about getting our Home ready for Jesus to come.

I am sure if you are like Melanie and I, you take time to prepare your house for Christmas. This year, we began the process of preparing our home the weekend before Thanksgiving. On Friday, I got all the Christmas stuff down from the attic. On Saturday morning we put the tree up and then we made home aid soup and invited my parents over. After we ate soup, Melanie made chocolate chip cookies. Melanie and mom put the ornaments on the tree while Dad and I watched Tennessee play football.

As great as that day was and as fun as it is to fix your home up for Christmas, there is something that we, as Christians, should be more excited about preparing for the coming of Jesus.

In Luke’s gospel, we find a story of Jesus coming to visit Martha and Mary. The text is found in Luke 10:38-42. It says,

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

This is a short story, but it has so much stuff in it. In this passage, Jesus is traveling towards Jerusalem and stops by to visit a lady named Martha. She has a sister named Mary. Luke tells us first that Mary is sitting at the Lord’s feet, listening to him. Luke tells us that Martha had a lot of tasks to do and was distracted. The TNIV says she was distracted by all the preparations she had to do.

We read that Martha was a little upset because she sees her sister listening to Jesus, but not making preparation for him. In other words, she is not being hospitable. Martha then points this problem out to Jesus. Jesus then does something the reader should not expect. He tells Martha that Mary is actually doing what is correct while Martha is distracted and worried about many things. He tells her that only one thing is necessary and Mary is doing it.

Honestly, I struggle some with the passage because on face value, it appears that Jesus is rewarding laziness. But, if we take a closer look, I think you will find that Jesus actually does get it. I had never noticed this before, but look at how Luke frames this story. Before Jesus says a word, notice that Luke tells us “Martha was distracted by all the preparations.”

Oftentimes we think that we are distracted from Jesus at Christmas because we get so busy and forget, but I think it is more than that. Melanie and I have some shows that we always watch each week. One of the shows that she likes and somehow got me hooked on is Samantha Who. In the episode just before Thanksgiving, Samantha’s best friend Dena is having relationship problems with her boyfriend. There relationship had begun well, but as of late; he was working all of the time. They break up and then Dena’s boyfriend finds her in the movie theater to explain his actions.

He tells her that, quote, “I have not been neglecting you, I have just been taking you for granted.” In the show, he explains that this is a good thing because he feels comfortable enough with her to take her for granted. I asked Melanie If I could use that excuse and she said no. Oh well.

I think too often we take Jesus for granted and therefore, we become distracted by all of the other holiday things just like we take Jesus for granted with other things most all of the other time as well. We take it for granted that Jesus will be there for us. Therefore, Jesus is not our top priority. One of the things Jesus is telling us through this story is that we ought to stop taking Jesus for granted because sitting at his feet and listening to him is vital during Christmas and any other time of the year.

Oftentimes when we look at this story we say that this is a story about doing verses being. We read this story and conclude that we must spend time with Jesus before we can serve Jesus. I think this is part of the story, but there is more to it than meets the eye.

To understand the importance of where this passage is located can help us better understand the message that Luke wants us to get from the passage. In this chapter, Jesus has already sent out seventy of his followers in hopes that when they arrive, people will be hospitable to them. If they don’t welcome them, they are in essence rejecting God. Then Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan who showed hospitality to the injured man. Now Jesus tells a story of Martha, who is busy in preparation for Jesus. She is doing what she is supposed to and being hospitable to Jesus. The way the story is set up, Martha would be the one who is doing what she is supposed to do and following through to be a good host.

It is also helpful to understand what Mary is actually doing and why Martha is actually so upset about. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him. This does not mean that she was just sitting at his feet like a puppy dog, she was listening to him and learning. This is what a student would do if a rabbi was teaching. They would say they “sat at ones” feet. Mary was actually acting as one of Jesus’ male disciples and learning to follow him.

The reason Martha was so upset was because Mary was acting outside of her role as a female. Women would have been making all the preparations while the men listened to Jesus teach. Mary was acting outside her role as a female, thus upsetting Jesus.

If we put all of this together, Jesus wants our hospitably to lead to discipleship. In other words, inviting someone in and showing hospitality should then lead to us growing closer to God.

Jesus says that in the end, only one thing is necessary. This does not mean that all the work Martha is doing is not important. After all, someone has to do it. Jesus just said that Mary was doing the one that that was necessary.

This Christmas season, we will all be very busy celebrating Christmas. We will all work hard to decorate our homes, buy gifts, make cookies, and have family parties. These are all good things. They are all important, but remember that only one things necessary and that is being at the feet of Jesus and listening to him.

My challenge this advent and Christmas season is for you and your family to find ways to share the story of Jesus and to make this Christmas season about becoming a better follower of Jesus. I believe one of the best things about advent is that it gives us practice for the rest of the year. If we can find a way to sit at the feet of Jesus during Advent, hopefully we can do it year round.

Stewardship Sermon 11/23/08 "What's In Your Heart" Part Three: "Being Thankful: Priceless"

“Being Thankful: Priceless”

2 Corinthians 9:1-15

One of my fondest Thanksgiving memories happened when we all set down for Thanksgiving dinner and just when we began to eat the turkey and dressing, our cat, who was outside walked up to the door with a special gift for us. She had caught a mouse and she brought it up to the door for all of us to see.

I have learned a funny think about cats. Apparently when they want to show their owners gratitude, instead of people a normal pet and letting you pet it, they go out and catch a mouse and bring it to the door as a Thanksgiving offering.

For the best several weeks, we have been focusing on Christian Stewardship. We believe stewardship is not about how much money is in your wallet, it is about what is in your heart. The first week of the sermon series, we said that we give because we are responding to God grace, by showing grace. Last week we said that giving is about trusting that God can do more with our money than we can. Today, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I want to add one last piece to the puzzle and suggest that we give to God out of our gratitude or our thankfulness.

Before I read the passage that we are going to study, I need to give you some background about Paul and his dealings with the Corinthians. In our Bibles, we have two letters written to the Corinthians. We also know that Paul helped establish the church there and spent quite a lot of time in Corinth. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to a letter that he had received from Chloe’s household in order to address some problems that has come up after his departure. Some scholars believe there is a missing letter written to the Corinthians that we no longer have. Other scholars believe the missing letter is actually 2 Corinthians 10-13.

In this missing letter, the Corinthians took offense to Paul for several reasons. First, they felt that he hid behind his words. In other words, they believed that he was unfair in his letter and that he refused to show up in person to defend his letter. Secondly, and most important for our purposes, Paul did not take any money from the Corinthians for himself. He did take up money for himself from other churches in Macedonia, which made the Corinthians very upset. Paul did however; take up a collection from all the churches, including Corinth, for the struggling churches in Jerusalem. He ahs asked the churches to take up a collection when they would meet and then one of Paul’s helpers would come and collect it. This was probably Titus.

In this passage, we have already noted that Paul used the Macedonian churches as an example of how the Corinthians should give. The Macedonians gave more than they were capable of. Paul then encourages the Corinthians to do as the Macedonian churches did and practice the gift of giving.

Paul then uses the example of Jesus’ giving as a model for their own giving. Paul believes that by giving, God will take care of the needs of both the giver and the receiver. In other words, giving is about trusting God. The rest of chapter 8 is Paul explaining to the Corinthians that Titus is coming with another person to collect the offering. Paul then begins chapter nine,

There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord's people. For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: "They have scattered abroad their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever."

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

Paul makes me laugh in this passage. Notice he first uses the Macedonians to inspire the Corinthians to give and now he tells the Corinthians that he used them to inspire the Macedonians to give. Paul has already laid out his travel plans to collect the offering so he tells the Corinthians to be prepared with the offering so that the Macedonians will not be disappointed.
Giving Comes From the Heart

Paul has two main points to finish off his plea for the Corinthians to give. He tells them that a person should give out of their heart, not out of compulsion. In other words, we should not give because God dictates us to do it, but we should give out of a heart that wants to give.
I do want to mention one piece of this text that I believe has been taken out of context. In verse six, Paul says that the person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will reap generously. I have heard it said that Paul tells the Corinthians to give so that they will get a lot more back. This is normally used in the context of saying if you give 10 percent, God will give you back 20 percent. The problem comes in when people follow this logic and find that they still have to struggle to pay the bills. Then they question their own faithfulness and the faithfulness of God.

