Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sermon 1/27/08 Life's Toughest Questions Part 3: Why is there War and Hatred in the World?

Life’s Toughest Questions Part Three: Why is there war and hatred in the World

This video really hit home for me the suffering a tragedy that goes on in our world. I am someone who often does not watch the news because it is so depressing. I would like to live in a world where everything is peaceful and no one has issues. I would like to pretend that everything is good and that war and hatred are no more. The problem is , as this video shows, everything is NOT alright with the world we live in. We live in a world full of violence and hate.

During the past century, more than 100 wars and revolutions have been fought . Over 100 million people were killed in these conflicts. In 2006, the FBI reported 7,722 hate crimes in our nation. Of those crimes, over 51% were racially motivated, 19% involved religious targets, 15 % based on sexual orientation, and 12% because of nationality or ethnicity. In 2005, the murder rate in Chattanooga alone ranked 51st among cities over 100,000 in population with 14.7 murders per 100,000 people.[i]

When we stop to think of all the violence in the world, we cannot help but to ask ourselves why there is so much war and hatred in the world. On the survey we sent out asking what life’s toughest questions were, 11% of those surveyed asked why there was war and hate in our world.

Some Explanations of Evil in the World

A number of explanations have been used by various people in trying to understand why there is war and hate. Some have blamed war and hate on religion. Ken Wilber begins his article on by saying,

Throughout history, religion has been the single greatest source of human-caused wars, suffering, and misery. In the name of God, more suffering has been inflicted than by any other manmade cause.[ii]

Wilber goes on to suggest that within religion, some beliefs lead to peace while others lead to war and we have to be able to see which beliefs are true based on what it leads to.

Others have suggested that the cause of war is economic. Wars are fought over resources. We come to hate people because they have what we want. Brian McLaren, in his new book Everything Must Change asserts that in our world there is a limited amount of resources. Unfortunately, a majority of the resources are held by a minority of the people. Because of the needs of the “have-nots”, they try to take away from the “haves.” Those who have all the resources then take security measures to keep their resources safe in the forms of a military and we get an endless cycle of war and hate.[iii] I would imagine that most of our wars can be traced somehow to the quest for natural resources.

People also suggest that intolerance of people who are different causes hate and war. Going back as far recorded human history people persecuted and fought other people because they were different from them. It is so easy to lump people into categories and hate people based on the category we have put them in.

I believe these other issues do play a tremendous part in why there is evil and war in the world, but I believe there is still a more basic reason for war and hate. Religion, economics, and intolerance play a major role in causing the violence, but they are symptoms of a root cause.

The Beginning of the Problem

The Bible is an amazing book and it often answers questions that we do not expect it to. Many times it answers them in places that we least expect to find answers. Take the present question, “Why is there war and hate in the world?” If you begin to read in the Bible about the creation story, you will notice the first chapter of Genesis God creates the world and then the text says, “God saw that it was good.”[iv] Then, God creates human beings and says, “He saw all that he had made and it was very good.”[v]

The next logical question that could pop into one’s mind is this: “If God created everything good, then why do we find a world that has gone so wrong?” Why is there hate and war in the world if God created the world and it was very good?

Genesis 3 begins the Biblical explanation of what has gone wrong. It says,

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' " "You will not certainly die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.[vi]
The story suggests the destruction of innocence occurred when Adam and Eve made a choice to eat fruit that God had forbidden them not to eat. On the outset, this seems like a very trivial thing to be the cause of such hatred and war, but I believe the writer is trying to use this story to explain a deeper truth about human nature. Notice the reasoning for which Adam and Eve ate the fruit. The consequence of eating the fruit, according to the wise serpent was that they would be like God, knowing good and evil. God had told them that they could eat any of the fruit from any of the trees. God would provide for their every desire if they would only trust him. BUT NO!!!

Genesis says that Eve ate the fruit for three reasons. (1) It was pleasing to the eyes, (2) it was desirable for gaining wisdom (3) and it was good food. In other words, she did not trust God to give her these things, so she went outside of good for them. Apparently Adam agreed with her and did the same thing.

The interesting thing about this event was that it set off a chain reaction of events that followed. The consequences of this action meant that humanity would struggle against each other, against creation itself, and against God. In the next chapter we see Cain kill his brother Able. In chapter six the sin of humanity has completely corrupted the world. In chapter eleven the people all want to be like God so they build a tower to the heavens.