To understand the context of what Paul is saying , we need to understand what Paul has in mind. He quotes from Proverbs 22:8, “God blesses a cheerful giver.” This is actually not in your English Bible, it is in a Greek translation that Paul would have used. Paul obviously has this who Proverb in mind. Proverb 22:8 says, “He who sows injustice reaps destruction.” “The beginning of this Proverb says, “A good name is to be chosen over great wealth; favor is better than silver or gold.”

What Paul is saying is that when we give with a cheerful heart, God will bless our giving because out of a cheerful heart we will sow great things. God’s blessings are greater than giving you 10 percent back; God’s blessings come from doing what pleases God, because we know that God will be pleased with us. Paul then reiterates a point we made last week that God will provide for their needs when they give from their hearts.

Giving is About Being Thankful

Secondly, Paul tells them in verse 11 that God will supply their need so that they it can produce generosity in them. In other words, they should give out of thanksgiving. Paul seems to actually be saying to the Corinthians, if you are not giving, then you believe God is not supplying your needs, therefore you have no reason to be thankful.

I read an interview with our Bishop, James Swanson, about the current economic times. He says this about giving, “For us to quit giving to God when times are tough indicates that we were only giving out of our surplus rather than out of regular, faithful giving.” I do want to stop here for a second because I have talked with some of you who are really struggling financially and it has hurt your giving. However, the people I have talk to all still find a way to give and for many of them, it is really a leap of faith. They are giving from their budget because they do not have surplus. The point is this, ‘THEY KEPT ON GIVING” Why, because they were thankful that God had given them what they have.

Bishop Swanson goes on, “To put God on the backburner- when he has never put us on the backburner- is the height of ingratitude.” WOW. What Paul and Bishop Swanson are saying is that God has always, no matter what situation we have been in, came through for us. He has never made us priority two. In response to God’s grace, we should respond back with gratitude and thanksgiving.

Stewardship Sermon11/16/08 What's in Your Heart" Part Two: "Trusting God: Do More"

“Trusting God: Do More”

2 Corinthians 8:9-15

This is the second week of our Stewardship Campaign. For those who missed last week, our sermon series is entitled, “What is in Your Heart.” As we said last week, stewardship is not about how much money you have in your wallet, it is about what is in your heart. Last week we talked about giving being a spiritual gift that we give to others. It is giving the “grace of giving.” This week, I want to talk about giving as an act of trusting God.

In preparation for this sermon, I did a little research about church giving and the giving for the previous presidential election. Here is what I found. Barna Research group concluded,

Almost two-thirds of the public (64%) donated some money to a church, synagogue or other place of worship. The median amount donated to those religious centers was $101; the mean amount was $883. Those figures were up slightly from the previous year.[i]

In the 2008 Presidential election, the follow dollar figures where donated to help get these candidates elected.

Obama- Over 603 million dollars
McCain- Over 357 million dollars
Clinton- Over 247 million dollars
Huckabee- Over 16 million dollars [ii]

According to the numbers, where do most Americans place their trust, in the President or in God? It would be very interesting to find out how much Christians donated to the Presidential campaign as opposed to how much they gave to church, but I do not have those numbers. I would submit that like Paul, I believe Christian Stewardship is a trust issue.

Paul, in one of his letters to the Corinthians, explains why they should give to the collection he is taking up for the Jerusalem churches. To help you better understand this letter, I want to again go over some issues that Paul is dealing with in his letters to the Corinthians. In our Bibles, we have two letters written to the Corinthians. We also know that Paul helped establish the church there and spent quite a lot of time in Corinth. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to a letter that he had received from Chloe’s household in order to address some problems that has come up after his departure. Some scholars believe there is a missing letter written to the Corinthians that we no longer have. Other scholars believe the missing letter is actually 2 Corinthians 10-13.

In this missing letter, the Corinthians took offense to Paul for several reasons. First, they felt that he hid behind his words. In other words, they believed that he was unfair in his letter and that he refused to show up in person to defend his letter. Secondly, and most important for our purposes, Paul did not take any money from the Corinthians for himself. He did take up money for himself from other churches in Macedonia, which made the Corinthians very upset. Paul did however; take up a collection from all the churches, including Corinth, for the struggling churches in Jerusalem. He has asked the churches to take up a collection when they would meet and then one of Paul’s helpers would come and collect it. This was probably Titus.

In the first part of Paul’s plea to the Corinthians, he tells them to follow the example of the Macedonian churches in their faithful giving. He tells them that these churches went above and beyond the giving means. He then challenges the Corinthians to “excel in the grace of giving.” In the test for this morning, he continues his challenge,

8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: "The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.[iii]
Notice, the first thing Paul tells the Corinthians that he is not trying to make them feel guilty by using the Macedonian churches as a means to show them up, but that he wants to challenge them. He then goes beyond the example of the Macedonian churches about points to the example of Jesus. In other words, if the Macedonian churches do not encourage you to give and challenge the sincerity of your heart, then hopefully the example of Jesus will.

Paul then shares the heart of the situation in Corinth when it comes to giving. He seems to pinpoint the two real issues that he believes is keeping the Corinthians from the grace of giving. First, he tells them that their eagerness has died. More than likely, Paul established this pattern of giving in Corinth with the help of the Corinthians. He tells them that they began this giving project with earnestness, but now that the excitement has died down, so has their commitments to giving. He encourages them to finish the commitment that they first began.

I remember the first full year of being back in Chattanooga and being at First-Centenary. The Vine was a brand new worship service and we had help out first stewardship campaign. Of coarse I was committed to giving to the church. I had never really made mush money before this so I was making a huge commitment for me. I began the next year with “giving gusto.” I gave very faithfully for about 8 months and then I just got preoccupied with life. The excitement of the Vine had diminished some and work was really business as usual.

Then, in December I received my giving statement from the church and I saw where I was behind in my commitment. I thought for a minute about just not fulfilling my pledge for the current year and starting over with a new commitment, but then I believed God was telling me that giving was about making a commitment to God, not just following the emotions I was feeling. And so, I wrote the check.

Paul is trying to tell the Corinthians that giving is a commitment you make to God, even if they are not feeling excited about the project. Paul then goes on to respond to a second issue. It seems that some in Corinth was accusing Paul of wanting them to give and then as a result, wanting them to suffer hardships. In other words, they were saying that if they were to give to others, then they would be putting themselves in dire straights.

Paul quickly responds by telling them that this is not what he or God intents. God does not want us to give so much that we are suffering. Paul says that his goal is to have every person’s needs being met. His goal is equality. This is seen in the Old Testament text that Paul quotes. It comes from the story in Exodus where the people are complaining that they are going to starve now that they are in the middle of no where. In the story God provides for his people by giving them manna. No matter how much or how little the people collected, their needs where all met.

In the society in which Paul writes, there was a common misconception. People believed that there was only so much to go around, so if they were to give what they have, then they would suffer. Paul is trying to tell them that they can give from what God has already given them and then trust that God will provide for their needs.

This morning I want to suggest that there is one truth that transcends this whole passage and it is this: We ought to trust that God can handle our money better than we can. NT Wright says it like this,

When people who follow him are ready to put their resources at his disposal, the world and the church may benefit, not only from the actual money, but from the fact that when the Jesus-pattern of dying and rising, of riches to poverty-to riches, is acted out, the power of the gospel is let loose afresh in the world, and the results will be incalculable. [iv]

The truth of the matter is that oftentimes we act as if we believe that we can actually do more with the money that God has given us that God can do with it. Just image that if Christians right now give about 3 percent of their income to God and look at the things God is doing around the world, just image what would happen if Christians trusted God with ten percent. If you think that would be amazing, imagine what would happen if Christians trusted God with all their money. Imagine what our world would be like. Now, stop imaging it and make it happen in Chattanooga, TN!
[iii] TNIV 2 Cor. 8:8-16
[iv] NT Wright, Paul For Everyone: 2 Corinthians

Stewrdship Sermon 11/9/08 What's in Your Heart Part One: "Grace: Don't Leave Home Without It."

“Grace: Don’t Leave Home Without It.”

2 Corinthians 8:1-7

The other day I left my office at the church and went downstairs to the first floor to get a Diet Coke. I was sleepy and hot, so I thought a cold caffeinated drink would be perfect. I put my 50 cents into the machine (which you must admit is a god price for a Coke these days) only to have the quarters come right back out. I tried again and again with no luck.

At this point, an interesting thought crossed my mind. You must know that I was extremely disappointed that I could not get a drink so the thought crossed my mind, “This machine is the only think in the church that won’t take your money.”

I know that was a harsh statement that is actually untrue, but often time’s people see the church as existing to take our money and to make us feel guilty for not giving enough. This week we are beginning our stewardship campaign and will be studying three passages in 2 Corinthians about the offering Paul was asking the Corinthians to be a part of.

I want to be upfront and clear about something. I understand that there are lots of people who are having financial hardships right now. I have talked to some of you who are really struggling to pay the bills and to fulfill your church pledge from last year. I am not here to make you feel even worse about your finances. I am not here to simply tell you to give more money to the church. I want to spend the next three weeks talking about our motivation for giving. I want us to understand why Paul felt the Corinthians should give and why God thinks we should give. I hope you will understand that giving is not about how much is in your wallet, but what is in your heart.

Before I read the first passage that we are going to study, I need to give you some background about Paul and his dealings with the Corinthians. In our Bibles, we have two letters written to the Corinthians. We also know that Paul helped establish the church there and spent quite a lot of time in Corinth. Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to a letter that he had received from Chloe’s household in order to address some problems that has come up after his departure. Some scholars believe there is a missing letter written to the Corinthians that we no longer have. Other scholars believe the missing letter is actually 2 Corinthians 10-13.

In this missing letter, the Corinthians took offense to Paul for several reasons. First, they felt that he hid behind his words. In other words, they believed that he was unfair in his letter and that he refused to show up in person to defend his letter. Secondly, and most important for our purposes, Paul did not take any money from the Corinthians for himself. He did take up money for himself from other churches in Macedonia, which made the Corinthians very upset. Paul did however; take up a collection from all the churches, including Corinth, for the struggling churches in Jerusalem. He ahs asked the churches to take up a collection when they would meet and then one of Paul’s helpers would come and collect it. This was probably Titus.

In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul begins to encourage the Corinthians, who are mad at him, to continue to give for the churches in Jerusalem. It could be that the Corinthians, in their anger, stopped giving or they could have just grown weary and uninterested in the project and stopped giving. Here is what Paul says,

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege (grace) of sharing in this service to the Lord's people. And they went beyond our expectations; having given themselves first of all to the Lord, they gave themselves by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you —see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

You will probably notice from the outset, that Paul begins his plea for the Corinthians to give by using the example of who… the Macedonian Churches. The Macedonian churches would have been Thessalonica and Philippi which which was north of Corinth. There were already some hard feelings between Corinth and these churches over Paul, but Paul uses them as examples anyway.

He says that in the midst of their extreme poverty, due to their overflowing joy, they gave generously. Paul says that they gave over and beyond what he had expected them to give because they gave beyond their ability. Notice that Paul does not say that these church out gave Corinth or any other church. He does not even mention how much money they gave, just that they gave beyond their capacity to give.

This is a very important point he is making. These churches may or may not have out given other churches by dollar amounts, we don’t know. What we do know is that Paul does not use them as an example because of a dollar amount, but uses them as an example because they gave beyond what they were capable of. It was not what was in their wallet or offering basket, it was what was in their heart that Paul believed was important.

Paul then makes a second point about their giving. He says that they gave first to God and then to Paul. The reason they gave so much was not because they liked Paul and believed in the mission project, but because they gave to God first. This is an important point Paul is making to the Corinthians. Remember the Corinthians are upset at Paul and many may have stopped giving to this mission. Paul is arguing that the Corinthians giving should not be about whether or not they like Paul or whether or not they think this is a worthy mission, but they are to follow the example of the Macedonian churches in giving to God first and Paul second.

I am not suggesting that we blindly give our money (more on this next week). We should care about who receives it, but Christian Stewardship begins with our commitment to God first. We may not like a preacher or think a mission project is dumb, but that should NOT give us the excuse to not be faithful to God.

Paul then goes on to give a concluding statement. He says that they are to “excel in this grace.” What does he mean by “excelling in this grace?” If you look at these seven verses, he uses the phrase “grace” four times. The Greek word for grace is charis from which we get our word “charisma” or gifts for spiritual gifts. In verse one Paul tells them of the “grace” of God which is the story of the Macedonian giving. He says in verse four that they begged God for to take part in the “grace” of sharing. Then, Paul says the Corinthians should also take part in the same grace and that they would excel in it.

The kicked comes just before verse 7 that as they excel in other gifts or graces like faith, speech, knowledge, diligence, and love; they should excel in this gift as well. I actually think Paul is being sarcastic with the Corinthians because they think they are excellent is so many things, he is trying to use their arrogance against them here, but the point is the same. Stewardship is a gift that we develop. It is about the grace of God working in and through us and it is about allowing others to see the grace of God at work.

Giving is not just about the have’s giving to the have not’s. Giving is something that both the have and the have not’s participate in because in doing so, we participate in the work of God in the world by his grace.

A couple of years ago we hosted a soccer team from the Dominican Republic. This came about when I was in the Dominican Republic and met a guy named Samuel who had a dream to let young kids from the Dominican Republic travel to the US so they could see a world outside their small town. Samuel does not have much money and he lives off of the support of people like us who believe in his work.

When he was here, he and his family stayed with Tracie for the week. She cooked for them and gave them a place to stay. The evening before they were to leave, Samuel wanted to take Tracie out to eat to thank her for her hospitality so they went out. When it came time to pay, Tracie told Samuel that he did not need to pay, that she would get it. She was thinking that he does not have much money so her paying would be the right thing to do. She told me months later what Samuel said to her and I think it so profound. He told her, “You think I should not pay because I have little money, but when you don’t let me pay, you rob me of the chance to show you grace.” WOW. Samuel, despite living off of pennies, knew what it meant to give. In this tough economy, with all the pressures of life, I encourage you to heed the words of Paul and Samuel, “Don’t all anything to rob you of the chance to show grace.”

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Wholly SIngles Confrence 08 "The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing"

Wholly Singles Confrence 08“The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing
Matthew 22:34-40 & Mark 12:28-34

Just so you know some of my background and story, I grew up in Chattanooga. I attended Soddy Daisy High School and UT Chattanooga. I then left Chattanooga as a married person and went to Lexington, Kentucky to seminary where I received my Masters Degree. In the middle of seminary, my wife decided that being a Pastor’s wife was too much for her, so we divorced. So I left for graduate school a married man and returned divorced.

One of the first times it really dawned on me that I was divorced was when I went to the dentist office for my teeth cleaning. On the form, it asks: Relationship Status: Married, Single, Divorced. I thought about it for a second and I didn’t know what to pick. I was single and I had just thought of myself as single, I was also divorced, so which one did I pick. And, why did they need to know if I was divorced, shouldn’t single have said it all. Then I thought, what if they think less of me as a person because I am divorced or single. Then the thought crossed my mind, what happens if I get remarried, would I check divorced and married or would that confuse the desk clerk.

We live in a “couple’s world.” I think the whole time I was single between my divorce and getting remarried, lots of people in the church made it a point to get me married. It seems to me that somehow because of society’s expectations and the pressure we place on ourselves to get married, singles are oftentimes left with the impression that they are “less than” other people.

Sadly, when we look at the church, oftentimes we find that even in the church, our programming is really “couple driven.” This should seem odd to those of us who understand out Bibles because both Jesus and Paul held special places for those who chose to live the single life. He tells the Corinthians that he wishes they could be like him (in singleness), but due to their weaknesses, they can get married. Notice that Paul is saying that in this room, I am the one who is weak, not you all.

The question I want to look at this morning is this: “How can a single person, or anyone for that matter, have the best quality of life.” In two of the gospels, Jesus is asked a question, “What must one do to have eternal life?” Oftentimes, we interpret this to mean, “How can we go to heaven?” However, this question is deeper than just telling us about eternity. The word “eternal” can also mean “the best quality,” so that Jesus is being asked, “What can one do to have the best quality of life, both now and forever?”