For the biblical writers the real issue and the cause of sin such as violence and hatred spring forth from our desire to find happiness outside of God. This means that we become selfish and in so doing, we love ourselves while we hate others. James wrote to a Jewish congregation about their fighting one another and pointed out the root cause of the fighting was their desires.[vii] CS Lewis argues that Pride leads to every other vice. He explains why by saying,

Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they really are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would ne nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.[viii]

Our desire to be better than others, our pride, our selfishness, if you will, is the root cause of all the hate and war in the world.

What about Religion

On the one hand, I do think religion is at fault for war and hate in the war. I do not think it is a direct cause, but an indirect one. I think religion is often used as a motivation for hate and war because we are selfish. As selfish people we have used religion to justify the awful things we have done.
Brian McLaren talks about religions as being a “framing story.” What he means by this is that religion offers us a context in which we live our life. It gives is reasons foe behaving the way in which we do. The reason religions are seen as a cause for war and hatred is because we have used religion as a way to justify our selfishness.[ix]

I know this is hard to hear, but think about “popular Christianity.” We generally believe that God came down in Jesus to die for my (personal) sins so that I can go to heaven when I die. I will escape God’s punishment and all of those people who do not believe will die and go to hell. As a result, we have concluded that we can hate people who are not Christians because God hates them. We believe we are the only people who have it right and we have to protect our beliefs at all costs, even if that means hating and killing people.

The Message of Jesus
I agree with Brian McLaren that this is not the gospel that Jesus taught us to live out. Think about the Sermon on the Mount for instance. Jesus seems to be correcting a problem in the way Jews lived out their beliefs. They used the law to benefit their purposes. They thought as long as they did not physically kill someone they would be fine, but they could mistreat people all they wanted. They thought as long as they did not commit adultery, they were obeying the law, but they could divorce their wives and leave them devastated in they wanted to. Jesus taught that if we lived out the principles of the Kingdom of Heaven, we could radically change the world. Instead of living out of selfishness, we could live out of love.

Jesus said that we should not even be angry and we should reconcile with those who we had wronged. We should not lust and we should keep our promises to others and our spouse. We should do more than love those people who like us, but we should love out enemies. Jesus was turning religion as selfishness over on its head.

I do believe that Jesus came to die for my sins and that one day I will be able to spend eternity in the presence of God. But I also believe that Jesus wants us to live radically different lives here on earth. Jesus wants us to make earth like it is in heaven. Jesus wants us to get rid on the hatred and the war, not by using our military, but by using acts of love. I know some people think this is naïve, but I also think Jesus believed this would work.

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr,

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed,every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low,the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places willbe made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed andall flesh shall see it together.[x]

[i] Thanks to Dwight Kilbourne for the statistics. He used the following websites:
[iii] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 2007) 52-64. READ THE WHOLE BOOK! It is good stuff.
[iv] NIV Genesis 1:25
[v] NIV Genesis 1:31
[vi] TNIV Genesis 3:1-7
[vii] James 4:1
[viii] CS Lewis, Mere Christianity(Harper San Francisco: New York 1952) Chapter “The Greatest Sin”.
[ix] Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change 52-64.

Sermon 1/20/08 Life's Toughest Questions Part 2: How do I know God's Will for my Life?

Life’s Toughest Questions, Part 2: How do I know God’s will for my life choices?

For Christmas Santa brought Melanie a puzzle calendar with a new puzzle to work every day. For January 7th, the puzzle was called, “Lost in Translation” and the directions say, “These figures of speech were translated by computer to another language, then back into English, with surprising results. What were the original figures of speech?”

· At the fall of a cap
· March your better leg forward
· Joins when the foundation
· Then excess mile goes

Answers: At the drop of the hat; Put your best foot forward; Get in on the ground floor; Go the extra mile

Melanie and I had a good time with this puzzle the other night. She got 2 out of the 4 while I took some good guesses, but missed them all. As I was thinking about “knowing God’s will for our life choices”, I begin thinking about how lots of times we try to discover God’s will like we try to uncover a secrete code. Somehow we think that God does his very best to hide his will from us so we will have to go searching for it.

Finding God’s will is difficult and most, if not all of us, have had trouble doing this at times in our lives. On our surveys, almost 10% of the questions we had been about discovering God’s will for our lives. In the Vine, only two people formally wrote this question down, but when I verbally asked about life toughest questions to some college students at lunch one day, all of them asked a question pertaining to God’s will for the choices they will have to make.