Jesus tells the young man to obey the commandments and sell his possessions. Notice what Jesus does not say, “Go get married.” This morning I want to focus on the first piece of advice that Jesus gives the young man. What commandments must we follow to have the best life possible? Jesus later in his life is asked this very question.

The story is told in both Matthew and Mark. In both gospels Jesus is in the temple where he is being asked a series of questions so that the religious leaders could test his faith and maybe trap him into saying something they could use against him. The Pharisees (which was the religious group that stressed strict observance of the law, followed the whole of the Old Testament, and believed in the resurrection of the dead) asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. When Jesus answered this question, one of the Sadducees (which was the religious group which took care of the temple, had a see no evil policy with Rome, only believed the first five books to be true of the Old Testament, and did not believe in a resurrection) asked Jesus a question about marriage in the afterlife. In Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus gives another successful answer, these two groups get together, which was a miracle in itself, and ask Jesus which command is the greatest? In Mark’s gospel, the conversation actually turns good because Mark records a lawyer, after being truly impressed with Jesus, asks him which of the commandments are the greatest.
Just for informational purposes, this question was really not that random. It may have been like us asking a Bible scholar today which laws in the Old Testament still apply to us today. The religious leaders had been able to count 613 commandments in the Old Testament, which is quite a bit and obliviously some of these commandments were broken. They often wanted to know which were the most important so they would know which ones the HAD to obey and which ones they could skip out on.

Jesus answers the question by quoting two Old Testament passages. He says in Matthew, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” The gospel of Mark adds one phrase and that is also to love God with all your strength. In other words, Jesus says that the main thing is to love God and your neighbor because all of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two things. In Mark’s gospel the lawyer agrees with Jesus and compliments him on his answer.

Loving God

What does it mean to love God? Jesus was quoting from perhaps the most famous passage in the Old Testament. It is called the “Shema” and it was recited in Jewish prayers. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Four words: ‘Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.” Eugene Peterson uses these words instead to help his readers understand the meaning of what Jesus is saying, “Passion, Prayer, Intelligence, and Energy.” Lets explore these one at a time.

Heart- Passion The Hebrew’s believed that the heart was the essence of a person and it was the place where all our emotions come from. Jesus said once that it was not what comes out of the month that made a person clean, it was what was in the heart. Out of our heart comes what we truly are. We must then love God with all of the emotions that we have inside us. I think this is why Peterson uses the word ‘passion.” Passion is what our true desires are so we have to love God with our passions.

There are several things I am passionate about. I love preaching. Being on this stage at this conference is an amazing opportunity for me. This is my passion. For me to love God with all my heart means that I cannot love preaching more than God. I have to love God and use my passion to show him my love. In our own lives we must ask ourselves, “Do we love God more than the things we love?” If not, Jesus is telling us that we will never have the best quality of live. However, when we can use our passions for God, then we will really get the best out of them.

Soul –Prayer The Hebrew word for “soul” is nephesh, which comes from the root of “breath.” When we breathe we are then alive and when we stop breathing, we have no more life in us. Sometimes we talk about the soul as being the part of us that will not die as opposed to the physical body. Peterson uses the word prayer I think to relate loving God with the spiritual part of our being. I would take this one step further and suggest that loving God with our souls means loving God with our actions because we love God with every breath we breathe. We love God with our emotions and our actions.

Mind-Intelligence We are to love God with our minds. I think this is often the most neglected part of how we love God. It is easy to see that our emotions and actions should love towards God, but we normally see intellect as a barrier to our faith. Instead we are told that our mind is a good thing and we need to love God by using our mind. After all, God gave us a brain so we ought to love God with it. So often I talk with people who attend church somewhere because they their friends go there and when I ask them what the church actually believes and teachers, they have no clue. When I tell them that the church actually teaching things they do not believe, they reply, “If you love God, it does not matter.” Jesus is telling us to stop checking our brains at the door. Love God with your mind.

Strength-Energy As you may have noticed, Deuteronomy uses “strength” instead of “mind” while Matthew uses “mind” instead of “strength” while Mark uses both. I have generally understood strength to be a summery of the other three by saying succinctly that we are to love God with everything we have.

Loving your Neighbor

Notice that Jesus continues on by added another Old Testament verse from Leviticus 19:18. It simply says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.” Jesus is not making up something new, but he is tying together two threads that run throughout the whole Old Testament. Look at the 10 commandments for example. The first 5 commandments are about how to love God and the second are about how to treat other people. O often though, we try to divorce these two things. We either focus on loving God or forget to love our neighbor or we forget to love our neighbor as a response to our love for God. Later on John says that if we cannot love our neighbor who we can see, how can we love God who is unseen. The way Jesus bridges these two things together means that we cannot unconnected them. They are both the essence of our faith.

Loving Yourself

I want to add one more to this list that I think Jesus implies, but does not really say. He says that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, meaning that we must LOVE OURSELVES THE WAY THAT GOD LOVES US. I think this is perhaps the one thing that keeps us from having the life that God wants for us. The problem is that we believe that society is correct that somehow because we are single, divorced, widowed, a widower, that we are “less than.” When people tell us that we are not good enough, we take it to heart. When people tell us we are not smart enough or not good looking, or …..fill in the blank, we believe them. The problem is that we are believing a lie. This is not what God says about us. When God created the heavens and the earth, he said, “It is good.” When God created human beings in his own image, he said, “It is very good.” When God created you, he said, “It is very good.”

I am not trying to say that you and I have no flaws. We aren’t perfect. But, I am trying to tell us that despite the imperfections we have, God loves us and sent a savior to die on a cross for us. We are that valuable to God. If God loves you and I that much, we ought to look at ourselves in the mirror and understand that we are a child of God and we are worth something. If we believe we are loved by God, then we can love ourselves. If we love ourselves, we can love each other, and if we can love ourselves and each other, the people that we can see, then we can love God who is unseen.

In seminary, after my wife had left, I was feeling pretty bad. I thought that I needed to drop out of seminary and quit my job as a youth director because I was not worthy of that. Come to find out, you are never worthy in your own strength, only in the strength of God. I was walking to the library to try to study and thinking it was useless. The library was just outside the dorm, so I had to walk outside for about 30 seconds. When I did, I looked up and noticed it was snowing. As the snowflakes came down I heard a small voice saying, “Brian, I love you and I am going to take care of you.” It was that voice that reminded me to love myself because God loved me. It has kept me loving God because he loved me and it keeps me loving those around me because God loves all of you all too.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Sermon 11/02/08 All Saints Day Sermom: Myth Busters Part Three "Hop- Along Religion"

Hop Along Religion

2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

When I was younger I used to hate it when Tennessee would loose a football game. Obviously, I have had a touch football season this year. When Tennessee would be playing bad, I would always, immediately after the game go and play my Play Station Game on NCAA football and play the team that was playing Tennessee just so I could beat them. For some reason, this made me feel better.

In reality, I knew that my playing the Play Station game did not actually make Tennessee win, but if made me feel better knowing that they could have won in another world. This is kind of what atheists accuse Christians of when it comes to our belief in eternal life. Christopher Hitchens, in his book God is not Great, says that religion is “ultimately grounded in wish-thinking.” The argument can be laid out as follows,

1. People are scared of dying for two reasons. They do not know what will happen to them when they die and they do not want to loose loved ones when they die.
2. In order to have hope, people believe in eternal life to as a means of comfort.
3. Whish thinking does not make the thing itself true
4. Instead, we should live our lives to leave a legacy.

Hitchens and others would argue that people who believe in eternal life are like me playing the play station in order to have a different outcome than the one that occurs in reality. Instead, we should just own up to the truth that this life is all that we have, so we ought to make the most out of it.

I do understand the complaint that Hitchens is addressing. Sometimes in our belief in an afterlife, we too quickly neglect this life. I hear people make these statements all the time such as “This world is not my home, I am just passing through.” On one hand, I will admit that there is some truth in this statement, but without proper context, it appears that religion only teaches “escapism.” We only want to fly away and let the world go to hell. I want to suggest that this is NOT what the Bible had in mind when he talked about eternal life. Let me share Paul’s words to the Corinthians for you so we can put “This world is not my home, I am just passing through” into come context.

Paul writes,
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
This seems like a lot to digest, so let me suggest a way to understand this passage. Paul uses the word gar four times in this passage, in which we translate “for.” This is a conjunction that is used to give explanation. In this passage, Paul gives us four statements and then explains why he has made this statement.

First, in verse 16 he tells them not to loose heart, although physically they are wasting away due to persecution and hardships because they are being renewed. In verse 17 we see the “why?” Paul tells them that the momentary troubles they all are for an eternal glory that outweighs all their struggles. In this passage as in other places, Paul is convinced that hardships and sufferings in the life of a person produce something greater. Often Paul tells his readers that they produce the character of a person that God desires for all of us to have. He uses the phrase “eternal glory” in this passage, maybe to suggest that God will use trials in our lives to produce the character in us so that we will be fit for all that God has in store for us.

Next, Paul says that we are not to fix our eyes on what we can see, but rather what is unseen. He compares what we see with the temporal and what we cannot see with the eternal. Then he says this is because when our present body is destroyed, we will have waiting on us an eternal body. The image of a tent is important because many people traveled and used tents temporary homes. Paul uses this image to say that our body is like a tent that we will exchange for a permanent home.

Then Paul says that due to our temporary body we long for something more than what we presently have because we want to be clothed with our heavenly body. In other words, we are always wanting something more than what we presently have and we were created this way by God. So, why would God give us a body like we have that is incomplete? He does so to draw us to himself. Paul then says he even gives us his Spirit as a foretaste of what God has planned to give us at the end.

Finally Paul tells his readers that they are to please God no matter what state they are in, in the present body or in the future one because we must all appear before God and be accountable for our lives.

It is clear to me that Paul is in some way, affirming the belief that this world is not our home and we are traveling through. It seems that he is suggesting that the things in this life will not satisfy us completely and that we need to set our minds on eternal things. CS Lewis puts it like this,

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthy pleasures satisfy it that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

Lewis, like Paul is not saying like so many people have in the past, that the things of this world are bad. Not at all, he is just saying they are here to give us a taste of what is waiting on us.

When I had only been here a short time, a member of PCS passed away and his family asked me to do the funeral. He was a Jewish man who was not active in the synagogue so First-Centenary was the closes thing he had to a church family. One of the things that became clear to me was that he liked to dance. In his funeral, I talked about his love for dancing and how dancing was a good thing. I then said that things like dancing gives us a foretaste of what true love and joy looks like in heaven.

I do not think it is a bad thing to have hope in eternal joy and happiness. I do believe as Christians, we can look forward to the moment when God will make our joy complete and we will be completely satisfied in God.

I also think it is important to understand that our hope in heaven should not cause us to want to escape this life. Paul is very clear that we have responsibility here and now. To really understand this passage we have to understand the broader argument Paul is making. The Corinthians are upset at him about a letter he sent to them that they found offensive. This was probably not the 1 Corinthian letter, but maybe one that was lost or perhaps it was added to the back end of 2 Corinthians in chapters 10-13.

Paul is actually defending his own character by saying that the letter he wrote, while it may have seemed mean was actually written in love to help them. While they may have thought he meant death, he meant it for life. He then talks about his own hardships in spreading the gospel and while he is suffering, God can take this and bring life. He uses the passage we read this morning to talk about how God is bringing life even thought they can’t see it.

What is important to know is that Paul’s hope in eternal life is not about giving up on this life. It actually makes this life more meaningful. Instead of living our lives to “leave a legacy,” are hope causes us to live to make the world a more meaningful place.

Sermon 10/26/08 Myth Biusters Part 2: The First Place Looser"

“The First Place Looser”

Mark 9:30-37

The second myth that I want to talk about today is the myth that Christians only believe in God because of their own selfishness. You may be wondering, if you are a Christian, how Christians can be accused of this, so let me explain the argument from Christopher Hitchen’s perspective in his book God is not Great. Here is the argument as best I can tell:

1. Revelation implies that God asserted his divine will directly to randomly selected individuals who then passed them on to those who were not selected.
2. Since all of these revelations are not the same, some of them must be false.
3. Religions fight and argue over which revelations are true and which ones are false
4. Thus, religions are used to give those who are victorious power over those who loose.
5. In the end, religion is just a wish projection of our own lust for power. Those who believe in god are selfish.

As a Christian, who believes very deeply in God and that God has revealed God-self to the world, I can understand why Hitchens sees religion as leading to selfishness and power. We would not have to look very far to see times and places where religion has been misused. If we were to go no further that Christianity, we see as early as the 4th century Christianity being used to bring power to those who are on the “inside.” One of the greatest tragedies in the church is the crusades where Christians killed Muslims in the name of God for control of the Holy Land. In our own country, Christianity was used to kill Native Americans and enslaves blacks. Again, it was used to give certain people power.

We do not have to look past the current election and see how people use religion to convinced people to vote a certain way. Not too long ago I went to a pray breakfast for a certain candidate and a preacher from our area got up and declared this candidate the next Moses and prophesied that he would win the election. It is too bad he was wrong. It is terrible that religion is used for power by both sides.

The good news is that Jesus never intended it to be this way. I love the story found in Mark 9:30-37,

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands. He will be killed, and after three days he will rise." But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all."
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus predicts his death three times and after each occasion, the disciples fail to understand what Jesus is talking about. Actually in Mark’s gospel they very seldom get it right. It seems that when Jesus speaks in parables they are always trying to understand them literally and when he gives them a straight forward teaching, they are looking for something else. In verses 30-33, Jesus tells them for the second time that he is going to be delivered over to people and be killed, but then he will ride in three days.

The first time Jesus announced his death; Peter took him aside and scolded him for saying that kind of thing. This time, the disciples decided to keep their mouth shut and keep walking. The next few verses though, explain that the disciples really did not get it. Apparently they were discussing or arguing about which one of them would be the greatest.

You may be wondering why they would be having this kind of conversation, so hopefully a little background will help. The Jews, of which Jesus and his disciples were, believed that God had chosen their nation and that he would come back through a savior or messiah and liberate them from Rome and rule the people again. The disciples believed that this messiah who would liberate the Jews and establish God kingdom as Jesus. Notice the language Jesus uses. He calls himself the “Son of Man,” which is a reference to a passage in Daniel that says the Son of Man will come in power and establish his kingdom.

Also, the Jews believed that when God’s kingdom was established, there would be a resurrection of all the dead who had lived righteous lives. The reason the disciples were so confused was because the Messiah, they thought, could not actually be killed and the resurrection would happen to all the dead, not just one person. Instead of wrestling with Jesus’ words, they tended to only focus on the part that gave them power. If Jesus was the Messiah and they were his followers, then surely they would have a very high place in this new kingdom.

The interesting thing about this passage is that the disciples were struggling with the very same thing that Hitchens accuses theist of. They had an idea in their head and despite what Jesus was saying to the contrary, they chose to believe it anyway. I am sure the words Jesus was telling them went against the very heart of what they were hoping for. They were hoping that by Jesus’ kingdom coming, they would be the ones who had gotten it right and they would be the ones who were great.

The problem with this is that Jesus had something radically different in mind. He sits down, taking the posture of a rabbi who is about to break it down to those listening and begins to explain the fundamental problem they are having. He then says, “Anyone who wants to be first has to be last and has to be a servant to all.” I am sure you could hear the air going out as the big headed dispels were deflated. Jesus then gives an example of this principle. He tells them that if they welcome a child, they welcome Jesus and they welcome God.

I realize that one tendency we all have is to want to be great. Honestly, I want to be the best preacher that I can be. I have imagined myself traveling all over the country preaching and teaching. I have thought about all the books I could write and all the money I can make. Selfishness is not just a religious problem, it is a human problem. I think atheists have this very same struggle.

The other day I asked myself this question: “Brian do you love preaching more than Jesus or do you love Jesus more then preaching?” The answer to this question is important because if I love preaching more than Jesus, I will only use Jesus to accomplish my goals. This is when religion is dangerous. However, if I love Jesus more than preaching, I will use my preaching to help other be connected to Jesus and make the word better for it.