As I have been thinking through this question, it has occurred to me that it can be answered it a number of different ways. I could really preach on this question for weeks and weeks. I am going to try to answer this question by first looking at one of the most famous Bible stories, namely the story of God calling to Moses out of the burning bush, in order to talk about God’s will in general. Then I will talk some about discerning God’s will for our life choices.

Moses and the Burning Bush

The background to the Exodus story is that the Hebrews have been is slavery for a number of years to the Egyptians and the Egyptians, in order to maintain control of the people have been treating them extremely poor and they have even been killing male babies so that they will not grow too powerful for them. The Hebrews have been calling out to God for help.

Exodus 3 begins the story of God telling Moses what he intends to do about the situation,

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up."

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush,

Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am."
"Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."[i]

Moses is out minding his own business; he now has a wife and a family. He is working for his father and law and then he walks past a bush that is on fire, but not being consumed. He is very curious about this, so he walks up to take a closer look. When he does, God calls out of the fire. God proceeds to tell Moses what he wants to do and he invites Moses to be the leader.
One thing that is clear from this passage is that God is not hiding his plans from Moses. He has gone out of his way to show Moses what he is about to do. Part of me wonders how long it actually took God to get Moses attention. He may have walked past a number of things before he noticed God. God DOES NOT hide his will from us, rather God seems to go out of the way to help us know it. As David Harr said to me while I was writing this sermon, “I wonder how many burning bushes we walk past all the time.” In discovering God’s will for our life choices, we first must understand that God wants us to know his will.

The interesting thing about Moses is that even after God speaks to him, plain as day, in a bush that is on fire, he still comes up with a list of reasons why he cannot commit. Of coarse God has an answer for them all. Notice,

Moses says he is unworthy of the task 3:11 God says he will be with him 3:12

Moses does not know much about God 3:13 God tells him who he is 3:14-22

Moses says the people will not listen 4:1 God will provide signs 4:2-9

Moses says he is incompetent 4:10 God will send Aaron to help 4:12

Moses asks God to send someone else 4:13 God will be with him 4:14-16[ii]

From this chart, it is clear that Moses was wrestling with the things God is telling him and for good reason. Moses had just made a life for himself and has a family. God is telling him to give it all up and do these new things. I have heard this type of this called “A Crises of Belief.”[iii] Moses now has a huge choice to make and he is not going to make a change without a fight. However, God counters all of the doubts that Moses has so that Moses agrees to do what God wants him to do.

I think we all go through similar struggles when we know God is calling us to do something. We have to find the way to work though out doubts and confusion and follow God. The great thing is that God understands out struggle and seems to be able to provide the grace we need to make the change. As Maxie Dunham says, “God will not lead you where his grace will not sustain you.”

How Do I Know the Will of God

As I mentioned earlier, God wants is to know his will. If this is true then God has to use different ways to reveal his will to us. In the Bible, as we saw with Moses, God sometimes just comes down and tells people his will face to face. He told Abraham to move and he told Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh. God struck Paul with blindness and talked to him on the road to Damascus. In each case God revealed his will for these people’s lives.

The problem is that many people do not report that God comes down and speaks to them. There are a few people who have that experience, but not many. So, how do we hear from God if we know that God is trying to communicate with us?

1. Scripture: I want to be perfectly clear about how the Bible can help us in know God’s will for our life choices. I do not think we should go to the Bible with a question and look it up in the topical index and then read the answer. The Bible was never meant to be read as manual for finding God will for your paticualr decisions. On the other hand, the Bible gives us a lot of examples about how God has used people in the past to accomplish things. It reveals to us the heart and character of God and we can use that knowledge to help us shape our decisions around.

2. Prayer: I do think sometimes we use prayer as magic. We think that we can give God our “want list” and then he will give us what we want. Or, we think that we can really make up our own mind and then convinced God that it is a good idea. The purpose of prayer is to communicate those things that are on your heart to God and then trust that God will help you deal with them. When we pray about things and choices, we will often notice that we are much more receptive when we hear the answer from God.

3. Worship: Personally, I have discovered God speaks to me most often in worship. It may be a song I am singing or a sermon I am hear, but God has a way of dealing with the things on my heart as I worship.

4. Christian friends/mentors: God often speaks to me through other people. I am lucky that I have some friends I meet with on a regular basis that are honest with me. They are willing to tell me the hard truths and often they help me see God’s will.

5. The “gut feeling”: I think the feeling we get in our gut has often been underemphasized in the church, but I think God uses it. Sometimes I think we just know what the right choice is in our gut! Sometimes we will think about a possible choice and realize that it is just wrong. Other times it may make us feel sick because we know it is the right thing to do.

6. Closed and Open Doors: I really believe that God sometimes uses open and closed doors to help us make good decisions. You have heard the old saying, “When God closes one door, he opens another.

As I look back on these six things, I want to stress that this is not a formula for knowing God’s will, it is a process. It is a process that reaches further than just using them to know what you should do in a given situation. It is a process of drawing close to the heart of God. David Benner reminded me of this truth in his little book, Desiring God’s Will when he wrote,

I no longer believe that God is simply interested in your job, your decision about whom (or whether) to marry or your success in sin avoidance. As incredible as it sounds, God is interested in you! God longs for friendship, not compliance.[iv]

The processes listed above are to help us draw close to God first and foremost. Then and only then can they helps us know the will of God for our life choices.

Life is a Highway
On Sunday afternoons, many of you know that us pastors drive around and give out gifts to those persons who have visited with us for the first time and given us an address. When I get the address, Debbie prints me off a map from map quest so I will know how to find the house. I have not, to this date, be able to find a house in North Georgia on the first try. Although I have the map with the directions, it never looks the same when I get out there. The problem is not the map, but that I just do not know the area at all.

On the other hand, I grew up in Middle Valley and in the Hixson area. I live in Redbank and I know North Chattanooga fairly well. I can just glance at the map and know right where I am going on those visits.

Just like knowing the area helps me to be better able to use the map, the more we know about God and the more time we invest in our relationship with God, the better we will be able to use the processes in finding God’s will for our life choices.

[i] TNIV Exodus 3:1-10
[ii] Chart info comes from Terence E. Fretheim, Interpretation: Exodus, ed. James Luther and Patrick Miller Jr. *John Knox Press: Louisville, 1946) 52.
[iii] The study book Experiencing God uses this language to describe the process we go through when we hear God’s will and have to make the decision to change our wills to fit Gods.
[iv] David Benner, Desiring God’s Will (Inter Varsity Press: Downers Grove, 2005) pg. 60.

Sermon 1/13/08 Life's Toughest Questions: Why Are We Here

Life’s Toughest Questions, Part One” Why am I Here”

In the Simpson’s episode, Homer the Heretic, Homer gets the chance to ask God about the meaning of life,

Homer: God, what's the meaning of life?
God: Homer, I can't tell you that.
Homer: Why not?
God: You'll find out when you die.
Homer: Oh, I can't wait that long.
God: You can't wait 6 months?
Homer: No, tell me now...
God: Oh, OK... The meaning of life is...

At this point, the credits music starts and the show ends. The writer's original idea was that a commercial would come after this scene and before the credits, thus having the commercial interrupt God's explanation to humorous effect.[i]

In the end, Homer is left with an unanswered question. Many of us can understand Homer’s frustration because we have asked this very question. As a matter of fact, we took the survey of people at First- Centenary’s toughest questions, we have received 185 answers. Six percent of the people asked a question regarding the meaning of life. In the Vine, 23% of you asked this question. This question was asked second most of any question church wide and it was the top question asked by people in the Vine.[ii]

This question through the survey was asked with two different aims. Our purpose in life was asked as individuals, such as “What is my unique purpose in this life,” and it was asked corporately, “why humanity here is and what our purpose is?”[iii] This week, I will be focusing on the later question because it sets the stage for the first question. In order to understand our individual purpose, we have to understand our purpose on a larger scale. Next week we will answer the question, “How do I know God’s will for my life choices, which will focus more on the first question.

Some answers?

The question regarding the “meaning of life” has been asked for centuries with a variety of answers. The classical Greek philosophies tended to answer the question by saying our purpose in life are to seek knowledge in order to live virtuous lives. Aristotle wrote,

Every skill and every inquiry, and similarly, every action and choice of action, is thought to have some good as its object. This is why the good has rightly been defined as the object of all endeavor.[iv]

Going “good” was our purpose, but unless we sought learning throughout life we would never achieve our objective.