I think all of us, who claim to believe in God must ask ourselves this kind of question. Do we love…….. more than Jesus? If we do, then we run the risk of using religion selfishly to benefit ourselves.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sermon 10/19/08 Myth Busters Part 1 "Science vs. Creation: It is not a Matter of Verses"

“Science vs. Creation: It is not about verses.”

Genesis 1 and 2

I read a funny story in one of those chain e-mails that people send. It said,
What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!" he said to himself. As he walked alongside the river he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. As he turned to look, he saw a seven foot grizzly charge towards him. He ran as fast as he could up the path.
He looked over his shoulder & saw that the bear was closing in on him. He tried to run even faster, so scared that tears were coming to his eyes. He looked over his shoulder again, and the bear was even closer. His heart was pumping frantically as he tried to run even faster,but he tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up and saw the bear right on top of him raising his paw to kill him. At that instant he cried out "Oh my God!"

Just then, time stopped. The bear froze; the forest was silent; the river even stopped moving. A bright light shone upon the man, and a voice came out of the sky saying, "You deny my existence all of these years; teach others I don't exist; even credit my creation to a cosmic accident, and now do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?" The atheist, ever so proud, looked into the light and said, "It would be rather hypocritical to ask to be a Christian after all these years, but could you make the bear a Christian?" "Very well," said the voice.

As the light went out, the river ran, and the sounds of the forest continued, the bear put his paw down. The bear then brought both paws together, bowed his head and said: "Lord, I thank you for this food, which I am about to receive"

We often make jokes about aethiests as I am sure they make about Christians, but at the heart of the debate there are some serious implications. In this sermon series called, “Myth Busters”, we will be examining three myths that atheists hold about religion in general and specifically Christianity. To get at the heart of the myth, I am going to analyze the arguments made by Christopher Hitchens in his book, god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

The first myth we will explore is that the creation story in the bible is incompatible with science. Hitchens argument can be summarized as follows:

1. We know more about the world today that those who first founded the religions that people follow as a way to explain reality
2. Deists such as Einstein believed that the order and predictability of the world led to a belief in a designer
3. We can now believe that the answers to creation come from the universe
4. If we no longer need god to answer the questions about reality, then we can take or leave god
5. Belief in god actually makes things more complicated because belief in god leads to unanswerable questions.
6. If we no longer need god, belief is simply a private non issue.

Hitchens ends his chapter by saying that believers should actually take comfort in knowing that the answers to the origins of the world can be found in nature,

Thoughtful believers can take some consolation, too. Skepticism and discovery have freed them from the burden of having to defend their god as a footling, clumsy, straws-in-the-hair mad scientist, and also from having to answer distressing questions about who inflicted the syphilis bacillus or mandated the leper or the idiot child, or devised the torments of Job. The faithful stand acquitted on that charge: we no longer have any need of a god to explain what is no longer mysterious. What believers will do, now that their faith is optional and private and irrelevant, is a matter for them.

I do want to suggest that Hitchens’ criticism of religion is not a new one. There are well founded reasons for suggesting that religion is no longer needed because science can now answer the question that we used religion to answer in the past. For many Christians, science is a very scary thing because they see it as a direct challenge to faith and Christianity.

Our culture, at least in the Western world, believes that a person has to either believe science is true and that the Big Bang theory and evolution rule out the belief in God or that the creation story in Genesis is true meaning that science is wrong.

I have to acknowledge up front that I do not know all there is to know about evolution or the big bang theory. I could not argue for one side or the other from a scientific standpoint. However, I do know something about the Biblical creation accounts in Genesis. (Notice, accounts is plural) Some people do not know that there are actually two different creation accounts in Genesis. The first one is in Genesis 1:1-2:4 and the other is found in Genesis 2:5-25.

There are some notable differences in the accounts. (1) In the first account the name for God in Hebrew is Elohim which is the more generic form of God. In the second account the Hebrew word is Yahweh which is the personal God of the Hebrew people. (2) It then follows that the first story seems to point to a God who is entirely sovereign over creation and who speaks with a Word and creation happens while the second shows God as being personal and forming humans out of clay. (3) Notice the differences in order. In the first story everything has been created before God creates male and female. In the second one, while there was no wild thing on earth, God shaped man from the soil of the ground. Man, or adam which in Hebrew means human, is then given the freedom to name the animals.

What do we make of these things from Genesis? I think the stories in Genesis are not given to give us a detailed account of how God created the world, but rather they are there to remind us about the God who created us and to tell us about the world the God created for to live in. The stories are theological in purpose and they explain the realities of the world we live in. Going to Genesis for a scientific explanation of creation is like going to McDonalds for a whopper.
To understand the creation story the way it was written, we must understand the world view of those who were Israel’s neighbors. Those around Israel believed in a plurality of gods who were born out of chaos and struggled with one another for control. Out of their desire for control and power, they created human beings to be their servants.

Compare this over against the stories we find in Genesis. Notice that in the beginning God created the world out of the chaos. God was not part of the chaos, but has complete control over matter. In other words, the creation story shows how God orders and controls the chaos and matter. God shapes something good out of nothing.

In the second creation story we see how God takes great care in fashioning Adam and creating Eve. God cares about the happiness of his creation. God creates out of love, not out of the need for power. These creation stories are not so much about exactly how God created the world, they were stories about the sovereignty and love of the true God who created all the exists.
When I go to the creation accounts, I am not trying to prove the scientist wrong, rather I am trying to find an answer to a question that science can never answer. I am trying to understand “why” I am here and learn about the God who created me. No matter what science learns, it will always need religion and it will always be lacking without God. As Christians, I hope we can encourage science to learn while I hope science will allow religion to help us understand our purpose.

Belief in God Should Change Everything

I want to end this sermon by focusing on Hitchen’s real point in these chapters. While he does not believe the evidence from science supports the belief in a creator, he is really is trying to persuade his readers that a belief in god really does not matter. He thinks god is dead, not because people have stopped believing in god, but because their belief in god is only a person and private affair that really has no impact on the world. Sadly, I think us as Christians often bye into this philosophy with the way we live our lives. We have our personal god in our back pocket for times that we need him, but we choose to live as if god were dead.

CS Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." I do believe that science shows the need for there being a creator. When I see into the world, I see the footprints of God. But it is more than that. Because I know there is a God, it should change the way I live.

Melanie and I found out this summer that we are going to have a baby. One of the first things we did was to buy books about pregnancy and read them. In several of the books, it describes each stage of development of the fetus. I remember reading about how this lump of mass suddenly has a heartbeat and then begins to develop all of the major systems in the body. I am sure there is a scientific explanation for this, but in experiencing this I just sit back and think, wow, there has to be a God who sets this in motion.

As great as this is, it does not stop there though. Because I know that God is real and has God’s hand in this, I know that I have to be different because of my belief in God. I know that I have to be the best husband I can be to my wife, even when I don’t feel like it and I know that I have to be the best dad that I can be. You see, believing in God causes us to see the world differently and to live differently.

Sermon 10/5?08 The Gospel According to the Office Part 3: Moving to Authentic Faith in the Office"

This is our final sermon in the series on “The Office.’ The past couple of weeks we have looked at the office as a way to help us understand mission and why we reach out to people. Today I want to use the office to move us beyond religious talk to true worship.

The following clip from “The Office” takes place in the episode called “The Race.” This episode begins when Michael hits Phyllis with his car in the parking lot and cracks her hip. When the people from the office go to visit her, Dwight goes to take care of Angelia’s cat and poisons it with pneumonia. Due to the injury of Phyllis and Angelia’s cat dying, Michael believes the office is cursed. He calls everyone in the conference room to talk about their religious beliefs.

Time 14:46

Setting: Conference room about the recent bad luck in the office

Michael: Alright, I would now like to talk to you about each of your individual religious beliefs.
Toby Oh Michael, you can’t ask about people’s religious beliefs.
Michael Satan is the master of lies. Everything he says is the opposite.
Toby Alright, then you can ask about religious beliefs.
Michael Thank you for your permission… SIKE. Let’s just go around the room and tell me what you believe in.
Stanley I’m uh Catholic
Darrin Presbyterian
Pam Me too
Darrin Oh really
Pam Same religion
Phyllis I’m a Lutheran and Bob is Unitarian, it keeps him spicy
Angela That is why we are cursed
Creed (Privately to the camera) I have been a part of a lot of cults, both as a leader and a follower. You have more fun as a follower, but you make more money as a leader
Michael Kelly, you are Hindu, so you believe in Buddha.
Kelly That’s Buddhists
Michael Are you sure
Kelly No
Michael What are you?
Computer guy Well, if you are going to reduce my identity to a religion, then I am Sake, but I also like hip hop and NPR and I am restoring a 1968 corvette in my spare time.
Michael OK, so one Sake and….