Another form of western philosophy has taken the form of “hedonisms” which is the pursuit of pleasure. The goal in life is to seek as much pleasure in your lifetime as possible, because when you die, life is over. Oftentimes, we use the slogan, “Life is short, play hard.”
Especially with the scientific revolution of the 18th through the 20th centuries, survival has become one of the foundational answers to the question regarding the purpose of life. Our being here is really for survival. In recent times Nihilist have come to believe that life is meaningless. Think about the popular TV show Seinfeld, which is a “show about nothing.”

Religious traditions have also given some answers about the meaning of life. The Eastern Traditions have often emphasized that the purpose in life is to transcend life itself. Islam has tended to see life as a test to see if we are worthy for heaven or not, while the Jewish tradition has viewed the purpose of life as serving God.

The Westminster Catechisms, used by the Presbyterian Church, begins by saying,

Q. 1. What is the chief and highest end of man?
A. Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to
enjoy him forever.[v]

In Summery, the answers to the question, “Why I am here range from these answers,

1. To gain knowledge
2. To be virtuous
3. To survive
4. To seek pleasure
5. To go through a test for the next life
6. To serve God
7. To glorify God

The Teacher’s Pursuit for the Meaning of Life

If there is one book of the Bible that deals with the issue of the meaning of life it is Ecclesiastes. I like to say Ecclesiastes is the most post-modern book in the entire Bible. I say this because the author of the book, like most of us in post-modernity, decides to question everything he has been taught to believe his entire life.

The writer, like most of us, was clearly struggling to find something in life worth believing in. He has come to the place in his life where nothing makes since. All the teachings and old proverbs he has heard all of his life has turned out to be meaningless as he looks back on his life. He begins this book by saying, "Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." It is when we fail to believe in something that life seems to loose its meaning. In order to find meaning in life, the teacher begins searching for something worth believing in through life experiences.

In chapter one, the teacher[vi] begins by saying all his life he has heard that wisdom is the secrete to life and that this exceeds folly. To understand this better, think about how Wisdom literature in the Bible works. The book of Proverbs is a book that says if you seek wisdom you will get it and be successful. Knowing the right things will lead to the good life. He agrees with this to some extent, but concludes in the end that the same fate befalls the foolish and the wise, they both will experience death. If this is the case, then ultimately the wise and the fool die and nether has an advantage.

The teacher then tries to find meaning in life by pursuing pleasure. He embraces the belief that says if I fill my life with nothing but pleasure, then I will find the meaning I have been looking for. As a part of this little experiment, he drinks wine and embraces foolishness or folly. This is strategically done in order to bring meaning to life. His goal seems to be this, I will do whatever I set my mind to doing and then I will find the happiness I am looking for in those things. You have heard the expression, if it feels good then do it.

The teacher does not stop here. He decides to try to find meaning in life through his work. He embraces the belief that if I can build it or earn it, then it will bring satisfaction. He is chasing a version of the American Dream. Look at what all he is able to accomplish. He is like the Biblical Bill Gates. He had great gardens and parks. He had male and female slaves and he amassed silver and gold. He had everything a successful businessperson can have. He literally threw himself and his self-worth into being successful.

As part of his test, he decides relationships will bring meaning to life. This is the belief that if I just meet the right person, then my life will have meaning and purpose. As a matter of fact, he has a harem. He has a woman any time he wants. WOW, that must be expensive, but I guess he can afford it.

He concludes, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure… Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind." Hebel is the Hebrew word for vapor and is translated here as "meaningless." All that he had done was like a vapor that vanishes into the air. The teacher has now knocked off the top four of the answers that are traditionally used to explain why we are here.

At the end of the book, the teacher explains his conclusion, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of every human being.”[vii]

As I have been thinking through this small book and the conclusion given by the teacher, I think it is part of the answer to the meaning of life, but it just doesn’t capture the answer to the question, “Why are we here?” Did God create all of humanity just so he would have people who feared and obeyed him? Granted, I think we should fear and obey God, but I am not quite convinced that this is the sole reason we are hear. I think the real answer lies in something Jesus once said.