Time 15:58

At the end of the initial religion conversations, Michael concludes that the problem they have is that they believe in God. He things they should invent a new god until he discovers that his fortune has changed. He finds out that due to hitting Phyllis with his car, they found out that she had rabbis, so Michael things he has saved her life. He then says,

Time: 19:40

Setting: Michael to the camera

Michael: Is there a God? If not, what are all these churches for? And who is Jesus’ dad?

Time 19:50

Of course this discourse is layered with all kinds of problems. The one thing that struck me the most was that I was reminded in this clip about how empty spirituality can become. Belief in god is turned into having a label attached to you and our beliefs are often limited to name only. When we limit our spirituality to names only, we begin to place people in groups and then we can claim we are better than they are. Take Angelia’s comment to Phyllis when she implies that the curse in the office is due to Bob being a Unitarian.

A bigger issue for me that this clip from “The Office” brings out is that we claim to be a follower of a particular religion, but we live our lives as if our faith had no bearing on our life. We completely divorce faith and life to the point that it becomes meaningless.

There is an article in the book The Office and Philosophy in which the writers define an “authentic person” as someone who understands themselves.” In this way, they would then know the truth about themselves. If we were to use this same definition for faith, would could say that authentic faith means to discover the truth about faith. In the clip we watched, it was quite obvious that the truth about faith did not rise to the surface.

This is somewhat the problem Paul is addressing in his letter to the Romans. Jews had become merely Jewish by name and Gentiles were just all the people who were not Jewish. By the time we get to chapter 12, he has leveled the playing field and said that both Jews and Gentiles had fallen short of being what God had created them to be. He also says that without Jesus, being a Jew or and Gentile means nothing. He says that while we were living a life without God, God chose to have mercy on everyone in Jesus Christ.

In Romans 12, Paul then urges his readers on to a higher plain by saying,
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

In order to walk you through these verses, it is important to note that Paul’s goal is to help his readers understand that they are calling to live a life quite different from the lives of non-Christians. He begins by stressing that they are living in response to God’s mercy, thus they should offer their body’s as a living sacrifice. The word “body” does not just mean your physical body. Paul means every bit of who you are and all of your actions should be offered to God.
Paul then goes on to say that we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind instead of being conformed to the pattern of the world. A lot of scholars believe “world” would be better translated, “age.” We are not to be conformed to the pattern of this age, but by the renewing of our mind, be transformed. In other words, we are to immerse ourselves in the things of God and change the way we think.

He says we need to do this so that we will be able to test and approve what God’s will really is. Think about this. If we fail to understand the world view of Jesus, how can we understand God’s will? Paul is telling us that when we give our everything to God, we will then be able to understand God’s will.

Paul Meets Michael Scott

As I was thinking through these two verses in Romans, it made me wonder what Paul would have said to Michael about his religion. I am sure Paul would have actually preached a sermon and Michael would have fallen asleep and then fell out the window, but if he were to keep it simple, here are some things I think Paul would have added to the conversation.

First, I think Paul would have informed Michael that his actions as a Christian are not based in following a set of religious rules or laws, but his life is based on responding to God’s mercy. Again, notice that Paul begins this chapter by stressing “In view of God’s mercy….” I am convinced that one of the greatest challenges to authentic faith is that we narrow religious belief down to following a set of rules. I do want to say that sometimes rules are good, but they are not the end for which we live. We live the way we do out of gratitude as a response to who God is and the mercy God has shown us.

Secondly, authentic faith is offering ourselves as living sacrifices. When Paul says body, he means all of who we are. Eugene Peterson in The Message says it like this, “Take your everyday ordinary life- your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life- and place it before God.” Our faith today seems to be very compartmentalized. We go and do the God thing on Sunday or Saturday, but we leave God at the church door. Offering ourselves as a living sacrifice means we offer all of who we are, all of the time.

Do you realize that worship does not begin when you walk into this center? Worship is always going. As a staff we evaluate ourselves after the worship service. When we do, the evaluation does include how we preach, sing, run sounds, etc during the service, but it also includes our prayer time during the week, reading our Bibles, exercising, work preparations. Everything we do leads up to this moment on Sunday, but our lives Monday thru Saturday begins our worship.
Thirdly, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind so that we will no longer be conformed to the world around us. Colt Helton, our technical director made a good point during one of our meetings this week. He said that often we use religion when it is the cool thing to do. We use it when our friends use it. In the clip, Michael uses religion to solve the office crises. However, authentic faith is faith that goes against the grain. We don’t worship God because it is the cool thing to do. Often times our worship calls us to be transformed into new people.

When I see people who claim to be religious, I often find people who live just like everyone else, they just baptize their actions in religious language. Take Angelia from “The Office.” She claims to be on a higher spiritual plain than everyone else and judges people for not being a Christian. She often calls Pam bad names because she assumes Pam is sleeping around. However, we see that Angelia is having a secrete relationship with Dwight in which she is doing the very same thing. Authentic faith calls for transformation.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sermon 9/28/08 "The Gospel According to the Office Part 2: Beyond Paper Thin Missions"

Moving Beyond Paper Thin Missions

1 John 3:18

We are continuing our sermon series on missions this morning. We have been using the hit television show, The Office to introduce our theme. I want to use some clips from the episode “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” from the fourth season this morning.

In this episode, Ryan, who is now the youngest Vice President in the history of Dunder Mifflin comes back to the Scranton office to help them move into the digital age. He has given them new Black Berry phones and he is introducing a new system using the internet so that they can compete with larger paper companies. This technology is not going over so well with Michael Scott, the regional manager in Scranton. He decides to win customers back the old fashion way, with gift baskets. In this clip, Michael and Dwight try to win back Larry from Office Depot.

Time: 29:23

Setting: Larry’s office

Michael and Dwight bring in basket and put it on Larry’s desk.
Michael WOW, These things are heavy. There’s a lot of stuff in their. We have macadamia nuts cookies and honey mustard pretzels.
Larry You know we closed our account with you right.
Michael Yes, we know
Larry We are with Office Depot now
Dwight We just have not gotten over you and we are dedicated to provide you with the best customer service, the very best personal relationship we can if you ever decide to come back
Larry OK, but I don’t think we are coming back
Dwight Please come back
Michael You know, just enjoy the gift basket and remember we provide a personal touch.
Dwight Remember what we had
Larry Really, it is about the money
Michael Well, just enjoy the gift basket
Larry OK, thanks. You know, it is just that they have the website that makes it easy
Dwight and Michael look upset and leave

Setting: Michael’s car

Michael That guy was so st…. How does he not know how much better we are.
Dwight Sometimes people are impossible and they make you miserable.

Time 30:28

This seems like a very nice gesture Michael and Dwight are making to Larry, an ex-customer. You could even argue that the gesture itself the loving thing to do. However, if we take a closer look, we will discover that the motivation behind the gift basket says something quite different. Michael and Dwight hardly care at all about Larry as a person. They expect that when they give him the gift basket, he will become go back to them as a customer. They are dumbfounded when Larry tells them no. Michael twice tells Larry just to enjoy the gift basket, but both times he thinks that by taking the high road, Larry will change his mind. When Michael gets back to his car, he reveals his true feelings. He cannot believe Larry would not respond positively to his message.

Although this is a business deal, oftentimes I believe we approach mission work in the very same way. We are often motivated to be in missions for the wrong reason so when our efforts are not received well, we often find ourselves disheartened and frustrated.

I want to begin by examining two motivations for mission work that I believe is faulty. I think sometimes we engage in mission work in order to go out and correct people. We have a feeling of superiority and we want to show everyone how much better off we are. I also think that people get involved in mission work because somehow they think God will give them all kinds of rewards. If they are faithful in mission work God will give them blessings here and now and they will be storing up treasures in heaven.