Jesus and the Meaning of Life

In the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is telling the crowds not to worry about tomorrow because God will take care of you. He tells them that God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and he takes care of them. He then says in both of their cases, that God loves humanity EVEN more. Then Jesus says, “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”[viii] The point for our study is that it is important to fear and obey God and Jesus says this much. He says to seek God’s kingdom and righteousness. However, our purpose is much deeper than this. He says our whole purpose for being here is so that God will be able to satisfy us as we give ourselves to him.

John Piper, in his book Desiring God says this, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied.”[ix] Now, I am not a huge John Piper fan and sometimes I question his theology, but think about the power of this statement! God is glorified when we obey him, but God is much more glorified when we are satisfied. We are here so that God will be glorified and we will be satisfied. Jesus also goes a bit further and says that our purpose is also to seek after God’s kingdom. God wants to satisfy us and use us to accomplish his purposes. God created us out of love and our purpose as Jesus later says is to love God with our heart, soul, and mind.[x]

I was talking to a young lady a few years back and she was very frustrated with life and she felt as though her spiritual life was in a wreck. As we were talking in came out that her greatest fear was that her dream of having children would not ever come true. She was afraid she would never get married and therefore not have kids. It came out that her biggest fear was that it was not God’s will for her to have children, although she really wanted them.

As we were talking, for some strange reason a thought hit me. It was one of those things that I had not really thought of before, but I knew it was true, so I said it. She asked me if I thought it was God’s will for her not to have kids and I responded, “I am not sure if it is God’s will or not, but I do know what is God’s will. God wants you to trust him regardless of whether or not you have kids. God wants you to seek after him no matter you circumstances, because God wants to be the one who gives you your ultimate satisfaction.”

The more I have thought about that talk, the more I think this random thought it true. We are here on earth to give our lives over to God so that God can give us life. God wants to give us eternal joy and happiness forever and he will if we let him.

[i] Reference taken from
[ii] Thank you Jenny and Tracie for reading the surveys and putting together the information
[iii] Thank you to Dwight for sorting through the questions and making these categories
[iv] Reference taken from
[vi] I use the term teacher because of Ecclesiastes 1:1. It has been thought that Solomon wrote this book because he is also called the king of Jerusalem. Scholars do not know for sure so it is safe to use the word “teacher”.
[vii] TNIV Ecclesiastes 12:13
[viii] TNIV Matthew 6:33
[ix] John Piper, Desiring God
[x] Matthew 22:37

Sermon 1/6/08 Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Bridge over Troubled Water

Matthew 3:13-17

One day a boy came home from church his Baptist church where he had just went forward and accepted Jesus and was baptized by the pastor. He was so excited about being baptized he felt everyone needed to have it done. In his enthusiasm he decided to baptize the family cats. There were two cats, one was young and slender, and the other was the old fat family cat. The boy fills us the bathtub with water and gets the young cat and brings him to the bathroom. With some effort and just a few scratches, he holds the cat under the water and says “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” He then lets the cat go and it runs out of the bathroom. He then goes and gets the old cat and brings her into the bathroom. He is trying with all his might, but the big cat is scratching and hissing. Finally he gives us and sprinkles some water on it and says, “Fine, be a Methodist.”

Baptism is one of those subjects that you can bet will be a subject of controversy. Many denominations have different views about baptism and all those groups believe they can support their view by using the Bible. There are really two major areas of controversy when it comes to baptism. (1) Is Baptism essential for salvation and (2) Do you have to be at an age of accountability before being baptized?

As I have mentioned before, the Bible has been used by each one of these groups to defend each position. Infant baptism has been defended by using certain passages in Acts about the whole household being baptized and when the Jesus tells his disciples to let the children come to him. Adult only baptism has been defended by people saying that not one child is explicitly mentioned as being baptized. Baptism as must for salvation point out that Jesus commands people to be baptized and the giving of the Holy Spirit actually comes after one is baptized in Acts. People who defend Baptism as being a means of grace often site that Acts is inconsistent at times and it appears that some people actually receive the Holy Spirit before they are baptized. Paul seems to use baptism as an analogy of the Christian life. So, what are we to make of all the confusion on this issue? How can we bridge the great divide about the use of water in the church today?

I want to begin by going back and looking at the baptism of Jesus and finding out what our gospel writers want to tell us about the baptism of Jesus and why it matter for us.
Matthew’s gospel says,

"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?"
Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."[ii]

As we begin exploring this passage, it is essential that we understand a bit about what John was doing off in the wilderness. He claims that he is “baptizing with water for repentance.” In the Old Testament cleanliness was of great importance. The Hebrews were commanded in the Old Testament that if they were unclean, they had to go outside the camp or community for a specific amount of time and then they could enter the community again. They would have to wash themselves or purify themselves. The Old Testament uses washing of the outside as means for showing spiritual purity.