I want to share with you a verse in 1 John that I believe sums up what our true motivations should be for missions. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” To put this into context, let me read the verses that come before this verse.
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a fellow believer is a murderer, and you know that no murderers have eternal life in them. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you?

John begins this section by repeating a truth that we should already know: “To love one another.” He then uses Cain as an example of what not to do. Cain hated his brother and physically harmed him. He them compares those who are not Christians to Cain by saying that those who are in the world hate you and we as Christians do not want to act like that to each other because we are different. Then John makes the jump in his comparison to say that those who hate other Christians are in essence like Cain, a murderer. Instead we are to follow the example of Jesus and lay down our lives for others. John then gives us a practical application to this by telling us that if we have material possessions and we see our brother and sister in need, we better take pity in them or the love of God is not really in us. John then uses these verses to help us draw the conclusion to not just love with words, but with action.

It does not really take an astute biblical scholar to understand that in these verses, John is primarily talking about how Christians ought to act towards other Christians. He goes out of his way in these verses to say that Christians are responsible to take care of other Christians. My focus is not really on whom we should be reaching out to; rather I want us to focus on the motivation behind reaching out that John points to in this letter. I do think that John would not disagree that we need to love those in the world, he was just not addressing this issue in the this passage.

The reason John says we love those in the world, is because we follow the example of love that Jesus gave to us. In several places John tells his readers that that our example of love comes from Jesus in that he gave his life for others. I want to submit that first and foremost, missions should not come from fear of God or from thinking we are going to get some kind of reward when we get to heaven, but missions should come out of a desire to follow the example of Jesus. We love others the way that Jesus did. We serve in mission because we are following the example of Jesus’ self giving and sacrifice. How do we follow the example of Jesus? We need to give out of what we have to those we see in need.

If we approach mission work as a means to follow the example of Jesus in self-sacrifice, we will not be upset when people do not respond the way we hope they would. After all, we know that people nailed Jesus to a cross when he reached out in love.

Moving Beyond Words to Action

At the end of the show “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” Michael spells out some important truths about mission work. He just gotten back to the office after being rejected by two customers and following the directions on the GPS into the lake.

Time :40:00

Setting: Back in the office

Phyllis Did you get any customers back?
Michael Maybe, maybe not; time will tell, but I’ll tell you one thing, these goodie baskets never endangered anyone’s lives.
Micheal and Dwight walk into Michael’s office

Setting: Michael to the camera

Michael Everybody wants new things, new technology. People will never be replaced by machines. In the end business and life are about human connections and computers are about trying to murder people in a lake.
Time 41:00

In Michael’s rant about machines running him into the lake, he makes some important comments. First, he acknowledges that he does not know if his baskets will win anyone over. Only time will tell. When we are doing missions out of the love that Jesus passed down to us, we may not know how people will respond to out efforts. We have to leave that in God’s hand.

Secondly, Michael comments that business and life are about human connections. Mission work is also about human connections. It is about people getting involved in other people lives. Mission work is moving away from mere words and theories to taking action in the lives of people. If we are unwilling to love people and we don’t want to get connected to people, then we are in the wrong business. The thing that separates mission for the sake of mission and mission in the name of Jesus is our willingness to connect our lives with other people. Mission in Jesus’ name means that we have to come to the level of those we are ministering to and we have to care about their lives.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

9/24/08 Notes for the Class: Confessions of an Arminian Part One

Confessions of an Arminian Christian Class

“If embracing Calvinism is the best way to take God seriously, to acknowledge our status as creatures and to experience spiritual liberation, then we want to be Calvinist too!... We appreciate the appeal of Calvinist and respect many of the motivations that draw believers to embrace it…. However It a nutshell, our case against Calvinism is that it doesn’t do justice to the character of God revealed in Scripture. “Jerry Walls and Joe Dongell

Myth 1: Arminian Theology is the Opposite of Calvinist/Reformed Theology

Myth 2: A Hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism is Possible

Myth 3: Arminian Theology is Not an Orthodox Evangelical Option

Myth 4: The Heart of Arminianism Is Belief in Freewill

Myth 5: Arminian Theology Denies the Sovereignty of God

Myth 6: Arminianism is a Human-Centered Theology

Myth 7: Arminianism is not a Theology of Grace

Myth 8: Arminians do not believe in Predestination

Myth 9: Arminian Theology Denies Justification by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone[i]

Theological Movements from 16th-20th Century

Calvinistic Theology

T- Total Depravity- We are incapable of making any decision to accept God apart from God’s irresistible grace
U- Unconditional Election- God elects certain people unconditionally for salvation and the rest are left in a state of total depravity.
L- Limited Atonement- Jesus’ atonement for sin is limited to those who are elected by God.
I- Irresistible Grace- God’s grace given to the elect cannot be resisted.
P- Perseverance of the Saints- Unconditional Eternal security.
Classic Wesleyan-Arminian Theology

Natural Inability- We are incapable of making any decision to accept God apart from God’s prevenient grace.

Conditional Election- Through prevenient grace, God chooses to elect every person for salvation, but this election is dependant on our free choice.

Appropriated Atonement- Jesus’ atonement for sin is available to all, but is only appropriated by our free choice.

Resistible Grace- God shows grace to every person so that they can make a decisive decision about God. God’s grace can be rejected.

Assurance of the Believer- Christians can have assurance of salvation, but they must continue to work out their salvation.

Myth 1: Arminian Theology is the Opposite of Calvinist/Reformed Theology

- If by Reformed Theology one means: Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone and that human merit must be excluded from as a cause of salvation, then Arminian theology is reformed.
- John Wesley agreed with Calvinism in that: (1) Ascribing all good to the free grace of God. (2) In denying all natural freewill because it is dependant upon grace. (3) In excluding all merit from humanity, even for what they have or do by the grace of God.

Myth 2: A Hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism is Possible

- Atonement: Calvinist believe the atonement is limited in scope, but universal in value. Arminians believe the atonement is universal in scope, but limited efficacy because it is limited to those who accept by faith.

- Grace: Calvinists believe God’s grace is resisted by those who God chooses to pass over, but irresistible to those who are the elect. Arminians believe grace is irresistible when it comes to the grace that restores our freedom, but resistible when our freedom has been restored.

- God’s Timelessness does not change how God chooses to respond to human beings. The Atonement is either limited or it is not. Grace is either irresistible or it is not.

Myth 3: Arminian Theology is Not an Orthodox Evangelical Option

-Arminians are accused of being unorthodox because they are accused of being followers of the early church theologian Palgius, who was deemed a heritic by the early church for his views on orginal sin

Pelagius vs Augustine


Man has a perfect free will. He can do what God requires.

There is no innate impulse to sin, no original sin inherited from Adam

Sin is the simple choice to do wrong. Man’s sensual nature is the occasion, not the cause, of sin.

Grace, as a cause, is unnecessary to move the will toward God. Christ acts as an example and motivation to right acting.


God created man posse non peccare et non mori (possible not to sin or die)
Man misused his freedom and willed to disobey God, as a consequence he entered the state of non posse non peccare et mori (not possible not to sin and die)

The will became a sinning will. All men share in this evil because all men were in Adam when he sinned and hence sinned with him. All are guilty

God is absolutely sovereign. He is the direct cause of all that is. Fallen man, therefore, is absolutely powerless to will anything against God, or for Himself. If any man is saved and turns towards God, it is only because God has moved man’s will to respond to Him. God changes the inclination of the heart so that the man acts in freedom. Grace is irresistible because God’s will is irresistible. If Christ died for all men, then all men would be saved, but not all men are saved. Since all men are not saved, then God must have chosen particular men to salvation and the rest are left to their sins.


Palagians- Originally Born Sinless and can freely choose God
Semi- Palagians- Originally Born Sinless, but sin in the world makes free choice for God more difficult.
Semi- Augustinians- Originally Born Sinful, but freewill is restored through God’s grace (Arminians)
Augustinians- Originally Born Sinful and cannot freely choose God. (Calvinists)

[i] Robert Olson Arminian Theology (Inter Varsity Press: Downers Grove, IL 2006) The 9 myths of Arminian Theology make up the core structure of the class.