This idea seems to have found its way into 1st century Judaism in a couple of ways. Jews began using “immersing in water as a means for non-Jewish persons converting to Judaism. The water washing would be symbolic of someone purifying themselves in order to enter the community of faith. While this is helpful, it does not fully explain what John was up to because he was baptizing Jews, not Gentiles.

Around fifty years ago some texts called the “Dead Sea Scrolls” were found in some caves. These scrolls described a group of people who believed that the only way they could really follow God was to form a separate group and flee to the wilderness areas. This group, according to the documents found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, used immersion in water as a means by which Jewish people would be purified and enters their community. They would then take on oath to be obedient to all of God’s commands.[iii]

From the descriptions of John as presented in the gospels, he may well have been a part of a similar community in which baptism by water was used as a means of forgiveness and purification. The water symbolized someone making a commitment to follow God’s law completely. This makes a great deal of sense as to why John was baptizing.
At the same time, it is somewhat odd that John was preaching and baptizing people in the open. It may be that John had broken away from this group and began offering this type of serious repentance for anyone who would listen.

Then it appears in our text that Jesus came to be baptized by John in the river. Again, remember what John was doing with baptism. He was using baptism as the outward washing that showed spiritual cleanliness. Here comes Jesus to be baptized. In Matthew’s account, John protests and says that this ought to be the other way around. If any of Matthew’s audience was under the impression that John was greater than Jesus, Matthew is laying this to rest. Jesus tells John that this is what needs to happen so John goes forward.

As Jesus is coming up out of the water, he sees the Spirit descending upon him like a dove and he hears the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, whom I love and I am well pleased.” I had never realized this until recently that this statement comes from two Old Testament texts: Psalm 2:7 says, “He said to me, “You are my Son, today I have become you Father.” Isaiah 42”1 says, “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight.” The amazing thing though is what the rest of verse 42:1 says, “I will put my spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.” In some way I believe Jesus may have either confirmed his calling or just discovered his calling to be God’s messiah.

One of the questions we wrestle with today is: “If Jesus was perfect (because he was God) then why did he need to be baptized? Obviously the gospel writers had not wrestled with that question because they do not give us an answer. However, we may be able to deduce the answer. Jesus tells John that he is being baptized to “fulfill all righteousness.” In other words Jesus was saying he has come to make all the wrong in the world right again. It seems that Jesus by being baptized is identifying himself, not with God who judges sin, but with humanity who needs to repent from sin. Jesus is going to set the world right by teaching us how to repent.[iv] Latter Christian writers like Paul use baptism as an example of Jesus’ death and it becomes the model for surrendering our lives to the God and dying to ourselves.
Placing the Bridge over Troubled Waters.

The question then is how can we learn from the baptism of Jesus about how to bridge the great baptism divide in the church? The answer is really three-fold. (1) Baptism is the means by which we enter into the Christian journey. (2) Baptism should lead us to experience our calling (3) Most importantly, it is means by which we identify with the saving work of Jesus Christ and that leads to repentance. What this means in a nutshell is that Baptism is the vehicle in which we tell the world that we are now followers of Jesus Christ and that we will no longer live the way the world lives, but we will choose to follow our king and savoir Jesus. If Jesus came to set the nations free, then we will choose to set the nations free. We will do whatever it takes to live like Jesus lived. In order for us to this, God will give us the same instrument he gave Jesus, the Holy Spirit.

The only way we can bridge the baptism divide is to conclude that baptism is all about following Jesus. Let’s follow Jesus in living like morality matters. Let’s follow Jesus in feeding the poor and comforting the afflicted. Let’s follow Jesus in setting the world free from what binds it. Let us become Kingdom of God builders.

[i] Ben Witherington’s book Troubled Waters: Rethinking the Theology of Baptism (Baylor University Press: Waco Texas, 2007) Gave me a lot of useful reasources
[ii] TNIV Matthew 3:11-17
[iii] See Troubled Waters, chapter 1.
[iv] NT Wright, Matthew for Everyone Part One. See Matthew 3:11-17.